Thank you for inviting me to present.
I'm honoured to be here representing Canada's smallest province, Prince Edward Island. Our province has plebiscite legislation, but we do not have referendum legislation.
l'm going to share with you a little bit of information about our province. Federally, we have four members of Parliament; provincially, we have 27 members in the Legislative Assembly; municipally, we have 74 mayors and chairpersons and more than 325 municipal councillors. In schools, we have three school boards electing a total of 29 trustees.
Elections P.E.I., the office I work with, oversees and manages provincial, municipal, and school trustee elections. Provincially, we have four registered political parties: the Liberal Party, the PC Party, the New Democratic Party, and the Green Party.
In 2007 Prince Edward Island had 97,810 electors on the provincial register of electors. The voter turnout in the last provincial election, which was in May 2007, was 83.8% The average voter turnout for the past 13 provincial general elections, from 1966 to 2007, averaged a little under 84%. Prince Edward Island's population is estimated at 140,400 persons.
The province has a Plebiscite Act, with supporting legislation. The regulations are approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, and for each plebiscite, the regulations are tailor-made for the plebiscite in question. The regulations then take on the name of the plebiscite that is in question, and they are only in force during that particular plebiscite event. This policy permits the province to better react to the ever-changing circumstances of plebiscites.
From 1878 to 1901 there were several plebiscites held, all with respect to prohibition. Back in 1913 there was a plebiscite held at the local school district meetings, in which it was estimated that 90% of the rural folks voting rejected the opening of the provincial highways to automobiles.
Over the next 75 years, smaller plebiscites followed on a variety of topics, most isolated to certain parts or groups of the province. For example, in 1954 a plebiscite was held asking potato producers the following question: "Are you in favour of retaining the P.E.I. Potato Marketing Board?" Sixty-six percent voted yes. Now, some 55 years later, the P.E.I. Potato Marketing Board still represents Island potato producers.
In the last 100 years there have been really only two major plebiscites island-wide: in 1988 on the fixed link crossing, and then in 2005 on the mixed member proportional representation system. The first plebiscite, the fixed link crossing plebiscite, was held on January 18, and the vote was held all across the province. The fixed link question was as follows: “Are you in favour of a fixed link crossing between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick?”
In order to pass, the question required a yes vote of 50% plus one. The fixed link plebiscite was run similarly to a provincial election. The voters list was used from the previous election, and the voter registration period was extended to cover ten days, thus allowing more electors to be added to the list of electors. There were 364 polling locations, staffed by election officials. There were 86,000 eligible electors. Almost 56,000 voted, for a voter turnout of 65%, and 40.3% voted no, while 59.5% voted yes. There was no public financial support for either the no or the yes campaign.
As a point of interest, the accepted practice for PEI plebiscites pertaining to the order of listing of the no or yes answer on the ballot is that we always list the no and yes in alphabetical order, similar to the listing of candidates' names on ballots.
The government chose the date of January 18 for polling day so that families and friends could discuss, debate, and be informed about the fixed link issue over the Christmas holidays.
The second major plebiscite was held in 2005. Here's some background information.
In 2002, at the request of the Legislative Assembly, Elections P.E.I. prepared a report detailing electoral systems from around the world and listed advantages and disadvantages of the “first past the post” system.
In 2003 the electoral reform commission, chaired by retired Chief Justice Norman Carruthers, recommended that the “first past the post” system be modified to provide for a mixed member proportional voting system.
In February 2005 the Commission on P.E.I.'s Electoral Future was established under the chairmanship of Mr. Leonard Russell. The commission held several public meetings and prepared and distributed information to the public, including via a website. The report compared the first past the post system, our current system, and the commission's proposed mixed member proportional system.
The commission recommended that a provincial plebiscite be held on October 28, 2005. The Lieutenant Governor in Council approved the following question: “Should Prince Edward Island change to the mixed member proportional system as presented by the Commission on P.E.I.’s Electoral Future?”
The plebiscite requirements were similar to the requirements used for the 2005 referendum held earlier in British Columbia. The Lieutenant Governor in Council approved the following definition of “majority”, with the following two requirements. One, a yes vote by at least 60% of the voters province wide was required to approve the proposal. The results were that 63.6% voted no and 36.4% voted yes. Second, a yes vote of at least 50% in at least 60% of the provinces's 27 electoral districts—that is, in 16 districts—would be required to approve the proposal. Only two electoral districts received a yes vote of 50% plus one. The remaining 25 electoral districts did not reach the 50% requirement.
The voter turnout for the plebiscite was as follows: with 97,000 eligible electors, 32,000 voted, for a voter turnout of only 33%. As was the case in the earlier 1988 plebiscite, there was no public financial support for either of the no and yes campaigns; consequently, there were no requirements for the filing of financial reports or the issuing of donations or income tax receipts.
This plebiscite in 2005 was run a little differently from the 1988 fixed link plebiscite. The province, deciding to be financially responsible, chose: one, to provide for fewer voting locations; two, not to prepare a list of electors. Three, electors were asked to answer qualification questions and then sign the poll book. Four, two days for advance polls were held, with one poll in each of the 27 electoral districts. Five, on voting day, two or three voting locations were established in each of the 27 electoral districts, amounting to 61 voting locations province-wide as compared to the 296 province-wide voting locations used in the 1988 fixed link vote. The mixed member proportional representation plebiscite vote was not successful. The plebiscite on proportional representation cost $241,000 to administer.
In summary, the consequence of the fixed link yes vote in 1988 was that the Confederation Bridge was constructed. The curved 12.9-kilometre bridge is the longest in the world crossing ice-covered water. It officially opened in the spring of 1997, at a total construction cost of one billion dollars. The bridge joins the rest of Canada to Prince Edward Island.
The consequence of the mixed member proportional system no vote in 2005 is that the province remains under the “first past the post” electoral system, and to date the province has not mandated any commissions or committees to further review or discuss changing our electoral system.
I would recommend that provincial plebiscites be held during a provincial election, for administration purposes but also to bring more awareness to the plebiscite question, as well as financial savings.
I appreciate this opportunity to share with you Prince Edward Island's experience with plebiscites, and I will later answer your questions.