Skip to content

Liberals give up parliamentary majority say on electoral reform recommendation

The new electoral system would change how Members of Parliament are elected to fill these seats in the House of Commons.

The Liberal government has stated that it will give up its majority within a House of Commons committee that will be struck to recommend an alternate voting system.

The Ottawa Citizen reports, “The government has dropped its bid to give its own members majority control over the special committee that will be tasked with coming up with recommendations on alternative voting methods. Instead, Liberal MPs will throw their support behind NDP MP Nathan Cullen’s counter-proposal to divvy up the seats around the committee table based on the share [percentage] of the vote parties received in the last election.”

The 12-member committee will consist of 5 Liberals, 3 Conservatives, 2 New Democrats, 1 Bloc Quebecois, and 1 Green, all of whom would have voting rights in this committee.

The article adds, “Although neither the party nor the government has taken an official position, the Liberals are widely thought to be leaning towards a ranked or preferential ballot system, while the New Democrats and Green parties have long pushed for full proportional representation. Meanwhile, the Conservatives could find themselves in an unlikely and potentially politically awkward alliance with the Bloc Quebecois, currently the only other party at the table that has come out in favour of the status quo.”

The Council of Canadians has for many years called for proportional representation to replace the current first-past-the-post electoral system.

This balancing of the composition of the committee may derail the Conservative Party, Fraser Institute and Canadian Taxpayers Association demand for a referendum on the issue. It is believed that if a referendum were held it would not be possible to implement electoral reform before the October 21, 2019 federal election. While these groups did not advocate for a national vote on the Harper government’s so-called Fair Elections Act, and may be making this demand to preserve the status quo, it is also true that a large percentage of Canadians have backed the call for a referendum.

That said, a Toronto Star editorial today offered the nuanced view that, “Broad ‘buy-in’ is, indeed, necessary for such a shift. And if that isn’t possible through an agreement among major parties in the House of Commons, it should be determined in a referendum.” Given the Liberals list proportional representation as an option they would consider, and the NDP and Greens support proportional representation, that could mean that parties that received 62.63 per cent of the popular vote – could agree to this reform.

Polls have consistently shown a high level of popular support for proportional representation, including a poll commissioned by the Council of Canadians in 2010 that found 62 per cent of Canadians support moving towards a system of proportional representation in Canadian elections.

A recent NRG Research and Peak Communicators poll found that, “23 per cent [of respondents] selected mixed member proportional, which combines proportional representation and first-past-the-post, 19 per cent selected pure proportional voting, in which votes are proportional to the number of seats won, and 14 per cent selected ranked or preferential voting, where voters rank their choices and the first candidate with a majority win.”

Last month, Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Democratic Institutions, announced the following timeline for the process to reform our electoral system:

  • June-September – committee’s ‘national engagement process’ including written submissions, committee travel, online suggestions

  • June-September – MP town hall meetings

  • October 1 – deadline for MPs to send their submissions from the town halls to the committee

  • December 1 – the committee reports to the House of Commons

  • May 2017 – the deadline for the Liberals to introduce legislation on electoral reform

Yesterday, the Globe and Mail reported, “Mr. Trudeau himself has said he’s not convinced about proportional representation… Mr. Trudeau and many in his party lean to instant runoff, in which voters rank their choices for MP on a preferential ballot, and if no candidate wins a majority in a riding, second and possibly third choices are added till one candidate obtains 50 per cent of the vote. The Liberals put that proposal in their policy book in 2012. …[But] the people [who advocate for proportional representation] look at this summer’s consultations as a campaign to be won. And they’re gearing up to win.  …[And] the PM who opened the door to reform has no campaign to back his preference.”

The first step will be the vote on the motion on the composition of the committee which is expected to take place on June 7.