“I would encourage all 27 members of this House … to engage with Islanders, and to put forward proposals, and to listen and learn. It’s through that process, and ultimately through the approval of this House, that we will determine that second option.”
Premier Wade MacLauchlan in the Provincial Legislature, December 2016.
Like so many other Liberal promises, electoral reform has now fallen to predictable consultation sleight of hand.
There will be no great debate of ideas in the provincial legislature. There will simply be whipped Liberal MLAs dutifully voting the premier’s bidding. MacLauchlan has effectively ordered just that by quietly decreeing the second option on the electoral reform ballot in the next provincial election will be first past the post, the system that has so enriched Liberals and Tories, given this province generational patronage, economic apathy and weakened the rural voice.
Consultation, apparently to the premier, extends only to the self-serving hyperbole and half-truths of Liberal (and Tory) MLAs who put self-interest and personal security ahead of the right to have all votes treated equally.
With his arbitrary decision the premier places the interest of the Liberal Party and its MLAs first; priority one is maintain the perks of power and Liberal access to the taxpayer funded trough.
While the government no doubt thinks it has created a winning scenario to maintain the status quo, believing old school Liberals and Tories will vote en masse to keep first past the post, the opposite could actually hold true.
If history is any guide over the past three years, the public largely views the premier’s lack of transformative leadership with frustration. Too often his political antenna has been wrong – think the rush to call a byelection in District 11.
Listening to the whining self-interest of his own MLAs is no formula to change public perception of the government. In fact, it may cement the desire to change even more. Offering up a heaping helping of same old, same old only plays into the hands of the Green Party and the perception that it can deliver the real change a growing number of Islanders crave. MacLauchlan is making it easier to vote Green and for electoral reform.
Green leader Peter Bevan Baker must find it difficult to stifle a grin. His party is growing, enthused, younger and motivated. One more broken Liberal promise will only add to the appetite for change neither old school party seem capable of delivering. Although PC leader James Aylward deserves some credit for at least trying to change the channel. Problem is, predictably, he refuses to fully commit to his own idea.
Aylward floated whether it is time to eliminate all political parties and adopt a consensus based system similar to that used in Nunavut. It is a novel and interesting idea. Could it work in a province of 150,000? Could we create a system where party solidarity is set aside in favour of the public good?
As UPEI political science professor Don Desserud points out Nunavut is not saddled with a 100 year history of Liberal and Tory patronage, nor is the system a panacea for all that ails ours. It was dropped by the Yukon. Still the idea of consensus decision making is admirable and worthy of exploration. The question is when. We are already in the middle of an electoral reform process.
Is the Tory leader suggesting we stop that and start anew? Is he suggesting both can be conducted at the same time? Here’s the real question: How sincere is Aylward?
The PC leader is only promising some vague undefined discussion sometime in the future. He offers no timeline and no specifics. Does he even have firm enough control of his own party to discuss such matters? Doubtful.
His idea has the hallmark of a Hail Mary from a leader needing a win. He’s not enjoyed a customary political honeymoon. He promised to win the District 11 byelection but lost with his candidate finishing a humiliating third. The PCs slumped to 17 per cent in the latest CRA poll. So far Islanders aren’t buying what he is selling.
During the leadership campaign, candidate Aylward promised to implement the electoral reform option selected by Island voters. It was part of his ‘you can take my word to the bank’ sales job. Here’s his problem – consensus governance is not on the ballot, mixed member proportional is. Is the Tory leader reneging on that promise? Or is he subtly saying he wants his supporters to vote for first past the post? If MMPR is the victor how can he implement it while discussing another system?
Aylward ran as the candidate you can trust. Now he just looks like any other politician painted into a corner.
And while Tories and Liberals continue to stumble in this new political era, anger and frustration among ordinary Islanders grows. Somewhere Peter Bevan-Baker is smiling.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at email@example.com