COLUMN: Reform of the electoral process requires dialogue

How can you impose a new electoral system on a democratic country without giving citizens a voice to determine the outcome?

There is a serious disconnect in the Trudeau government’s plan to make the recent federal election the last one to rely on first-past-the-post voting.

It’s not that the government intends to change the way we vote. That was in the Liberal platform and Trudeau is just keeping an election pledge – a more representative system that would be less likely to generate an outcome like the Liberals winning a majority even though they received only 39.5 per cent of the popular vote.

There are enough legitimate concerns about first-past-the-post to warrant a national discussion, debate and ultimately reform. But reform to what? Some prefer ranked balloting — the instant run-off model. Under it, the voter gets a ballot listing the candidates and marks off her first, second, third choices and so on.

If no candidate gets a clear majority, the candidate with the lowest number of votes gets dropped, and those votes get divided between the remaining candidates based on which candidates most voters named as their second choice. That goes on until one gets a clear majority.

Another option is national proportional representation, also confusing. The Liberals probably don’t favour it because had a system like that been in place they would have won a minority and the Green party would have something like 10 seats instead of one. Proponents argue it is most accurately representative and allows more voices to be heard.

Others advocate a mixed member proportional system. Under MMP you would vote for two representatives, one for your riding and a second from a party list. Complex? Just a bit.

Trudeau has said in past he likes the instant run-off model. But his preferences can’t dictate which option wins.

That has to be a national discussion, and that’s where the central disconnect comes in. The Liberals don’t plan to have a referendum on which voting system is best for Canada.

How can you impose a new electoral system on a democratic country without giving citizens a voice to determine the outcome? Where is the credibility if the government imposes its own preference, especially if it favours the incumbent government?

Referendum critics argue a new voting system is too complex to be decided by average Canadians through a simple vote. So do a better job of engaging and consulting Canadians so they are more engaged and informed.

But the idea of unilaterally imposing a new system of voting from the top down in the hopes that it will increase inclusivity and engagement is ludicrously contradictory. You don’t improve democracy by imposing unilateral decisions, certainly not on something as important as the way we vote.

– Black Press