Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Thoughts on the #LPC electoral reform policy plank

As a party member who has been involved with supporting democratic reform initiatives in the Liberal party, I thought I would add a few thoughts to the discussion today on the Liberal Party of Canada's electoral reform plank, rolled out earlier today. The pledge to "Make every vote count" is as follows:
We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.
As part of a national engagement process, we will ensure that electoral reform measures – such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting – are fully and fairly studied and considered.
This will be carried out by a special all-party parliamentary committee, which will bring recommendations to Parliament on the way forward, to allow for action before the succeeding federal election. Within 18 months of forming government, we will bring forward legislation to enact electoral reform.
This is member supported LPC policy. The key electoral reform aspects are not new, save for the additions of the extra measures to be studied such as mandatory and online voting. Indeed, it is very similar to the party resolution that was passed at the Liberal Biennial in Montreal in early 2014, which included this element: 
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT immediately after the next election, an all-Party process be instituted, involving expert assistance and citizen participation, to report to Parliament within 12 months with recommendations for electoral reforms including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent Canadians more fairly and serve Canada better.
A "national engagement process" and and all-party parliamentary committee are important aspects to bringing this reform about. Any major reform to our electoral laws, foundational game-changers, should be demonstrably supported and multi-partisan. The multi-partisan aspect in particular has been lacking from Conservative changes to electoral laws over their tenure.

So a newly constituted Parliament will look at this issue in a multi-partisan way after receiving a mandate to do so. That is needed as there is no existing consensus in the electorate for a particular type of electoral reform. It's difficult to see how this election, just a few months away without that conversation presently taking place, could possibly lead to such a conclusion.

This is why I do not understand the NDP's position which seems to be to choose one form - mixed member proportional (MMP) - without laying a proper foundation for it. There is no consensus that MMP is the preferred electoral reform option for Canada. The NDP's December 2014 one-off motion, which they have pointed to today, brought quickly and with little national debate is not a basis for choosing. A 2004 Law Reform Commission report is also not a basis for choosing, today, what electoral reform we might want in 2015, 2016 or 2017. It will help and probably weigh heavily but on its own, it is not determinative.

Simply put, there are differing views on what type of electoral reform is the consensus choice for the country and a consensus choice is where the country needs to get to before one form is chosen.

Fair Vote Canada recognizes this and their Declaration of Voters' Rights calls for the House of Commons to undertake a public consultation.

Today's announcement also helpfully expands the conversation beyond the Senate as the dominant focus of a national discussion on democratic reform. While the Senate has clearly become a problem in need of many fixes, it is not the most important aspect of our conversation about improving democracy in Canada and should not be the part that is the driving force of the conversation. Improving the democratic legitimacy of our government, the House of Commons, should be the focus. Enhancing that institution's capacity to listen and represent Canadians' concerns well, that should be the focus.

The good news is that there seems to be much support for modernizing our democratic system. And that conversation will be a key part of the 2015 campaign.