Make progress towards a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform part of any Liberal-NDP Deal
Canada’s 2021 election saw 52% of voters elect no-one. The Liberals received less voter support than the Conservatives, but got more seats. The NDP earned over twice the support of the Bloc Quebecois, but received fewer seats. All or most of the seats in entire regions of the country were swept up by a single party, masking the political diversity of Canada and shutting voters out.
Polls over a decade clearly show that Canadians want electoral reform, but the parties—tripping over their own self-interest—can’t agree on how to move forward.
In June, 2021, all the MPs on the Procedure and House Affairs Committee except the Conservatives voted for an NDP motion to do a study of a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. It was a small but crucial step forward. Unfortunately, the September election means that vote will no longer be binding.
A Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA) between the Liberals and the NDP is the moment to lock in the progress that the Liberals and NDP already agreed to.
A study would allow the committee to hear from experts about how a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform would work. The Liberal MPs on the PROC committee also secured support for an amendment to write a second, separate report about what could be learned about citizens’ assemblies in general—a welcome addition.
An independent, non-partisan National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform would continue the conversation started when three parties promised in 2015 to end first-past-the-post and make every vote count. When the federal Electoral Reform Committee released its report in 2016, the Liberal Party’s supplemental report said:
“We believe that, in order to reform the electoral system and get it right, we need to ensure inclusive and deliberative discussion with Canadians.”
A National Citizens’ Assembly is that inclusive and deliberative discussion Canadians need to “get it right”.
A citizens’ assembly would look fairly at all options. This includes keeping first-past-the-post or adopting the the winner-take-all ranked ballot preferred by Justin Trudeau.
A Leger poll conducted in September 2020 showed that 80% of Canadians, including supporters of all parties, support a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. The idea is backed by prominent Canadians such as Lloyd Axworthy and Kevin Page.
For the millions of Canadians who want action on electoral reform, a commitment to a next step would send a strong signal that the NDP is willing to prioritize electoral reform and that parties are willing to put evidence first.
MOTION PASSED AT PROC JUNE 2021
“That, pursuant to Standing Order 108 (3)(a)(vi), the committee undertake a study on the advisability of establishing a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform to make recommendations about how to improve Canada’s electoral system, including the question of how Canadians elect Members of Parliament and how the make up of Parliament reflects the votes cast by Canadians;
that the committee’s study shall include an examination of:
(a) the terms of reference for such as assembly;
(b) the composition of such an assembly;
(c) a timeline for the completion of such an assembly’s work;
(d) public reporting requirements for such an assembly;
(e) the resources required to support the work of throughout the process;
(f) any other matters the committee deems pertinent to voting reform, including the need for a national referendum in order for Canadians to have the opportunity to approve any proposed changes to Canada’s democratic system;
that the committee report back to the House, and;
that the committee’s report either (l) recommend not to proceed with such an assembly or (II) recommend to proceed with such an assembly and include a detailed plan for how to proceed that provides for the issues raised in items (a)-(f);
and that the committee, in the course of this study, also examine the question of how citizen assemblies can be used more generally as a tool to drive citizen engagement in the policy-making process on a wide variety of issues and report its findings to the House in a separate report.”