OTTAWA — Days after fumbling the rollout of an all-party report on reforming how Canadians vote, the Liberals are giving Canadians 25 days to take part in a lengthy online interactive survey on electoral reform.
The Liberal government is launching what it says is the next phase of its study to reform the voting system — a campaign promise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shown signs of backing away from lately — through a new online portal called MyDemocracy.ca.
The Canadian Press has obtained details of the questions that the government hopes Canadians will answer as it sends postcards today to 15 million households giving details about how to participate online, or by phone if they lack the Internet.
The survey comes after the last week's flare up in the House of Commons in which Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef criticized opposition MPs on the electoral reform committee for not doing their jobs.
Monsef apologized repeatedly, but outrage over her remarks seemed to kneecap any momentum towards finding a new way for Canadians to vote after Trudeau pledged that the 2015 election would be the last one to use the first-past-the-post system.
Opposition MPs on the committee recommended a new proportional voting system, and urged a national referendum to gauge public support for it.
But in this next phase of public consultations, the word referendum does not appear in any of the 31 questions the government plans to ask Canadians. It also urges respondents to fill out a section to help track their demographic profile. The government has given respondents a Dec. 30 deadline.
The Liberals say MyDemocracy.ca is an "innovative way to join the conversation on electoral reform,'' saying the survey will take "only a few minutes.'' A paper printoff of the section was more than 30 pages long.
On separate Sunday television talks shows, two opposition MPs — who did not appear to know about this new round of public consultations — repeated accusations that the Liberals are trying to create a system that favours the party.
Monsef roundly rejected the criticism in an interview Sunday, saying the government is determined to give as many Canadians as possible a voice on a complicated but important issue that cuts to core of their democracy.
She acknowledged that the project asks Canadians to do more than "fill a few blanks and to check a few boxes,'' saying the survey can be completed in "less than 10 minutes."
"I know that Canadians are busy, especially this time of the year.''
Democratic institutions minister Maryam Monsef speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons Feb. 2, 2016. (Photo: Reuters)
But the minister seemed to suggest that even if it takes a bit longer, Canadians have a stake in taking the time.
"For our democracy to stay healthy, it's going to take a two-way relationship between citizens and their government.''
The survey, by Toronto-based Vox Pop Labs, asks respondents to rate their level of agreement to 20 "propositions'' labelled "values.''
The five-point scale ranges from "strongly disagree'' to "strongly agree.''
One proposition states: "A ballot should be easy to understand, even if it means voters have fewer options to express their preferences.''
"We want to hear from as many Canadians as possible before we come out with legislation, and it's not easy doing something that hasn't been done before."
Another proposition says: "Voters should be able to express multiple preferences on the ballot, even if this means that it takes longer to count the ballots and announce the election result.''
Another section asks respondents to pick between two statements, or "preferences.'' Respondents are asked whether "Ballots should be as simple as possible so that everybody understands how to vote OR ballots should allow everybody to express their preferences in detail?''
A separate backgrounder titled "Democracy in Canada'' outlines some of the ways Canadians could cast their votes. It says:
- pick just one candidate on the ballot, like we do now;
- rank the candidates — your 1st, 2nd, 3rd and last choice; or
- choose multiple candidates with or without ranking them."
Unclear how many people would need to participate
The Liberals have signalled repeatedly that their enthusiasm for electoral reform has waned since they won a majority of seats last fall — while winning less than 40 per cent of the popular vote.
Trudeau has suggested that public interest in reform has diminished since the Liberals won power. And Monsef has repeatedly said she's detected no consensus around any particular voting alternative and has warned that the government won't proceed without the broad support of Canadians.
"We want to hear from as many Canadians as possible before we come out with legislation, and it's not easy doing something that hasn't been done before,'' she said.
Monsef would not say what the minimum level of participation needed to make the survey of use.
With files from Joan Bryden