Nationwide electoral reform survey surprises many and disappoints some of Trudeau’s political opponents
Nov. 8, 2016
By David Akin
Opposition critics were surprised Monday to learn the Trudeau government are extending consultations on electoral reform with a mail-out to more than 13 million households encouraging Canadians to fill in an web-based survey on the issue.
The National Post first reported the government’s intention to mail postcards to all Canadian households by early December, asking recipients to visit mydemocracy.ca or mademocratie.ca and fill out a survey that, government sources say, will probe their views on how democracy is practised in Canada.
The government had not divulged its plans publicly about this extra round of consultations - the mydemocracy.ca Web site will go live in early December and will close on Dec. 31.
“The timing is not good,” said Nathan Cullen, a New Democratic MP and member of the all-party committee that has spent months criss-crossing the country to consult Canadians on the issue the new online survey will address.
Committee members are in the midst of drawing up their recommendations to the government, due Dec. 1, just as the survey gets going.
“It’s a bit frustrating, having spent so much time and money already on this that, in the midst of our negotiations with other parties, (that) the government decides to add on this extra layer, potentially undermining the work we’re trying to do right now,” Cullen said.
Conservative MP Scott Reid, another committee member, was also surprised to learn of the extra consultations.
“It does raise the question of what was the purpose of having the committee at all,” he said.
Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef has also been touring the country, holding town-hall meeting, while dozens of MPs have held similar meetings in their ridings.
“But in the end the cabinet will make a decision on their discretion and that’s that. The electoral system will be decided by cabinet with no one in the room but Liberals,” Reid said.
The Conservatives are insisting any proposals should be put to Canadians via a national referendum before any changes are made.
But Elizabeth May, the Green Party MP, said she was prepared to give the Liberals the benefit of the doubt.
“This puts the lie to the notion that the Liberals are evacuating their promise (to change the voting system). If you’re going to write to every Canadian household , you’re clearly not reducing expectations for change,” said May, also a committee member.
Fair Vote Canada, an organization which advocates for proportional representation, was pleased to hear of a new consultations, but worried about the design of the online survey.
“We wonder why the (all-party electoral reform committe) is not overseeing this questionnaire - especially with postcards going to every household. The results could be regarded as a referendum,” said Kelly Carmichael, the group’s executive director.
The group was hoping Monsef would lay out the Liberal position.
So far, the Liberals, in their campaign platform and elsewhere, have only said the 2015 general election would be the last using the first-past-the-post. They have never said what they would choose to replace it.
“We just think that it’s time now to really cut to the chase here and get down to some of the language that really gets to the heart of what Canadians want,” said Carmichael.
“We are a little bit concerned about how this (survey) is going to be handled and what they are going to be asking.”
Moreover, Fair Vote Canada would prefer that Monsef finally declare the Liberal position on electoral reform. So far, the Liberals, in their campaign platform and elsewhere, have only vowed that the 2015 general election would be the last using the first-past-the-post system used since Confederation. But the Liberals have never stated what system they would choose to replace first-past-the-post.
“We just think that it’s time now to really cut to the chase here and get down to some of the language that really gets to the heart of what Canadians want,” said Carmichael. “We are a little bit concerned about how this [survey] is going to be handled and what they are going to be asking.”
The National Post has not seen the online survey and government officials said it would not be unveiled until later this month. But government officials are cautioning that this should not be viewed as a referendum nor will it be treated by the government as a statistically valid sample of public opinion.
“We are interested in the values and principles Canadians share when it comes to strengthening our democracy,” said John O’Leary, Monsef’s director of communications. “This new approach will give more Canadians a chance to explore and engage in this topic like never before. We will review what we learn through this process, and Minister Monsef will consider it as she determines the next steps.”
Fair Vote’s Carmichael said she is worried that the Liberals are “going to continually start new processes to come up with a different answer.”