Thank you very much, and welcome to Charlottetown. We arranged the nice weather just for you, and this room perhaps as well.
Our clerk provided materials which I understand you have, or will have, on your iPads. I have a print copy here. They include the Carruthers report, which I would really commend to you folks. It's like a textbook on electoral reform. It has a lot of the laws that were relevant at that time, which have not changed that much since. It has some history and some background, and different systems that are used throughout the world for consideration. It also has some demographic information relevant to Prince Edward Island, which is perhaps not as useful, but may offer some good context. Our two interim reports are in there. Leonard's report is in there as well.
I hope those will provide you with some context. My speaking notes are there. I'm not going to follow them slavishly because I only have 10 minutes, and there are probably 20 minutes' worth or more of notes there. Leonard has covered some of the material already.
I would add a bit of context to what Leonard said. There is actually a fairly in-depth legal background as to how Prince Edward Island ended up considering democratic renewal. In the early 1990s, as Mr. Russell indicated, a number of different electoral commissions were struck. They had mostly to do with the way we were represented, or the boundaries within which we were represented. At the time, we had dual-member ridings that were based on an old Catholic/Protestant system that went back hundreds of years. There was a review of that taking place.
As a result of some changes stemming from that, in the early 1990s, a gentleman named Donald MacKinnon sued the Government of Prince Edward Island, indicating that he felt he was under-represented as a resident of what I think was then called Sherwood or Parkdale, which is an urban area. He felt that he had half the representation some of the more rural constituents had as related to the number of people per MLA on a percentage basis. As it turned out, it went through a trial level decision and an appeal. He was successful.
As a result of that, thresholds were then put in place. There was some of that going on across the country at the time. You'll see in former chief justice Carruthers' report that there was some Supreme Court of Canada case law on that kind of thing developing at the time. There is some interesting context that comes out of that.
I'll skip over Mr. Russell's report and take it to the present day. After the 2005 plebiscite, it was widely thought that the appetite hadn't been satisfied in terms of consideration of electoral reform on Prince Edward Island. There were a number of what I will call sore spots with the 2005 plebiscite. Some thought that the option that was there was overly complex. Perhaps there weren't enough polling stations set up for folks to go vote at, and there was only one day to vote. There were some different things like that.
I guess the landscape from that time forward changed fairly significantly too. To give a bit of context on that, in the last seven elections on Prince Edward Island we have had five legislatures in which there has been a fairly big imbalance in terms of government versus opposition. I will not go through them one by one, but we've had two occasions out of those seven where we've had one member oppositions. That's likely a unique thing to Prince Edward Island, at least in a Canadian setting. We've also had three occasions where there have been between three and five opposition members, which creates problems. You can imagine what it would do if there were only one opposition member to serve on a committee or in the legislature, and so on.
That spurred on the conversation that maybe this isn't the ideal way to do things. In addition to that there was what was felt to be a shift of power back and forth between the two main parties of Prince Edward Island, which have effectively been in power since our beginning of time, if you will.
I think, over the course of our history, there have only been five MLAs elected who weren't either a Conservative or a Liberal. In recent memory—I would include research going back a bit—I think you could go back probably 75 years and there would be two: the current leader of the third party, who is on our committee, and an NDP member in the late 1990s.
In the last election, both the NDP and the Green Party had around 10% of popular support. All four parties vying in the election made campaign promises to deal with some kind of electoral reform. Out of that, in the spring of 2015 after we were elected, the premier presented a white paper on democratic renewal in the legislature, essentially outlining the issues and starting the discourse in relation to them. He committed to move forward with a plebiscite on democratic renewal sometime within very short order after that.
Our committee was struck before the end of that sitting. We're a four member committee now because one of our members has recently resigned, but we started out as a five member committee and did our work that way. There are two government members on the committee: me and the Honourable Paula Biggar. Previously, there was also Janice Sherry. There is also the leader of the third party, Peter Bevan-Baker, and there is Sidney MacEwen. We represent all three parties that are represented in the legislature.
Our mandate was to guide engagement stemming from the white paper on democratic renewal. From there, we got our feet under ourselves and learned a bit about the different systems that might be possible and the kinds of things we should be looking at.
We set out to do a public engagement process through the fall of 2015. We went to as many different communities across Prince Edward Island as we could and seeking input from Islanders as to the kinds of things we should be looking at. What we heard out of that was that there are certain principles we should be trying to glean from the presentations that were made to us.
We had presentations in relation to a number of different systems, the different attributes of the electoral systems we should be looking at, and different things we should consider relative to different kinds of systems.
We came back after our fall consultations and put together an interim report which effectively recommended that we narrow our consideration to four different new options, in addition to our current first-past-the-post system.
We undertook that consideration throughout the course of the winter, in meetings that looked a bit like this one actually, except that members of the public were invited to interact with committee members. Basically, a microphone was passed around to seek input on the different systems and to engage in a discourse back and forth, so it was very informal.
The idea was to narrow down the options that we had for consideration and to try to figure out what a plebiscite ballot would look like. There was a lot of consideration that went into the plebiscite ballot structure over the course of that time. To bring it to a conclusion in that regard, we chose the structure that we have because we thought it would ensure the greatest level of engagement in the process. In other words, it would encourage people to go beyond picking their favourite by essentially tipping voters off to the fact that their favourite might not be picked first and that they might want to have a say in the overall choice through a second, third, fourth, or fifth choice.
We advanced a further interim report in the spring of last year, recommending that a plebiscite take place starting on October 29 and that electronic voting be conducted. Essentially, that means you can vote pretty well any way you can conceive of, including from home at 2 a.m., in your underwear, sitting in front of your computer. Effectively, the idea is to make it as easy as possible to select your choice and to vote. The period is open for 10 days. You can vote by phone. You can vote in person. You can mail in a ballot. You can vote on your computer. You can vote however you wish, and 16- and 17-year-olds will be able to vote in our plebiscite.
There's obviously a lot more that went into it than that, but in 10 minutes, those are the high-level notes of the process that we've undertaken over the past year and a little bit.