'More specifics' on electoral reform needed before planning for referendum: chief electoral officer

Canada's chief electoral officer says Elections Canada doesn't have enough specifics about the government's proposed electoral reform to say whether it can organize a referendum on it and make the necessary changes to the voting system in time for the 2019 federal election.

Marc Mayrand says Elections Canada needs certainty before it can plan national referendum on electoral reform

Marc Mayrand, outgoing chief electoral officer, says he hasn't heard enough specifics about the proposed electoral reform to know whether a referendum on it could take place before the next election. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Canada's outgoing chief electoral officer says Elections Canada doesn't have enough specifics about the government's proposed electoral reform to say whether it can organize a referendum on it and make the necessary changes to the voting system in time for the 2019 federal election.

"We can hardly start to prepare seriously without knowing if and how the referendum act would need to be amended," Marc Mayrand told the CBC's Chris Hall in an interview airing Saturday on The House.

On Thursday, the special committee of MPs studying electoral reform recommended the government hold a referendum asking Canadians whether they want to stick with the current first-past-the-post system or move to a new proportional voting system.

Mayrand, who steps down Dec. 28, has already said new legislation enacting reform would need to be in place at least 24 months ahead of the next election and that his office would need an additional six months to put together an official referendum.

"There has to be more specifics as to what people will be voting on," he said. "My sense is that we still don't know what alternative system exactly will be proposed, except that it would be a mixed member representation."

Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef reiterated on Thursday that her government is striving to introduce new legislation in the House of Commons this spring.

The special committee on Electoral Reform recommends a referendum but the Liberals dissent 1:11

Complicating matters is the discord between the political parties and committee members.

The Liberal members of the electoral reform committee did not support the recommendation for a referendum, casting doubt on whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government would be able to fulfil its campaign promise of electoral reform in time for the 2019 election. 

'Insufficient information and clarity' 

Then during question period Thursday, Monsef accused the committee of shirking its responsibility.

"I have to admit I'm a little disappointed, because what we had hoped the committee would provide us with would be a specific alternative system to first past the post. Instead, they've provided us with the Gallagher Index," Monsef said, referring to a complicated formula for measuring the proportionality of a legislature based on an election result.

Mayrand says Elections Canada does need certainty before preparing a referendum. 

Another issue is the worry that Canadians won't turn up to vote in a referendum. A recent plebiscite on Prince Edward Island on electoral reform only saw 36 per cent of voters cast a vote.

"One big issue around these is insufficient information and clarity around what was being proposed," he said.

"We tend to underestimate the effort that's needed to educate people properly so that they can make the choice they want to make."

During question period in the House of Commons Thursday. Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef accuses the Opposition of not doing its job on the electoral reform committee. 2:31

Clarifications

  • This story has been edited to correctly state the definition of the Gallagher index as a formula to measure the proportionality of a legislature based on an election results.
    Dec 02, 2016 3:57 PM ET

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