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Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef hosted a community dialogue in Victoria this past Thursday, billed as the last chance to have your say on electoral reform. The room was packed, and the vast majority of participants voiced their strong desire for some form of proportional representation.

Yet according to Minister Monsef, that's not the case across Canada.

When asked how she could reassure Canadians in light of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent comments — hinting at second thoughts about his promise that 2015 would be the last election under First Past the Post — her answers were contradictory.

On the one hand she said that the Liberal government is not backpedalling on their very explicit promise to introduce legislation to enact electoral reform in their first 18 months as government. But, on the other hand, she defended Trudeau’s comments, saying that they cannot move forward without broad support from Canadians and that she did not see the same appetite for electoral change as she saw in 2015.

Many Canadians trusted the government would keep its promise

It did not seem to occur to Minister Monsef that the majority of Canadians might not be clamoring for electoral reform precisely because the Liberal party already vowed to carry it out and, until recently, appeared to be moving forward on that promise. Many Canadian citizens (perhaps naively) trusted their government to follow through on this commitment, and had not realized they needed to continue to fight for what they had already been promised.

It also did not appear that the minister considered the results from the last election to constitute broad support, despite the fact that 62.7 per cent of Canadians voted for parties that explicitly promised electoral reform (39.5 per cent of Canadians voted for the Liberals; 19.7 per cent for the NDP; and 3.5 per cent for the Greens).

Maryam Monsef, democratic reform, Victoria
Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef speaks to a packed town hall gathering in Victoria to discuss electoral reform on Oct. 27, 2016. Photo by Laurel Collins.

Electoral reform is a complex topic and it is not surprising that many Canadians are not paying close attention or are not aware of all the options on the table. Some key things to note:

  • Our current system is called First Past the Post, and it tends to result in false majority governments, like the current one where the Liberals got 39.5 per cent of the vote but acquired 54.4 per cent of the seats and therefore 100 per cent of the power.
  • The Liberals have previously expressed support for Alternative Vote (also called Ranked Ballot or Preferential Ballot), a system that results in even larger false majorities and favours the Liberal Party. If the last election had used Alternative Vote, it is projected that the Liberals would have received 224 seats instead of the 184 seats they received under First Past the Post.
  • There are a number of different Proportional Representation models, but in general they aim to have the percentage of the popular vote align with the percentage of seats each party gets in Parliament. Under Proportional Representation, the Liberals would have received 134 seats (39.6 per cent of the total seats) instead of the 184 seats they received under First Past the Post.

Trudeau Liberals lulled Canadians into false sense of security

The community consultation was curious on a number of fronts. The explanation of one of the proportional models was rushed, skipping over important details. The consultation organizers also handed out paper forms to fill out that didn't ask participants to identify their preferred electoral system.

But most concerning was the minister’s response to closing questions, where she expressed that despite her and the prime minister’s “deep” commitment to electoral reform, they may not move forward on it. She told the audience that during her consultations she had not heard “overwhelming” support for electoral reform from Canadians, echoing the prime minister’s statement that under Stephen Harper, Canadians were vocally demanding electoral reform, but now the desire for electoral change has cooled.

I suggest that what Minister Monsef and the prime minister fail to take into account is that the Canadians who seem satisfied, are satisfied with a government that promised electoral reform. The federal Liberals lulled Canadians into a false sense of satisfaction with unequivocal promises. Now they have turned around and are using their approval ratings as a pretext for breaking their word.

If nothing else, the community consultation made it clear that if Canadians want electoral reform, they cannot rely on the Liberals to do it of their own accord. And, if they want Proportional Representation, Canadians will have to fight tooth and nail against a Liberal Government who is enjoying their false majority.

Laurel Collins is an instructor in Political Sociology and Social Justice Studies at the University of Victoria.

There is one final consultation on electoral reform with Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef, a live digital town hall on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 at 7pm ET (4pm PST). It will be presented through Huffington Post Canada Facebook Live.

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The last paragraph in this article makes it fairly clear that Liberals are beginning to revert to act form and govern selfishly and not in the national interest. Too bad. I was beginning to think I might continue to vote for them. But the election reform issue is a deal breaker for me. If Trudeau welshes on the promise he expressed very clearly, he'll have to walk on water to get another vote from me.

Hundred of thousands of voters voted for Justin Trudeau on two key issues. Electoral reform and fighting climate change. He promised that 2015 would be that last time our undemocratic First Past the Post voting system would be used. During these consultations is evident that Proportional Representation ( 39% of the vote = 39% of the seats = 39% of the power ) is Canada's favorite voting system.

He must abide by what the ERRE committee recommends. If he doesn't then he's in breach of a major platform promise. And the Trudeau government will pay the consequences at the polls.

On climate change: how does one fight climate change while draining the tar sands and building pipelines?

The other thing that makes no sense about this position is, when we are in crises as we were in the Harper years, we have zero ability to bring in electoral reform. It is only now, in the calm and sunny days of (what I had thought was) rationality that the process can be undertaken and electoral reform enacted.

I'm a Liberal and I know both of Minister Monsef and Prime Minister Trudeau are clever people. And I know they know better than to make it sound like they are disrespecting and denigrating the Canadian people by putting out there that kind of nonsensical excuse--Canadians do understand you have to enact legislation before you can have the legislation!

Excellent article based largely on the Victoria town hall. The subheading “Trudeau Liberals lulled Canadians into false sense of security” began at the time of the election campaign. This sub header is a polite way of describing what happened.

In the 1950s weekly westerns at the neighborhood theaters, when indigenous people felt they were being lied to they use the phrase “white man speak with forked tongue”. What else can one say about an individual who promises to “make every vote count” while at the same time letting it be known that he favors a ranked ballot system which at its best is no better than FPTP and at its worst exacerbates the problems of FPTP. His government reinforced the hypocrisy by launching the process without setting up a mechanism for collecting empirical data about the results and then failing to provide funding to develop a model specific to Canadian circumstances.

Fortunately, Fair Vote Canada, a multi-partisan group, started tracking the process very carefully. Contrary to the position of mainstream media and most of the punditocracy, there is strong support for proportional representation throughout Canada. The results have been released to the media and some are shown below.

From the expert witness hearings:

• Of those who expressed an opinion, 88% called for proportional representation

• 67% thought a referendum would be undesirable or unnecessary. In fact there is no constitutional requirement for a referendum to change the electoral system and all indications are that such a referendum would become nothing but a series of attack ads by a well-funded party that is opposed to any electoral change.

Open mic sessions:

• Of over 400 speakers at open mic sessions, around 87% supported proportional representation.(Reported by the NDP).

MP town halls:

• Out of 174 town halls reporting, the majority of speakers at 69.5% of the meetings called for proportional representation

Citizen/group sponsored events:

• At the 27 events, the majority of speakers supported proportional representation at 22 of the events or 88%.

Minister Monsef’s town halls:

• Out of 15 town halls held across the country, all of them included support for some form of proportional representation. That support varied from moderate to enthusiastic. This support for PR or MMP far surpassed the support for any other electoral system.

On October 20, 2016, EKOS research presented some polling results to the Committee on Electoral Reform. 61% of those surveyed thought that it would be unfair for a party to gain a majority of seats in the House of Commons with less than 40% of the popular vote. In addition, 51% of those polled were of the opinion that Canada’s voting system does not do an adequate job of representing what voters want and needs to be changed.

When asked about their preferred form of electoral reform, proportional representation was ranked highest against ranked ballot and first past the post. When best and second-best alternatives were included, proportional representation still ranked higher than the other two systems by a significant margin.

The consultation and polling results suggest that electoral change was a significant factor in the voting decisions of many voters in the last election. The results also suggest that proportional representation is favored by a significant majority of voters.

If, under FPTP, a party can gain absolute control of the federal governmental machinery with less than 40% of the popular vote, over 50% support for PR should be enough to change the electoral system.

Full disclosure: I am a member of Fair Vote Canada.