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Federal Politics

Legal Challenge to Force Electoral Reform Winning Support, Say Organizers

Fair Voting BC says fundraising campaign has reached $63,000 in first week.

Jeremy Nuttall 16 Feb

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

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Fair Voting BC’s Antony Hodgson: ‘Progress on civil rights should not be held hostage to a public vote.’

Advocacy group Fair Voting BC has raised $63,000 in the last week to mount a charter challenge in the wake of the Liberal government’s broken promise on electoral reform.

President Antony Hodgson said the donations show the government is wrong when it says Canadians don’t care about the issue and the organization is now taking their cause to the courts.

“People care a lot about this and are willing to put their money behind it,” Hodgson said, adding the median donation is $180.

During the 2015 election campaign the Liberals pledged that it would be the last under the current first-past-the-post system if they were elected. According to the New Democrats, they repeated the promise 1,813 times.

But this month the Liberal government abandoned the commitment to reform the voting system.

The Liberals have pointed to a lack of a consensus on a new system, little public interest and even concerns about the rise of extremist fringe parties as the reasons for bailing on the promise.

But those in favour of changes to how Canadians elect their governments don't buy the excuses. New Democrat MPs accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of lying when he promised change.

Fair Voting BC now plans to turn to launch a charter challenge arguing that the current system is unrepresentative and violates Canadians’ rights.

Court decisions going back to the 1980s have found the electoral system must provide fair and equal representation, Hodgson said, though most focused on riding boundaries and sizes.

“The Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that our nation aspires to be a full and free democracy,” he said. “The courts have actually laid out [that] a free and democratic society is one in which participation by everybody is encouraged, people are not suppressed and their voices are not eliminated.

“It’s a right to full participation in the democratic process, it’s a right to have your voice heard in government,” Hodgson said.

He believes the current system violates those rights.

The organization has been considering the challenge for some time, he said.

Hodgson pointed to the 1989 BC Supreme Court decision in Dixon v. British Columbia as an example of the kind of case that supported the organization’s position.

John Dixon of the BC Civil Liberties Association had challenged the province’s electoral boundaries. Some ridings had up to 16 times more electors than others. That violated the right for all votes to have equal weight, he argued successfully.

Hodgson said the lawsuit will also rely on Raiche v. Canada, a 2004 case in which francophone New Brunswickers successfully argued that new federal electoral boundaries placed them in a predominantly anglophone riding and they would not be adequately represented.

Hodgson said under the current system a minority of voters can elect an MP and the other voters are left without full participation or representation.

“If you don’t vote for a representative, you are not represented,” Hodgson said of the current system.

Hodgson said Fair Voting BC hopes to raise $360,000 for the court case.

*Story updated Feb. 16 at 9:30 a.m.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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