To the people of Cloverdale - Langley City,
On Wednesday, February 1st, the Government of Canada announced we would not continue pursuing changes to the way we vote in our federal elections. This came as a surprise to many Canadians who have been advocating for a change to our existing First Past the Post System, and I certainly understand the disappointment felt by many people across the country. As a member of the former Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE), I would like to take this opportunity to explain the rationale behind our Government’s decision this week, and my thoughts on this decision.
From June to December of last year, I, along with colleagues from all parties in the House of Commons conducted a far-reaching study on changing Canada’s voting system. This experience gave Members insight into the various strengths and weaknesses of a wide array of electoral systems. What became clear quite quickly was that there is no perfect electoral model. Each one has its strengths, and each its downsides. This is true of all electoral systems, and is not why the Government of Canada is not pursuing electoral reform.
At the same time, the Minister of Democratic Institutions attempted to engage Canadians on electoral reform in many ways. Despite these numerous efforts to consult with people across the country, what became evident was that Canadians, by and large, were not engaged with the process. Several polls conducted during the Committee’s study showed that electoral reform was the least, or near the least important issue to the majority of Canadians. There was, and continues to be, a commendably vocal community pushing for electoral reform. These individuals attended town halls across the country, wrote to their Member of Parliament, and participated in the variety of processes that were underway. I greatly enjoyed meeting these dedicated citizens and seeing their dedication to this issue. However, the argument that too few Canadians engaged in the process to confer a mandate to change the voting system is indisputable.
Another consideration that quickly became apparent once exploration of electoral reform began was that even among the community of individuals advocating to change our voting system, there was little consensus to be found. Those who participated indicated that Canada should transition to a proportional system of government, and the Committee’s majority report reflected this. With that being said, there are dozens of different systems of proportional government, and often, proponents of one proportional system had grave concerns about another.
Electoral reform differs from many issues a Government faces on a daily basis. It concerns the fundamental way that Canadians connect to their democracy and their representatives, as well as how Government functions in our country. During the 2015 election campaign, the Liberal Party made a commitment to change the voting system. This commitment has now been retracted, but this decision was not done lightly. Much effort went into promoting this issue across the country, and both the Minister of Democratic Institutions and the ERRE Committee were deeply committed to hearing input from across the country.
Some people have argued that input from Canadians is not inherently necessary to change the way we
vote. This is a perfectly reasonable argument, but I will explain why I disagree. While it is true that a government cannot conduct intensively broad consultations on every decision that is made, I believe that changing the nature of our democracy requires a unique level of explicit support from the citizens participating with it. Despite the efforts of all parties to engage in the issue, this was not reached, and pursuing sweeping changes without the expressed consent of Canadians would be a troubling breach of their confidence. This concern notwithstanding, the lack of consensus among those advocating reform adds another layer of ambiguity on how this would proceed.
Despite all this, I still believe there is substantial merit to electoral reform. Being on the ERRE Committee gave me the opportunity to study the issue closely and many experts in the field, both from Canada and internationally, gave insightful testimony into how change could benefit Canada. The Committee’s majority report recommended some measure of proportionality to be added to Canada’s electoral system, and I see the value in this change. For me personally, my conviction that the Government of Canada should not unilaterally change the electoral systems stems not from a disagreement with the value of electoral reform, but from my view that the way we vote is too fundamental to our society to change without adequate support. We must maintain the integrity of our electoral system and the trust Canadians have in our system. Changes cannot be rushed.
Although the Government of Canada will not be changing the voting system by 2019, this does not spell the end to democratic reform. The Minister of Democratic Institutions, Ms. Karina Gould, is continuing reforms to Canada’s Senate appointment process, making the Chamber less partisan and more responsive to the needs of Canadian people. We are also changing the way federal appointments are made, placing the emphasis on merit and technical ability, and making them less conducive to patronage appointments. In addition, our Government has tabled legislation that will repeal undemocratic aspects of the previous Government’s “Fair Elections Act,” which will abolish partisan politically-motivated changes that were made to the way Canadians vote. I will also continue to advocate for changes to our electoral system that will address concerns such as declining participation, particularly amongst youth.
While I respect and acknowledge that these words will not satisfy those who passionately believe in the necessity of electoral reform, I hope I have been able to articulate by beliefs surrounding the issue, and have clarified our Government’s reasons for not pursuing with the initiative. As always, I welcome response and feedback from all constituents, and I would encourage anyone who wishes to have a conversation about electoral reform, or any issue, to contact my office. Both I and my staff are always doing our best to serve the people of Cloverdale-Langley City.
Member of Parliament for Cloverdale-Langley City