Parliamentary committee recommends Canadians choose their electoral system through referendum
The Special Committee on Electoral Reform released its final report and recommendations today. The committee was established to study alternative voting methods after the Liberal government promised that the 2015 election would be the last under first-past-the-post.
Perhaps the most important recommendation in today’s report is that Canadians should decide through a referendum which voting system is used to elect their political representatives. Not only did the committee expressly state the need for a referendum, they also recommended that two of the choices on the ballot be the current system (first-past-the-post) and some form of proportional representation (PR), which more closely aligns seats in parliament with the proportion of votes each party receives.
The recognition of the need for a referendum is essential for a number of reasons.
As we recently argued, the Liberals don’t have a mandate to unilaterally change the electoral system because the 2015 election was not explicitly fought over this issue. Indeed, the issue of reforming the electoral system received little coverage and attention during the 2015 election, and it’s questionable whether Canadians knew that the Liberals or other parties were planning to change the electoral system when they cast their votes.
Additionally, as political science and public administration professor Patrice Dutil has argued, a constitutional convention demands that a referendum should be held on electoral reform. He also notes that when the provincial governments of Prince Edward Island (2005), British Columbia (2005 and 2009) and Ontario (2007) sought to change their electoral systems, they each consulted the public through a referendum.
Moreover, the committee’s own consultations and final report provided evidence that a majority of Canadians support the idea of a referendum. Of the 22,000 responses to a consultation of Canadians conducted by the committee, almost 55 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that Canadians must be directly consulted on future reforms to the electoral system. These results are in line with a number of polls conducted across the country.
While the committee recommended a referendum, there was dissent from its Liberal members who, in their supplemental report, argued that support for a referendum was not unanimous. In reference to the recommendation of a referendum, the Liberal members said “we cannot agree with this recommendation in good faith.”
The disagreement from the members of the party which currently holds power in government raises serious questions about whether the Trudeau government will accept the committee’s recommendation of a referendum, which Canadians clearly desire and deserve, should electoral reform move forward.
As we emphasised recently, “If Canadians choose to implement a different electoral system, so be it. But the choice should be theirs to make, through a referendum.”