OTTAWA - Canada should adopt mandatory voting and a preferential ballot to re-engage citizens in the political system and reinforce democracy, says a new paper by an adviser to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
The analysis, by academic Robert Asselin for the progressive think-tank Canada 2020, comes as Conservative backbencher Michael Chong pushes a bill aimed at rebalancing power between the Prime Minister's Office and the House of Commons.
Asselin, of the University of Ottawa's graduate school of public and international Affairs, points to the recent Ontario election as more evidence of the gulf between Canadians and the political system. In that case, approximately 52.1 per cent of eligible voters turned out to cast a ballot.
Asselin proposes the type of mandatory voting that Australia has instituted, as well as a preferential ballot where the second and third choices of voters are applied until one candidate achieves more than 50 per cent of the vote.
"I'm pushing mandatory voting and preferential ballots so that citizens don't see democratic reform just as reforming institutions, but they see it as something that belongs to us and if we don't take care of it like anything else in our lives ... it will just fall apart," Asselin said in an interview.
Trudeau is also a supporter of a preferential ballot, having made it a plank of his leadership platform. The party passed a resolution at its convention earlier this year that said a Liberal government would launch an all-party consultation on reforming the electoral system, including looking at a preferential ballot.
Asselin would also like to see a strengthening of accountability for the people whom Canadians elect to represent them. He said party discipline has been followed to the extreme in Ottawa, and MPs need to re-establish their legislative independence.
That means setting aside the talking points provided by their leaders' offices, and spending more time understanding the issues before them.
Asselin recommends that members of Parliament and the committees they sit on be able to hire more staff to research and analyse legislation — all part of better asserting their independence.
He points out that most congressional and senatorial committees in Washington have upwards of 25 non-partisan researchers, compared with only one for Canadian committees.
"If we want MPs to fulfil their role and hold executives to account, we need to provide them with the means to do so," writes Asselin.
"If Parliament matters and ministers are allowed to hire more than 20 staffers, why are we accepting that MPs can only hire one legislative assistant under the current budget?"
Asselin also proposes that question period be reformed to double the length of questions and answers to 90 seconds, and instituting a prime minister's question period that would allow him to take more questions from backbenchers.
The speaker should also be able to take punitive action against MPs and ministers who "behave inappropriately" during question period, he says.
Asselin notes his paper was written for Canada 2020, and is not an indication of Liberal party policy.
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