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October 27, 2017 10:53 pm

Electoral reform process – Are Canadians really “in charge”?

Friday, May 13, 2016 @ 5:45 AM

By Peter Ewart

The Federal Liberal government is proposing to form an All-Party Parliamentary Committee to identify and study what it terms “viable alternatives” to the current first-past-the-post electoral system.  After consultation with Canadians over the next few months, this Committee will then report its recommendations to the House of Commons by December 1, 2016.

In this regard, the Ministry of Democratic Institutions, which will be spearheading the process, has issued the curious statement that “It’s time to remind Canadians that they are in charge” (1).

But are Canadians truly “in charge”?  By appearing to rule out a national referendum on any electoral change, the Liberal government has indicated Canadians will not be the final decision-makers.  Rather it will be the Parliamentary Committee, made up of representatives of the federal political parties, who will put forward the recommendations, and Parliament itself will make the final decision.

In a genuine democracy, sovereign power flows from the people.  It follows from that principle that the people should be the decision-makers regarding any fundamental changes to the electoral system, rather than political parties which tend to have their own factional, vested interests.

The composition of the Parliamentary Committee itself can scarcely be called democratic.  The Liberals received just 39% of the vote in the last federal election, but are awarding themselves a majority on the Committee (6 out of the 10 voting members).

Even the premises the Liberals are operating on are biased.  For example, claiming that the 2015 election will be “the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post system.”  Or claiming that somehow, despite receiving only 39% of the vote, they now have a mandate from all Canadians to make such a change (2).  Why not let Canadians decide?  Why not have an open process where nothing is prejudged?

By disempowering Canadian voters, the Liberals are ensuring that it will be the political parties in Parliament, not the people, who will ultimately choose the next electoral system.  In other words, the parties will be setting the rules for themselves.

There are alternatives to such a flawed and biased process.  For example, in British Columbia, the Campbell government in 2005 initiated the Citizens’ Assembly which was made up of BC voters randomly chosen from across the province.  This took the process out of the hands of the political parties in the Legislature and gave final say to British Columbians in two referenda.

If it was not for the required 60% threshold, BC would have changed its electoral system to the Single Transferable Vote system, one that to a certain extent gave more power to voters and weakened that of the political parties.

Irrespective of that outcome, the BC Citizens’ Assembly process, unlike the proposed federal government process, was much more democratic and consistent with the principle that sovereign power flows from the people.

All of this controversy over electoral reform is taking place in the context of a country and a world where global monopolies are amassing more and more power and where the power of people to make political and economic decisions is being diminished through supra-national arrangements such as NAFTA, TPP, IMF, the European Union, and other mechanisms, as well as a cartel-like party system that disempowers the electorate.

It is clear that, contrary to the declarations of the Ministry of Democratic Institutions, Canadians are definitely not in charge.  In fact, the Liberal government’s electoral reform process only reinforces this marginalization.

Furthermore, this dysfunctional process is just one symptom of the larger problem of political and economic disempowerment of the citizenry in an increasingly globalized and corporatized world.

We need democratic processes that open the way for solutions to this disempowerment, not feathering the nests of certain political parties.

Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia.  He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca


  1. “Backgrounder: Motion to propose all-party parliamentary committee on electoral reform.”  Government of Canada. May 11, 2016.    http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=1063799
  2. McParland, Kelly.  “Liberals want ‘exhaustive’, ‘inclusive’ electoral reform, but no referendum thanks.”  National Post.  May 11, 2016. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/kelly-mcparland-liberals-want-exhaustive-inclusive-electoral-reform-but-no-referendum-thanks



PE:”Even the premises the Liberals are operating on are biased. For example, claiming that the 2015 election will be “the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post system.””

Definitely not.

As part of their 2015 election platform the Liberals promised that if elected they would to make the next election one that will not use the first-past-the-post system! Now they are keeping the promise they made.

The voters knew that by electing a Liberal government it would strive to accomplish what was promised! It is called keeping a promise. That’s good! What seems to be the problem? Even the NDP and the Green Party supported the idea enthusiastically! Are they “biased” as well, as you call it?

The first lie a politician tells everyone

This is a democracy.

Canada hasn’t been a democracy for probably 40 years or more.Ever since the de-regulation of all crown owned resources and companies.

The Liberals were the 3rd place party in the last election and were hedging their bets when they made the promise of electoral reform. What they were really concerned about was that if they came in 3rd in the last election they had a basis for working with the NDP and Greens to reform the system that would give them more power in Government.

The problem for them now, is that they have won the election with a majority Government and only 39% of the popular vote. They are now trying to give the impression that they will keep their promise of electoral change, however the first thing they did was stack the committee with a majority of Liberals so that only the Liberal point of view will get through the system. The next thing they will probably do is drag this out to the point that nothing will be in place for the next election, and they could then win another majority.

Seems this new Liberal Government is much the same as the Chretian and Martin liberals. Just more of the same.

There was a concerted effort over the past few years to discredit the Conservative Government and Prime Minister Harper, and I have to admit that this effort was a success. We are now starting to reap what we sowed.

If Harper tried to bring in electoral reform with a stacked committee the way the Liberals are doing it, people would scream bloody murder, however since its not Harper we don’t hear a peep, from the so called, defenders of democracy.

    You nailed it, Palopu. At least the Conservatives are calling for any changes to the electoral system be approved in a national referendum. All the Liberals seem to want is to replace the old ‘divine right of Kings’ with the ‘divine right of Parliament’. So long as they’re government, that is.

    Palopu states; “If Harper tried to bring in electoral reform with a stacked committee the way the Liberals are doing it, people would scream bloody murder, however since its not Harper we don’t hear a peep, from the so called, defenders of democracy.”

    I guess you forgot about the massive electoral reforms the Harper Conservatives made to the “fair” Elections Act? No referendum, no input from the opposition parties in parliament, the party/government of democracy you defend and promote rammed their changes to the Election Act through in the most brutal dictatorial fashion a free country has ever witnessed.

    Do I agree with the stacking of the electoral reform committee by the Liberals? NO of course I don’t, even though I support the Liberals, I am mature and adult enough to admit they make mistakes, or occasionally, I can disagree with their decisions or actions.

    But that is the difference between a Liberal or NDP supporter and a Conservative supporter, we view politics in an adult manner and will be critical of our parties or government should we disagree with a situation… a Conservative supporter, on the other hand, is blindly loyal to their party/government and will rarely question its actions or decisions… but that is the difference between mature adults engaging in political debate and children engaging in political debate!

We can blame the conglomerate corporations, and Government for everything wrong with our electoral system, and we do, however it seems that we constantly give the citizens of this Country a free ride.

We are dealing on a daily basis with political junkies, who are working the angles day in and day out to better their position on the political stage. The average Canadian citizen does not pay any attention to the shenanigans that are taking place.

Who is looking for changes to our present system. Hmmmm let me see, could it be the NDP, the Greens, and up until they won a majority the Liberals. Lets not fool ourselves and confuse the wants and needs of political parties, with the wants and needs of the Canadian electoral system. The push for change is NOT coming from the citizens a large, it is driven by political parties who will never be in any position of power under the present system, and therefore are trying to find an alternative system that allows them, (not Canadians) to have more say in the running of the Country.

Canadians need to join political parties, especially the two main parties ie; Liberals and Conservatives, and start to making meaningful changes from within. That’s where change can take place. People need to participate in politics more that once every four years.

The Westminster system has served us well over the years, and there is no need to change. Those seeking change are on the outside looking in, and like the kid looking through the window of a candy store, they want to get in on the goodies.

Leave the present system in place,.

The Liberals were fine with the present system until it landed them in the wilderness for 10 years. This change is intended to insure that Canadians will never again elect a Conservative majority government.

    If Conservative values cause enough voters to vote Conservative nothing can stop the Conservatives from becoming a government again. No matter what the system. Governments get voted out when they lose approval of the voters. Often they cause their own downfall with self-inflicted wounds.

Pal:” What they (the Liberals) were really concerned about was that if they came in 3rd in the last election they had a basis for working with the NDP and Greens to reform the system that would give them more power in Government.”

If the NDP had won the election with a majority – why would it rock the comfortable boat and work on electoral reform to give others more power?
Why risk losing the next election?

If the Conservatives had won with a majority……..same thing!

People want real change! Just look south of our border! People are sick and tired of the same old conniving politics and politicians. Electoral reform is a change towards better democratic representation.

Palopu states: “If Harper tried to bring in electoral reform with a stacked committee the way the Liberals are doing it, people would scream bloody murder…”

Purely hypothetical since Harper did exactly the opposite.

The committee is not “stacked” with a ‘false majority’ (Nathan Cullen’s latest iteration) it reflects the outcome of the last election, i.e. a Liberal majority. Since both the Greens and the NDP are clamouring for a change from the first-past-the-post system the present system would be toast. The make up of the committee is basically a non-issue. The only issue remaining is what kind of electoral system will be adopted!

This is a Liberal initiative and they will have the final say and that is the way it will work out. Like it or not.

JGalt. When you make reference to adults and children, I seriously suggest that you get a second opinion. You would probably find that your interpretation of events falls under the children category. In fact your new leader Justin is not far removed from the child category and quite often can be found acting like a child, especially when it comes to selfies.

I was not necessarily supporting the Harper position, what I was doing was pointing out that the perennial bitchers when Harper does something is absent when the Liberals do the same thing. Such is the way of politics.

Eliminate all political parties.

Maybe we should be selecting members of parliament the same way we select a jury. Everyone would have to serve a specific period of time, 8 yrs. or so, then the people could vote for a leader to lead the country.

my2bits. You realize of course that they pick the names for a jury off the voters list. They the put 50 names in a bucket, shake the bucket and draw out the names one by one until they get 12 jurors and one back up.

The system for picking a juror has no relation to anything intelligent and at best gets you 12 people of various age, and mentality.

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