By: Tony Davis
P.E.I.’s referendum commissioner, Gerard Mitchell was happy to see a good turn out at UPEI Tuesday.
“I’ve been very disappointed for the most part from the crowds, and this is far from the smallest I will tell you that.”
The group at UPEI was one of the best groups he has had so far, he said.
A little over two dozen faculty and students filled the faculty lounge for the afternoon info session to better understand what they will be voting on when they take to the polls.
Mitchell distinguished the difference of voting systems. The first-past-the-post system is the current way the Island government is elected. Simply put, the candidate that gets the most votes in a riding wins a seat and represents that riding.
The Mixed member proportional system gives voters two votes: one to decide the representative for their riding and one for a political party. The representative in their riding that wins gets a seat. The political party winner would represent the province and not a single riding.
In a non-binding plebiscite Islanders voted in favour of proportional representation in 2016, where the mixed-member proportional system beat first-past-the-post by 10 per cent.
UPEI student Luke Baird addressed the commissioner about that non-binding plebiscite, he said he wanted to know if it would be any different if mixed-member proportional won the referendum.
“If it is put on the ballot during the election is this in any way legally binding by our provincial government?”
Mitchell clarified what the rules are if a new voting system wins in the referendum. The legislation states the government ‘shall’ bring in legislation to implement a MMP system if the yes side wins.
“However, one government cannot bind another. So a new government can come in and change the act and not do it,” he said.
Incoming student union president Emma Drake was among the audience members. She said events like this are important so voters can become more informed and engaged.
“The fact that the election hasn’t been called yet and there is actually an interest here is certainly promising.”
She was proud UPEI had a better turn out than some of the other meetings, but Drake said she hopes people take advantage of the info sessions across the province.
“I think in the grand scheme of things we’re not perhaps where we should be in terms of the education side for the overall public of the province.”
One of the biggest roles for the student union is keeping students informed when there is an upcoming election. It is rare there is a referendum, Drake said.
“The role of the student union is really any way that we can support students in learning more and having a better informed vote, that’s where we should be and we’re happy to support something like this.”
Drake thinks students at the information session left with more knowledge about the referendum, she said.
Yet, the whole province remains in the dark about when they will be heading to the polls for a provincial election and at the same time vote on the electoral system.
Many Islanders and political experts are predicting a spring election.