Committee calls for referendum on PR, minister criticizes report

Committee calls for referendum on PR, minister criticizes report

December 1, 2016 UPDATED 5:22pmET

Canadians should have the referendum option to decide on shifting to proportional representation for federal elections, according to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform.

However, there was not full consensus among the committee’s 12 MPs, with Liberals and the NDP/Greens adding supplementary reports.

The Liberals don’t believe the citizen engagement process can be effectively completed before the 2019 election, and expressed skepticism about a referendum.

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef told question period that the committee had failed to provide consensus or a clear option for replacing First Past the Post:

Monsef also spoke to reporters about her comments on the committee. Here’s an excerpt:

Here is Monsef’s full news conference:

More on the committee’s report:

  • The committee hopes any new system would rank well on the Gallagher Index, which measures the proportionality of elected legislatures around the world. READ MORE
  • An option favoured by the NDP and Green party’s supplemental report (along with Mixed Member Proportional) is “Rural-Urban Proportional.” READ MORE
  • The main report highlights arguments for and against a referendum — and the potential cost and logistics — before recommending a vote with both First Past the Post and a proportional system on the ballot.There was more, however, in the two supplemental reports.Liberal committee members believe it “premature” to recommend a referendum, pointing to possible divisiveness and bias toward the status quo. Any referendum before the 2019 election would be “rushed,” according to the Liberal supplemental report.Meanwhile, the NDP/Green report is skeptical about the need for a referendum: “While it remains an option, we have serious concerns about holding a referendum on electoral reform. The evidence for the necessity of change is overwhelming; the evidence for the necessity of holding a referendum is not.”

Read the full report:

Special Committee on Electoral Reform – Report

The committee did not recommend mandatory or online voting, but does want the government to consider financial incentives for political parties to field more female candidates.

As for the committee’s online consultation, more than 22,000 Canadians filled out the survey. Compared to the general population, respondents skewed toward the male (66 per cent), English as first language (89 per cent), and age 55 and above (47 per cent). Nearly 27 per cent of all responses came from British Columbia, with only 7.5 per cent from Quebec.

Here’s what members of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform had to say about their report this morning:

The government’s original committee proposal called for a Liberal majority and no voting rights for the Greens or Bloc Québécois.

However, the government eventually accepted an NDP plan for a 12-member committee with five Liberals, three Conservatives, two New Democrats, one Green, and one Bloc MPs – with voting privileges for the latter two.

Committee membership was based on the 2015 popular vote instead of party standings in the House of Commons.

The committee started to meet in June, and welcomed academics and expert witnesses in Ottawa over the summer. They had much to say on voting systems, a potential referendum, the need for effective reform, and more.

MPs also examined the voting age, online voting, accessibility issues, turnout, and other aspects of the electoral system.

The NDP’s official submission to the committee pointed to public support for proportional representation. The party has in the past called for a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system.

Conservatives wanted a national referendum on any change to the electoral system. The government has yet to commit either way — though both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Monsef have said past referendum campaigns had low voter turnout and poor engagement.

Marc Mayrand, Canada’s outgoing chief electoral officer, estimated it would take Elections Canada six months – and $300 million – to organize and oversee a referendum.

A cheaper option, to run a referendum alongside the next federal election, would require an amendment to the Referendum Act. Several provinces have submitted electoral reform proposals to referenda in recent years. All have failed to pass.

Prince Edward Island voters recently gave the most support to MMP in a non-binding provincial plebiscite., though the premier cast doubt on whether his government received a mandate for change.

-Andrew Thomson