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Electoral Reform: How Canadians Can Contribute To The Debate

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The first two posts in this three-part series, available here and here, examine why Canadians need to participate in the upcoming national debate on how to replace our existing first-past-the-post (FPTP) system for federal elections. Canadians have a rare and precious opportunity to influence the future functioning of our democracy, both in terms of citizen representation and the balance of power that underpins day-to-day decision-making by our national government. This is a window of opportunity that, if squandered, may not present itself again for years to come.

The current government has consistently maintained its commitment to replacing our FPTP electoral system with a new system that reduces distortion and strengthens the link between voter intention and the election of representatives. It also compromised on its original proposal to have the composition of the electoral reform committee reflect that of the House of Commons -- with Liberals holding a majority as is the norm -- and instead accepted the NDP's proposal to extend full membership privileges to the Bloc and Green Party and to structure the Committee proportionally, based on the share of votes each party received during the last election.

How can Canadians engage?

MPs have been asked to hold electoral reform town halls over the summer to consult with their constituents and feed what they hear into the parliamentary committee. Canadians can proactively alert their MPs to their interest in participating; this simple tool makes doing so easy.

The Electoral Reform Committee has also extended an invitation to Canadians with instructions on how they might participate. The deadline is October 7, 2016. Canadians may request to appear before the Committee, submit a written brief (maximum 3,000 words, including the summary and footnotes) and participate through use of Twitter.

For written briefs, the Committee recommends highlighting any recommendations that support the principles for electoral reform set out in the Committee's Mandate. For those who want to participate via Twitter, Committee members will monitor Twitter (#ERRE #Q) for comments and questions from Canadians. Members may relay these questions to the witnesses in real time.

It is in every Canadian's best interests to fully engage in the process of deciding how our country's electoral system needs to be modernized for the future.

On July 6th, Minister Maryam Monsef announced the launch of a comprehensive set of resources to help Canadians engage in the national dialogue on electoral reform. Among the resources provided are a series of materials that provide high level information on how our existing FPTP and other broad families of electoral systems work as well as how to prepare to attend an event or host a dialogue.

While keeping up-to-date during the summer months may present challenges, regular social media updates provided by civil society organizations like Fair Vote Canada (Fair Vote Canada Facebook, Fair Vote Canada Twitter) and Leadnow (Leadnow Facebook, Leadnow Twitter) are a simple way of keeping track of major developments. Canadians who wish to follow the Committee's work may also do so by watching committee meetings or visiting the Committee's website. Of course, social media aficionados already know that searching for the hashtag #ERRE #Q provides lots of up to the minute information on who has been saying what.

Why is this something that youth, in particular, need to engage in?

One of the early findings from the recent Brexit vote is that a portion of the population in the UK -- most notably young people -- were under-represented in the overall number of votes cast. There is much speculation as to possible causes for this and, as time unfolds, more may be learned about the extent to which UK youth were, in fact, under-represented.

It is in every Canadian's best interests to fully engage in the process of deciding how our country's electoral system needs to be modernized for the future. Between now and December 1st, when the electoral reform committee's report is due to the House of Commons, we should all avail ourselves of every opportunity to discuss the problems caused by our existing FPTP electoral system, and support each others' learning regarding what is possible for the future.

As with the UK Brexit example, Canadian youth will need to live with the electoral system that ultimately emerges from this process for much longer than older Canadians. Their informed engagement is critical to ensuring they reap the degree of influence they want to have --as citizens -- over how future governments function.

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