2016—2017 · Vol. 44 No. 4



Federal Liberals poised to break promise on electoral reform

The 2015 federal election was supposed to be the last to use our flawed and outdated first-past-the-post voting system. That was the commitment repeated frequently and emphatically by Justin Trudeau during the campaign—if the Liberals formed the government, which they did, we would have a new voting system before the next election. And so for organizations like Fair Vote Canada, and for the wide range of politicians, academics, prominent commentators and ordinary citizens who have been pointing out for years that our current system is really not very democratic, there was a heightened sense of optimism in the weeks following the election that we would finally see meaningful electoral reform in Canada.

A year later, however, that optimism is rapidly waning. Over the past couple of months both Trudeau and Maryam Monsef, his Minister of Democratic Institutions, have been grasping for any excuse to dodge their campaign commitment and back away from electoral reform.

Even before an all-party Special Committee on Electoral Reform had completed its report, Justin Trudeau was telling journalists that “the motivation to want to change the electoral system is less urgent” now that he, rather than Stephen Harper, is prime minister. Apparently it’s not okay for other parties to benefit from a skewed system, but it’s perfectly fine for Trudeau’s Liberals.

The Election Reform Committee delivered its report on December 1. Predicated on months of evidence-based consultations in which 88 per cent of experts argued for a system of proportional representation (PR), the Committee’s report was very clear in its majority recommendation in favour of a PR system. Monsef, however, flippantly dismissed the report as not specific enough, and suggested that the Committee members had failed to do their jobs.

Monsef has been similarly dismissive of the town hall meetings hosted by more than 170 Members of Parliament, saying that no clear consensus has emerged, even though virtually all independent reports—and even most of the official reports submitted by MPs—indicate a strong preference for proportional representation and widespread dissatisfaction with our current system.

So if months of Committee consultations, town hall meetings, voter surveys and workshops have not provided the government with enough evidence that Canadians want reform, what do they think will tell them what they want to know? Well, they’ve mailed every household in Canada a postcard inviting us to complete an online survey—something Justin Trudeau has called “a fun little questionnaire”—to determine our “democratic values.”

The survey, which resides at mydemocracy.ca, has been the subject of both serious criticism for its leading questions and satirical ridicule for its similarity to any number of vacuous online quizzes one might fill out solely for entertainment. The latter perception is amplified by the survey’s insistence on slotting participants, based on their responses, into “archetypes” such as “guardian,” “innovator,” “pragmatist,” “challenger” and “co-operator.” Each category comes with a quaint description, but none of them indicates what kind of voting system a particular “archetype” would prefer. The survey, in fact, never even asks that question.

In spite of its many flaws, however, Fair Vote Canada is encouraging Canadians to complete the MyDemocracy survey. They’ve launched a website at mycanadiandemocracy.ca as a guide to help us avoid the traps set by leading questions and complete the survey in a way that will indicate support for a proportional electoral system.

The federal Liberals made an important commitment to Canadians. They pledged to get rid of an electoral system that distorts the intentions of voters, creates false majority governments and breeds widespread frustration and voter disengagement. Now it’s up to all of us to hold them to that commitment.

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