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National

Prince Edward Island poised for battle over ’18th century’ voting system

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CHARLOTTETOWN — A referendum law that could see the cradle of Confederation become the birthplace of proportional representation passed Tuesday, more than a year after Justin Trudeau struck the option from potential national reforms.

P.E.I. legislators approved the Electoral System Referendum Act on Tuesday evening, laying out what Attorney General Jordan Brown describes as a “fair choice” that will “determine the electoral future of the province.”

The question in the bill — “Should Prince Edward Island change its voting system to a mixed member proportional voting system?” — may also boost the system’s national exposure, alongside British Columbia’s preparations for a mail-in referendum on the issue this fall.

The Island vote poses a simple “Yes” or “No” option, with political scientists predicting a tight battle over the outcome.

Proponents are arguing P.E.I. is fertile ground for an early win for the system, depending on when a provincial election is held.

One key argument is small jurisdictions like P.E.I. — where one of two parties often holds a lop-sided majority — don’t have sufficient checks on the government.

“I think our electoral system is an 18th century system and we need to bring it into the 21st century,” says Leo Cheverie, an advocate for a “Yes” vote.

However, opposition groups are now starting to form with sharply differing views.

Opponents like Dr. Gary Morgan, a veterinarian in Mill River, P.E.I., says he fears his province will become a “battlefield and bellwether for people who want this electoral reform for regions in Canada.”

“It’s a threat to rural voice in Prince Edward Island … in western P.E.I., we have five members representing us in the legislature and that would be down to two.”

A “No” vote would mean the continuation of 27 legislature seats chosen by the first-past-the-post method, while a “Yes” creates a system of voters choosing 18 legislators in redrawn electoral districts and also casting province-wide ballots for nine others from lists parties create.

The “list” seats would be assigned proportionately based on the popular vote each party received on the second part of the ballots.

Under the terms of the referendum bill voted on Tuesday, members of the legislature must still briefly reconvene to approve a referendum commissioner. The bill says a victory for the “Yes” side will require a majority of votes cast in the referendum ballot in at least 60 per cent of the electoral districts.

Mixed member proportional representation won a majority of the votes in a 2016 plebiscite on the Island, but Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan set the results aside due to a low turnout, promising he’d offer another referendum in the next general election.

Political scientist Don Desserud says it’s too early to predict an outcome in Round 2.

“The polling numbers are pretty evenly split … so it’s going to be interesting to see in an actual election how that plays out,” said the University of Prince Edward Island professor.

Cheverie is already working behind the scenes, and predicts much of the campaign will occur through one-on-one chats among Islanders.

The P.E.I. Proportional Representation Network website is using grassroots organizing methods, inviting participants to “share ideas,” and “if other citizens think it’s a good idea, they will join you and make it happen,” through online chat groups.

“We’re in a new phase where we’re trying to have more people from bottom up taking action,” he said.

Marcia Carroll, director of the P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities, says she’s returning to the campaign in hopes of bringing people with disabilities into politics.

“This has stirred something political in me deeper than I realized I had,” said Carroll. “We’re ready to go again … that’s the way we work. We don’t give up.”

However, Desserud says the “No” side has the quiet support of the majority Liberal and Conservative politicians on the Island, and the emergence of Morgan’s group is a sign the opposing forces are marshalling.

Morgan, a former Progressive Conservative candidate in the 1990s in western P.E.I., says he expects to form alliances with urban voters who object to voting for a candidate not actually based in their riding.

“I don’t see the connection between the at-large member of the legislature and democracy,” he said.

Desserud also says that the campaign structure created by the Liberals in the referendum bill has helped level the playing field, by restricting off-Island donations, keeping individual donations to $1,000, and setting up public funding for both sides to draw on for advertising.

“I’m watching this with fascination to see what they (the Liberals) are doing … Are they just very, very confident that when the ‘No’ supporters get organized by a regular election campaign that this will kill it?” says the professor.

Brown says the referendum bill — and the governing Liberals — are unbiased.

“I have looked at all the different systems. They all have their pros and cons. Whatever Islanders want I’m more than fine with,” he said.

Restrictions on outside donations and the role of provincial politicians are quite reasonable, he adds.

“A fulsome debate should be enabled through a system that both promotes the sharing of ideas and education … and regulates that same process so that no wealthy or outside individual can disproportionately sway the will of the voters,” he said.

James Aylward, the leader of the Tory opposition, said in an interview he is also staying neutral in the vote.

“I’m not going to state my preference one way or the other,” he said. “I don’t think it should be the responsibility of elected members of the legislature to push their will on the electorate.”

Peter Bevan-Baker, leader of the Green Party, said he voted against the referendum bill based on its lack of public consultation, but added, “it’s been improved immensely from its original draft.”

Bevan-Baker said he suspects the government’s willingness to sit through a long session to pass the bill is a sign they’re holding open the option of a fall election, with the referendum on the ballot.

“Perhaps we will be making a little bit of history,” he says.

Trudeau had promised to abolish the first-past-the-post federal voting system during the 2015 election, but later abandoned the plan. The prime minister argued that consultations across the country revealed that Canadians were not clamouring for change.

In B.C., a campaign asking voters whether they want to switch to proportional representation or keep the first-past-the-post system will start on July 1, with voting by mail-in ballot running from Oct. 22 to Nov. 30.

— By Michael Tutton in Halifax

The Canadian Press




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Construction

Liberals set hiring, procurement rules for federally-funded projects

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OTTAWA — Cities, provinces and territories building new roads, bridges, water and transit systems funded with federal dollars will have to let Indigenous Peoples, veterans and recent immigrants have a hand in those projects under new rules being unveiled today.

The idea of so-called community benefits will be a mandatory requirement for many infrastructure projects the federal government will help pay for through its $33-billion spending envelope.

Provinces and territories will have some leeway to decide what projects are to be subject to the rules. Those projects that are will have to explain publicly how far they have come in meeting the government’s goals.

Under the new guidelines, provinces, territories and cities would have to hire apprentices, Indigenous Peoples, recent immigrants, veterans, young people, people with disabilities and women, or procure goods and services from small- and medium-sized businesses or social enterprises.

Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi will be in Toronto to unveil the new rules alongside the MP that first brought the idea to him two years ago — Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen.

Community benefit agreements have been used for years in the United States and were applied to the construction of the athletes’ village for the Vancouver Olympics. The agreements require projects to hire locally or create jobs for groups facing high unemployment rates, such as young people and Aboriginals.

The deals are usually negotiated among private companies doing work, the public body funding the project and community groups like unions, faith-based groups or social services.

The Liberals inserted broad wording about community benefit requirements into infrastructure funding deals that provinces and territories signed over the past year.

Once construction starts on projects funded through those agreements, the Liberals want to see how many hours the targeted populations work, or the value of the contracts provided to targeted businesses, to see how well proponents are doing at meeting their goals.

There will also be requirements to explain the challenges and successes provinces, territories and cities have in meeting the community benefit goals.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


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‘Hot Dog Water’ seller in Vancouver gets laughs, sales with savvy marketing

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VANCOUVER — A Vancouver man who sold bottles of “Hot Dog Water” for nearly $40 each says he was trying to see how marketing of health claims backed by supposed science amounts to quick sales.

Douglas Bevans said he boiled about 100 organic beef hot dogs and put each one in a bottle of the water he sold at an annual car-free event.

Each bottle of the “keto-compatible,” unfiltered water sold for $37.99, but two bottles cost only $75 because of a special deal last Sunday at his booth, where he wore a hot dog onesie and promoted himself as CEO of Hot Dog Water.

Bevans promised the water would lead to increased brain function, weight loss and a youthful appearance, even erasing crow’s feet when applied to the face in the form of a lip balm, which he also happened to sell.

“We noticed that some people were rubbing lip balm on their crow’s feet and they were swearing their crow’s feet were disappearing before their eyes,” he said.

One man who rubbed the lip balm on his “dome” sent him photos suggesting it promoted hair growth, Bevans said.

While many people laughed, he said others were impressed by the health benefits they’d experience with his unique products, including body spray and “Hot Dog Water breath freshener.”

Bevans said he sold 60 litres worth of the products.

He told people the water creates quicker sodium uptake for good health, uttering sheer quackery: “Because Hot Dog Water and perspiration resemble each other so when you drink Hot Dog Water it bypasses the lymphatic system, whereas other waters have to go through your filtering system, so really, Hot Dog Water has three times as much uptake as coconut water.”

Bevans, who is really a tour operator and a performance artist, said he came up with the idea as he questioned the ridiculous marketing and health claims behind some products and thought to himself: “I bet I could sell hot dog water.”

“We’re helping people, empowering them to use informed decisions in their purchasing choices,” he said about his marketing stunt. “That is the message behind this.”

His aim is to get consumers to bypass slick marketing and think about what they’re buying, especially in the age of social media clicks and ‘likes’ involving celebrities pitches.

Bevans said he thought of his project as an art performance to create awareness about critical thinking.

“Art, I think, has a way of doing this better than if this was a public service announcement. There’s an image attached to it, that it’s ridiculous.”

— Follow @CamilleBains 1 on Twitter.

 

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


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