Letter: Electoral reform a complicated business

Monsef says she believes town halls…will constitute sufficient consultation…on matters [such as] a new electoral system.

To the editor:

In keeping with Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef’s intention to consult Canadians on electoral reform, the Liberals will hold a town hall meeting on July 18 at UBCO.

[Editor’s note: Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr’s constituency office said the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions will be in Kelowna on Monday, July 18, for a town hall on democratic reform and that Minister Monsef would not be in attendance. No place, date or time had been released for such a town hall by press deadline Thursday.]

Resisting calls for a referendum on the subject, Monsef says she believes town halls held across the country will constitute sufficient consultation with Canadians on matters ranging from a new electoral system that replaces first-past-the-post to mandatory voting and online voting.

Monsef believes that referenda do not easily lend themselves to effectively deciding complex issues, and I agree.  If electoral reform were simple, the Law Commission of Canada would not have spent three years conducting extended research and 232 pages reporting on the matter.

Although individual Canadians could read the Commission’s 2004 report to become informed, saying so does not mean they would, or that they would refrain from voting in a referendum if they hadn’t.

If a referendum is out of the question, does it seem credible that an hour-long meeting in a 300-seat lecture auditorium could be a suitable substitute for filling in people and getting their feedback?

The proposition is extremely doubtful on its own terms, never mind the fact that many people will be away on vacation when the meeting occurs.

Indeed, many doubt whether the minister is sincere about any amount of consultation she says she will undertake.  The country has heard about how it took seven months for her to unveil a special committee to study electoral reform, and how she stonewalled for another month, refusing to change the composition of the committee which had given Liberals a majority of seats and barred the Bloc and Green parties from voting.

Although Monsef finally accepted an NDP proposal for committee composition which raised the spirits of the political left, it failed to satisfy Conservatives, the official opposition party of the country.

What’s worse, there’s no indication that the Liberals will accept the report the committee will eventually generate.  In the case of assisted dying, they ignored all major recommendations that came from the examining committee.

Monsef has assured us that once the electoral reform committee files its report, parliamentary debate will occur, but there’s no word that the issue will be put to a vote, and Liberals dominate the House of Commons anyway.

If there’s one thing Canadian politicians have agreed to across time, it’s that electoral reform is too important for any one party to control the debate or the decision-making.

Regardless, Monsef has determined that when all is said and done, she will make a recommendation to the Liberal cabinet on the matters before her, after which the cabinet members will make the final decision.

Rather than toddling off to an arguably self-serving town hall, folks in Kelowna should protest the fact that 30 Liberal insiders—the cream of the crop, one might say—will decide the contours of our electoral system for what will probably be a generation or two, if not longer than that.

The alternative is not difficult to locate.  It lies with the electoral reform committee, which should hear from the best and brightest political and legal minds Canada possesses.  It’s these experts who should make recommendations, and it’s the rest of us who should gratefully accept them.

A skeptic would ask, what if the experts don’t agree with one another.  But we know from experience that by and large they do.  The Law Commission of Canada reported that democratic values—including the representation of parties, demographic representation, the diversity of ideas, geographic representation, effective and accountable government, effective opposition, the valuing of votes, regional balance, and inclusive decision-making—would be best served by the adoption of a mixed member proportional electoral system.

Dianne Varga, Kelowna