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White Paper on Democratic Renewal

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 Assembly."

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 society.

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.

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