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Electoral reform: Is Trudeau's broken promise on any party's agenda?

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s 2015 promise to change our first-past-the-post voting system was abandoned by the party. Voters are still wondering what the main parties are saying about electoral reform during this federal election. We break down the party platforms.

NDP, Green Party have included electoral reform in their platforms

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh casts his ballot for the federal byelection in Burnaby South at an advance poll in 2019. Supporters of electoral reform want to change Canada's first-past-the-post voting system. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

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Not much has been said about electoral reform during this federal election campaign, six years after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised to replace the first-past-the-post voting system.

But Canadians from across the country have emailed CBC News to express their frustration with an elections system they say still doesn't properly reflect how people vote.

  • Use Vote Compass to compare the party platforms with your views.

Under first-past-the-post, voters pick one candidate in their riding and the person with more votes than any other candidate wins the riding. The successful candidate doesn't need to win a majority of votes to take the riding.

Advocates of electoral reform want this changed to some other voting system, such as proportional representation, which they say would reduce the practice of strategic voting and more accurately reflect voters' views.

What are the main party platforms on electoral reform?

Liberals

The Liberal Party's 2021 election platform makes no mention of electoral reform. 

In 2017, after abandoning his promise to change the voting system, Trudeau said he preferred a ranked ballot. When CBC News asked about the party's current stance on electoral reform, a Liberal spokesperson did not answer the question and instead offered this statement: 

"We all have a shared responsibility to protect and promote our democracy. This means working every day to engage and involve Canadians from all walks of life in our electoral process and democratic institutions."

"It looks like we're going to be stuck with first-past-the-post under a Liberal government," said political scientist Stéphanie Chouinard, an assistant professor at Canada's Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.

Conservatives

The Conservative Party's platform also does not include electoral reform.

One section of the platform states that the party "will end Trudeau's practice of … treating provinces differently based on whether they think they can win their votes."

CBC News reached out to the Conservative Party to ask whether this promise would embrace electoral reform. The party did not respond.

NDP

The NDP has committed to replacing our voting system with mixed-member proportional representation. The party has promised to make it part of their first mandate if elected.

Under mixed-member proportional representation, voters have to make two choices on a ballot: one for a candidate to represent them locally and one for a party.

The NDP's election platform states the party would establish an independent citizens' assembly to recommend the best way to put this voting system in place for the next election. After Canadians have had the chance to experience it, the party said, a referendum would be held to confirm the choice.

Green Party

The Green Party supports proportional representation but is not advocating for a particular model. 

"So long as they respect the principle of proportionality ... Mixed-Member Proportional, Rural-Urban Proportional, and more, could meet this criteria," a party spokesperson told CBC News in an email.

The Greens also support establishing a citizens' assembly on electoral reform.

Is a referendum required for electoral reform?

No. Canada can replace its voting system without a nationwide referendum.

"This is not a constitutional change," said political scientist Max Cameron, a professor at the University of British Columbia who has advised policymakers on electoral reform.

Cameron added that he's in favour of holding a referendum only if it's well-designed.

  • Find out who's ahead in the latest polls with our Poll Tracker.

"Here in B.C., we've had badly-designed referendums and that's killed electoral reform," Cameron said. "We've had a good citizens' assembly and we've had three terrible referendums."

Provincial referendums on electoral reform have taken place in B.C. and on P.E.I. in recent years. Canadians in both provinces voted to keep the first-past-the-post system (B.C. in 2018 and P.E.I. in 2019, respectively).

WATCH | Max Cameron on why Trudeau failed to implement electoral reform:

Political scientist on Trudeau's broken promise of electoral reform

2 months ago
0:57
Max Cameron, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia, explains why Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's 2015 promise of electoral reform was abandoned. 0:57

Has anything changed since the 2019 election?

In June, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs passed a motion to establish a national citizens' assembly on electoral reform.

The Liberals and NDP both voted in favour of the motion (the Green Party supports establishing this assembly as well, but Greens didn't have a seat on that committee). The Conservatives voted against the motion.

"This isn't going to bind the next Parliament," Cameron said.

"But it indicates that even among the political parties, when you get them in a committee to look at the issue, they can see some reason for actually going forward with a citizens' assembly."


Do you have a question about the federal election? Send it to ask@cbc.ca or leave it in the comments. We're answering as many as we can leading up to election day. You can read our answers to other election-related questions here.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Avneet Dhillon is a multi-platform journalist with CBC News based in Toronto.

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