With electoral reform off the table, minister defends first-past-the-post

Seven months after her predecessor described the current electoral system as "antiquated," the new Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, defended it during an appearance Tuesday before a Commons committee.

Former minister had described current system as 'antiquated'

Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould stands during Question Period in the House of Commons on Feb. 1, 2017. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Seven months after her predecessor described the current electoral system as "antiquated," and one week after the Liberal government abandoned its pursuit of reform, the new minister of democratic institutions defended first-past-the-post during an appearance before a House of Commons committee.

"The first-past-the-post system may not be perfect — no electoral system is," Karina Gould said Tuesday during an appearance before the procedure and House affairs committee. 

"But it has served this country for 150 years and advances a number of democratic values that Canadians hold dear, such as strong local representation, stability and accountability."

The decision to abandon the Liberal Party's commitment to implement a new electoral system was "difficult" but "responsible," Gould said, citing a lack of consensus around the options.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould takes a moment while at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to defend Canada's first-past-the-post voting system 0:16

Last July, while appearing before a special committee on electoral reform, Gould's predecessor was notably more critical in her review of first-past-the-post.

"Some have pointed out that Canada is a mature, successful democracy whose citizens enjoy a high standard of living and a level of political freedom that is the envy of the world. They question why we would consider changing such a successful democracy," Maryam Monsef said.

"Although I accept the premise of that thought, I do not agree with the conclusion. Simply pointing out that something works is not a reason not to try to make it better. First-past-the-post is an antiquated system designed to meet the realities of 19th-century Canada and not designed to operate within our multi-party democracy.

"We require an electoral system that provides a stronger link between the democratic will of Canadians and election results."

Gould said the public consultations on the issue — including hearings conducted by the special committee, a national tour by Monsef and an online survey — were "one of the largest and farthest-reaching consultations ever undertaken by the government of Canada."

Most of Gould's hour before Tuesday's committee dealt with other matters within her mandate, including the threat of foreign hacking and establishing an independent commission to organize party leader debates during elections.

About the Author

Aaron Wherry

Parliament Hill Bureau

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail.

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