Liberals walk away from electoral reform

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef / Justin Tang (Canadian Press)


The federal government won’t reform the electoral system until they believe enough Canadians support it, says Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef.

Monsef has been leading consultations across Canada on electoral reform and a special House committee has heard testimony from more than 700 people on potential electoral methods besides Canada’s current first-past-the-post system. Members of Parliament were invited to host local town halls to discuss the issue, which the committee will be releasing a report on this week.

Canada’s current first-past-the-post system is highly criticized for being unrepresentative of the popular vote, and often results in parliamentary constructions that vastly differ from the will of Canadians. The system disproportionately advantages regional parties, and greatly disadvantages parties without a concentrated bases of support, such as the Green Party, which routinely gets three to five per cent of the popular vote yet maintains only one of the 338 seats.

“We’re committed to this initiative, but we’re not going to move forward unless we have the broad support of the people of this country for whom we’re making this change,” Monsef said during an interview on CTV’s Question Period.

“I’ve heard the most passion from proponents for proportional representation and proponents for first-past-the-post.”

Those who advocate an alternative proportional representation system say it’s a more accurate and fairer representation of the vote. While there are many different styles of proportional representation being discussed and debated, they all strive to create a parliament that correlates with the popular vote.

Electoral reform was one of the key pillars of the Liberal Party’s 2015 campaign. Their website still says they are “committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.”

But recent remarks by Liberal MPs and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicate the party is backing away from its electoral promises.

“Under Mr. Harper, there were so many people dissatisfied with the government and its approach that they were saying, ‘We need an electoral reform so that we can no longer have a government we don’t like,'” said Trudeau last month.

“However, under the current system, they now have a government they are more satisfied with. And the motivation to want to change the electoral system is less urgent.”

Under the current system the Liberal Party managed to capture 54.4 per cent of the seats with votes from only 39.47 per cent of Canadians.

MPs on the special committee report the majority of those who want change advocate a shift to a proportional representation system. The committee will likely recommend a referendum on the issue.

While a referendum would be costly, Monsef says she would “take it very seriously” if the committee does in fact recommend one.

“It means I will not take it lightly. It means I recognize that [the committee has] put a lot of work into this, that they’ve heard from Canadians… [but] I’ve heard what I’ve heard too.”

The government will continue to reach out to Canadians on this issue. Next month, they plan to release an online survey and a mail-out to better gauge how the country feels.

A shift in electoral systems would likely lead to a vastly different political landscape. Countries with proportional representation, such as Germany and Italy, often have a greater variety of viable parties, which must work together and cooperate to enact legislation and reach policy objectives.

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