By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
Approximately 100 people came out in the first of what may be several meetings to discuss how we will vote in the next federal election.
Hosted by Ajax MP Mark Holland, the town hall meeting allowed residents from throughout Durham Region to ask questions about proposed changes to how Canadians will vote in 2019.
Launched earlier this year, a parliamentary committee is looking at possible changes to the country’s current first past the post system, and implementing a different way of voting for the next federal election, following a commitment to do so by the Liberals. The NDP and Green Party made similar commitments.
“Canada is one of the few countries…still using first past the post,” Holland said.
“With any system, there are trade offs. No system is perfect. We need to find what works best for Canada.”
Currently, the committee is examining five different possibilities: updating the country’s current first past the post system, ranked balloting, list proportional voting, single transferable voting and mixed member proportional voting.
Holland says the only system that has been likely ruled out is maintaining the current first past the post system, adding that the Conservatives are the lone party that has not proposed alternatives at the committee level.
Oshawa MP Colin Carrie says that should changes be made to how Canadians vote, it needs to go to a national referendum.
“If you want to change the rules of Canadian democracy, every Canadian of voting age should be able to have a say, and the only way to do that, and what’s been done historically, is through referendums,” he tells The Oshawa Express.
“If you look at what Canada has, we have one of the most stable and admired democracies in the entire world. Any government or anyone who wants to change what that means should only be made with the consent of Canadians. Any Canadian who calls themselves a supporter of democracy, and if you believe in voting and believe in issues as fundamental as this…there needs to be a referendum.”
National referendums are relatively rare in Canada, with the last one being held in 1992, after the Charlottetown Accord called for changes to the Canadian Constitution, including determining how the Senate would be formed in the future, entrenching aboriginal rights to self-government in the constitution and recognizing Quebec as a “distinct society within Canada.” The referendum failed, with nearly 55 per cent of the approximately 13.7 million people who cast a ballot voting against it.
The only other two national referendums were in 1898 around the possibility of prohibition and in 1942 surrounding the Conscription Crisis, with the winning yes side calling for allowing the government to conscript men into the military during the Second World War.
There have been referendums at the provincial level, including British Columbia in 2005 and 2009, Ontario in 2007 and Prince Edward Island in 2005, on the possibility of moving away from the first past the post system for provincial elections. In all cases, the status quo won out.
Speaking to the crowd at the Ajax event, Holland said he does not believe a referendum would be necessary, as a majority of Canadians voted for a party that had electoral reform as part of its mandate.
He added that a possible national referendum, which he says would come at a cost of $300 million, could only be called if it dealt with constitutional amendments, referring to the Referendum Act of 1992 – a change to Canada’s voting system would not fall under this category. In order to have a national referendum, Holland says, the law would have to be changed.
Holland also expressed concern that a single-issue referendum could quickly turn into a vote on unrelated issues.
“As we saw with Brexit, it quickly becomes about unrelated issues,” Holland said, referring to the recent vote by Great Britain to leave the European Union.
“We haven’t totally ruled out the possibility of a referendum, but the threshold is high.”
Carrie: New rules would benefit the Liberals
Carrie says he has another concern with changing the electoral system in Canada – the system that the Liberals appear to be most in favour of is the one that most supports them.
“I think this should be stopped because the Liberals have already said they have an outcome in mind, and that one would only benefit the Liberal Party and Liberal politicians,” he says.
“If it went to the Liberal’s preference, and the prime minister has already said the ranked ballot is what they would like to see.”
Carrie referred to a November 2015 report by Eric Grenier, a poll analyst for the CBC, which concluded that if the last federal election were held under such a system, the Liberals would have won 224 seats – far above the 184 they did win. That report found the only other party to benefit would have been the NDP, which would have won 50 seats as opposed to the 44 it did grab. The Conservative would have seen a drop in seats, falling to 61 from 99.
The same report concluded that under a proportional system, the Liberals would have been in a minority government position, winning 134 seats – below the 170 needed.