“2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system”. Many may or may not recall this election promise from now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that continues to be a topic of serious debate and discussion both here in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola and in Ottawa. As the Minister responsible for Electoral Reform continues to stumble along in this file many are questioning if this will end up being yet another broken promise from the Trudeau Liberal Government.
For the record the input I have heard from citizens in our region has been overwhelming in support of a referendum on electoral reform. My fall mail out which asked if constituents desired a referendum before any Government sought to make whole scale changes- such as moving from the current system proposed in the Liberal election promise. The volume of responses was the largest I have seen since becoming a MP with 86% in favour of a referendum. In my town halls I heard both calls for retaining the current system or to move to a proportional system. In fact many calls and comments I have heard recently is frustration and sometimes outrage from citizens who have received the Government’s latest attempt at consultation with an electoral reform postcard via mail or participated in the widely mocked online electoral reform survey and have not been given the direct opportunity to voice support for either proportional representation or the right to a democratic referendum.
In Ottawa the Liberals continue to insist that Prime Minister Trudeau’s promise to Canadians will be met however it is becoming increasingly unclear as to how that will occur. As some may be aware that the special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform, after conducting Canada wide consultations, recommended that a referendum on democratic reform was important to Canadians and that those who do support reform tend to strongly favour proportional representation. Regrettably the Minister responsible for Electoral Reform dismissed the committee report and made disparaging comments about the work of the committee and was eventually forced to apologize after even Liberal members took issue with the Minister for dismissing the views of so many Canadians.
While this has been occurring the Privacy Commissioner has recently come out and opened an investigation into the online democratic reform survey, given that invasive questions based on household income are required in order to be included in the collected data. The outcome of this investigation remains unknown.
Will the Liberals provide the opportunity for a democratic referendum that includes proportional representation? At this point the answer is unknown however many Liberal MPs have been circulating talking points that a referendum is “too complicated” or “takes too much time” or that the law would need to be changed to have one. I find these comments unacceptable for a number of reasons. From the citizens I have heard from in favour of proportional representation make well-reasoned arguments in support of their position and do not seem unable to grasp the concept as many Liberal MPs are wrongly suggesting. As far as “changing the law” this is a non-issue given the Liberals hurriedly amended the law to rush through gender neutral changes to O Canada, much as they did to abolish financial disclosure for unions. The fact that Liberals who have a majority in the House of Commons try to suggest they cannot change the law in a timely way suggests this is a tactic to potentially deny Canadians the right to a referendum they deserve.
My thoughts? Ultimately I am on the record stating that I believe Canadian democracy belongs to Canadians and not to any political party. This means that Canadians deserve a democratic referendum and that should include the right to vote for proportional representation as one of the options. As Elections Canada has repeatedly warned the Government that a significant amount of time is required to implement any electoral change in time for the next election the longer the Liberals take to bring forward a position the greater the chances it will not and cannot be implemented in time. In Ottawa that is often called “talking out the clock” and with Electoral Reform, the time is fast running out.
I welcome your comments and concerns on democratic reform or any matter before the House of Commons and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament elect for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.