Electoral Reboot: Prince Edward Island

Electoral Reboot: Prince Edward Island

July 19, 2016 1:34pmET

While federal politicians and Canadians consider voting reform for the House of Commons, Prince Edward Island will hold a second vote on the subject this autumn.


The non-binding plebiscite, scheduled for late October and early November, offers five options to the province’s voters, who currently elect 27 members to the Legislative Assembly.

They can rank any or all of the following systems on their ballot:

  • First Past the Post (FPTP): The current system, where MLAs win by receiving the most votes in each electoral district.


  • First Past the Post plus Leaders (FPTP+): The same as above, except parties receiving at least 10 per cent of the popular vote receive a seat for their leader. Party leaders would no longer run in an individual district.


  • Preferential Voting, also known as the Alternative Vote (AV). Voters rank candidates in order of preference, and the winner needs at least 50 per cent of ballots. Several rounds of counting can be necessary, with lower-placed candidates removed and the second preferences on their ballots re-assigned.


  • Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP): One vote for a local MLA, and one vote for an MLA from province-wide party lists. The list seats would “top up” the local results to ensure the legislature standings better reflect the overall popular vote.


  • Dual Member Proportional (DMP): Voters would use one vote to elect two MLAs in each district. Parties can run two candidates together in each district, with their “primary” and “secondary” ranking determined by the parties themselves. Seat counts are based on the province-wide popular vote, filled first by the “primary” winner in each district, and then by a formula based on proportional representation.


Also of note for those following the federal debate on electoral reform: P.E.I. voters can vote via the Internet, telephone, or in person. And the voting age has been lowered to 16.

  • P.E.I. voters rejected the MMP system in a 2005 referendum, with 63.4% voting NO. Voter turnout was only 33%. 


  • Support for MMP was concentrated in and around Charlottetown and Summerside, and weakest in the province’s outermost districts.


  • The YES vote ranged from 56.6% in central Charlottetown to just 11.4% in Tignish-Deblois, on the island’s northwestern tip:


The NDP won zero seats in P.E.I.’s 2015 election, despite winning 11% of the popular vote. The Greens won a single seat with 10.8% of the popular vote.

P.E.I. electoral districts once elected two members each, a practice dating to the 1830s. Single-member districts were introduced in the 1990s.

Here’s how Prince Edward Island reached this new plebiscite:

2001: A special committee on the Elections Act hears evidence that P.E.I. needs some sort of proportional representation.

2002: P.E.I.’s chief electoral officer reports on proportional representation and options for the province.

2003:  Former P.E.I. chief justice Norman Carruthers travels the province as a one-man commission on electoral reform. His report recommends a citizens’ assembly, education program, and referendum on Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP).

2005: The Commission on P.E.I.’s Electoral Future designs an MMP option for the province, the referendum question, and plans an education program in advance of the November vote.

2015: Following a spring election, the Liberal government’s Speech from the Throne pledges fresh action on democratic reform. Their White Paper on Democratic Renewal promises a special committee to consider voting alternatives, followed by a new plebiscite.

2016: The committee recommends a plebiscite with five options for voters to rank in order of preference. This follows several public meetings across the province and written submissions.

-Andrew Thomson