October 12, 2016
What makes change worthwhile? The possibility of doing better and being better. Islanders have an opportunity to embrace change in the electoral reform plebiscite being held from October 29 to November 7. The change that would best support equality and diversity in our representation within our provincial legislature is a change to proportional representation.
Our democracy in PEI and Canada is built on representation by our MLAs. We want government representatives who look like the diversity of the Island. The electoral system that we have ensures geographic diversity. But in other respects, the diversity of our legislators doesn’t match the diversity of our citizens. Most obviously, women are under-represented in the legislature – only 15% of PEI MLAs are women. But other kinds of diversity are under-represented as well, whether it’s country of origin, race, class, age, language, or ability.
Around the world, electoral systems based on proportional representation increase the gender balance and diversity of legislatures.
There is also a mismatch between the diversity of policy ideas in the legislature and the diversity of voters’ opinions on policies and platforms. The current PEI legislature under-represents the views of those who voted for the Progressive Conservative, New Democratic, and Green parties. In fact, we have only one Green MLA and no NDP MLAs even though 22% of voters voted Green or NDP. A proportional representation system means that when 40% of voters support the policies, platform, and candidates of a party, that party gets 40% of the seats – which means 40% of the voice in decision-making in the legislature.
The PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the PEI Coalition for Women in Government recently worked together to analyze the five electoral options available to Islanders in the upcoming plebiscite. We reviewed evidence from around the world about what systems work well and what systems work poorly to support an increased number of women, diverse women, and members of diverse groups in legislatures.
The two proportional representation systems on offer for Island voters – Dual-Member Proportional Representation (DMP) and Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMP) – create the best opportunity for increasing the diversity of our legislature so that it better matches the Island population and Islanders’ varied points of view.
Change comes with risks. But individuals and societies must change in order to grow. We know the risks that come with the status quo: the risk that there will continue to be little or no natural growth in the representation of women and diverse women in government, the risk that small parties with broad-based electoral support will remain unrepresented in our legislature, the risk that power in our province will continue to swing dramatically from one main party to the next, and the risk that we will miss an opportunity to do better for Island citizens.
Mari Basiletti is the Chairperson of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women.