Electoral Reboot: Referendum Recap

Electoral Reboot: Referendum Recap

Three provinces have recently put new voting systems to the people for approval, but there’s no guarantee of a referendum for proposed changes to our federal system.

READ MORE: Referenda in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Ireland


The Trudeau government has argued public consultation could make a referendum unnecessary.

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef has suggested a vote could be divisive, pointing to the recent Brexit campaign that culminated with United Kingdom voters opting to leave the European Union.

However, she told CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen in June that the government would listen to public opinion:

New Democrats are also cool to a referendum. The Conservatives, however, have consistently demanded that any major change should receive popular approval. For example, this question period exchange from December 2015:

Also listen to what academic experts told the Special Committee on Electoral Reform:


Another consideration: could a referendum hinder the government’s goal of a new system for the 2019 election.

Marc Mayrand, Canada’s 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.

Mayrand spoke to reporters after his July 7 committee appearance:


Several provinces have submitted electoral reform proposals to referenda in recent years. All have failed to pass.
2005: The Liberal government called a referendum after a Citizen’s Assembly recommended the STV (Single Transferable Vote) system with multi-member ridings.

While 57.7 per cent voted in favour, including majorities in 77 of 79 provincial ridings, the vote failed to meet the required 60-per-cent super majority:

2009: The Liberal government again asked voters about the STV system. This time only 39 per cent voted in favour – and only two ridings reached 60-per-cent support:

2007: The Liberal government called a referendum after a Citizen’s Assembly proposed the MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) system.

Held alongside the October general election, the proposal failed with only 37-per-cent support.

Just six ridings, all in downtown Toronto, voted in favour:

Reform advocates in both B.C. and Ontario say their provincial governments and electoral commissions failed to properly educate the public about the options available in advance of the vote.
2005: The Progressive Conservative government launched a review two years prior that led to a referendum proposal for the MMP system.

Despite an extended consultation process, the plan garnered 36-per-cent support and passed in only two of P.E.I.’s 27 electoral districts. Turnout was 33 per cent:

2016: Proportional representation has emerged on top in Prince Edward Island’s non-binding plebiscite on electoral reform, though the premier cast doubt on whether his government received a mandate for change.

READ MORE: MMP wins most support in P.E.I. plebiscite

-Tobias Fisher and Andrew Thomson