Comments to the Federal Special Committee on Electoral Reform

Jane Ledwell (left) listens as Marcia Carroll, PEI Council of People with Disabilities, speaks to the ERRE panel, with third panellist Marie Burge of Cooper Institute.

Jane Ledwell (left) listens as Marcia Carroll, PEI Council of People with Disabilities, speaks to the ERRE panel, with third panellist Marie Burge of Cooper Institute.

Speaking Notes – Presentation to the ERRE: Special Committee on Electoral Reform

Jane Ledwell, Executive Director of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
October 6, 2016


I am honoured to be here today on behalf of the Prince Edward Island Advisory Council on the Status of Women. The Advisory Council is an arms-length provincial government agency made up of members appointed to the Council by the provincial government from across PEI. The provincial government strives to ensure that their appointments reflect diversities. Current members include women of a variety of ages and abilities and backgrounds. We have members who are newcomers to Canada and to Prince Edward Island and women who are part of the LGBTQ community, the Francophone community, and Indigenous communities. The Advisory Council has a legislated mandate to advise the provincial government and provide education to the public on issues that affect the status of Prince Edward Island women.

The under-representation of women at all levels of government is an issue that profoundly affects the status of women. For more than ten years, the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women has had a position in favour of proportional representation. We are persuaded by the evidence from around the world that jurisdictions that use proportional representation systems, for a variety of reasons, tend to elect more women to their parliaments. We advocated for a change to proportional representation during Prince Edward Island’s previous plebiscite on electoral reform, in 2005. Today, in 2016, we are working very hard as part of the PEI Coalition for Proportional Representation to encourage Island voters to choose proportional representation in the plebiscite that begins at the end of this month.

Our mandate is provincial, and when we talk about electoral reform, it is primarily in the context of electoral reform for Prince Edward Island. Our analysis is focused on the five electoral options that will be listed on the PEI electoral reform plebiscite ballot.

Along with the PEI Coalition for Women in Government, whom you will hear from in their own right this evening, we recently completed a gender and diversity analysis (similar to a GBA+ analysis) of the five electoral reform options for PEI, to determine which options support women’s equality and greater diversity. We have provided copies of our report, A Preference for Equality, as reference documents.

The five ballot options on the PEI plebiscite ballot include three winner-take-all electoral options …

  • First-Past-the-Post (FPTP), the current system,
  • First-Past-the-Post Plus Leaders, which would add seats to the provincial legislature for each leader of a party earning 10% or more of popular vote, and
  • Preferential Voting, a winner-take-all system like the current one but with a ranked ballot

… and two proportional representation electoral systems

  • Dual-Member Proportional (DMP), a new mixed proportional system with proportionality distributed through two-member districts, and
  • Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP), a mixed proportional system. The model proposed for PEI is based on 2/3 of seats being elected at the district level and 1/3 of seats being elected from provincewide lists, in an open list model where voters (not parties) directly choose the top candidates from the list.

Our analysis suggests that the proportional representation options have distinct advantages to promote the following factors:

  • Increasing the number of women elected, because the numbers of women elected under first-past-the-post have been stagnant or decreasing in PEI, and electoral systems worldwide that use proportional representation elect an average of 8% more women.
  • Increasing the likelihood of more women, more diverse women, or more diverse candidates being elected from smaller parties, because smaller parties tend to nominate more women, more diverse women, and more diverse candidates overall – except as leaders. The note about leaders is important because one of the options on our ballot, First-Past-the-Post Plus Leaders, would almost certainly result in seats in the legislature for third and/or fourth parties but only for leaders. We’ve had only 4 female party leaders in PEI’s history.
  • Promoting an increase in collaborative processes in the Legislature, because some women have described combative legislatures as a barrier to running, and some systems increase the likelihood of collaboration of a coalition being needed to advance a political agenda.
  • Promoting an decrease in negative campaigning, because the electoral system reduces the rewards of personal and partisan attacks in campaigning, and because negative campaigning is frequently influenced by biases about gender, race, class, ability, and other diversity factors. It should be noted that our analysis suggests that preferential voting would also have a positive effect on campaigning and reduce the rewards of negative campaigning, since candidates would want to earn high ranking even from voters who might not choose them as their top choice, so running down others would make no sense.

Our analysis further suggests specific advantages for Mixed-Member Proportional electoral system to promote women’s equality and increased diversity. This is because of differences in how slates of candidates would be decided under a Mixed-Member Proportional system. First, the introduction of lists would require more substantial changes to the party nomination system than the other electoral options, and research by the PEI Coalition for Women in Government has identified getting the nomination as the main barrier to women being elected. With its province-wide lists, the Mixed Member Proportional system would be susceptible to a “contagion” effect that creates positive pressure for gender balance and diversity. Slates of candidates created district by district, as they are currently, are not as susceptible to this contagion.

Our analysis recognizes that none of the electoral options on the PEI plebiscite ballot would increase incentives or supports for women, diverse women, or members of diverse groups to be able to run.

Our analysis also recognizes that all of the electoral options on the PEI plebiscite ballot would allow voters to express their direct support for women candidates at the polls, and this is important because research by the PEI Coalition for Women in Government has shown that Island voters do not discriminate against women at the polls, and women are elected or not elected in measure with the parties they run for.

As a public education tool based on our analysis of the electoral options, we also developed an online quiz for Islanders in English and in French, to help them determine which of the PEI plebiscite electoral options best match their democratic values. More than 450 Islanders have taken the quiz to date. Of those, 87% of respondents stated a preference for democratic values that align best with one of the two proportional representation options that will be on the PEI plebiscite.

As I mentioned previously, our Advisory Council is profoundly engaged in the public education aspects of the plebiscite campaign here in Prince Edward Island. A plebiscite is the path that has been made available to us in Prince Edward Island to influence electoral reform decisions. However, our engagement in the plebiscite shouldn’t be mistaken for enthusiasm for plebiscites or referendums as the decision-making model for electoral reform decisions. At our last meeting, Council members had a robust discussion about whether plebiscites and referendums are the best mechanism for debating and deciding on electoral system change. Members of the Council passed a consensus motion that the position of the Advisory Council on the issue of electoral reform is that in-depth and meaningful consultation is preferable to a plebiscite or referendum.

On behalf of the Chairperson and members of PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women, thank you for including us in your in-depth and meaningful consultation, and we wish you best wishes as you deliberate the best steps for Canada to take beyond First Past the Post.

1 Comment »

  1. Philip Callaghan said

    Excellent presentation of where we need to go.

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