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Editorial: Reform fail

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons speaks to the media outside the House of Assembly Wednesday.
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons speaks to the media outside the House of Assembly. — Telegram file photo

What is it about politicians and the threat of democratic reform?

Is it that changing the system threatens their livelihoods, and those livelihoods are more important than the common good?

In Prince Edward Island, there’s an effort to review that province’s electoral system. The last time there was a vote on the process — a cross-island referendum in 2016 — the winner was a system of mixed member proportional representation.

The sticking point? The government wanted to establish the committee, but the Tories wanted the House of Assembly itself to establish the committee.

The provincial government promptly decided to reject the referendum result based on low turnout. Now, the government claims to be trying again, but within extremely tight guidelines that could affect free speech and freedom of the press — for example, newspaper editorials could be banned if the government considered them “referendum advertising,” as could special issues on the referendum. The government argues that’s a legitimate restriction on freedom of expression to make the referendum process fair.
Then, there’s the situation in this province. Last week, with the closing of the House of Assembly, a plan to create a committee on democratic reform in this province failed, at least for now.

Its creation was mandated to provincial Justice Minister Andrew Parsons and it was supposed to include members of all three parties.

“My mandate letter said I was to bring a resolution to the House of an all-party committee on democratic reform — that’s what I did,” Parsons said after the committee plan collapsed. “I had hoped that we’d be able to resolve for the House to have the committee, and once the committee was struck, the committee could determine its mandate, but here we are.”

The sticking point? The government wanted to establish the committee, but the Tories wanted the House of Assembly itself to establish the committee.

So, instead, nothing, and a minister who essentially says just making the effort is all he was expected to do. The committee could be set up the next time the House of Assembly is in session, but that’s unlikely before early November, kicking any possible changes even further down the line.

It’s awfully familiar. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised that the last election would be the last one where the current first-past-the-post system was in place. They actually managed to establish a committee on electoral reform before walking away from the committee’s findings and shelving electoral reform indefinitely.

The bottom line is pretty clear: governments in power like the systems that have made them the government in power. They may pay lip service to changing to a more effective system that better represents the interests of the electorate, and they may even promise to make such changes — but they know what side their toast is buttered on, and they want to get the maximum amount of butter.

And butter is slippery.

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