In 2015 Justin Trudeau’s Liberals ran on a platform promising to change Canada’s electoral system from a plurality or ‘first-past-the-post’ voting system to … something else. They weren’t terribly specific with what the alternative would be, but they were darned sure it wouldn’t be plurality. Elected with 39.5% of the popular vote, they’re now obligated to provide Canadians with specific details of their plan, and are scrambling to frame their pitch.
To this end, the Government of Canada has begun the charade of staging ‘Electoral Reform Consultations’ in towns and cities across the country. Citizens who attend are, under supervision, divided into small groups, and prompted to discuss amongst themselves topics such as mandatory voting, online voting, lowering the voting age, and finally why first past the post is terrible and all other systems of voting are virtuous and noble and just plain better. Questions are framed to guide discussion to the desired response, time is limited to ensure that no substantive debate actually occurs, and the (Liberal) coordinator presents a small sermon after each discussion to highlight the approved conclusions, and ensure the crowd that ‘consensus’ has been reached. A show is made of collecting notes from each group, and assurances are given that these will be delivered to a committee who will heed their words and present their findings in December. Attendees leave believing a) the government’s preferred choice is the best, b) they came to the same conclusion on their own, and c) they played an integral role in Canadian democracy. It is Orwellian peer-pressure fuelled propaganda at its finest.
One wonders why the Liberals would go to the effort of public consultations in this format when there already exists a precise and well-understood mechanism for polling the will of the population, which has worked for humans for millennia and Canadians specifically since 1867: a vote. A referendum on the issue would obtain the opinion of a far greater number of Canadians than their series of small consultations, and voters would be free to express their opinion from within the sanctity of a polling booth, not surrounded by a group of their peers. The Liberal Party is dead set against the idea though, one suspects because this may not produce the answer they want. Referendums are loud, visible and most of all binding. By hosting ‘Consultations’ they are free to entirely ignore any feedback they don’t like, while maintaining the appearance of listening to their constituents.
As Liberals are so fond of inverting election results, let’s consider the result from 2015: 60.5% of Canadians didn’t vote for the party with electoral reform as their platform, and of those who did, it’s entirely unclear what percentage consider electoral reform necessary, and what their preferred alternative would be in such a case. For the Liberals to claim that they have a clear mandate from Canadians is preposterous and entirely self-serving. There are benefits and detriments to any electoral system, and every eligible Canadian deserves a say in the matter, in a manner which respects the importance of the issue. That is a referendum, not orchestrated and choreographed round tables.
Or, if the Liberal party (or even the NDP) is truly so upset at the notion that plurality voting can lead to parties winning without 50% of the vote plus one, perhaps they could make the noble sacrifice of disbanding entirely. Presented with a choice between the two remaining major national parties, Canadians would surely elect one with the majority of votes that they insist is so vital to representative democracy. Although they will make impassioned speeches in town halls about the need for a fair voting system that solves the problem of minority governments and represents the diverse opinions of its people, I doubt they would be happy if their consultations produced this bit of feedback.