'A dating website designed by Fidel Castro': Opposition blasts Liberal electoral reform survey

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef mocked the electoral reform committee's final report last week, but several members returned the favour Monday after reviewing the government's new online survey on the topic.

Critics dismiss MyDemocracy.ca as poorly conceived and vague

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef found herself defending her government's new electoral reform survey on Monday. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef mocked the electoral reform committee's final report last week, but several members returned the favour Monday after reviewing the government's new online survey on the topic.

Conservative MP Scott Reid said MyDemocracy.ca "feels like being on a dating website designed by Fidel Castro."  

"No matter how hard someone tries to be against the prime minister's preferred electoral system, the survey tells them that they really do support it. It is like magic," he said.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May made a similar dating site comparison after checking out the survey, which asks Canadians about their values, preferences and priorities for a political system, but not about what specific model they prefer.

"I thought it was a dating survey. They forgot 'do you like pina coladas and taking walks in the rain?'" May tweeted.

The federal government is mailing postcards to nearly 15 million households to promote the survey, part of its effort to include more Canadians in the electoral reform debate. 

But hours after MyDemocracy.ca went live, Conservatives and New Democrats dismissed it as poorly conceived and vague.

Reid wondered why the survey didn't ask participants whether a referendum is necessary before introducing a new electoral system.

The referendum issue was one of the most controversial questions for the committee. The majority report of the committee recommended a referendum, but the New Democrats, Greens and Liberals questioned that conclusion.

Monsef also criticized the committee for failing to propose a specific alternative to the first-past-the-post system — a point NDP critic Nathan Cullen used against her during question period Monday.

"Last week, the minister insulted our committee and the thousands of Canadians who participated with us in this process because we weren't specific enough for her," he said. "Yet today we see a pop-psych survey from this minister and there's no mention of electoral systems whatsoever."

Last Thursday, Monsef mocked the electoral reform committee for using the Gallagher Index, a mathematical formula for assessing the representative quality of electoral systems.

Monsef responded that "research around the world" shows the best way to have an inclusive and accessible conversation with the public about electoral reform is with a "value-based approach."

She said that as of mid-afternoon Monday, more than 8,000 people had completed the survey.

To which Cullen responded, "There are 20,000 tweets mocking this minister's survey."

The hashtag #rejectedERQs was created to help ridicule the questionnaire, though Carleton University professor Philippe Lagassé did his best to defend it with a series of tweets.

Does the survey discourage change?

The survey asks Canadians whether they agree or disagree with statements like, "It should always be clear which party is accountable for decisions made by government, even if this means that decisions are only made by one party" and "There should be parties in Parliament that represent the views of all Canadians, even if some are radical or extreme."

Cullen says the framing of the statements seems to discourage change.

"Anything that even approaches change is framed in the most terrifying and scary ways about extremism and fringe," he said.

An example of the postcard that will be sent to 15 million Canadian households as part of the Liberal government's consultations on electoral reform.

The survey was designed by Vox Pop Labs, the Canadian company responsible for the Vote Compass tool used by CBC.ca during several recent elections.

Founder Cliff van der Linden said most of the questions were based on academic research on electoral reform, and the government said a panel of academic experts reviewed each of them.

While one statement does refer to "radical or extreme" views, van der Linden says the survey also tests whether "there should be greater diversity of views in Parliament." 

Participants are categorized as "co-operators," "guardians," "challengers," "innovators" or "pragmatists."

People talking about reform

May and others expressed concern that people would be able to vote multiple times, but Monsef's office said measures are in place to prevent manipulation.

"Vox Pop Labs ... took appropriate steps to protect the integrity of the initiative," said John O'Leary, Monsef's director of communications. "That includes people trying to influence the results by participating over and over again. Vox Pop Labs can account for behaviour like that and weight the data to reduce skews in the results."

Van der Linden says there's an upside to Monday's debate.

"For better or for worse, at the end of the day today, I think there will be more people talking about aspects of how our democracy works than normally do."

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

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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