Canada: electoral reform

Written by  //  April 19, 2017  //  Canada  //  6 Comments

Canadian Electoral Reform – Public Opinion on Possible Alternatives (PDF)
The landmark survey commissioned by the Broadbent Institute is the first study of its kind and size to measure Canadians’ attitudes about voting system design and preference for electoral reform. The research, conducted by Abacus Data, found Canadians want the new government to keep its promise to change the voting system by an almost two to one margin and a larger margin prefers a proportional system to ranked ballots. Voting with a preferential ballot would have produced an even larger false majority in the 2015 Canadian General Election, the study also found (December 2015)
electoral reform alternatives

Trudeau government tells 130,000 Canadians support for electoral reform ‘does not exist’
(Press Progress) The Government of Canada has responded to a record breaking petition demanding Justin Trudeau honour his campaign promise on electoral reform.
Their response? In a nutshell: thanks, but we’ll be sticking with our line that support for electoral reform “does not exist.”
According to the final tally, a grand total of 130,452 people signed the official House of Commons e-petition calling on the Trudeau government to reverse its electoral reform flip-flop – the largest petition ever of its kind since the House of Commons passed a motion allowing online petitions before the last election.
In its formal response to the petition initiated by Kitchener Ontario’s Jonathan Cassels and sponsored by NDP MP Nathan Cullen, the Trudeau government tells signatories that “the Government of Canada is pleased to respond to this petition,” but reiterates that they aren’t open to changing their mind about their broken promise.

7 February
Liberal MP: Trudeau left minister in the dark on plan to break electoral reform promise
In an audio recording obtained by PressProgress, Andy Fillmore, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions –explains that Trudeau only gave Gould less than 24 hours’ notice before marching the rookie Minister in front of TV cameras to defend the Prime Minister’s flip-flop.
The audio clip, recorded at Fillmore’s Halifax constituency office last Friday during a public meeting with constituents upset about his government’s flip-flop on electoral reform, captures the Liberal MP telling his constituents that “none of us knew” what Trudeau’s “direction” on electoral reform would be.
Fillmore adds that he and Gould were only notified “the day before or the morning of” the announcement.
Following last Wednesday’s announcement, Gould said the decision was based on feedback the government received through town halls (that were overwhelmingly in support of electoral reform) and the government’s MyDemocracy.ca online quiz (widely-ridiculed as an unreliable source of data).
1 February

Trudeau abandons pledge on electoral reform

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is abandoning his long-held promise to change the way Canadians vote in federal elections
(Globe & Mail) In a mandate letter for newly appointed Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, Trudeau [writes]
“Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.” A variety of consultations across the country have shown that Canadians are not clamouring for a change in the way they choose their federal government, the letter continues. It also rules out the possibility of a national referendum.
“A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged,” Trudeau writes. “Furthermore, without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada’s interest.”
Opposition accuses Trudeau of ‘betrayal’ as Liberals abandon promise of electoral reform
New mandate for democratic institutions minister does not include reform
Opposition MPs blasted the Liberal government’s move as a cynical betrayal.
Trudeau’s zeal for electoral reform fell with his own electoral success
Liberals figured when they won, public satisfaction with the voting system was restored
By John Geddes
(Maclean’s) Trudeau first promised to get rid of the old familiar first-past-the-post voting system back in the spring of 2015. That was, as political obsessives will recall, a testing season for him. The federal NDP had bounced back dramatically in the polls, challenging Trudeau’s status as the main alternative to Stephen Harper, thanks largely to the election of their provincial social-democrat cousins in Alberta. Chances of Trudeau’s Liberals scoring a clean win in the coming fall election seemed to be receding.That was the backdrop when Trudeau announced an ambitious package of democratic reform proposals, including the signature pledge to get rid of first-past-the-post, if he was elected. I ask him about it in an interview. He was clear, in my opinion, that foremost in his mind was the discouraging possibility of the Conservatives again winning a majority, as they had in 2011, with a minority of the popular vote, thanks to vote-splitting between the Liberals and NDP.

12 January
Maryam Monsef escapes the Liberal adventure in electoral reform
Minister’s move follows string of missteps – but suggests she isn’t seen as a lost cause
(CBC) Of course, a decision to change things does not typically reflect well on the previous situation. The change also lines up neatly with a general sense that electoral reform has been a mess for Monsef and this government.
A year into the Liberal adventure on electoral reform, a change may also be seen as best for everyone involved.
The trouble with electoral reform
Electoral reform is inherently fraught: esoteric and philosophical in its details, but fundamental to the nature of a democracy, even while the general public is only vaguely interested in the topic.
The particular value of any given option is difficult to objectively quantify. And any discussion of the topic is subject to the impassioned arguments of advocates, as well as the real or perceived self-interest of the partisans involved.

8 January 2017
The place for proportional representation is Canada’s Senate
By Ghaith Hannibal El-Mohtar
FPTP remains an anachronistic system that critically fails to reflect the popular will when more than two parties contest an election. It has been abandoned, with good reason, by every Western democracy except for Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. That said, any electoral reform should be done with a holistic view of Canada’s bi-cameral parliamentary system. In particular, the Senate could be used to balance the government’s extensive powers that result from a distortion of the popular will, while keeping the current system for the House of Commons and the stability it brings.
(Montreal Gazette) Will Justin Trudeau keep his promise to make the 2015 election the last one held under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system? Doubts continue to be raised.
Proportional representation is no silver bullet. It is volatile and usually divides a legislative body into a moving carousel of ideologically fractured small parties that need a coalition to function, and in other jurisdictions has allowed extreme parties to surface, grow and even enter cabinet and play king-maker after elections.
While outdated, FPTP does offer proven advantages. With a majority government, cabinet can establish long-term priorities early on and keep more election promises. For instance the Harper Conservatives, who centralized power in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to an unprecedented level, delivered on a record 82 per cent of their 2011 election promises.

6 December
Liberals’ voting questionnaire raises more questions than it answers
Gerald Caplan
(Globe & Mail) Parliament’s Special Committee on Electoral Reform has concluded that a referendum is the best way to determine Canadian public opinion about electoral reform. But the proposition raises many questions that have so far resulted in few answers. Supporters of a referendum have an obligation to show that it can realistically deliver a clear consensus.
Suddenly, though it’s news to me, moving from First Past the Post to a different voting system is a really, really fundamental value question for Canadians. Suddenly the House of Commons, entrusted to make decisions about life and death, war and peace, can’t be trusted with the largely technical question of how votes are cast and counted.
Of course no referendum was deemed necessary to give Canadians the present FPTP system in the first place back in the 19th century. Nor was a referendum needed when, finally, some Canadian men generously gave some women the vote. Nor when, much later still, Canadian settlers in Parliament gave Canada’s original inhabitants the right to vote. Parliament made those changes, which has always seemed sensible until now. But today is somehow different. Why?
There are other key questions that are unavoidable. For example, what size turnout is required to make a referendum a legitimate reflection of the public will? Several provincial referenda on electoral reform have witnessed turnouts far less than 50 per cent. Apathy was the big winner. Would this still count? Would this level of support reflect a genuine consensus on anything, other than most Canadians being bored silly by the entire question. But think of this: Turnout is never considered in parliamentary elections. The winning party wins regardless of the number of people who turn out to vote.
Here are two other tough ones. What level of support for one or the other type of voting system is required? Does a simple majority win? Is 50 per cent-plus-1 enough since it’s enough to break up a country?
And what about vote distribution? What if Ontario and New Brunswick vote for PR and get a larger total than Quebec and Saskatchewan, which support ranked balloting? What if each chooses a different type of PR? What if Quebec stands alone? Or, what if Ontario and Quebec agree but all the rest disagree? Won’t that divide the country irrevocably? These are pretty serious considerations with, as yet, no answers.
This raises the multiple choices that are available to us if the first referendum actually shows that Canadians want to ditch FPTP, which they well may not. There seem to be, floating around the world, a goodly number of different voting systems. Speaking for myself, many are quite difficult to comprehend. This significantly complicates the referendum question, which, as noted, must be short, sweet and easily grasped to give the referendum legitimacy. A referendum without genuine legitimacy is worth as much as a Donald Trump policy statement.
This would suggest that each of these systems must be referended individually, with a short, sweet and easily grasped explanation of how it operates. Failure to be able to explain its operation simply and sweetly could be taken as evidence that it’s not a very useful choice.
To be clear and logical, several referenda are surely required – a nuisance, perhaps, but that’s democracy for you.
With six months needed to organize each referendum, these exercises in mass democracy could take some years and cost about the same as a CF-18. Who ever said democracy comes cheap? But we’d better be sure the exercise is worth it.
2 December
Minister ‘disappointed’ as electoral reform committee recommends referendum on proportional representation
Liberal government asked committee to study alternatives to 1st-past-the-post voting system
The special committee of MPs studying electoral reform in Canada recommends the government hold a referendum that pits the current system against a system of proportional representation, without specifying a particular alternative.
But the Liberal members of the committee do not agree that a referendum should be conducted at this time, casting doubt on whether the Trudeau government will be able to fulfil its campaign promise of electoral reform in time for the 2019 election.
NDP and Green members, in a joint supplementary report, also still question the need for a referendum.
Time for Liberals to decide if they’re serious about electoral reform: Aaron Wherry
Trudeau government has options, but is it still determined to keep campaign promise?
The 348-page committee report is, in the words of NDP reform critic Nathan Cullen, “a historic document, the most comprehensive … study of Canadian democracy in Canada’s history.”
And maybe someday someone might make some use of it.
There is at least a little something for everyone.
The majority report recommends the referendum the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois had demanded.
It also says any alternative electoral system should achieve the result of proportional representation, as the New Democrats and Greens prefer. …
The Liberal committee members concluded Canadians are not yet sufficiently engaged with the topic of electoral reform, which could perhaps be read as an indictment of the committee’s own efforts, not to mention those of the prime minister and his government.
But it’s plausible that Canadians will remain unengaged unless or until there is both a specific proposal for change and the imminent possibility of that change being implemented — something, for instance, like a referendum.
1 December
Canada’s electoral reform file has reached tire fire status: Robyn Urback
The idea of changing Canada’s voting system seems just as far off as it’s ever been
(CBC) Here’s what you need to know about the House of Commons committee report on electoral reform: nothing makes sense, no one knows what’s going on and there’s not really a consensus on anything.
The all-party committee recommended holding a referendum on changing Canada’s electoral system from first-past-the-post to proportional representation in time for the next election. That part is clear. Except, according to a supplementary report from Liberal committee members, the “recommendation to proceed with a national referendum is inconsistent with both the evidence received and the will of Canadians.”
What?
In their supplementary report, the Liberals also called the recommendation “radical” and “rushed,” despite the fact the Liberals have been the ones leading the charge to overhaul Canada’s electoral system in time for the next election.
6 November
Trudeau government to mail every household in Canada questions on electoral reform
(National Post) The Trudeau government is mailing postcards to every Canadian household this month to find out how people feel about the way they elect MPs, the National Post has learned.
More than 13 million full-colour postcards were being printed up this week which, when they land in mailboxes in early December, will encourage Canadians to go to a website — mydemocracy.ca or mademocratie.ca — and answer questions about their democratic values.
The websites are “parked” right now with Internet web hosting company GoDaddy.com but will go live no later than Dec. 1, said a senior government official.
The online consultations, which will close Dec. 31, will be the last of three extensive rounds of consultations on electoral reform under way since the spring.
This means the Trudeau government is expected to declare its preference for how, if it all, to change the way MPs are elected early in the new year.
24 October
May: Electoral reform committee has set records for public consultation – let’s not throw that away
(Ottawa Citizen) We are hardly the first group of Canadian parliamentarians to have been tasked with examining our “winner-take-all” voting system to consider its flaws. The first committee met in 1921. Since then, more than a dozen efforts, provincial and federal, citizen assemblies and law commissions have all recommended that the quality of our democracy, the requirements of fairness will be better served once First Past The Post (FPTP) is gone and we move to a proportional voting system.
We have developed quite a following on twitter – hashtag #ERRE – and we have fans on CPAC (yes, really!). As a team of 12 MPs from five parties, with a superb staff from House clerks to Library of Parliament analysts, we have set records and broken new ground in consultations.
With the advent of e-consultation, ERRE has pioneered public input by online questionnaire. It was not an easy or quick process, and not entirely user-friendly, yet 20,000 people used that method to reach us. In addition, thousands more submitted briefs or letters. Hundreds attended our hearings in person, stepping up to an open mic to make their case. We took questions on Twitter. The input of hundreds of MP town halls also comes to us.
9 September
Ron McKinnon: The Ranked-Pairs Project
FPTP works perfectly well when there are only two candidates for a given position, but when there are more – and in our provincial and federal elections there usually are more – it tends to skewed, unpersuasive victories to the candidate merely having first-preference support of the largest minority, NOT a definitive majority win.
There then ensues a hue and cry for voting reform – to replace FPTP with, among other things, Proportional Representation (PR).
Many people, by default it seems, see proportional representation (in some unspecified form) as the only way to address the FPTP problem. While it’s not a bad choice, necessarily, it’s also not the only, nor necessarily the best, practical and fair solution.
There are other alternatives as well: some places, Australia, for instance, use a preferential-ballot evaluated using an approach called the Alternative Vote (AV), also known as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) (also known as Ranked Ballots).
IRV / AV / Ranked-Ballots is somewhat better than FPTP but nevertheless shares many of its worst flaws. (See Why not IRV?) …
Condorcet methods can be readily implemented with minor disruption, low cost, and major positive effect.
In (1) a single voting round, each voter casts (2) a single, simple, ballot, from which (3) a round-robin match-up of each candidate against each other candidate ensues — holisticallly considering all preferences from all ballots.
Ranked Pairs voting (1) is easy for voters to understand and to do and (2) can be implemented as a direct replacement for any FPTP or AV/IRV system to (3) dramatically improve democratic responsiveness. (See How it Works!).
In the end, the candidate who beats every other candidate, in one-on-one round-robin competitions, is the winner — and will be the candidate most-preferred by the majority.
Andrew Coyne: How do we know mandatory voting makes sense? Look at the 2016 census
Over at Statistics Canada, they’re calling it the “best census since 1666” (the year of the first census of New France, as I’m sure you knew). I’m talking, of course, of the 2016 census, which boasted a 97.8 per cent response rate, up from 68 per cent five years ago.
In 2011, under the Conservatives, the mandatory long-form census, filled out by one-fifth of Canadian households, was replaced with the voluntary National Household Survey. Under the Liberals, the long-form census was again made mandatory. … a voluntary census can never be as representative a sample as a mandatory one: the sorts of people who would agree to fill out a 40-page questionnaire are likely to possess certain characteristics in greater proportion than the population at large. Rather than a random sample, you get a self-selected one. Skewed is another word.
As it happens, 68 per cent is roughly the turnout in the past federal election, while 98 per cent is not far off the turnout in Australian elections. You may already have guessed the reason: in Canada voting is voluntary, while in Australia it’s mandatory.
Who votes, and who does not, are very different.
How do they differ? Demographic factors certainly enter into it: voters tend to be older, richer and whiter than non-voters. But the biggest single factor is the efforts of the various parties to motivate sympathetic voters to get to the polls. Elections used to be decided by the “swing voters,” without strong ties to any party. Increasingly in recent elections turnout has been the decisive factor: elections often turn on which party can better “get out the vote” amongst its base of committed supporters. … when everybody votes, in every election, turnout-based strategies cease to be relevant.
3 September
Is electoral reform a solution in search of a problem?
Fresh numbers show Canadians spent their summer vacations thinking about everything but how they vote
L. Ian MacDonald
(iPolitics) Any proposed reform must pass the constitutional test of respecting “the proportionate representation of the provinces” as stipulated in Articles 51 and 52 of the Constitution Act.
To achieve unanimity, a reform would have to increase the representation of third parties without changing outcomes of elections. Some kind of modest MMP reform would do that.
What if, say, 100 members on a provincially proportional basis were added to the 338 member House? A province’s additional seats could be apportioned by each party’s share of the popular vote.
Such an MMP system would not only pass constitutional muster, it would be simple, and easily understood. And the committee needs to keep this simple.
1 September:

Tony Deutsch: the basic “impossibility theorem” was presented by Kenneth Arrow, who was awarded a Nobel Prize for this and other contributions, originally as a Columbia Ph.D. thesis. If members of the Parliamentary Committee understood Arrow, they would spend their time doing something else.

Arrow’s Theorem Proves No Voting System is Perfect
One of the central issues in the theory of voting is described by Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, which states roughly that no reasonably consistent and fair voting system can result in sensible results.
Named after Nobel Prize-winning economist Kenneth Arrow, the theorem starts by establishing a set of reasonable conditions on voting — that is, on the method of aggregating individuals’ preferences into group preferences.
These conditions can lead to nonsensical group decisions, or manifestly undemocratic decision-making. As political scientists Ken Shepsle and Mark Bonchek put it in their book, Analyzing Politics, “The group is either dominated by a single distinguished member or has intransitive preferences.” For this reason, the theorem is sometimes known as the “dictator theorem.”
Understanding Arrow’s Theorem starts with understanding what economists and political scientists mean by “intransitive preferences.”
Most Canadians Unaware Electoral Reform Work Has Started: Ipsos Poll
(HuffPost) The debate over what could bring about the biggest change to Canada’s democracy is being closely watched by an elite group representing three per cent of the population, a new poll suggests.
The sobering numbers from Ipsos Public Affairs were released Wednesday ahead of the testimony of Dr. Darrell Bricker, the firm’s CEO, before the electoral reform committee in Ottawa.
Bricker told the group he wanted to test awareness and interest in the public and parliamentary consultations happening this summer as the Liberal government moves to fulfil a key pledge to replace the first-past-the-post voting system in time for the next election.
Only 19 per cent of respondents told Ipsos they were aware consultations have begun. A vast majority — 81 per cent — either said the government hasn’t started consultations yet (21 per cent) or that they were unsure (60 per cent).
… But Bricker said the fact that such an “elite group” is paying attention isn’t surprising.
“While major electoral reform impacts everyone, people are busy. They’re living their day-to-day lives, look at the time of year that we’re in,” he said. “It’s very tough to get their attention on these types of public issues.”
And when Canadians do pay attention to political matters, he said, it’s consistently around issues such as the economy, jobs, and health care.
15 August
Joan Bryden: Electoral reform not automatic benefit for Liberals, experts say
If Justin Trudeau gets his way on electoral reform, will the Liberals “steal” every federal election in perpetuity?
As hearings on a new voting regime resume next Monday, the Conservatives contend that’s what would be in store if Canada adopts a system of ranked ballots, which the prime minister has in the past touted as his preference for replacing the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system.
Pollsters, pundits and proponents of proportional representation are only slightly less apocalyptic, predicting that a ranked ballot system — also known as preferential ballot or alternative vote (AV) — would certainly give the centrist Liberals an unfair advantage.
Hogwash, say political scientists who specialize in the study of voting systems.
“Would the Liberals automatically benefit? No,” says Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brian Tanguay.
So, which party would benefit most under ranked balloting? Hard to say.
It would likely be an advantage for smaller parties that tend to get squeezed by strategic voting under FPTP, says Arend Lijphart, professor emeritus at the University of California San Diego and widely considered the world’s leading expert on voting systems.
Like other experts interviewed, Lijphart is a fan of proportional representation, a voting system in which a party’s share of seats in the legislature reflects its share of the popular vote. But, while ranked balloting would not produce a proportional distribution of seats, he says it would still be better than FPTP.
In the handful of countries that use ranked ballots, like Australia, Pilon says the system was introduced deliberately to allow two main parties to work together to shut out other parties — and it’s largely worked out that way. But that hasn’t been the experience in Canada, where the system was used provincially years ago.
7 August
How electoral reform could benefit Elizabeth May’s Greens
Leader says current system yields ‘very perverse results’
(CBC) Last fall, for instance, Green candidates received 3.5 per cent of all votes cast in the federal election. But just one of the 338 seats in the House of Commons — the one belonging to May — is now occupied by a Green MP.
The explanation for that is both simple and obscure: a federal election is not a contest of national parties and leaders, but rather 338 regional contests pitting representatives of those parties against each other.
But it’s an incongruity that drives the desire for electoral reform. And it’s why reform could be pivotal for May’s Greens
21 June
Members of the electoral reform committee meet in Ottawa for the first time
The shortcomings of our current first-past-the-post system are well documented. Popular vote across the country does not always equate to seats in the House. Parties with something less than 50 per cent support regularly win governing majorities.
But it is also nicely straightforward. The candidate with the most votes in each riding wins and the legislature is comprised of 338 equally elected representatives.
… when the minister of democratic institutions noted for the House’s benefit last month that Canada was one of only three countries in the OECD to still use first-past-the-post, Kenney reminded her “that those three OECD countries” — the United States, Britain and Canada — “are also the oldest and most stable continuing democracies in the world.”
But at least a committee now exists to consider all relevant questions and context; it will meet for the first time on Tuesday. Its members, including Jason Kenney, could spend the next six months seriously sorting through the profound questions inherent in any meaningful consideration of putting democratic ideals into electoral practice.
At the very least, the discussion might now expand beyond the question of whether a referendum is necessary before implementing reform — a question the Conservatives are insistent upon and that will hang over this debate — to get to a debate about the actual merits of various electoral systems.
The Canadian Alliance position in 2001 seems to have been that the first-past-the-post system was broken, but Conservative insistence on a referendum is not new. As a Canadian Alliance MP, Scott Reid actually argued for two referendums during a debate in 2001 and a supplementary opinion added by Conservative MPs to a House committee report in 2005 included a commitment that a Conservative government would not implement substantial electoral reform without a national vote
At the Liberal government’s behest, the new electoral reform committee is to bear in mind another set of principles. The optimal reform will reduce “distortion” and strengthen “the link between voter intention and the election of representatives.” It will “foster greater civility and collaboration in politics,” but also “avoid undue complexity in the voting process.”
And it will “recognize the value that Canadians attach … to members of Parliament understanding local conditions and advancing local needs at the national level.”
The ranked ballot can increase the disparities of first-past-the-post.
The multiple-member proportional (MMP) system, which has voters cast two votes, would produce two classes of MPs: local representatives and compensatory MPs added to create a proportional result.
The single-transferable vote (STV), which uses a ranked ballot to elect multiple representatives per district, requires larger ridings.
The trick is merely agreeing on a system that somehow satisfies those ideals.
9 June
Liberals back down on electoral reform committee, support NDP changes
Government supports amended motion to move ahead with study of voting reforms
After weeks of criticism and controversy in the House of Commons, the Liberal government has agreed to support an NDP proposal that gives no one party a majority of seats on the committee that will study electoral reform.
At the NDP’s suggestion, seats on the committee would be allotted proportionally according to the popular vote in last year’s federal election. The 12-member committee would be composed of five Liberals, three Conservatives, two New Democrats, one member of the Bloc Québécois and Green MP Elizabeth May.
The Liberal proposal would have based the committee, like all other committees of the House of Commons, on the current seat count, with six Liberals, three Conservatives and one New Democrat (the Liberals also proposed that one member of the Bloc and May could have non-voting seats on the committee).
1 June
Jack Mintz: Trudeau must resist the autocratic impulse in changing our voting system
Justin Trudeau, with a ruling majority, faces fewer checks and balances than an American president. Whipped votes can ensure legislation sails through the House, while the unelected Senate is often good for little more than temporarily stalling a bill. Luckily, Canadians can still rely on power checks from the Supreme Court, the provinces, and ultimately, regular elections.
Looked at in this light, the Liberals’ plan to thoroughly change our electoral system is not something to take lightly. I have worked in countries with systems using proportional representation (Romania and Israel), ranked balloting (Australia) and first-past-the-post (Canada and the U.K.), and I have seen how the electoral process has major impacts on public decision-making.
14 May
Electoral reform a sideline to the priorities of most Canadians: Hébert
As central as the shape of Canada’s voting system is to those whose careers are on the line in every election, polls consistently show that it is peripheral to the priorities of most Canadians.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argues — as he did this week — that he has been invested by Canadians with a mission to introduce a different voting system in time for the 2019 election he is both overstating the strength of his mandate (39.5 per cent) and misrepresenting its scope. The last federal campaign was anything but a debate over electoral reform. The result did not hinge on the parties’ various positions on the issue.

To hold a referendum on electoral reform is easier said than done. Forget that the current federal plebiscite law is not up to current political financing standards. All it takes to fix that is political will. A more thorny issue pertains to the level of regional consent required for a yes to mean yes in Canada’s diverse federation.

Should there be majority support in every region for a reform to be implemented? Or would it be okay to change the system in spite of the opposition of a majority in one or more provinces? And can the country’s politicians even agree on an answer?
17 May
There’s no sunny way to change Canada’s democracy: Neil Macdonald
Liberals need more than votes to change electoral system with legitimacy
13 May
Jeffrey Simpson has harsh words for the Liberal government’s review of the electoral system
Who owns the vote: the parties or the people?
To whom does the electoral system belong?
If it belongs to political parties, then they should frame the debate and eventually make the decision. In doing so, they will inevitably figure out which system, on balance, favours their interests and then they will explain their position on the basis of the broad public interest.
Parties and their supporters will argue that we live in a representative democracy in which we delegate to the elected the task of running the country for four years. We then pass judgment on them at election time.
All true and certainly preferable to having people voting all the time on myriad complicated public issues.
Also true is that the method by which we elect those people belongs to us, to you, and not to politicians. They are the products of the system we think best suits the country and democracy.
It’s reasonable to review periodically the electoral system – because times, issues and demography change – as long as we, and not they, make the final decision.
12 May
Liberal pursuit of electoral reform off to a difficult start
Conservatives, NDP question composition of Liberal-dominated committee
10 May
‘We can do better’: Liberals kick off push to change Canada’s voting system
Having promised that the last federal campaign will be the last one conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system, the Liberal government is proposing that a special committee study the alternatives and report back to the House of Commons by Dec. 1.
The committee would consist of 10 voting members: six Liberals, three Conservatives and one New Democrat. One Bloc Québécois MP and Green MP Elizabeth May would be members of the committee, but not allowed to vote.
A motion to create the committee was unveiled on Tuesday night. Democratic Reform Minister Maryam Monsef and Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc explained their government’s plans on Wednesday morning.

6 Comments on "Canada: electoral reform"

  1. Antal Deutsch June 4, 2016 at 1:17 pm · Reply

    Re: Kay: Electoral reform – Why we should prefer the preferential ballot (2 June 2016)
    Fun discussion of a topic which has no perfect solution! let me put forward another one. Suppose a voter could exercise his franchise by casting either a ballot for, or against a candidate. In counting the results, the score of the candidate would be his positive votes, minus his negative votes. The winner is the candidate with the highest net positive vote, or if none, the lowest negative vote. Ths system would be perfect to express the ˝” anyone but X ” sentiment.
    I floated the idea before, and as you expect, it sank without a trace.

  2. Diana Thebaud Nicholson June 8, 2016 at 12:15 am · Reply

    A letter to the editor of The Ottawa Citizen (June 3)
    The proportional representation flaw
    There is much discussion on proportional representation (PR) voting as the answer to the current government’s electoral reform process. Any form of PR has a fatal flaw: There would be non-elected politicians who would not have any constituents to represent, only a political party.
    They would likely come from “lists” of loyal party “hacks.”
    They would become creatures of Ottawa and sycophants to the party leader. Just like the Senate, there would be unelected politicians with many personal benefits and easy access to public funds and hiring staff — yet with no allegiances except to a party leader. We would have considerably more federal politicians and be paying considerably more for them. This would be much worse than what we have now.
    Steven Poole, Orléans

  3. Diana Thebaud Nicholson June 8, 2016 at 12:20 am · Reply

    A Canadian living in Spain comments:
    What Mr. Poole says is exactly as it works- or doesn’t work in Spain- at all levels. Perhaps Mr. Poole has Spain in mind. No one here is represented by anyone at the EU Parliament, the national and regional assemblies, not even at the level of the town hall. All involve party lists, with often the only visible faces being the heads and a few other “leaders” of the parties. There are in other countries useful variations on this system- a marriage of sorts between the inscrutable, complex d’Hondt system and the first past the post one. In Germany and Sweden for example. In Sweden voters can actually select a candidate from a party list, vote for and maybe elect that person, ignoring his/ her standing on the list. Even Spain’s MEPs are selected from party lists with little heed to regions- not so in the UK, where there are defined constituencies or ridings

  4. Antal Deutsch September 8, 2016 at 10:23 am · Reply

    I suspect that the political motivation here is to give the NDP more seats, and the Tories fewer. All of which has little to do with bringing out the “true” issue related preferences of the electorate, which was Arrow’s concern. As a practical matter, first –past-the- post is regarded as producing legitimate results in the US, the UK , and so far, in Canada. By raising the issue, no matter what the outcome, we open a “we was robbed” grievance after any close election. Tony Deutsch

  5. Douglas Lightfoot October 24, 2016 at 8:34 pm · Reply

    I attended the Town Hall presented by Francis Scarpaleggia who is chair of the Committee. I talked with Francis after the meeting and knew he had a tight and busy schedule for the following three weeks.Francis is very well informed and knows the pros and cons of each system.
    I was reluctant to attend and was discouraged. However, I was encouraged that so many people wished to retain the current system. Some of the problems with systems in other countries were brought to the attention by some of the people who made comments.
    I handed in my questionnaire and mentioned to the person collecting them, whom I knew, and said I was a “first-past-the-poster”. She said there are many here tonight.
    Doug (Douglas Lightfoot)

  6. Stephen Kinsman November 8, 2016 at 1:50 pm · Reply

    The government will apparently send forms to 13,000,000 households in the country to obtain Canadians views on our “democratic values”, including, incidentally, electoral reform, based on questions devised by the Liberals. But it is a “survey”, not a “referendum” or a “poll”, which means the government need not be bound by the results at all and can still do what it wants. I believe it is concerned that most Canadians don’t want any change to the current system for fear that Canada will become even more balkanized; the divisions between Western Canada and Central Canada, the Prairies and the Maritimes will be even more pronounced and French Quebec and English Canada represent yet two more divisive elements. Some with whom I have spoken feel that these divisions will become even more exacerbated if we discard the FPTP system
    Where the government is caught, of course, is that Justin Trudeau stated that the past election was the last in which the First-Past-the-Post voting method would be employed. This lends even more credence to the tenet that the Liberals don’t really care about the survey; they will ram through Parliament the system they decide.
    There is another aspect to holding the survey in December. Many Canadians are not here in December. They are “snowbirds” residing happily in Florida, California or Arizona. and although the survey forms will be available on the internet, they do not all have internet access. In other words, an element of Canadians, usually well educated and upper middle class, is specifically excluded from participating in an exercise in democracy. Yet another reason December was chosen is because Justin Trudeau stated he wanted the issue resolved, in favour of a Liberal-constructed plan, by the end of December this year.
    I believe the concerns voiced by those against a change in the current electoral system are valid and for that reason, I am totally against any deviation from it.

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