Once again our hopes rise. Or do they? At their recent national policy convention the Liberals voted to back a citizens’ assembly on electoral reform.
Specifically, the convention resolved that “the Liberal Party of Canada urge the Government of Canada to establish a non-partisan National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform to continue the work started in 2014.”
The resolution passed with overwhelming support from party members and MPs from across the country. It was ranked 11th of the 24 resolutions given highest priority and will now be official Liberal policy for the next eight years. The party leadership has been sent a message.
So why wouldn’t the hopes of those of us who support proportional representation be rising? Simply because of the Liberals sorry record on the issue, a record of repeated betrayal.
In 2004, the Law Commission of Canada presented to the Liberal government of the day a report entitled Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada. (The commission was established under the Law Commission of Canada Act to provide non-partisan advice to the federal government on matters relating to the improvement, modernization and reform of Canadian laws.)
The report was compiled after a thorough study of our electoral system which included extensive research and broad consultations “to gather the insights and opinions of a broad cross section of Canadians.”
The problems they identified with our current first-past-the-post system were identified as clearly as I’ve seen so I’ll list them here:
- being overly generous to the party that wins a plurality of the vote, rewarding it with a legislative majority disproportionate to its share of the vote;
- allowing the governing party, with its artificially swollen legislative majority, to dominate the political agenda;
- promoting parties formed along regional lines, thus exacerbating Canada’s regional divisions;
- leaving large areas of the country without adequate representatives in the governing party caucus;
- disregarding a large number of votes in that voters who do not vote for the winning candidate have no connection to the elected representative, nor to the eventual make-up of the House of Commons;
- contributing to the under-representation of women, minority groups, and Aboriginal peoples;
- preventing a diversity of ideas from entering the House of Commons; and
- favouring an adversarial style of politics.
The commission made 23 recommendations, the first and second being “adding an element of proportionality to Canada’s electoral system” and “Canada adopt a mixed member proportional electoral system.”
The recommendations came to nothing. Years of work by the commission were wasted.
Hopes rose again in 2015. After a decade of dreary Conservative government, Justin Trudeau and his liberals swept into power with a promise to reform the electoral system high on their list. Trudeau promised to introduce legislation for electoral reform within 18 months into the next Parliament, vowing that another election would never be held under first-past-the-post.
The government set up an all-party electoral reform committee which did a mountain of research and listened to a multitude of experts and ordinary Canadians. It duly recommended that, “ The Government hold a referendum, in which the current system is on the ballot” and “That the referendum propose a proportional electoral system that achieves a Gallagher Index score of 5 or less.” (A Gallagher score under five is highly proportional.)
The committee did not recommend the prime minister’s favourite system—ranked ballot—so he cynically ignored its hard work and recommendations. (Ranked ballot would be highly favourable to the Liberals as it is the second choice of both NDP and Conservative voters. It would not be proportional.)
So should our hopes be rising because electoral reform is high on the Liberals agenda again? One would have to be the eternal optimist.
And I am. In December, 2022, a national poll conducted by EKOS showed overwhelming support for a citizens’ assembly on electoral reform from voters of all parties. So why not be hopeful. With a solid majority of Liberal MPs (and NDP MPs) backed by popular support, somehow, in some way, by some means .…
One thought on “Electoral reform—to be or not to be?”
I have heard the New Zealand approach being praised.
A straight proportional rep system has some drawbacks.