On Monday, September 12th, a room of Winnipeggers took part in a consultation on electoral reform as part of the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef’s, country-wide tour.
What is a healthy democracy? What is the role of MPs? What is the role of citizens? These were some of the questions we were asked to reflect upon as a group. After a welcome to Treaty 1 territory with MP Robert Falcon Ouellette, the Minister kicked off the discussion with ‘Eid Mubarak!’ and best wishes to Muslims in Canada and around the world who are celebrating Eid al-Adha. Following this, was a brief presentation about our electoral system and possible alternative voting systems, and breaking out into small discussion groups on five key questions, with a few report backs to the larger group after each question.
Photo credit: Fair Vote Manitoba
One thing I really appreciated was the engaging and participatory nature of the event which seemed very fitting for an event on democratic participation. I also really appreciated a simple yet meaningful gesture by the Minister at the beginning of the session. She asked the question – who is not in the room but should be part of this conversation? People shouted out responses: single mothers, people of color, youth, lower income people, homeless people, prisoners, Indigenous people, workers, among others. While there were a few people represented from some of these groups, they were certainly under-represented at the Radisson on this Monday afternoon. The Minister followed by saying that all voices are important in this conversation. She recognized how it was a privilege for all the people in the room to be there, and encouraged us to share the opportunity for input into changing our electoral system with others who could not attend and sharing canada.ca/democracy.
It was fantastic to get to consider some of the questions in small groups. The thing I think we could have benefited from in addition, and this was raised by one of the participants, was more discussion on the problem with our electoral system, then a discussion of our alternatives. In this case, there was not a specific question on ‘What are the problems with the current system’, though there was the question what are alternatives to First Past the post, and what are barriers to voting and ways to overcome them. I liked the focus on solutions, but we would have benefited from an additional kick off question of what are the problems/challenges with our current system, which would flow nicely into, what are alternatives.
With the current First Past the Post system, one flaw we saw was for example, that while the majority of people did not vote for Harper, only 39%, he was still elected with a majority government because of the high number of MPs elected by riding. Systems with proportional representation would no longer allow this to happen. Instead, with proportional representation, if a party received 39% of the vote, they would have 39% representation in the government. Now social movements and the government are having to work very hard to un-do the worst of the Harper government’s work – which the majority of people in Canada – did not want – such as gutting fresh water regulations and the navigable Water’s act.
I was moved by hearing a friend from LeadNow who spoke passionately about the question on barriers to voting. She explained how for young people, many are disengaged because they do not believe their vote will count. She explained how with Mixed Member Proportional Representation is a great option because it would allow young people to feel their votes count. It was also great to see representation from Fair Vote Canada.
It was great to learn from a member of the Council of Canadians who stood up to express a concern. She said that in the 1980s, the Trudeau government promised to strike a committee on electoral reform, but that this did not happen. She expressed her frustration that this was never implemented and the importance of getting engaged to ensure we see action this time around.
Like at the climate change consultation, I felt a breath of fresh air as compared to the previous government, from secretive and antagonistic, to now being consultative and collaborative. It is meaningful to feel part of creating this much needed change to our electoral system.
The committee on electoral reform will be stopping in Winnipeg on September 20th. To attend a consultation or submit your comments, visit canada.ca/democracy.