Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef is misleading you.
She is misleading your elected representatives.
And she is casting doubt on the sincerity of the Liberal government's pledge to change the way Canadians elect their MPs.
Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef has been attending town halls across the country.
For several months now, the minister has been an invited guest at town halls across the country. She has held her own consultations from coast to coast to coast. She has followed -- I assume -- the work of the all-party committee that she struck with a mandate to study, consult and recommend a new voting system.
Overwhelmingly, the Canadians who showed up at these town halls and at the committee hearings (and I'm not suggesting that these individuals are necessarily representative of the country as a whole) mostly said one thing: they want MPs to be elected by a proportional system.
That is, they believe that if a political party obtains 40 per cent of the popular vote, that party's members of Parliament should have 40 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons.
Everybody -- the NDP, the Conservatives, the Green Party leader, Monsef's own advisers -- agrees that this is what the people who showed up said.
Everybody, that is, except the minister.
Monsef wrote to the committee last week telling them: "Canadians have not expressed a consensus on a particular electoral system to replace the one we have now."
Maryam Monsef told an all-party committee that she has not heard consensus from Canadians in support of one particular voting system.
Monsef stated that while she had heard "the most passion" from advocates of proportional representation and first-past-the-post (the current system), she said: "I have not yet heard a consensus around one particular system over another."
This is untrue.
What may be worse is that it comes from a minister who last month told a Victoria town hall that the prime minister has a preference for a new electoral system and that she too has a preference.
But she refused to say what is favoured -- under the bizarre reasoning that it would interfere in the independence of the committee's work.
Yet, Monsef has no problem interfering now in the committee's work. She has essentially instructed the Liberal MPs who sit on that committee -- and who continue discussions this week with opposition colleagues on their upcoming report's recommendations -- that she wishes to see no consensus in their report. (The Grits, of course, do not need to listen to her).
This, after Monsef repeatedly said she respects the committee's work, suggested that she would like to see the all-party committee come to a consensus, and stated that if there were a unanimous report, it would be hard to ignore.
One cannot help but wonder why the minister decided to take this unusual step.
Was it because the NDP last week, emboldened by the recent result of a referendum in Prince Edward Island that called for new proportional system, agreed to the Conservatives' longstanding call for a referendum on any new voting method?
Was it because a consensus appears actually to be forming at the all-party committee?
Was it because a consensus is forming not around a ranked ballot -- which is what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously said he preferred -- but rather around the NDP and Green Party's preferred option of a proportional system as long as Canadians, in a referendum, say they want it?
In June, the minister gave the committee the task of recommending to the government the "best method of ensuring that any proposal has the full or broad support of Canadians."
"The government will not proceed without the broad support of Canadians," she said at the time and continues to repeat now.
Not liking the broad agreement that has emerged, Monsef, it seems, has now decided to consult a possibly wider spectrum of Canadians. Reports suggest that the Liberal government plans to send postcards to each household across the country asking people to engage online on the "values" they want to see reflected in their democracy.
Monsef provided very little detail of this plan in her letter to the committee. She confirmed reports already in the news media and stated that "this project has been planned for some time."
"The minister is giving herself a very long leash to propose a voting system that few may desire."
It is unclear whether Monsef will actually ask Canadians what new system they prefer or if they favour the status quo. (In fact, something quite different -- relating more to Canadians' values -- looks likely).
It is also unclear how transparent the result of this new consultation will be.
By focusing on the values Monsef says Canadians want, such as accountable local representation and greater voter participation, the minister is giving herself a very long leash to propose a voting system that few may desire.
Note how she doesn't suggest that one value Canadians want is for their vote to be better reflected in the overall composition of the House? That was a value Trudeau appeared to promise during the election campaign when he said: "We will make every vote count."
Last month, the prime minister hinted that he may have had a change of heart regarding reforms to the voting system. Canadians' desire for a new electoral system has waned since the Liberals are in power, he told Le Devoir.
Monsef has been saying since September that a consensus hasn't formed. One cannot help but wonder if she has been listening at all.
Will she listen now?
Replay electoral town hall with Maryam Monsef:
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Age: 26 Occupation: Masters student, environmental consultant, and works part-time at a craft brewery How she’s involved: Founder of Young Voters of PEI, which spreads awareness about voting reform. What got her interested: She realized young people were becoming more disengaged, especially as they grew older. “I completed my undergrad and moved to P.E.I. for grad school and realized that there was a major void in how people in their early-late 20s engage with their communities and with politics…. We didn't have this university umbrella to unify us as "youth" and give us a way to engage with the issues.” Her preferred voting system: Some type of proportional system with regional representatives Why she wants change: Growing up in Alberta, she saw how one party didn’t quite reflect the views of her community. “Being Albertan doesn't inherently equate with being a Conservative… Majoritarian systems can be effective for two party systems, but I think that Canadian values are less binary.”
Age: 28 Occupation: Civil servant How she’s involved: Volunteer outreach and communications with Ottawa123, which advocates for a ranked ballot system What got her interested: She feels it’s important to be active in her community in order to create change. “Politicians still need more than a retweet or a 'like' to be convinced of changing something.” Her preferred voting system: Ranked ballots in Ottawa and some type of propositional representation at the federal level Why she wants change: While first-past-the-post system might have worked for Canada in the past, she believes that times have changed. “While we have a larger and more diverse population participating in elections than ever before, we follow an old system like first-past-the-post that encourages two-way races. This system often runs the risk of "vote splitting," and discourages some people from participating altogether because the system is unfair.”
Age: 21 Occupation: Undergraduate student Involved with: Volunteer summer student for Leadnow What got her interested: Election reform is a way to combine many of the causes she’s interested in, such as Aboriginal rights and women’s rights. “Electoral reform is a way to have a more diverse parliament and more diverse groups of people making decisions, which will allow us to move all of these causes at once.” Her preferred voting system: Proportional representation Why she wants change: Reform could help youth feel like they have more of a political voice. “One of the constant issues you run into is running to young people feeling unheard, like they are working with a system that's completely broken so not really engaging with it.”
Age: 22 Occupation: Masters student and personal support worker How she’s involved: Volunteer with 123Whitby, which advocates for a local ranked ballot system What got her interested: Samantha was first invited to join the group by a friend and realized how important the cause was to her. “I want to see our voting system changed but I hope to see more individuals, including younger people like myself, become involved in the political process. Maybe by getting involved myself, I can encourage people both directly and indirectly to do the same.” Her preferred voting system: Proportional representation with ranked ballots Why she wants change: The numbers just don’t add up. “How is it that the winner of a municipal by-election with eight candidates need only garner 13 per cent of the votes? How is it that Harper won the federal elections multiple times when the majority of Canadians did not vote for him? These situations plainly show how our voting system is not representative of our population and should be fixed.”
Age: 20 Occupation: Undergraduate student Involved with: Volunteer with Leadnow’s campaign promoting election reform What got him interested: His drive to create political change is inspired by the persecution his family faced in Iran before immigrating to Canada. “Because of the revolution it was hard to have your own political views. My great-grandfather was put in prison because they thought he was part of the the communist party… But being born here in Canada, I felt this duty to get involved in politics.” His preferred voting system: Hybrid mixed-member proportional or single vote transferable, as long as there is local representation Why he wants change: He feels like reforming the voting system to something more proportional would make politicians more open to working together instead of competing. “Some of the best ideas and things that make us fundamentally Canadians come from collaboration.”
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