Toronto – October 18, 2016 – When Justin Trudeau stated that the 2015 Federal Election would be the last one held under our first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, many people were skeptical of his comments. And once his party formed government, scepticism increased as commentators questioned whether the Liberals would actually be willing to change a system that gave them a huge majority government.
Critics became more concerned when, after months of delay, the Trudeau government announced the establishment of a special parliamentary committee tasked with consulting with Canadians on the issue of electoral reform, and devising a new electoral system before the next election. Ironically, the original makeup of the committee reflected the same distortions that we see in our FPTP electoral system. With a clear majority on the committee, the Liberals had the power to recommend a new voting system that would benefit their party. And once Justin Trudeau stated his preference for a ranked ballot voting system, many saw the writing on the wall. Because a ranked ballot is simply a mechanism that determines how votes are counted for a particular vote, and is not a type of electoral system in and of itself, adopting ranked ballots would do absolutely nothing to ensure proportionality in election results.
After outcry and a public awareness campaign by the federal New Democrats, the Liberals acquiesced to the NDP’s demands and established a committee that better reflects the makeup of the House of Commons. With their majority on the committee now gone, the Liberals will be forced to find at least one dance partner to secure support for any recommendation put forward by the committee.
While the changes to the electoral reform committee are encouraging, many are still concerned that it will be impossible to have a new electoral system in place by the next election. Elections Canada previously stated that they would need at least two years to have a new system up and running for the 2019 Federal Election.
The parliamentary committee has already embarked on consultations across the country, and NDP MP Nathan Cullen managed to reach over 37,000 Canadians while conducting his own consultations on the issue. Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef says her consultations have revealed no consensus on a precise model for electoral reform. But the NDP consultations have resulted in the development of three main principles for electoral reform: 1) that votes be equal, effective, and empowered by adding proportionality to the electoral system; 2) that we maintain local representation in our electoral system going forward; and 3) that we reform our system to ensure increased representation of women and visible minorities in the House of Commons.
For UFCW Canada, the principles that the NDP is putting forward closely align with our union’s position on this issue. UFCW Canada believes that a new electoral system must:
Be more representative to better reflect voters’ wishes;
Provide for regional and/or local representation;
Ensure that every vote counts; and
Prevent any party from forming a majority government without a majority of votes.
After a slow start, let us hope that the parliamentary committee on electoral reform is starting to hear the messages and principles that Canadians are relaying to their politicians. We will know by December 1 – when the committee will deliver its final report – whether the government plans to move ahead with a proportionally representative electoral system.