Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Electoral Reform Talks in Brampton

On Sunday August 21, 2016 Brampton's five Members of Parliament met at a recreation centre with members of the public to discuss electoral reform. The MPs were joined by the Parliamentary Secretary for Democratic Reform Mark Holland (LPC - Ajax, ON). The MPs were hosting a town hall and hoping to educate the public briefly on electoral reform and get feedback on what their constituents' desires and preferences are.

MPs call the meeting to order
The crowd of about 50 people could probably be divided into two camps. The first were the curious citizens - the kind that attends a public event out of some sort of civic curiosity. The second group, which I am an obvious member of, were those engaged in the electoral reform debate who wanted their elected officials to make the decision they wanted. Fair Vote Canada, an advocacy group for electoral reform, advertised the event extensively to its membership in the region. I think it is fair to say that the MPs were hoping to get more feedback from the general public.

The beginning of the presentation consisted of the MPs laying out how our current system worked and explained some of the various options on the table, pausing to take feedback from the public on specific discussion questions. During the election the Liberals committed that 2015 would be the last election held under the first-past-the-post system. This commitment was reiterated by Mr. Holland when directly asked.

Mark Holland (left) answers a question,
from left to right, Ruby Sahota, Kamal Khera, Sonia Sidhu 
There were a few defenders of the current system, but I would say they were in the minority. The real problem with electoral reform is that people can agree that FPTP is unfair, but cannot come to a consensus over which position is best. Some proportional system seems widely desired at the meeting, but that might be my own bias skewing what I observed.

Options ranging from ranked ballot, single transferable vote, open and closed list proportional representation and mixed-member proportional were all considered. If any one system had a plurality of support I would say it was mixed-member proportional, which is also the system I support. This makes sense given the contingent of Fair Vote Canada supporters, Greens and New Democrats at the meeting.

Two topics I did not predict came to discussion: e-voting and mandatory voting. To my surprise very few people were against mandatory voting. I would say the crowd was split between ambivalence and support for mandatory voting. Mandatory voting traditionally is accompanied by a small penalty for those who do not vote. Several members of the audience were convinced that instead of a penalty that voters should be rewarded for voting. Philosophically I find the notion abhorrent. Paying people to vote seems to totally violate the principles that should be at the foundations of any democratic system, but that's just my view. The notion seemed oddly popular. There was also considerable support for e-voting, which I found distressing. The one comment I made was motivated to offer a counterpoint for advocates of e-voting. Mass e-voting seems a way to quickly put our entire democracy at risk because of its inherent insecurity and risks. Many dismissed my concerns, but several of the MPs seemed to share my concerns.

I must admit I was generally impressed with the performance of the MPs. I was also happy to meet my Member of Parliament for the first time. A few of the MPs met with me afterwards to thank me for my comments and share their thoughts. It was a pleasant moment to be reminded that MPs, in many ways, are ordinary people that anyone can talk to.

Overall people wanted a system which was not too complicated, secure and fair. Simplicity is the great virtue of our current system, despite its distortions. Fairness is the real issue, which people cannot agree upon. Ultimately it is a question of whether or not one favours a consensus form of government or majoritarian government. Ruby Sahota (LPC - Brampton North, ON) sits on the electoral reform committee, so perhaps she will be thinking of this town hall and others when the time to deliberate comes up. As always, I recommend constituents contact their MPs and share their thoughts because some change is coming to the system and your input is requested. 

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