Illustration: Joy Wang

Illustration: Joy Wang

During the federal election last fall, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau declared that he would revamp Canada’s current voting system once and for all. Gone would be the days of the flawed, Conservative-favouring voting system if the Liberals were elected. In its place, they promised to erect a fair and well-balanced voting system. Now that the Liberals have begun the first of their four years in power, they plan on keeping their promise for electoral reform. And yet, it must be too important and complex a subject for the common citizen to have a say in, since the Liberals don’t seem to have a referendum in mind for the issue.

The Liberal government believes that the general attitude towards changing the electoral system is so unanimous that they can follow through with the decision without first issuing a referendum. However, a recent poll from market research company Insights West showed that 62% of citizens polled are happy with the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system currently in use, with another 19% feeling very satisfied. If the voting system were to be changed, 65% of the people polled would want a referendum on the issue.

The two largest contenders for an alternative system to FPTP are the mixed-member proportional system and the ranked ballot system. If the mixed-member proportional system were implemented, it would allow Parliament to be represented as proportionally as possible; this is because people would cast a vote for their representative MP, and would cast another vote for the national party they think should be elected. In contrast, the ranked ballot system allows voters to rank which parties they would like to elect, but if the Liberals were to implement this system as an alternative to FPTP, the projected results would favour them over any other party. This is because the ranked ballot system encourages parties to adopt centrist policies in order to garner as many votes as possible. After all, left-wing NDP supporters are more likely to choose a centrist party, such as the Liberals, for their second choice as opposed to a right wing party like the Conservatives [1].  So, the ranked ballot system would help the Liberals gather more votes.

Incidentally, the ranked ballot system just happens to be exactly what the Liberals are pushing for, not to mention what Prime Minister Trudeau personally prefers [2]. What a surprise.

Instead of asking the voters what they think, Trudeau’s government plans on creating an “all-party Parliamentary committee” [3] to research and propose its recommended change to Parliament. Published on the web, their policy makes no mention as to how this committee will be selected, and of whom it will be composed [4]. The NDP proposed that the committee be proportionally divided in a way that reflects the party percentages from the October election results [5], but the Liberals didn’t have a specific response to this proposal during question period. They are attempting to make good on their promise to evoke change, but are simultaneously keeping the entire country in the dark as to what the change will be and how it will come about. That is, if they even have a plan for change in mind at all, considering the lack of  information currently available on how they plan to address the issue.

Another issue is the fact that most of the pressure for electoral reform seems to be coming from inside Parliament rather than outside. A poll from Abacus Data prior to the Insights West poll showed a limited majority when it came to popular opinion on electoral change [6]. 44% of the people polled think that the government should enact a change, 24% believe the current system should stay untouched, and 32% have no clear views on the matter. Evidently, a sizeable percentage of the population is not in favour of changing to the ranked ballot system.

As it stands, a referendum is definitely needed for this issue that will affect Canadian citizens for years to come. The Liberal government should determine how much of the population actually wants a change. If a significant portion of voters do, then a referendum will also help determine the kind of change to the system that should be implemented. It gives voters a chance to present their own views on the issue.

Before the Liberal government makes any rash decisions as to how Canadian citizens should be able to select their representatives in Parliament, it needs to evaluate what the citizens want. Trudeau needs to stick to his promise of “a fair and open government,” and actually open up the process to include the input of the people. Yes, Canadians “want a government with a vision and an agenda,” but let’s make it an agenda for all Canadians, and not just the government.

 

[1] http://thereckoner.ca/op-ed-winner-takes-all-means-canada-loses/

[2] http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/trudeau-electoral-reform-liberal-1.3369723

[3] https://www.liberal.ca/realchange/electoral-reform/

[4] https://www.liberal.ca/files/2015/08/a-fair-and-open-government.pdf

[5] http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ndp-liberals-electoral-reform-1.3434297

[6] http://www.broadbentinstitute.ca/canadians_want_the_new_government_to_keep_its_promise_to_change_voting_system_by_almost_two_to_one_margin