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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 deterrent.

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.



  • Establish a Legislative Special Committee to review the role and responsibilities of Members of the Legislative Assembly.



  • 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 supports.



  • 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 Islanders.

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