This month, the federal Liberal government announced the process they intend to use to arrive at new rules for how we run elections in Canada. It was a rocky start.
An Electoral Reform Committee will be established with 10 voting members: 6 Liberal, 3 Conservative, and 1 NDP. The Bloc Quebecois and Green Parties, who do have elected MPs sitting in Parliament will get one non-voting member each and will be able to participate in the discussion but have no say in approving the final recommendations, which are due in six months. The 18 other parties registered with Elections Canada are excluded completely.
All the opposition parties say that the setup is unfair. The Conservatives are demanding a referendum while the NDP and Green parties want the Liberals to give up their majority on the committee.
Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions, has repeatedly dismissed the idea of holding a referendum. Her answer to a question in Parliament as to why that is the case was “Allow me to take this opportunity to remind all members of the House that the final decision on what reforms we bring forward will be the decision of all 338 members of the House, and to believe otherwise is undemocratic.” There’s a slight problem with that. The Liberal party holds a majority in the House and a majority on the Committee. They established that majority with less than 40% of the total vote in October 2015, in a First Past the Post system that they have admitted is unfair. It is indefensible to suggest that they have a legitimate mandate to unilaterally change the way elections are conducted, which the rules that they have set up provide them. It was not very long ago that they railed against the Conservative Party for tightening ID requirements at the election poll without consulting Canadians (that Conservative majority had a slightly higher percentage of the popular vote).
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggests that they will consult Canadians. My personal feeling, however, is that their recommendations have already been determined. They will bring in a ranked ballot with mandatory voting and the option for online voting. They will pretend to listen to the 30 (too optimistic?) nerds like me in each riding who bother to show up in the middle of the summer to a Town Hall. They say they will monitor social media to gauge the public reaction. The very structure of this consultation is flawed, however. Not all Canadians use social media. Not all Canadians feel comfortable posting their political opinions publicly on social media. And not all Canadians want their positions on this issue to be known to their MP. Never mind the fact that if you are in a riding not represented by a Liberal MP, under the rules they set up, your representative has no real sway on the recommendations anyway.
The only fair way to bring in a change this big is through a national referendum where multiple options for reform (including the status quo) are presented and can be voted on by a ranked ballot. It should not be held at the same time as a general election and it should have a minimum of six months of lead time to allow the population to properly debate the options. See Lessons from Past Referendums.
I, myself, am in favour of a ranked ballot to elect the House of Commons (in the context of a proportional Senate, see the Manougian Model) but I don’t believe I have the right to call the shots without the people’s consent. Neither should the 39% majority Liberal government.
In the meantime, I have requested a meeting with Minister Monsef. I’m sure her staff will read this post to find out who I am. What I’m not sure about is whether they will think I’m important enough to have an hour of the Minister’s time. After all, they are willing to dismiss the opinions of millions of other Canadians without hesitation.
Here’s some coverage from CBC’s The National: