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Leadnow | November 1, 2016

Keeping the commitment to making every vote count

By Katelynn Northam
Electoral Reform Campaign Lead - Leadnow

It’s been a big year for electoral reform. We’re now at the end of the government’s consultation process, with a recommendation from the all-party parliamentary committee on electoral reform (ERRE) expected on December 1st. After that recommendation, it’ll be up to the Liberals to create legislation to make voting reform a reality.

Despite claims that nobody cares about this issue, the consultations brought out a high number of participants. Tens of thousands of people filled out the government’s online survey, and thousands went to in-person events.[1] Not bad for an issue that is often labelled as wonkish.

Over the last week and a half, we saw what the media called a ‘trial balloon’ from the Prime Minister. PM Trudeau said that he isn't sure that Canadians want these changes as much now that they are happier with the government, and that the Liberals won’t move ahead on reforms without ‘broad support’. Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef made similar comments at a town hall recently. [2-3]

Just what the government means by broad support is unclear. Nonetheless, the PM’s words were widely interpreted in the media as opening the door to a walk-back of their election promise to “make every vote count”.

The Leadnow community thinks that the government should stay strongly committed to this promise - and here’s why.

The Liberals heard a clear pro-change message at consultations.

The government hasn’t released a report yet summarizing all of the town halls - but from what we saw, the appetite for change is real.

Leadnow sent invitations out to about 63 events across the country between early August and early October. We got report-backs on what happened at 49. We heard from attendees that most participants spoke in favour of some form of proportional representation (PR) at 80% of these events, whereas opinions were more mixed at the other 20%. 

If the Minister did not hear a clear pro-PR message, it may be because her events (which were by all accounts very well run and engaging for participants), often tackled issues aside from the voting system. At many events, there just wasn’t enough time to go deeply into the electoral reform systems.

Unfortunately, the Minister has not yet reported back on the events she held, so we can’t be entirely sure what she heard from the public. She did not file a brief with the committee by the October 7th deadline on her cross-country events, and only reported out on the town halls she held as an MP for Peterborough-Kawartha. Therefore, we don’t know what exactly happened at her cross-country events, where the information she took down went, and how much it will impact the final decision.


The public agrees

The desire for change is not just limited to those who attended consultations.

When asked, the general public agrees that the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system is unfair. Only 36% of Canadians think that our FPTP system is fine as is.[4] 61% also agree that it’s fundamentally unfair for a party to get a majority of the seats in Parliament with less than half of the vote.[5]

Source: Ekos, as published in Policy Magazine Vol 4 Issue 6

There’s only one way to address the problem of false majorities - that’s proportional representation.

Proportional representation is the right thing to do

Even if nobody had come out or paid attention at all to the ‘summer of electoral reform’, this should be about doing what’s best for as many people as possible.

Voting reform, or more specifically, a move to proportional representation, would fix inequality between voters. Under first-past-the-post, your vote matters more and politicians pay attention to you more if you happen to live in a swing riding. Voting reform should be implemented because it’s the best way to fix that inequality. We can look to one of the tried and tested proportional systems used by over 90 (largely stable and economically solid) countries around the world to find a new way forward.

A promise was made

The bottom line is this. People broadly agree that our current system is not okay, and the Liberals promised to do something about it.

We can’t wait until the next time we get a government that isn’t committed to openness and transparency to fix what’s broken.

A majority of Canadians and 70% of Liberal supporters want to see the PM keep his word on voting reform.[6] Many in the Leadnow community voted strategically for the Liberals in 2015 because of this promise.

This was a laudable and bold promise. We have to give the Liberals big kudos for tackling a very tricky issue. But given the ambitious agenda on the table in the next year, the PM will certainly be tempted to leave this one by the wayside. Following through, however, would leave an incredible legacy for this country - one that voters will remember in 2019. 



[1] Electoral reform committee has set records for public consultation – let's not throw that away (Ottawa Citizen):

[2] Trudeau taking heat for walking back electoral reform (iPolitics):

[3] Transcript of video from Monsef town hall in Victoria on Thursday, Oct 27th.

[4] The public outlook on electoral reform (EKOS):

[5] The Public Outlook on Electoral Reform: What Do Canadians Want? (Policy Magazine):

[6] Six in 10 want Trudeau to keep electoral reform promise: EKOS (iPolitics):

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