Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Is Electoral Reform Designed to Fail?

When the Liberals won their majority government I was consoled by two things: Harper would leave office, and hopefully end constitutional rot; and Trudeau had promised, unequivocally, electoral reform. As I have written on this blog before, electoral reform was the animating issue that got me involved in politics. There is growing evidence that the Liberals are preparing to break that promise.

The Electoral Reform Committee released its report last week. The committee recommended a referendum on proportional representation. Though the NDP and Green representatives provided a supplement saying that they did not believe a referendum was specifically needed. The result may be the worst of both worlds for the Liberals. They didn't want a referendum and prominent voices within the party do not want proportional representation. Aaron Wherry wrote an excellent summary of the direct fallout here. Following the report's release Minsiter Monsef began to mock and distance the government from the committee's report saying the was disappointed that they had not recommended an electoral system. This was rich given that it was not in their mandate.

Monsef further embarrassed herself and her government by mocking the formula the Gallagher Index, which shows how closely a government represents the proportion of votes received by each party. Monsef was prepared with printed copies of the formula. This wasn't a fluke, it was a plan. Electoral reform often wrecks on the shores of complication. For all the problems with First-Past-the-Post it is simple. Trying to explain an alternative quickly to a disengaged public is very difficult.

Yesterday, claiming that the government required further consultation, https://www.mydemocracy.ca/ was launched. I would encourage any reader to take the survey, because why not? But as you take it I think you'll find that there are some serious issues on the questions.  They fail to tease out what voters actually want in terms of their electoral system, i.e. do you want the House of Commons to reflect the percentage of votes the parties receive? Should a party that does not get a majority of votes receive a majority of the seats in the House of Commons? Perhaps I am revealing my own bias with the second, but the questions are at times "push" questions designed to illicit certain responses.

Canadians on Twitter took to mocking the Trudeau government with the hashtag #rejectedERQs (rejected electoral reform questions). It is amusing but also disheartening because it is more evidence that the fix is in. With the conclusion of this survey the Liberals will be well poised to suggest that a) more consultation is required, b) there is no consensus, c) that Canadians are content with the system as is.

If electoral reform is to happen it will almost certainly not occur before 2019 now. Stalling by the government seems to make that clear and if a referendum is going to happen the laws surrounding referenda needs to be updated. To be clear, I want to give kudos to the member of the Electoral Reform Committee, including the Liberals. At the end they seem to have engaged in the process in good faith. I believe it is the government who is meddling now. I haven't abandoned hope yet, but the government holds all the cards on this one. Electoral reform will only under rare circumstances become an issue of importance. However, PEI's recent vote may be a sign of hope, though their government's reaction may be the ultimate warning. The status quo is hard to overturn.

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