Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Sigh... Electoral Reform

If you have electoral reform advocates in your life or on your social media accounts you have no doubt received an earful in the last few days. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his new Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould (LPC - Burlington, ON) announced their intent to abandon electoral reform. Like those I mentioned I was furious. As far as I am aware this is the closest electoral reform has gotten to being achieved at the federal level. That is also pretty pathetic.

I think it is fair to say that electoral reform is probably on life support federally for at least ten years and probably longer. The Liberals blatant mismanagement and betrayal of their commitment likely means that the Liberal Party will not be trusted on this file for a long time by advocates. Instead of wallowing in anger and misery I'd like to take a little bit of time to see what we can do differently in the future.

Too often in Canada the governments leading the charge for electoral reform have been half-hearted at best. They seem to stumble into the issue and blindly move forward until it is ultimately defeated. The next parliament/legislature that begins to move forward on electoral reform needs to actually fight for it. I think if the Liberals were open about having skin in the game and preferences it would have been better. Let them advocate for preferential ballots forcefully. It's not the type of reform I want but at least it would be a position to debate rather than the shell game. The Canadian public is never going to come to a 'consensus' on this issue without leadership. I think a Prime Minister/Premier who proposed proportional representation and tried to make the case for it may very well succeed.

The other side of the equation is the public. Public engagement on this issue will never be very high, but their comfort and familiarity with the topic needs to be such that they don't immediately reject the questions. Some of the Electoral Reform Committees work on sussing out values rather than positions was valuable. The next time this issue comes up a citizens assembly can be guided by that information and then the proposal can be clearly communicated to the public. Any system can be explained in a five minute video more or less. CGP Grey proved that long ago.

Finally, advocates need to communicate so that they seem less like superior zealots. A lot of thought leaders in media and academia found the rhetoric from leading advocates to be distasteful. I think they let their passion blind them to the reality. Reformers will need allies in the media, political parties and academia to lend credence to their push.

Right now reformers are probably best off letting the federal issue go. Introducing alternative forms to the municipal and provincial levels of government seems a wiser effort at this time.

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