Updating Canada’s electoral system is under review again, thanks to a promise made by the Liberal Party of Canada.
MP Richard Cannings held a town hall meeting on electoral reform this week, this time with the aid of Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley and vice-chair of the federal Special Committee on Electoral Reform. With an audience of about 50 people in the library-museum auditorium, Cullen explained a variety of alternatives to the first-past-the-post system currently used in Canada: single transferable vote, mixed member proportional and others.
Conversation and questions raised throughout the meeting were wide ranging and not limited to proportional vs. first past the post: voting age, the comparative value of votes, special systems for rural ridings and online voting were all brought out and examined. The mostly older audience wasn’t ready for voting online yet.
“The matter of ceremony, I think that is so important because so many things are done online now. Something that is done by hand is unusual has special significance,” said Eva Durance.
Even how polling stations should be handled was discussed. Cullen said that was where computers could and should be used to speed up the process.
“There should be no three hour lineups anywhere in the country come the next time. I’ve seen too many times where people walk away and when they walk away, they often never come back,” said Cullen, who was pleased with the turnout and the intensity of the questioning.
“A lot of people are coming, which is fantastic. A lot of people say nobody cares about this issue, but lo and behold, they do,” said Cullen. “People who care, really care. Once you start asking those provocative questions, people really have opinions.”
But the central conversation ranged around voting systems and how they are being implemented around the world.
“Most of the rest of the world uses some form of proportional representation,” said Cullen, noting some of the problems with first-past-the-post.
“We elect governments, but we usually just throw the bums out,” said Cullen. “It’s a mix to say the least, but we do a lot of throwing the bums out.”
Cullen said the Liberals took their time moving on the election process, and also didn’t take the NDP suggestion of forming a citizen’s assembly to examine the issue.
“I think that was a mistake. I think that would have helped a lot, in terms of legitimacy,” said Cullen. “This question belongs to the people.”
Cullen was pleased, however, that the makeup of the committee on electoral reform is cross-party, reflecting the proportion of voting in the 2015 election, rather than simply being stacked with Liberal MPs.
“I think that is the brilliant thing about this committee,” said Cannings. “You need at least two parties to say yes to something before it can go forward.”
Once the committee issues its report, though, Cullen said he isn’t sure how the change will be introduced to the public. It might be by referendum, he said, but it also might be by a free vote in Parliament, or a regular vote with the Liberals using their majority in the house.
“I don’t know. It depends a lot on how the committee does, because the committee is actually a working model of what a proportional government would look like. You have a sharing of power around the table,” said Cullen.
“If we can all come to an agreement on a new model, that would show that no one has the fix in, that no one is trying to rig the game in favour of their party.
“I think that would calm a lot of fears.”
Cannings and Cullen both agreed that the questions and the nature of the Penticton town hall was similar to what they had seen at other meetings on the subject.
“A few people wanted to keep the old ways,” said Cannings. “But once you get into proportional representation, it starts to vary. A lot of people ask do we have the time to do it right.
“I think there is solid support out there to change the system into something that is fair and more proportional.”