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Federal Politics

Trudeau Ditched Ministry in Charge of Electoral Reform, but Proponents Press On

Green leader calls omission of democratic institutions portfolio in cabinet ‘outrageous.’

Christopher Guly 29 Nov 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Christopher Guly is an Ottawa-based journalist and member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

With a new Parliament set to convene next Thursday, Winnipeg New Democrat MP Daniel Blaikie will take his seat in the House of Commons once again as the party’s critic for democratic reform.

But Blaikie won’t have a government minister to whom he can direct any questions on that file — no one to directly press on the electoral reform promise the Liberals made during the 2015 election campaign.

“Before the last election, Justin Trudeau broke his promise to make every vote count. Last week, he put the final nail in the coffin of that promise by refusing to name a minister responsible for democratic reform,” said an NDP news release on Thursday announcing the NDP’s shadow cabinet.

Blaikie, who outlined his party’s plan for electoral reform before this year’s election, “will continue the fight to make sure Canadians get a system that encourages them to vote for what they want instead of out of fear of what they don’t,” said the NDP release.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh amplified the point in a scrum with reporters on Parliament Hill Thursday when he said that Canadians think it’s “wrong” that a government can be formed with only 33 per cent of the popular vote.

“People have been pointing out that this electoral system is fraught with injustice, and it does not allow [the] people’s voice to be heard,” he said.

The omission of a democratic institutions portfolio in the Trudeau cabinet is “outrageous,” said former Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who now heads the Greens’ three-member parliamentary caucus and will track the activities of the Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, whose mandate includes oversight of the election of MPs.

(Anna Keenan, who ran for the Greens in the Prince Edward Island riding of Malpeque in the recent federal election, continues to serve as the party’s shadow cabinet critic for democratic institutions.)

Before last month’s election, the democratic-institutions cabinet post was held by Karina Gould, who is now the minister of international development.

Although the job title did not appear on the list of Trudeau’s 36 member-cabinet on Nov. 20, The Tyee confirmed on Thursday that democratic institutions would fall under the mandate of Dominic LeBlanc, who retained his cabinet job as president of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada.

(Gould served in that role when she was named democratic institutions minister in 2017, but lost it last year, when it was added to LeBlanc’s responsibilities.)

“There’s a very strong argument to be made that now more than ever, when we’re looking at western alienation, democratic reform and proportional representation is a solution,” said May, the third-term MP for B.C.’s Saanich-Gulf Islands.

On Wednesday, she participated in a Policy magazine panel at Ottawa’s Rideau Club in which former NDP national director Robin Sears, as May recounted in an interview, argued that because of the first-past-the-post system, residents of Alberta and Saskatchewan who voted Liberal on Oct. 21 are not represented in the federal cabinet.

“You could easily give Alberta and Saskatchewan more clout and more voice by going to a mixed-member proportional [electoral system] and providing additional seats to readjust based on the vote that actually took place,” explained May on addressing under-representation in the House.

In terms of over-representation, she highlighted how first-past-the-post handed the Bloc Québécois — “a party dedicated to Quebec separatism” — 32 seats with a popular vote of 1,376,135 and only left the Greens with wins in three ridings, despite receiving 1,162,361 votes.

“The public appetite for proportional representation is growing, and it’s something we could accomplish in a minority Parliament — at least to convene a national citizens’ assembly to look at it,” offered May.

“Trudeau bringing this back would be extremely well received, and he would get a lot of credit for doing it.”

She made the case to pursue electoral reform in an Oct. 24 letter to the prime minister that outlines the Greens’ proposal for a single-transferable vote system with ranked ballots.

“STV would achieve proportionality without allowing any party to gain seats based on a certain threshold of the national vote,” May wrote, “and the voting can be by ranked ballots.”

On Friday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer announced Ontario MP Michael Chong as the party’s critic for democratic institutions in Parliament.*

Based on the results of a recent Angus Reid Institute poll, Chong may wish to join the New Democrats and Greens in advocating for electoral reform.

The poll found that Conservative voter preference for proportional representation more than doubled between the last two federal elections.

“Likely motivated by their preferred party receiving the most votes yet falling short in the House of Commons in a first-past-the-post electoral system, Conservative preference for proportional representation has more than doubled,” it found.

Seven in ten respondents (69 per cent) who voted Conservative last month said they would change the electoral system, compared to just 28 per cent of party supporters who said this when Angus Reid canvassed the same issue at the beginning of 2016.

Three years ago, just over half (53 per cent) of survey respondents wanted to keep first-past-the-post while the rest wanted to move to proportional representation. Today, more than two-thirds (68 per cent) now say that they would prefer Canada change its voting system, according to the Angus Reid Institute.

*Story updated at 10:50 a.m. on Nov. 29 to include details about the Conservative party’s recently announced shadow cabinet.  [Tyee]

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