'We can do better': Liberals kick off push to change Canada's voting system

Having promised that the last federal campaign will be the last one conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system, the Liberal government is proposing that a special committee study the alternatives and report back to the House of Commons by Dec. 1.

Proposed motion asks committee to report on alternatives to first-past-the-post system by Dec. 1

Monsef says no referendum for now on Electoral Reform

7 years ago
Duration 1:03
Maryam Monsef the Minister for Democratic Reform updated reporters today on the process to change how Canadians elect MPs

Having promised that the last federal campaign will be the last one conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system, the Liberal government is proposing that a special committee study the alternatives and report back to the House of Commons by Dec. 1.

A motion to create the committee was unveiled on Tuesday night. Democratic Reform Minister Maryam Monsef and Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc explained their government's plans on Wednesday morning.

The committee would consist of 10 voting members: six Liberals, three Conservatives and one New Democrat. One Bloc Québécois MP and Green MP Elizabeth May would be members of the committee, but not allowed to vote.

"In a multi-party democracy like Canada, first past the post distorts the will of the electorate. It's part of why so many Canadians don't engage in or care about politics," Monsef told reporters. "While there's no such thing as a perfect electoral system, we can do better."

Ambrose calls for referendum on Electoral Reform

7 years ago
Duration 2:00
Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose tells reporters any changes have to be decided by Canadians

5 principles

The committee would be asked to "identify and conduct a study of viable alternate voting systems, such as preferential ballots and proportional representation, to replace the first-past-the-post system, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting."

Options would be judged on the basis of five principles:

  • Effectiveness and legitimacy. 
  • Engagement. 
  • Accessibility and inclusiveness.
  • Integrity.
  • Local representation. 

The committee would invite every MP to conduct a forum on electoral reform in his or her riding and file a report on the discussion by Oct. 1. And the committee itself would conduct a "national engagement process," including written and online submissions.

'Elections should unite Canadians'

The motion to create the committee would still have to be adopted by the House of Commons before a committee could begin its work.

"Our electoral system must ensure governments appeal beyond a narrow base of Canadians and encourage the building of a national consensus," Monsef said. "We need to move beyond a system that pits neighbour against neighbour. Elections should unite Canadians and not appeal to narrow constituencies."

Democratic Reform Minister Maryam Monsef, right, and Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc told reporters Wednesday that it's time for Canada to move beyond a system that pits "neighbour against neighbour." (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Reacting to the government's proposal, NDP democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen criticized the composition of the committee. 

"The Liberals have chosen to maintain their false majority on the committee, stacked the decks," he said, "and it calls into some question at the outset the legitimacy of what comes out the other end."

Cullen had previously suggested that the membership of the committee should proportionally reflect the national popular vote in last year's election: a 12-member committee including five Liberals, three Conservatives, two New Democrats, one Bloc MP and one Green MP.

The 10-member electoral reform committee mirrors the membership of other House committees in the current Parliament, which are divided according to the seat count in the House of Commons.

"Using the House of Commons as the model, which was created out of what the minister and the Liberals claim is a broken system — to then use that same model to fix the broken system makes no sense," Cullen said.

Speaking with reporters after the Liberal announcement, Green MP Elizabeth May said she was pleased to be involved, but "somewhat perplexed" at her non-voting status.

Monsef said MPs, in considering electoral reform, needed to put their partisan interests aside. 

In the last federal campaign, the NDP proposed moving to a mixed-member system of proportional representation while the Greens endorsed moving to some form of proportional representation. The Conservatives proposed implementing legislation to require a referendum before any new system could be enacted.

The Liberal government has neither accepted nor ruled out holding a referendum before replacing first-past-the-post.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, left, and NDP MP Nathan Cullen wait for their turn to speak to the press Wednesday. Cullen told reporters the Liberals have "stacked the deck" on the new electoral reform committee. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Conservatives not consulted

"The position of our party has always been that if you want to change the rules of the game that everyone should have a say. We don't know yet what's going to happen with this committee. All I know is this committee is a majority held committee by the Liberals. And so all Canadians won't have a say. It will be a Liberal majority of members of Parliament who will have a say," Rona Ambrose, Conservative interim leader, said Wednesday afternoon.

What's the Liberals' election reform plan?

7 years ago
Duration 2:39
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised 2015 was the last election to be fought on first-past-the-post. What shape could electoral reform take?

"Now they're going to consult across the country, that's a positive thing. But again, that's not the same thing as a referendum."

A spokesman for Conservative MP Scott Reid, the Official Opposition's democratic reform critic, said on Tuesday night that Reid was not aware that such a proposal was forthcoming.

"As has become custom for the new government, we were not consulted in any way, despite what the prime minister would have had you believe last week," Dennis Laurie said. "The media advisory and accompanying motion on the notice paper were the first we had heard of either."

Last week, Reid won an apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after Trudeau said the Conservatives and New Democrats were being actively consulted and seemed to suggest the opposition parties were holding up the process.


Aaron Wherry

Senior writer

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He is the author of Promise & Peril, a book about Justin Trudeau's years in power.