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This is an unofficial plain text version of the White Paper on Democratic
Renewal released on July 9, 2015. The official copy is available as a
PDF file.
This plain text was created by Peter Rukavina, Hacker in Residence,
Robertson Library, University of Prince Edward Island, using the open
source Sigil ePub editor: plain text was copied from the PDF file into
Sigil, broken into chapters, and formatted using HTML with both Sigil
and BBEdit, then converted back to plain text and hard wrapping
applied in BBEdit.
The text file is maintained in a GitHub repository so that it can be
enhanced and corrected as needed.
Dear fellow Prince Edward Islanders,
This White Paper on Democratic Renewal presents our province with an
opportunity to make history in three significant ways: (i) to continue
with exceptional and nation-leading rates of voter participation, (ii)
to become the first Canadian jurisdiction to move beyond the “first
past the post” system in choosing our elected representatives, and
(iii) to consider additional and timely measures to enhance our
democratic process.
Throughout our history, Prince Edward Island has benefited from
democratic renewal and evolution. Significant milestones include the
establishment of responsible government (1851) and extending the right
to vote in provincial elections to Roman Catholics (1830), women
(1922) and aboriginal people (1963). Other significant steps include
the re-introduction of the secret ballot (1913) and the move to
single-member constituencies (1994).
With two decades having passed since the electoral reforms of 1994 and
with a legal requirement that electoral boundaries be redrawn before
the next provincial election, it is timely for Prince Edward Islanders
to engage in a further and historic renewal of our democratic
institutions. This White Paper has been prepared with contributions
and expert input by Dr. Edward MacDonald and senior public service
The White Paper invites all Islanders to work together as we build on
our traditions and context to put Prince Edward Island on the map for
our democratic processes and rates of participation. Thank you for
your consideration and input.
H. Wade MacLauchlan
In an era of concern about the health of democracy, Prince Edward
Island stands out in many positive ways. Islanders lead the country in
their voter turnout, their interest and engagement in politics, and
their contributions to their communities and to civil society. Prince
Edward Island’s 2015 election campaign featured vigorous debate on
policy issues, and generated the highest voter turnout in three
decades. When the ballots were counted, a strong Opposition had been
elected, including a seat for the Green Party for the first time in
Island history, and a Government with a working majority in the
Legislative Assembly.
Our newly elected Government has pledged, in the June 2015 Speech from
the Throne, to "initiate and support a thorough and comprehensive
examination of ways in which to strengthen our electoral system, our
representation, and the role and functioning of the Legislative
This initiative recognizes that it is timely to explore democratic
renewal for many reasons. Our society is changing continuously,
becoming ever more diverse and mobile. It is clear, in Prince Edward
Island and across Canada, that a system established by the stable,
homogenous community-centred society of the 1800s requires review and
renewal to meet the needs of the twenty-first century. Islanders’ high
level of political engagement does not necessarily translate into a
high level of satisfaction with our electoral system. Many Islanders
have articulated a view that their votes are not resulting in fair
representation in the Legislature that reflects the diversity of our
This is the best of all possible times, then, to tap into the strong
interest that Islanders take in political discourse, to ask what we
collectively want from our democratic system, and to discuss how to
safeguard our strengths while gaining the benefits of democratic
renewal and new approaches. We are not facing a crisis of democracy –
but we are experiencing pressures, they may intensify, and we can
always strive to do better.
This White Paper focuses on exploring the potential for an improved
electoral system. The most fundamental decision in a democracy, the
core right of every adult citizen, is to choose the people who will
make decisions on his or her behalf. The way in which this is done has
wide-ranging impacts. The electoral system affects the nature of
political campaigns, the type and diversity of candidates, the
fairness of representation, and the tone of political discourse. It is
essential that this fundamental matter be considered as Prince Edward
Island moves ahead with its review of electoral district boundaries
that is required by law after the 2015 general election. Following
these foundational steps, further consideration can be given to other
important elements of our democratic system and processes.
The White Paper inaugurates this work. It outlines the history of our
electoral system in Prince Edward Island, explains recent electoral
reform trends and approaches across Canada and beyond, and notes
emerging pressures for change. The Paper puts forward measures that
address electoral concerns of Islanders, while inviting discussion on
additional areas of reform. It concludes with a description of the
various ways in which Islanders can take part in this process of
democratic renewal.
A History of Democratic Evolution in Prince Edward Island
According to French thinker Joseph de Maistre, “Every country has the
government it deserves.” Perhaps it is more accurate to say that our
forms of government are deeply embedded in their communities. Even as
a political system is created or transplanted, it begins to interact
with the particular – and changing – circumstances of its host
society. Such institutions are rooted in history and they become
adapted to local context and experience.
De Maistre’s maxim was first published in 1851. That same year, Great
Britain reluctantly granted “Responsible Government” to Prince Edward
Island, and Reform leader George Coles became our first premier. But
making government more “responsible” to the electorate, that is, a
system where the executive branch of government is chosen from the
party that commands a majority in its elected legislative branch, was
neither a culmination nor a beginning. Rather, it was a landmark on a
continuum of change. Sometimes change was coloured by short-term
political considerations and, increasingly, it confronted the inertia
that results when past usage hardens into “tradition.” It has always
reflected societal conditions.
The Creation of Colonial Government
Aside from the traditional forms of governance developed by aboriginal
peoples over thousands of years and Île Saint-Jean's status as a
satellite of the Royal government in Louisbourg, there was little
framework for local government on Prince Edward Island1 before the
advent of British rule in 1763. In 1769, the island was granted
colonial status, with all of the administrative machinery that came
with it, including provision for a governor (after 1784 reduced to a
lieutenant-governor), a council and an elected assembly (MacKinnon).
Although the province's current name was not officially adopted until
1799, for simplicity's sake, "Prince Edward Island" is used
Frontier conditions dictated how the trappings of colonial government
were translated to the new colony. When Governor Walter Patterson
named his first Council in 1770 from among "the principal inhabitants"
of the colony, there were too few "principal inhabitants" to fill the
initial complement of twelve councilors and he began with only seven.
(MacKinnon) For similar reasons, Patterson was reluctant to summon an
elected assembly and only did so in July 1773 when doubts were
entertained about whether his government could enact legislation
without the consent of the governed. In a colony lacking both settlers
and transportation infrastructure, Patterson found it expedient to
treat the entire colony as a single constituency and to limit the size
of the House of Assembly to 18 members.
British practice was to restrict the right to vote to substantial
property owners (with property initially defined as land) on the
principle that only civic-minded property owners, having a greater
stake in the country, should have a say in governing it. But on Prince
Edward Island, principle had to be sacrificed to pioneer realities,
and the only qualification required of its first voters was that they
be male, Protestant and residents. With the convening of a House of
Assembly, the Council began a dual function, acting as an upper house,
or Legislative Council, “to advise and consent,” while retaining its
role as an Executive Council, “to advise and assist.” In 1784, the
Executive Council was set at nine members and the Legislative Council
at twelve, but since the former was chosen from the latter, it was
difficult in practice to distinguish between the two. (Carruthers)
A Century of Reforms
The early precedent of adapting British practice to local conditions
set the tone for the series of modifications that followed during the
19th century. While political considerations might influence the
timing of change, a growing colony required frequent adaptations of
its constitutional arrangements.
In 1774, legislation laid the groundwork for an electoral process,
leaving the Governor with considerable discretion in the timing and
nature of elections (although until 1834, the death of the monarch
automatically triggered the election of a new house). Exercising that
discretion, Lt. Gov. Edmund Fanning divided the colony into three
constituencies, based on its counties, in 1787, with four members
elected at large for each county, and two from each county capital.
However, the first Election Act was not introduced until 1803
(Carruthers), and it was 1806 before a term length for the Legislature
was fixed: seven years, amended to four in 1833. (MacKinnon, 53)
By the 1830s, immigration and natural population increase were
transforming the human and physical landscape of the colony. Between
1798 and 1855, the population soared from less than 4,300 people to
over 71,000 (Spierenburg, 18). One effect was to engender debate about
the emancipation of Roman Catholics, who comprised 45% of the colony’s
population but were barred from voting or holding public office. They
were finally enfranchised in 1830.
The enlarged electorate no doubt radicalized Island politics, since
many Roman Catholic voters were tenants opposed to the leasehold land
tenure system. That, in turn, empowered the radical Escheat Party,
which won control of the House of Assembly in 1838. While the
Escheaters were unable to legislate seizure of proprietorial estates,
they did preside over a series of constitutional reforms. The Election
Act of 1838 enlarged the House of Assembly to twenty-four members, and
four dual-member electoral ridings (including each county capital)
were carved out of the old county constituencies. In 1856, the House
was enlarged again, to 30 members, chosen from five dual-member
ridings in each county. Even in 1856, the convenience – and precedent
– of using county/capital subdivisions defied the Island’s demography.
Queens County’s population already outstripped Prince and,
particularly, Kings County, yet each retained an equal number of
The only concession to population realities addressed the seats
apportioned to County capitals. The problem in Prince County was
resolved in 1861 when the capital was formally shifted from moribund
Princetown to Summerside (Carruthers, 19), while the low population in
Georgetown and Royalty was addressed in 1893 by enlarging the riding
to encompass a series of headlands roughly centered on Cardigan Bay
and linked by the prevalence of water transportation. (MacKinnon v.
Government of PEI, PEI Supreme Court, Trial Division, 1993). While
unremarked at the time, this was perhaps the first instance of using a
specially defined community to draw constituency boundaries. The
artificial boundaries of 5th Kings made some sense in a pre-asphalt
era when roads remained poor (at best) and water/ice provided the most
effective means of transportation.
One of the chief obstacles to land reform in the 1830s and 1840s was
the appointed Council, filled as it was with men of substance
materially vested in maintaining the status quo. In 1839, a year after
the House of Assembly was enlarged, the two Councils, Legislative and
Executive, were formally separated, making it possible for members of
the House of Assembly to serve on the Executive Council. The essence
of Responsible Government, achieved in 1851, was to deliver control of
the Executive Council (colloquially, the Cabinet) into the hands of
the party that controlled the elected Assembly.
The Legislative Council, too, was targeted for reform, especially
after the House of Assembly achieved supremacy. Appointed by the
monarch on the recommendation of the Governor, Legislative Councillors
served "during pleasure," but in practice it was difficult to dismiss
them without demonstrably just cause. Thus, when elections changed
control of the Assembly, the Upper House was frequently filled with
political opponents appointed under previous administrations, who
could only be removed from office by death, disgrace, resignation or
emigration. One way around their obstruction was to appoint more
Councillors – in 1859 the size of the Legislative Council swelled to
seventeen members – but the simpler solution was to bind the Council
to the will of the electorate by making it elective. The reformed
Legislative Council, established by statute in 1862, consisted of
thirteen members, four from each county, with one member from
Charlottetown. (MacKinnon, 102-03) Although it was now elective, the
Council was still intended to represent men of property. While there
was no property qualification for candidates, electors had to be males
over the age of twenty-one and have freehold and/or leasehold property
to the value of £100.
In the colonial House of Assembly, the property qualifications
continued to be minimal. In practice and, finally, in principle, the
Assembly was chosen by universal (adult) male suffrage. The manner of
its election was more variable. In the wake of the notorious Belfast
Riot, the culmination of a long tradition of election-day violence,
multi-day voting was abolished in 1848 in order to eliminate the
practice of partisan mobs roaming from poll to poll, intimidating
Another invitation to voter intimidation was addressed in 1877 when
election by secret ballot, accompanied by voters’ lists and
regularized polling procedures, replaced open, oral voting. But in
this case, cost trumped conscience. The measure was enacted just as
Island governments were beginning to discover the woeful inadequacy of
their revenues under Confederation, and the Sullivan government, newly
elected on a platform of financial retrenchment, repealed the secret
ballot in 1879. It was only reintroduced in 1913 by a Conservative
administration proud of its progressive approach to government – and
temporarily buoyed by a $100,000 per year increase in its federal
subsidy. Even so, it would be 1964 before voters’ lists were required
for general elections, and a chief electoral officer appointed.
The same cost-cutting mentality that abandoned the secret ballot also
took aim at the province’s upper house. After Confederation in 1873,
Prince Edward Island sported six federal Members of Parliament, a
thirty-member House of Assembly and a thirteen-member Legislative
Council. Surely, critics reasoned, that was more than enough
representatives for one small province. Legislation to abolish the
Council was first introduced in 1879, but the rights of property
proved much more durable than the new voting system. It took several
attempts, the precedent-setting example of several other Canadian
provinces, and considerable, unrecorded backroom negotiation before
the Legislative Council was finally done away with – after a fashion –
in 1893.2
The new Legislature uniquely welded the Legislative Council onto the
House of Assembly to create a new, thirty-seat “Legislative Assembly”
elected from 15 dual-member ridings. Each constituency was represented
by a Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) and a Member of the
Legislative Assembly (MLA), which allowed for one-on-one contests at
the polls and, just as important, allowed opposing parties to match
candidates according to religion. The latter consideration was a
legacy of the bitter sectarian rivalries of the 1856-1877 period
(pitting the Roman Catholic plurality against the Protestant
majority), which had exerted a dangerously corrosive effect on party
loyalties. Religion had not ceased to matter by the 1890s, but it had
gone underground as a political issue, and keeping it “out of
politics” meant that it remained a central, backroom consideration for
another century.
Once in the House, MLAs and MLCs functioned in exactly the same
fashion; the only difference lay in how they got there. Assemblymen
were elected according to universal male suffrage, while a property
franchise was retained for those electing Councillors (though, again,
not for candidates). To vote for Councillor in any constituency,
electors must own $325 worth of property in that riding.3 Property
owners could vote only once for Councillor in a given constituency,
but they could vote in any riding where they met the property
requirements. In a province where the two principal parties were
evenly matched in terms of popular support (10% of all elections
between 1893 and 1963 were decided by twenty-five or fewer votes)
(Clark), electors with multiple votes were a valuable commodity.
A Century of Stasis
The paroxysm of reform that produced the hybrid legislature of 1893
was a high water mark of sorts in terms of constitutional change.
Dogged by outmigration and economic stagnation, the Island did not
tend towards bold experimentation. The belated re-adoption of the
secret ballot in 1913 was perhaps the exception that proved the rule.
Another was the foot-dragging decision in 1922 to enfranchise 50% of
the Island’s population, its women (If You’re Stronghearted).
Considering that the Legislature had first voted on the issue in the
1890s, and that only Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador among
Canadian provinces took longer to give women the vote, women’s
suffrage on Prince Edward Island was hardly the crest of a
constitutional wave. It was 1951 before a woman ran for the
Legislature (Hilda Ramsay, for the provincial CCF party) and 1970
before a woman (Jean Canfield) was elected. Prince Edward Island was
proud to become the first province to elect a female premier,
Catherine Callbeck, in 1993. While female candidates tend to be
popular with voters, and the percentage of female candidates continues
greatly to lag the percentage of women in the larger population.
Another historically disenfranchised group, First Nations peoples,
received the right to vote in provincial elections in 1963. There was,
however, little thought given then, or since, to whether the Island’s
original inhabitants might be entitled to special representation
within its Legislature.
The Davies government’s bill was lost when it was defeated in 1879,
and the Sullivan government’s 1880 bill was defeated in the
Legislative Council. The Upper House at the time was said to cost
$7,000 per year. (Driscoll)
According to Marlene Russell Clark, a non-resident could also vote for
Assemblyman in any riding where he owned property worth at least $100.
Although shifting demographics gradually tilted the population towards
urban centres, riding boundaries remained unchanged for seventy years,
partly because the principal political parties were too evenly matched
to risk radical change (Clark). However, after being out of office for
twenty-four years, the Conservatives were understandably more open to
a measure of reform when they came to power in 1959. In any case, the
population imbalance between urban and rural constituencies had become
too great to be ignored for much longer. In a larger sense, the reform
impulse must also be seen in the context of accelerated modernization
that characterized postwar Prince Edward Island.
In 1961 the Shaw Government appointed the Royal Commission on
Electoral Reform, chaired by His Honour J. S. DesRoches, Judge of the
County Court of King’s County. The Royal Commission’s report was
tabled in 1962. The resulting legislation, the Election Act of 1964,
in some cases went beyond the Commission’s recommendations. Although
the distinction between Councillor and Assemblyman was retained,
multiple voting and the property franchise were eliminated. The most
contentious clause was actually added by amendment during debate: the
elimination of the under-populated riding of 5th Kings and the
creation of 6th Queens to belatedly reflect the growing population
around Charlottetown. (Carruthers; Russell Clark) With a general
election in the offing, the Government found it expedient to restore
5th Kings in 1966, resulting in a Legislature of thirty-two members.
Despite the modest re-distribution of the early 1960s, the question of
voter parity among Island ridings continued to bedevil lawmakers into
the 1970s, even as an ambitious Comprehensive Development Plan sought
to rationalize and re-shape the Island’s economy and society. In 1974
the Legislature appointed an Electoral Boundaries Committee, which, in
turn, delegated a sub-committee to canvass public opinion on the
issue. General apathy attended its hearings. Consensus favoured
replacing the existing constituencies with thirty-two, single-member
ridings based on the four federal ridings rather than the three
counties. For the first time a form of proportional representation was
introduced into the discussion, but only in the sense that interveners
stipulated creation of twenty-six identifiably “rural” ridings and six
“urban” ones (Committee report). In its report, the Committee
generally ignored the sub-committee’s findings, and in turn its
recommendations were not proceeded with by the Legislature. In 1988
legislative provision was made for a regular adjustment of riding
boundaries. (Electoral Boundaries Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988 Cap. E-2.1)
Agents of Change
It took legal action to overcome the Legislative Assembly’s reluctance
to tamper with a constituency system that seemed to be working (voter
turnouts, after all, were consistently among the highest in Canada).
Basing his case on Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms (guaranteeing voting rights), Charlottetown resident Don
MacKinnon launched a suit against the Provincial Government in 1991,
arguing that the significant population imbalance between Island
constituencies essentially meant that his vote counted for less than a
vote in a rural riding. Census numbers backed his claim. By 1989, 5th
Kings had 1,021 voters per member while 5th Queens had 5,982. The
provincial average was 2,788 voters per member; the variance from the
average thus ranged from -63% to +115%. Federally and in most other
provinces, the allowable deviation was +/- 25%.
In finding that Prince Edward island’s distribution of seats did not
satisfy constitutional requirements, the Prince Edward Island Supreme
Court (Justice Armand Desroches) sought “effective representation” by
balancing “absolute voter parity” with mitigating, non-population
factors such as community history, community interest, projected rates
of growth, and special geographic features. While Justice Desroches
opined that the protection of historic rural interests warranted a
measure of flexibility, he ruled that redistribution must follow
further, timely investigation.
The decision set the stage for significant electoral reform. In 1994,
the Election Act and Electoral Boundaries Commission, chaired by MLA
Lynwood MacPherson, proposed a sweeping reform of the Legislature,
abolishing the dual member structure in favour of thirty single-member
ridings. The county format was retained, but seats were re-apportioned
according to population: ten in Prince County, fifteen in Queens, and
only five in Kings (Carruthers). Liberal member Ross Young
counter-proposed a 27-seat House with a 9:13:5 distribution of seats.
His compromise bill was at length adopted. (Electoral Boundaries Act,
S.P.E.I. 1994, c. 13)
In his 1993 ruling, Justice Desroches had echoed others’ position that
electoral boundaries be adjusted by a non-partisan, independent
commission. While the number of seats in the Legislature was now set,
the periodic necessity of re-drawing constituency boundaries proved
equally contentious. Evidently believing that the 2004 Report of the
Electoral Boundaries Commission had privileged voter parity over
mitigating considerations such as “community concerns,” the
Conservative government appointed a Special Legislative Committee on
Electoral Boundaries, which involved Elections PEI in the process of
boundary-drawing (Report of Committee). After much tinkering, the new
electoral map was approved by the Legislature with a mandated variance
of +/-15% in the population of ridings.
The constitutional quest for “voter parity” drove the electoral reform
of 1994 and the periodic re-jigging of constituency boundaries that
has followed. But it also opened up another line of debate, this time
over voting systems. Since 1773, elections had been decided by the
traditional “First-Past-the-Post” [FPTP] or plurality model; put
simply, the candidate with the greatest number of votes wins. As many
political observers noted, the plurality system rarely mirrored the
popular vote. Although a party might garner a significant share of the
popular vote, those votes often failed to translate into seats.
Indeed, the increasing trend in Island politics by the late 1990s was
towards huge majorities based on a relatively modest majority of the
popular vote (Carruthers, Cousins). Frequently reduced to one or two
members, the Official Opposition was challenged to function
effectively in the Legislature, Out of seven general elections from
1989 to 2011, only one, in 1996, resulted in a balanced majority.
During its round of public hearings in 1994, the MacPherson Commission
heard for the first time serious advocacy of some form of Proportional
Representation to either supplement or replace the existing
“first-past-the-post” system. The opinions mirrored a national trend,
largely impelled by declining voter engagement, toward electoral
reform. After being returned to power with a crushing majority in
2000, Premier Pat Binns gingerly took up the issue.
After preliminary investigations by Elections PEI, retired Chief
Justice Norman Carruthers was appointed a one-man commission in 2003
to investigate the appropriateness of adopting alternate systems of
voting on Prince Edward Island. Carruthers’ report recommended
adoption of a Mixed Member Proportional System, with twenty-one seats
elected by the existing plurality system and ten additional members
elected on a separate ballot from party lists (Carruthers). In 2004,
the Commission on Prince Edward Island’s Electoral Future adjusted
Carruthers’ seat breakdown to seventeen and ten, respectively
(McKenna). The option was then put before the electorate in a 2005
Although Carruthers had encountered considerable public apathy in the
course of his public hearings, the referendum campaign reached a wider
audience. Advocates of the Mixed Member Proportional scheme stressed
that the composition of the House would more closely reflect the
popular vote – no one’s vote would be “wasted”; that it would produce
stronger Oppositions and more diverse Legislatures, making Governments
more responsible to the people; that more women and minorities would
enter the House; that forms of Proportional Representation had become
the norm rather than the exception around the world. Opponents warned
of Party lists stacked with hand-picked “party insiders” and/or urban
elites; of unstable coalition governments since no party was likely to
win an absolute majority; of special interest, fringe parties that
would paralyze the business of the House.
Many voters simply may have felt the system didn’t need fixing. Others
may have been discouraged by Premier Binns’ announcement that a “yes”
would require 60% of the total votes cast as well as a majority in 60%
of the twenty-seven ridings, an almost impossible expectation. In any
event, only 33% of the electorate turned out to vote in the
referendum. Of those that did, 64 % voted “no.” (McKenna).
The fate of the Proportional Representation referendum offers a number
of potential lessons. In the end there were two levels of opposition
to Proportional Representation: those that opposed Proportional
Representation on principle and those who opposed the particular model
being proposed. Echoing the position of earlier legislative
committees, other opponents claimed that their position did not mean
“no,” merely “not yet.” Apathy may have played a part, but complacency
seems less likely. As Hon. Norman Carruthers argued in his Report, the
political history of Prince Edward Island has been characterized by
change rather than stasis. And societal change will continue to force
our political institutions to adapt. As the number of urban and
“rurban” 4 inhabitants continues to rise, as other special interest
groups assert their claims to consideration, as legal challenges
continue to overturn established practice, as our definition of what
constitutes “community” transcends physical geography, as our culture
continues to diversify, our democracy will be confronted with the
necessity – but also, the opportunity – of renewal.
That is, “rural” by census definition but living in close physical,
vocational, and cultural proximity to urban centres.
Canadian Discussions on Electoral Reform
Prince Edward Island has been among several Canadian provinces which
have carried out major public engagement exercises on electoral change
in recent years. These initiatives were sparked by generally similar
factors, notably an increasingly mobile and diverse electorate with
fewer ties to a particular geographic location or party identity.
As well, the First Past the Post (FPTP) system, rooted in tradition
and primarily designed for a two-party state, was seen as poorly
suited to a multi-party system. As additional parties emerged and
grew, they pointed to perceived flaws of the FPTP system, including
lopsided majorities, weak Oppositions, heightened regional tensions
and conflict, and under-representation of voices which were outside
the mainstream or diffused across the country.
Alienation grew, as more voters, regions, and communities of interest
felt disempowered and excluded from elected representation. There was
marked decline in trust and confidence in governments, and lower voter
turnout, especially among young Canadians. Many citizens were
demanding a greater voice in the decisions affecting them.
The mid-1990s into the 2000s were a time of perceived democratic
malaise and a search for a better way. These change initiatives – in
British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward
Island – not only explored new electoral models, but also often did so
in new and more inclusive ways:
The reform wave began in Quebec, with the appointment of an Estates
General on the Reform of Democratic Institutions (the Béland
Commission) in 2002. The Estates General reported in March 2003,
recommending a change to a system of regional proportional
representation. In December 2004, government introduced a draft bill
proposing various reforms including a variant of a proportional
representation electoral system. In subsequent processes and
consultations, divergent views emerged on the appropriate model, and
the initiative was eventually shelved.
In January 2003, Prince Edward Island appointed the Honourable Norman
Carruthers to examine options for electoral reform, making PEI an
early leader in this wave of reform. The process and the ensuring
rejection of reform in the 2005 plebiscite have been described above.
In 2004, British Columbia established a Citizens' Assembly, a group of
160 people mostly drawn from a randomly generated list of voters from
each riding, and gave the Assembly a year and a budget of over $5
million to do their work. The new system recommended by this process
(the “Single Transferable Vote”) almost succeeded in winning the
required 'supermajority' of public support. It won 57% – but not the
needed 60% – of the provincial vote, and gained majority support in 77
of the 79 ridings. A subsequent reworking of the model and a second
referendum in 2009 fell well below these levels of support, winning
only 39% support province-wide and seven of 85 electoral districts.
During 2004, New Brunswick's Commission on Legislative Democracy
studied and consulted the public on options for electoral reform,
ultimately recommending a change to a mixed proportional
representation approach. The then government committed to take the
proposal to the public via a referendum, but following a change of
government in 2006, this did not occur.
In October 2003, Ontario established the Democratic Renewal
Secretariat within the Office of the Attorney General, with a mandate
to examine ways to strengthen democracy. Initiatives included a move
to fixed election dates, increased disclosure of campaign donations,
and, in late 2004, appointment of a Citizens' Assembly to examine
electoral reform options. In May 2007, the Assembly reported,
recommending a move to a mixed proportional representation system. The
recommendation went to a referendum in conjunction with the October
2007 provincial election, and was decisively defeated, gaining 37%
support compared to 63% for the existing FPTP system.
During 2003 and 2004, the Law Commission of Canada carried out a major
study and public engagement effort to explore the case for electoral
reform and to propose options, ultimately leading to a recommendation
for a mixed member proportional system.
All of these processes concluded that the current FPTP system offered
the fewest strengths, and most recommended a mixed member proportional
system as providing the best balance of benefits. Where processes were
prolonged, they became vulnerable to changes in government or
priorities. However, regardless of duration, in the three provinces
where the process was completed and a new system was submitted to the
electorate in a referendum – Prince Edward Island, British Columbia,
and Ontario – 60% or more of those who voted ultimately opted to
retain the existing system.
Despite these relatively recent outcomes, electoral reform is once
more a key topic of political discourse. Again, Prince Edward Island
is a leader, with the Throne Speech's commitment to examine electoral
reform, and the release of this White Paper. Since Prince Edward
Island’s Throne Speech on June 4 2015, the province of Alberta has
also committed to examine electoral reform, and the Liberal Party of
Canada has made it a core part of its platform for the coming federal
election campaign. The New Democratic Party, meanwhile, has long been
a proponent of electoral reform. In Ontario, the road is clear for its
cities and towns to move to a preferential ballot system that would
enable voters to rank their choices – ensuring that every councillor
is elected with a majority of voter support.
With the re-emergence of public discussion around these reform
initiatives, comment has emerged in the media on possible reasons for
the failure of past attempts. According to Andrew Coyne of the
National Post, “The biggest impediment to reform, where it has been
attempted, has been the fear of the unknown – the public’s instinctive
attachment, when forced to choose, to the status quo, as against some
other system that, whatever frustrations they may have with the
present system, can always be made out to be something worse: risky,
untried, foreign.” More simply, Conrad Yakabuski of the Globe and Mail
recently opined that electoral reform excites “earnest young academics
and policy wonks who think our democracy is broken. But as attempts at
electoral reform in a few provinces have now shown, voters don’t
generally trust a bunch of elites to fix it.”
These opinions may overstate the role played by fear and mistrust in
defeating past efforts at reform. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that
reform is most likely to win support when it is grounded in the
history, values, needs, and circumstances of its society. As noted by
Chief Elections Officer Merrill Wigginton in his 2002 Report on
Proportional Representation, “...each and every country using
Proportional Representation (PR) uses a system particular to that
country. In fact, if there are 124 countries throughout the world
using PR then there appears to be at least 120 different systems of
It is clear that changes to such a fundamental element of democracy
cannot simply be transplanted in Prince Edward Island and expected to
take root. In effect, our efforts must be grown from seed here: our
reforms must be made in Prince Edward Island, by Islanders, and for
Islanders. We have a long and proud history of electoral evolution
upon which we can draw.
Accordingly, the following section sets puts forward directions for
electoral change that build on our past, achieve progress on important
issues facing us today, and enable further change and renewal in the
longer term.
Ideas for Change in Prince Edward Island
Finding a Balance: Exploring A New Model of Electoral Reform
Electoral systems are composed of three elements, each with several
The basic voting system, or how votes are translated into seats: A
plurality system (winner take all or first past the post), in which
the candidate with the largest number of votes wins, even if he or she
has less than half the votes
A majority system, in which the candidate must gain at least 50% plus
one of the votes to win
A proportional representation system, where the overall shares of
votes in the district or province or country are converted into shares
of the seat total and distributed via party lists or other means
The size of electoral districts, in terms of both geographical size
and number of candidates: Smaller single-member constituencies, Prince
Edward Island’s current system
Larger districts or regions with two or more candidates per party, the
system used in Prince Edward Island with dual member constituencies
from 1893 to 1994
The whole jurisdiction with candidates presented via party lists
The structure of the ballot, or the way in which voters mark their
preferences: One choice for a single candidate, PEI’s current system
Two or more choices, such as voting for two or more representatives in
a district, or voting for a candidate and separately for a party (this
latter system is often used in proportional representation systems)
Ranked choices of two or more competing candidates from most to least
preferred, or the so-called “preferential ballot”.
These elements can be combined into an enormous number of variants,
making the choices for the electorate complicated. For example, the
mixed member proportional representation systems so widely rejected by
voters in British Columbia, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island
generally involved a combination of a first-past-the-post and
proportional representation voting systems and an element of large
multi-member districts.
In this context, it is worthwhile to explore whether practical,
straightforward alternatives can be found that offer options to
improve our system in a way that sustains what we value and that is
acceptable to a majority of Islanders. These ideas recognize that
there is no perfect system, and that every system seeks workable steps
that can be implemented. They also recognize that our Island history,
for two centuries, has been one of gradual adaptation to a changing
society and a changing world.
The model put forward in this White Paper particularly draws on Prince
Edward Island’s history of dual member ridings and on the longstanding
approach widely used in PEI and elsewhere to nominate candidates and
party leaders. It proposes a modern update.
The new elements of this model include:
a combination of four large districts aligned with our four federal
ridings, and six small single-member ridings within each of those
districts, yielding a total of 28 Members of the Legislative Assembly;
a move to a preferential ballot system in both types of district to
ensure that every candidate must win the support of at least half
their constituents to gain elected office.
Also discussed are measures to encourage greater diversity and
representativeness in all candidates.
Dual Electoral Districts
The proposed model of four large districts based on federal riding
boundaries, and six small single-member ridings within each of those
districts has a number of implications.
With regard to the design of the large and small districts:
The four large districts would be kept relatively even-sized as a
result of federal electoral boundary change and ongoing modifications
to these boundaries by Elections Canada.
The twenty-four individual districts can be designed to reflect the
factors that have always been important to Islanders, including a
balance of rural and urban representation and protection of linguistic
The twenty-four individual ridings would have an average of about
4,200 voters, still small enough to maintain the close relationship
between elected member and voter that Islanders value so highly.
The four federal ridings align well to historical community patterns,
create a clear separation between the capital city and the rest of the
province, and exhibit internally consistent socioeconomic
With regard to the move to a renewed version of a dual-member system:
Islanders are familiar and comfortable with the concept of a
dual-member system, as it served as our democratic model until two
decades ago.
The fact that every voter will be represented by two members of the
legislature – one local and one regional – provides more opportunities
for choice, interaction, and representativeness.
Some types of systems, such as mixed member proportional
representation, create fears of “two-tier” members of the legislature,
in which the party list members from the large districts are seen as
having less credibility than members elected directly in local
districts. This concern does not arise with the present proposal, as
both types of candidates would be directly elected by a majority of
the voters in the district.
Historically, PEI’s system of dual-member ridings was used by parties
to reflect the religious diversity of the electorate. Our society
today has more dimensions of diversity that should be reflected in our
legislature, and this proposed system of individual and regional
ridings offers opportunities to promote that.
Preferential Ballot System
The debates and reform proposals of the recent past have tended to a
choice between some form of proportional representation or the status
quo. The ballot system this White paper puts forward is a preferential
form. Voters would receive a two-part ballot on Election Day. On one
half, the voter would indicate his or her preferences, in order, for
the candidates in the local district, with “1” being the preferred
candidate, “2” the second choice, and so on. It would be the voter’s
choice as to whether to indicate only one preference, or two or more,
from among the candidates offering.
On the second part of the ballot, the voter could express his or her
preferences with regard to the candidates for each of the parties
offering in the large district aligned with the federal riding. Again,
the voter could rank as many candidates as wished.
The votes would be counted and any candidate receiving over 50% of the
total vote in the first round would be declared elected. For those
candidates receiving less than half the vote, the lowest ranked
candidate would be dropped from the list, and the second choices of
that candidate’s supporters would be counted. This process would
continue until a candidate won a majority of votes.
This approach, which has long been used within political parties to
select leaders and candidates for office, has several positive
It gives voters a greater voice and reduces the number of “wasted
In so doing, it increases the electoral influence of supporters of
smaller and newer parties, as those preferences are most likely to be
counted first in working toward the 50% plus one.
It ensures that all winning candidates enter office with the support
of a majority of their constituents.
More subtly, it promotes a collaborative approach to running for and
holding office. It is widely considered that the first-past-the-post
system encourages candidates to foster polarization and conflict, in
order to define what they stand for and galvanize their supporters
into voting. In a preferential system, however, candidates must appeal
to a broader range of views in order to win the support of second and
third round voters, encouraging a more constructive and positive
On the other hand, the system does not directly translate vote share
into seat share, and hence may not succeed in making election outcomes
results more proportional. This does reduce the possibility, or to
some the risk, of frequent minority or coalition governments. While
the measures suggested here do go part-way toward proportionality,
some voters may still be under-represented or unrepresented in the
Legislature, and smaller or newer parties may still experience greater
challenges in winning seats. The questions for Islanders are the
balance they wish to strike between tradition and innovation, and on
the pace of change and renewal.
Reflecting our Society: Increasing Representativeness of the
Legislative Assembly
A widely accepted guiding principle for electoral systems is that they
should result in legislatures that mirror their society – reflecting
demographic diversity and a rich range of ideas, interests, and
perspectives. Such an achievement is seen as having major benefits.
First and foremost, it strengthens social cohesion and trust in
democracy, as people from all walks of life feel that they are
represented in their elected body. It also ensures that public policy
is enriched with diverse viewpoints and new ideas, and is sensitive to
the needs of all sectors of society.
Our engagement on representation will consider ways to increase the
participation of women, Aboriginal Islanders, Islanders with
disabilities and visible and linguistic minorities as we seek the
ideal of an elected body that it is truly reflective of Prince Edward
Island society.
Representation of women – half our society – in legislatures has long
been a subject of public scrutiny and advocacy. Generally, in Prince
Edward Island and elsewhere, women experience a greater disparity
between their demographic weight and their democratic representation
than any other group in society. While progress has been made, it is
slow and often halting.
Since Island women gained the vote and the right to serve in elected
office in 1922, only 26 women have sat in the Legislative Assembly, a
small fraction in proportion to the hundreds of male representatives
over that time and before. Currently, women hold a smaller number and
share of seats than they did twenty years ago.
Much good work has been done by the Coalition for Women in Government
and other groups to define the factors and barriers contributing to
this state of affairs. Within our first-past-the-post system, parties
tend to select the candidates that they see as most likely to win, and
historically these have been male. Moreover, running for a party’s
nomination can be challenging for any candidate in terms of time and
personal finances.
More recently, the Coalition’s research is indicating that when women
run for office, they are at least as likely to be elected as their
male counterparts, increasing the incentive for parties to recruit
women and to nominate them in winnable ridings. The key challenge
identified by the Coalition, however, is in having women seek
nomination as candidates.
While political parties play an important role in addressing this,
research suggests several possible barriers that are within the scope
of this White Paper to address, including the following:
The heavy workload and high expectations that constituents place on
their MLAs results in challenges to work-life balance, especially
among members with caregiving responsibilities.
Legislative Assembly practices such as evening sittings also create
pressures on work-life balance.
For some observers, the tone of the Legislative Assembly, which at
best can be uncivil and may be hostile and adversarial, is a
The Coalition for Women in Government has made a number of
recommendations to promote gender balance and representativeness in
the House, some directed to government and others to political
parties. The recommendations for government included the following:
Establish a Legislative Special Committee to review the role and
responsibilities of Members of the Legislative Assembly.
Support MLA’s constituency responsibilities through creation of an
Ombudsperson position and regional staffed constituency offices to
assist MLAs with their duties.
Create more predictable and timely Legislative processes through
elimination of evening sittings and creation of a legislative and
committee annual calendar.
Provide professional development and training in areas such as
chairing meetings, time management, work-life balance, and available
Establish a caregiver benefit for MLAs with such responsibilities.
With regard to the tone of political discourse, the more collaborative
tone encouraged by the proposed move to preferential voting would
create a more positive and collegial environment in the House,
broadening the appeal of elected office not only for women but for all
Levelling the Playing Field: Reconsidering Election Financing
Election financing rules play a critically important role in democracy
in a number ways:
Caps on individual donations, and restrictions on types of donors
(e.g. no corporations or unions) reduce the capacity and the public
perceptions of capacity of specific donors to influence favourable
treatment through large donations.
Caps on spending by parties and by individual candidates during
election campaigns limit the advantage held by parties with superior
financial capacity.
Alternatively or additionally, publishing the names and addresses of
all donors contributing over a certain amount provides transparency
and a natural check on the provision of large donations.
Taxpayer subsidies for campaign spending to all parties that gain a
certain threshold of voter support reduce the dependency of all
parties on individual donations and, depending on the threshold,
increase access to elected office for small and new parties.
Across Canada and beyond, the trend has been to reform election
financing systems to increase transparency, ensure fairness, and
promote participation. In PEI, legislation was first passed in 1988
and then updated significantly in the spring of 1996. Since then, only
housekeeping changes have been made to the Election Expenses Act,
although voluntary improvements to practices have occurred in some
instances. In the current context of debate about electoral systems,
various matters regarding election financing might be addressed,
including the following.
Restrictions on who may donate: Currently, contributions to a
political party or election campaign in PEI may be made by
individuals, corporations, and unions, with no requirement for
residency. This is similar to the majority of other Canadian
jurisdictions; currently, only Canada, Quebec, and Nova Scotia
restrict donations to resident individuals, while Manitoba restricts
donations to individuals, resident or otherwise.
Caps on individual donations: Currently, there are no upper limits on
how much an individual donor, either a person or a corporation or
union, may give in Prince Edward Island. The majority of provinces
(Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta)
currently have maximums ranging from $1,000 (in Quebec) to $6,000 (in
New Brunswick.) Federally, the limit on individual donations is
Caps on campaign spending: The Election Expenses Act sets out limits
on the amount that may be spent during the campaign period, which is
defined as the period from the dropping of the writ until three months
after ordinary polling day: Total expenses province-wide incurred by a
registered party or any person, corporation, trade union,
unincorporated corporation, or organization acting on its behalf are
capped at an amount equal to $9.00 per voter in the districts in which
the party is competing.
Total expenses incurred by any individual candidate or any person,
corporation, trade union, unincorporated corporation, or organization
acting on his or her behalf are capped at $2.63 per voter in the
candidate’s district.
Should spending at either level exceed those limits, the amount of
subsidy if any (see below) shall be reduced by the amount of the
excess. The Act also provides for a fine of up to $1,000.
Taxpayer subsidies to the electoral process: Currently, the Election
Expenses Act provides for a subsidy to candidates winning at least 15%
of the vote within their ridings.5 This funding support recognizes the
value of a vibrant electoral process to our democracy, and helps to
reduce the dependency of candidates and parties on individual and
corporate donations. It also recognizes and mitigates the impacts of
stricter campaign financing rules. Following the May 2015 election,
however, the system has been criticized for setting the bar too high
at 15% of vote share, and thus disadvantaging small or new parties
with province-wide rather than regionally concentrated support.
The subsidy is set at the lesser of the candidate’s actual expenses as
filed with the Chief Electoral Officer or $1.12 per registered voter
in the riding, subject to a minimum subsidy of $1,500 and a maximum of
$3,000. As well, each registered party holding one or more seats in
the Legislature receives an annual allowance of $3.01 for each vote
received province-wide in the most recent general election. Both
amounts have been indexed since the original subsidies of 75 cents and
$2.00 respectively. It should be noted that since the 1990s, by
agreement, neither of the two major parties have collected their
provincial subsidies; the subsidies have gone only to individual
Hearing from Islanders: Engagement Processes
Electoral reform affects every Islander, and Government is committed
to gaining the broadest possible public input on the important issues
raised in this paper.
A Special Legislative Committee will be struck to guide the process.
The Committee will engage with experts, interested groups and
Islanders to clarify the issues and options.
Importantly, the Committee will define the plebiscite question to be
presented to Islanders with regard to the future voting system. The
Committee will present this question in the Legislative Assembly in
its interim report, to be submitted by November 30, 2015. Further, the
plebiscite question itself will be guided by a preferential ballot on
the three voting options: (i) first past the post, the current system,
(ii) a preferential ballot, (iii) proportional representation.
During the fall and winter of 2015-2016, the Legislative Committee
will reach out to Islanders to hear their views. In keeping with this
Government's commitment to maintain a face-to-face relationship with
Islanders, public meetings will be held across the province. Written
submissions will be welcomed, with comment on any or all of the
matters set out in this discussion paper, as well as other
democracy-related issues of concern. Comment can be submitted by mail,
email, or on the Committee's website.
Islanders will also be invited to take part in the conversation about
democratic renewal on the Committee's Facebook page, and via Twitter.
The Committee will work over the winter to finalize its report, in
order that it may be tabled during the Spring 2016 sitting of the
Legislative Assembly, to direct any proposed legislative or statutory
changes, and to inform the work of the Electoral Boundaries Commission
to be appointed in May 2016.
Prince Edward Island’s democratic history is strong. The purpose of
the exercise we are embarking on with this White Paper is to ensure
our principal democratic institution – our electoral process – is
developing in a manner consistent with the expectations and hopes of
all Islanders. The contributions and ongoing commitment from all
residents of Prince Edward Island is critical both to this exercise
and ultimately to the democratic process itself.
It will be important that our steps are firm and forward as we seek to
advance our democratic strength. We look forward to the contributions
from many voices in the coming months as we consider the issues raised
in this White Paper and as we work together for democratic renewal in
Prince Edward Island.
References and Suggested Reading
I. Reports and Commissions
British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, Making Every
Vote Count: The Case for Electoral Reform in British Columbia.
Victoria: December 2004
Carruthers, Norman. 2003 Prince Edward Island Electoral Reform
Commission Report. [Charlottetown, PEI]: Government of Prince Edward
Island, 2003.
Cousins, J. Andrew. “Electoral Reform for Prince Edward Island: A
Discussion Paper,” Institute of Island Studies, University of Prince
Edward Island, Charlottetown, 2000.
Croken, Lowell, and Nora Palmer, comp. Prince Edward Island Historical
Review of Provincial Election Results: 1900 to 26 February 2001.
Charlottetown: Elections PEI, 2001.
DesRoches, J. S., chair. Report of the Royal Commission on Electoral
Reform. Charlottetown, PEI: Queen’s Printer, 1962.
Elections Prince Edward Island. Report on Proportional Representation.
Charlottetown: Elections PEI, 2002.
Estates General on the Reform of Democratic Institutions (Quebec),
Take your Rightful Place! Quebec City: March 2003
Law Commission of Canada, Voting Counts. Ottawa: Queens Printer, 2004
Law Commission of Canada, Renewing Democracy: Debating Electoral
Reform in Canada. Ottawa: Queens Printer, 2002
Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island. Report of the Electoral
Boundaries Committee. Charlottetown. 2nd sess., 53rd General Assembly,
Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island. Report of the Special
Legislative Committee on Electoral Boundaries. 3rd sess., 62nd General
Assembly, May 2006. Committee Report 1.
MacPherson, Lynwood, chair. Changing the Political Landscape: Report
of the Election Act and Electoral Boundaries Commission.
Charlottetown: Queen’s Printer, 1994.
New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy, Final Report and
Recommendations. Fredericton: December 2004
Ontario Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform: One Ballot, Two Votes:
A New Way to Vote in Ontario. Toronto: Publications Ontario, May 2007
Report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission. Charlottetown: Queen’s
Printer, 2004.
II. Secondary Sources
Bailie, Warren R., and David Johnson. “Drawing the Electoral Line.”
Options Politiques (November 1992): 21-­‐24.
Barnes, Andre, and Robertson, James, Electoral Reform Initiatives in
Canadian Provinces. Ottawa: Parliamentary Information and Research
Service, 2009
Clark, Marlene Russell. “Island Politics.” In Canada’s Smallest
Province: A History of P.E.I., edited by F.W.P. Bolger, 289-­‐327.
Charlottetown: Prince Edward Island 1973 Centennial Commission, 1973.
Clark, Marlene Russell, “The Franchise in Prince Edward Island and its
Relation to Island Politics and Other Political Institutions.” M.A.
Thesis, Dalhousie University, 1968.
Crossley, John. “Picture This: Women Politicians Hold Key Positions in
Prince Edward Island.” In In the Presence of Women: Representation in
Canadian Governments, edited by Linda Trimble and Jane Arscott,
278-­‐307. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1997.
Driscoll, Fred. “History and Politics of Prince Edward Island.”
Canadian Parliamentary Review 11, no. 2 (Summer 1988): 1-­‐13
MacDonald, Edward. If You’re Stronghearted: Prince Edward Island in
the Twentieth Century. Charlottetown: Prince Edward Island Museum and
Heritage Foundation, 2000.
McKenna, Peter. “Opting Out of Electoral Reform: Why Prince Edward
Island Chose the Status Quo.” Options Politique (June 2006): 58-­‐61.
MacKinnon, Frank. The Government of Prince Edward Island. Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 1951.
PEI Coalition for Women in Government, “It’s About Time: An Initiative
to Elect Women in PEI: Research Findings and Conclusions Summary.”
Charlottetown, 2006
PEI Coalition for Women in Government, Whose Job is it Anyway? The
Life and Work of an MLA. Charlottetown, January 2009
Samara, Democracy 360: A Report Card on How Canadians Communicate,
Participate, and Lead in Politics. Accessed June 18, 2015.
Samara, Democracy 360: Provincial Profiles. Accessed June 18, 2015.
Spierenburg, H. Historical Statistics of Prince Edward Island.
Charlottetown: Department of Provincial Treasury, 2007. Accessed 21
June 2015.
Stephenson, Laura B. and Tanguay, Brian, “Ontario’s Referendum on
Proportional Representation: Why Citizens Said No,” Choices (September
2009), Institute for Research on Public Policy
Tremblay, Manon, “Women and Political Participation in Canada,”
Electoral Insight (January 2001).
Wicks, Ann and Lang-Dion, Raylene, “Equal Voice: Electing More Women
in Canada,” Canadian Parliamentary Review (Spring 2007): 36-39
III. Legislation
Election Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, cap. E-1.1
Election Expenses Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988 cap. E-2
Electoral Boundaries Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, cap. E-1.1
Electoral Boundaries Act, S.P.E.I. 1994, cap 13
IV. Other
MacKinnon v. Government of PEI (1993). PEI Supreme Court, Trial
“A New Electoral Map for Prince Edward Island: A Private Member’s
Proposal to the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island.”
Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island, 1994.
Appendix: Chronology of Prince Edward Island’s Democratic Evolution
1720-1725 Île Saint-Jean founded as a proprietary colony
1726-1758 Île Saint-Jean administered as a satellite of Royal Colony
in Île Royale
1763 Treaty of Paris transfers ownership of Island to Great Britain;
falls under jurisdiction of Nova Scotia
1769 St. John’s Island granted colonial status
1770 Governor Patterson appoints a seven-member Council
1773 First House of Assembly elected: one riding, 18 members; Council
for a time doubles as both Legislative and Executive Council
1774 Governor given discretion in timing and format for elections
1784 Governorship reduced in status to Lieutenant-Governor under the
nominal direction of first Nova Scotia, and then Canada
1787 Island divided into three county ridings with four members at
large from each county and two representatives from each county
capital and royalty
1803 First Election Act formalizes existing electoral practice
1804 Length of term in Legislature set at seven years
1830 Roman Catholics (45% of the population) given right to vote and
hold public office, one year after enfranchisement in Great Britain
1833 Length of term for Legislature set at four years
1834 Legislature no longer dissolved upon death of reigning monarch
1838 House of Assembly enlarged to 24 members elected from 12
dual-member ridings, four in each county, including two members from
each county capital and royalty
1839 Legislative and Executive Councils formally separated, making it
possible for members of the elected House of Assembly to be named to
the Executive Council
1848 Multi-day voting abolished in wake of bloody Belfast Riot of 1847
1851 Responsible Government granted; henceforth, the Executive Council
(i.e. the Cabinet) chosen on recommendation of leader commanding a
majority in the elected House of Assembly
1856 House of Assembly enlarged to 30 members, chosen from 15
dual-member constituency
1861 Capital of Prince County (and its seats) moved from Princetown to
1862 Legislative Council made elective, with 13 members, chosen from
two dual-member ridings per county with one member from Charlottetown;
property franchise
1873 Prince Edward Island enters Confederation
1877 Voting by secret ballot replaces oral, open voting
1879 Voting by secret ballot repealed, largely because of expense
1893 Riding of 5th Kings (Georgetown Royalty) enlarged to encompass
surrounding headlands in order to address low population in the riding
1893 Legislative Council and House of Assembly are combined into a
30-member “Legislative Assembly,” with 15 dual-member ridings, five
per county. Each riding elects Assemblyman (MLA), elected according to
adult male suffrage and a Councillor (MLC), elected on a property
franchise. Any voter owning $325 in property in a constituency can
vote in that riding
1913 Secret ballot re-introduced
1922 Women receive the right to vote and hold public office
1951 The first woman runs for elected office, Hilda Ramsay, CCF
1962 Report of the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform
1963 Aboriginal people given right to vote in provincial elections
1964 Election Act abolishes property vote and multiple voting;
re-distribution eliminates 5th Kings riding and creates 6th Queens
1966 Amendment to the Election Act restores 5th Kings and enlarges
Legislative Assembly to 32 members
1970 The first woman is elected to the Legislative Assembly, Jean
1974 Electoral Boundaries Committee
1988 Electoral Boundaries Act provides for periodic consideration of
electoral boundaries
1991-1993 MacKinnon v. Government of PEI argues that vast imbalance in
number of voters between Island constituencies violates Charter of
Rights and Freedoms by denying “voter parity.” Judge Desroches finds
for plaintiff
1993 Catherine Callbeck becomes Canada’s first female Premier elected
to office
1994 Election Act and Electoral Boundaries Commission recommends 30
single-member ridings (10 in Prince County, 15 in Queens, and 5 in
1994 Private member’s bill introduced by Ross Young results in a
27-seat Legislature (9 seats in Prince County, 13 in Queens, and 5 in
1997 A second, fall sitting of the Legislature initiated
2003 Hon. Norman Carruthers chairs one-man commission on electoral
reform; recommends a Mixed Member electoral system, featuring 21
members elected by plurality and 10 members elected from party lists
2004 Commission on PEI’s Electoral Future adjusts proposal to include
17 members elected by plurality and 10 elected from party lists
2004 Report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission re-draws riding
2005 Referendum on electoral reform: voter turnout of 33%; 64%
opposed, 36% in favour
2006 Legislature’s Special Committee on Electoral Boundaries tables
report urging community concerns be factored into electoral boundaries
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