November 24, 2016
The Honourable Maryam Monsef
Minister of Democratic Institutions
House of Commons
Canada K1A 0A6
Dear Minister Monsef,
As we come to the end of a summer and fall of public consultations on electoral reform, we feel that this is a good time to take stock of the consultative process to date and think about how to take the process forward from here.
We note that the consultation process launched by the government got off to a good start in many respects. The promise to enact electoral reform was reiterated in the Speech from the Throne. The government promised to act on principle rather than partisan interests and assured the public that whatever reform is adopted should have multi-party support. Above all, the government conceded last June to ensure all-party representation on the ERRE in proportions as close as possible to the popular vote achieved by each party.
Extensive consultations were carried out, including hearings with expert witnesses, town halls in most ridings across the country, citizens’ dialogues, and road tours by the ERRE, yourself and Parliamentary Secretary Mark Holland. Rarely have such extensive consultations on a subject been carried out.
The question is where to take things from here.
We have a relatively clear promise from the government to make 2015 the last first-past-the-post election and a promise to “make every vote count.” Although the Conservative opposition considers the Liberal promise to be ambiguous because it mentions ranked ballots as an option, we see no contradiction in this.
That making every vote count is impossible without proportional representation (PR) is obvious. But ranked ballots can very well be part of that under any of the three PR options put forward by Fair Vote Canada in its brief.
With both the NDP and the Green Party having come out in favour of proportional representation (PR) as well, the government has a clear mandate to proceed. That mandate has now received overwhelming support from the consultative process. As Fair Vote Canada has shown, 88% of expert witnesses who expressed a preference have come out in favour of PR, and citizens have overwhelmingly expressed their support of PR in open mic sessions and online consultations.
It seems to us that the only logical action that the government should take is to rejoice that the experts and the public have spoken out in favour of making our electoral system fairer than our current first-past-the-post system and to get on with it.
With all this good news as Christmas approaches, we should all be celebrating, yet we are witness to articles such as the one by Althia Raj in the Huffington post, and to a rash of protests aimed at statements by PM Trudeau and yourself about the need for “substantial” or “broad support” for reform. Many Canadians feel betrayed and are starting to believe the process is rigged. In PEI, a plebiscite was held and a majority of voters chose MMP as their preferred system, but the government is refusing to honour the results. It seems that the same is happening federally and that no standard of public support can ever be good enough.
Why, at this stage, does the government see the need for yet another round of consultations on Canadian democratic values? What the government has heard is exactly what was needed for them to pursue their promise – broad support and an evidence-based recommendation from experts. Why would the government want to further extend those consultations rather than celebrating the support that it has overwhelmingly received?
Canadians will be forgiven for suspecting that the government is not sincere – that you are intent on somehow rigging the process.
It is very important to demonstrate that this is not the case. We acknowledge that many Canadians who have not yet been consulted may wish to weigh in on electoral reform, and agree with you that the best way to solicit the views of all Canadians is to do so at the level of principles and values. Our view is that voter equality is a matter of civil rights and should not be subject to majority rule or as some might say, the “tyranny of the majority.” But if the government feels that the expression of citizens’ voices in the consultations to date remains somehow inadequate, we would like to make the following request.
One thing that has been missing to date and in what we saw of the draft Vox Pop survey are clear and explicit questions about the principles of proportional representation. To avoid further criticism, we strongly recommend that this be remedied. We believe that Canadians, if given a chance, will set aside any partisan loyalties that they may feel and vote for voter equality. To give them that chance, we are calling for the survey instrument to include the following two scaled questions to the proposed survey. The first question inquires into the composition of the House of Commons as it relates to the voice of the electorate; the second asks about voter equality.
The number of MPs elected to Parliament from each party in each province should be proportional to the number of votes cast for that party’s candidates (30% of the vote = 30% of MPs).
1. Strongly agree
5. Strongly disagree
Every vote should have an equal impact on the makeup of Parliament no matter where you live or which candidate(s) you support (voter equality).
1. Strongly agree
5. Strongly disagree
Specific questions aside, the way that the survey is handled is also essential to laying down a level playing field. We suggest the following:
The need for a multi-party process to manage the survey and analyse the results. We feel that the ERRE Committee would be a good body to do this, and that its mandate should be extended accordingly.
The ERRE should be charged with reviewing the questionnaire before it is finalized, to ensure its integrity and lack of bias.
Publication of the householder postcard and the questionnaire before they are launched, for the sake of transparency. Ideally, there should be a process for expert review of the questionnaire before it is finalized. Fair Vote Canada would very much like to be consulted.
A commitment to share the full results of the survey with the public with full transparency allowing for independent verification.
cc: ERRE Committee members
Prime Minister’s Office
Leaders of the Opposition
Fair Vote Canada chapters