Kelowna-Lake Country MP says his no really means yes

Stephen Fuhr says he voted against electoral reform report to keep the issue alive.

Kelowna Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr.—Image credit: Capital News file

Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr says it was the hardest vote he has had to cast in his two-and-a-half years in Ottawa.

On Wednesday, the rookie Liberal MP voted against a motion to support, in its entirety, a report by the Special Committee on Electoral Reform.

The report contained 13 recommendations—12 of which Fuhr said he could have supported. But the 13th, a call for a national referendum on electoral reform, was, for him, a deal breaker.

Fuhr said while he supports some form of proportional representation for electing MPs, he believes a referendum could kill the possibility of changing the way we vote in Canada.

“The odds are that a referendum would kill (electoral reform) for generations,” said Fuhr.

He added despite the fact the motion to accept the report was put forward by an NDP MP, he believes the NDP agrees with the Liberals and the Green Party that a referendum is not the way to engage Canadians about the issue. He said he also thinks Opposition Conservatives do not want to see electoral reform and that is why they support a national referendum on the issue.

In a news release following the House of Commons vote, Fuhr said the NDP motion was not about advancing changes to Canada’s electoral system but rather about driving a wedge between political parties and confusing and angering Canadians. The motion was defeated by a vote of 159 to 146.

He said he thinks a referendum would be “divisive” and based on similar votes on electoral reform elsewhere, would likely not succeed. He told the Capital News the referendum call was the only reason he voted against the motion to accept the report.

“When it comes to accepting something like this, you can’t cherry-pick. This was an all-or-nothing proposition,” he said.

Fuhr has found himself in a difficult position among some of his supporters since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped the issue of electoral reform despite campaigning on it during the 2015 election.

The Kelowna-Lake Country Green Party candidate in that race stepped down and delivered his supporters to Fuhr based on a promise from Fuhr to work towards getting some form of proportional representation to replace the current “first-past-the-post” voting system we use in Canada.

On Wednesday, the local Liberal reiterated his support for a change to how Canadians vote and said he has done everything he promised to push for electoral reform. But he noted the government decision to put the issue aside because of more pressing issues—such as the the opioid crisis, the housing crisis, the economy and because there did not appear to be enough support for a change among Canadians—was something out of his hands.

Fuhr noted while there were many opportunities for public engagement on the issue last year, not many Canadians took up the invitation to get involved.

But that has not stopped a vocal group of Canadians from continuing to call for electoral reform and for Trudeau to follow through on his election campaign promise to make the 2015 federal election the last using “first-past-the-post.”

A group of proponents rallied outside Fuhr’s Kelowna office earlier this week, calling on him to support Wednesday’s NDP motion.

“Because it is a free vote (where MPs vote as they see fit, not how their party requires) Mr. Fuhr will be able to vote for the motion even though many other Liberal members may be voting No,” said Terry Robertson of Fair Vote Canada at the rally.

“We want to remind Mr. Fuhr that the time for talk is over. The time for courageous action is on May 31.”

But Fuhr defended his vote Wednesday, calling the referendum recommendation contained in the report a “poison pill,” one he felt could kill the issue altogether.

By not supporting the report, he said he believed the issue would, ironically, stay alive to be argued another day. But, he conceded, with the government’s current position, he did not know when that day will be.

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