Canadian House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform

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The House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE) (French: Comité spécial sur la réforme électorale) was a special committee of the House of Commons of Canada established during the 42nd Canadian Parliament to investigate reforms to the Canadian electoral system. The formation of "an all-party Parliamentary committee to review... [electoral] reforms" was an election promise by Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau in the 2015 federal election.[1] After becoming Prime Minister, Trudeau indicated the formation of a special committee was a priority in his mandate letter for Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef. Shortly after the committee submitted its report to parliament on December 1, 2016, Monsef was transferred to the position of the Minister of Status of Women and Karina Gould took over the electoral reform file.[2][3] Shortly after taking her position Gould announced that the government would no longer be pursuing reform of the electoral system, stating "It has become evident that the broad support needed among Canadians for a change of this magnitude does not exist".[4]

Establishment[edit]

On May 10, 2016, Maryam Monsef gave notice in the House of Commons of the government's plans for the composition of the Special Committee.[5] The initial proposed structure of the Special Committee was 10 voting members allocated based on each official party's seats in the House (6 Liberal members, 3 Conservative members, and 1 New Democratic member), with a member of the Bloc Québécois and Green Party leader Elizabeth May given additional non-voting seats.[6] This was criticized by the opposition party leaders, as the government would have possessed a majority of the committee seats and could unilaterally recommend alterations to the electoral system without the support of any other party. Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, the Leader of the Official Opposition, denounced the plan as "stacking the deck", while Nathan Cullen, the NDP critic for Democratic Institutions, urged the government to reconsider this plan as well. The Green Party and the Bloc Québécois additionally objected to their lack of voting representation on the committee.[7]

On June 2, 2016, Monsef announced that the government would support a motion by Cullen to alter the structure of the committee to have seats allocated based on percentage of the popular vote in the 2015 election and give the Bloc Québécois and Greens one voting seat each on the committee.[8][9] The Liberal caucus on the committee would have in effect only four voting members, as the chair would not vote unless there was a tie.[10]

On June 7, 2016, Cullen's motion, seconded by NDP MP Matthew Dubé, was approved by the House of Commons. The special committee was thereby empowered to "conduct a study of viable alternate voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting", all with an eye to improving the legitimacy, integrity, and inclusiveness of the voting system, and the extent to which it could facilitate local representation and citizen engagement. The motion directed that the committee's membership be named by the party whips within ten sitting days of its passage, and that the committee issue its final report to the House of Commons no later than December 1, 2016.[11] This deadline was extended to June 23, but this proved to be unnecessary, as the final membership was deposited with the clerk of the House on June 17.[12] The committee held its first meeting on June 21, 2016.

Citizen submissions[edit]

The deadline for making submissions to the committee was October 7, 2016. Citizens were able to make submissions online, attend town hall meetings hosted by Members of Parliament or attend committee hearings which were held in cities across Canada in September and early October 2016.[13]

By October 8, 2016 a poll by Mainstreet Research for the Ottawa Citizen revealed that, while 45 per cent of Ottawa voters are following the electoral reform process and that a two in three Ottawa residents favour reforms, most of those surveyed missed out on local townhall meetings on electoral reform already held by MPs because they were not aware that they were happening.[14]

Membership[edit]

Party Member District
  Bloc Québécois Luc Thériault Montcalm, QC
  Conservative Scott Reid, vice-chair Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON
  Conservative Gérard Deltell Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC
  Conservative Blake Richards[a] Banff—Airdrie, AB
  Green Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC
  Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia, chair Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
  Liberal John Aldag Cloverdale—Langley City, BC
  Liberal Matt DeCourcey Fredericton, NB
  Liberal Sherry Romanado Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC
  Liberal Ruby Sahota Brampton North, ON
  New Democratic Nathan Cullen, vice-chair Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC
  New Democratic Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Witnesses[edit]

The committee heard from numerous public servants, academics, members of the public, and electoral officers from Canada and around the world.[15] The first witness before the committee was Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions, who outlined the government's approach.[16][17] The following day, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand[18] and his predecessor Jean-Pierre Kingsley testified.[19] Their counterparts Robert Peden, from the New Zealand Electoral Commission, and Tom Rogers, Australian Electoral Commission, also appeared later in July.[20] Among the many academics that testified before the committee was Arend Lijphart, an expert on electoral systems.[21][22] In September and October 2016, the committee held public meetings in cities across Canada. Computer security expert Barbara Simons presented to the committee in Vancouver.[23]

Report[edit]

The committee's final report, Strengthening Democracy in Canada: Principles, Process and Public Engagement for Electoral Reform, was adopted by the committee on November 28, 2016 and presented to the House of Commons on December 1, 2016. Among the twelve recommendations made by the committee was that a form of proportional representation[b] be implemented and that a national referendum be held on the issue.[24][25][26][27] The system would be designed by the government with the goal of any proposed system scoring a 5 or less on the Gallagher index but preserve local representation by avoiding party-list proportional representation systems, and the committee recommended that the design of the proposed system be finalized and shared with Canadians before any referendum campaign is conducted.[28]

The report also included recommendations against implementing online voting and mandatory voting and recommended exploring the use of other technologies in the voting process to improve accessibility, especially for persons with disabilities and segments of the population which have historically been disenfranchised.[28]

Aftermath and outcomes[edit]

On February 1, 2017, the newly appointed Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould announced that the government was no longer pursuing electoral reform and it was not listed as a priority in her mandate letter from Justin Trudeau.[4] In the letter, Trudeau wrote that "a clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged" and that "without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada's interest."[29]

Both Nathan Cullen and Elizabeth May addressed Gould's announcement during the next Question Period. Cullen said that Trudeau and the Liberals "will certainly pay a political price" in the next election for not following through on their electoral reform promise, while May stated her disappointment with Trudeau and her frustration that "our feminist prime minister threw two young women cabinet ministers [Gould and Monsef] under the bus on a key election promise."[30] Defending the decision, Trudeau claimed in later statements that implementing a proportional system would "augment extremist voices and activist voices" and promote instability in the country.[31][32]

Gould tabled the government's official response to the committee report in the House of Commons on April 3, 2017.[33] In response to Recommendations 1, 2, 11, 12, 13 (related to changing the electoral system) she re-stated that "changing the electoral system is not in [her] mandate as Minister of Democratic Institutions" and that the government "remains committed to improving, strengthening and safeguarding Canada's democratic institutions."[34] Gould indicated that the government accepted the remaining recommendations, including the recommendations against implementing online and mandatory voting.[33]

Press reaction reflected the view that abandoning basic system reform had broken a promise.[35] A non-whipped vote to abolish the Canadian House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform was held. One of only two Liberal MPs to vote against thus abandoning the federal reform effort was Sean Casey, MP for Charlottetown, who explicitly cited the 2016 PEI referendum as a factor:

"more than 9,000 of the people that I represent cast their ballots in the provincial plebiscite and about two-thirds of them indicated that they wanted to move away from the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system at a provincial level"[36]

Trudeau continued to personally deride all forms of party-proportional representation in public statements through 2018,[37] and Karina Gould explicitly defended first past the post voting as part of a successful status quo.[38]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Richards was appointed to the committee on August 12, 2016 to replace Jason Kenney. Kenney resigned as an MP to seek the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta.
  2. ^ Which encompasses a variety of systems where divisions in the electorate are reflected proportionately in the elected body

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Electoral reform". Real Change. Liberal Party of Canada. Retrieved 4 July 2016. 
  2. ^ "Rookie MP Gould takes over troubled electoral reform file". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2017-02-06. 
  3. ^ Trudeau, Justin. "Minister of Democratic Institutions mandate letter". Office of the Prime Minister of Canada. Retrieved 4 July 2016. 
  4. ^ a b Stone, Laura. "Trudeau abandons electoral reform, breaking key campaign promise". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2017-02-06. 
  5. ^ Order Paper and Notice Paper No. 53, May 11, 2016, Parliament of Canada website, retrieved July 4, 2016.
  6. ^ Wherry, Aaron (May 10, 2016). "'We can do better': Liberals kick off push to change Canada's voting system". CBC News. Retrieved July 2, 2016. 
  7. ^ Raj, Althia (May 11, 2016). "Liberals To Keep Majority On New Electoral Reform Committee". Huffington Post Canada. Retrieved September 2, 2016. 
  8. ^ Boutilier, Alex (June 2, 2016). "Liberals give up majority control on electoral reform committee". Toronto Star. Retrieved July 2, 2016. 
  9. ^ Stone, Laura (June 2, 2016). "Liberals agree to give majority to Opposition on electoral reform committee". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved September 2, 2016. 
  10. ^ Coyne, Andrew (June 3, 2016). "Committee on electoral reform now a working model of proportional representation". Retrieved September 2, 2016. 
  11. ^ About the Special Committee, Parliament of Canada, retrieved July 4, 2016.
  12. ^ Journals of the House of Commons of Canada, 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, No. 75, June 17, 2016.
  13. ^ Hilderman, Jane; Prest, Stewart (September 19, 2016). "Hilderman and Prest: Don't leave it to 'experts' – Here's how you, too, can tackle electoral reform". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved October 10, 2016. 
  14. ^ "Editorial: Door's closing on your chance to tell MPs what you think about electoral reform". Ottawa Citizen. October 8, 2016. Retrieved October 10, 2016. 
  15. ^ Special Committee on Electoral Reform. "Witnesses". 
  16. ^ Wherry, Aaron. "Maryam Monsef tells Commons committee first-past-the-post voting system is 'antiquated'". CBC News. 
  17. ^ CPAC. "In Committee from the House of Commons - Special Committee on Electoral Reform - July 6, 2016". 
  18. ^ CPAC. "In Committee from the House of Commons - Special Committee on Electoral Reform - July 7, 2016 - Part 1". 
  19. ^ CPAC. "In Committee from the House of Commons - Special Committee on Electoral Reform - July 7, 2016 - Part 2". 
  20. ^ CPAC. "In Committee from the House of Commons - Special Committee on Electoral Reform - July 27, 2016 - Part 3". 
  21. ^ MacLeod, Ian (August 22, 2016). "Ottawa should avoid referendum on electoral reform over danger of a vote based on 'outright lies,' expert says". Ottawa Citizen. Postmedia Network. Retrieved September 2, 2016. 
  22. ^ CPAC. "In Committee from the House of Commons - Special Committee on Electoral Reform - August 22, 2016 - Part 1". 
  23. ^ "Strengthening Democracy in Canada : Principles, Process and Public Engagement for Electoral Reform". 
  24. ^ Wherry, Aaron (December 1, 2016). "Electoral reform committee recommends referendum on proportional representation, but Liberals disagree". CBC News. 
  25. ^ Bryden, Joan (December 1, 2016). "Liberal MPs urge Prime Minister to break promise of new voting system by next election". Ottawa Citizen. 
  26. ^ Boutilier, Alex (December 1, 2016). "Liberal MPs recommend breaking electoral reform promise". Toronto Star. 
  27. ^ Payton, Laura (December 1, 2016). "Liberals dig in heels against election referendum". CTV News. 
  28. ^ a b Special Committee on Electoral Reform (December 1, 2016). Strengthening Democracy in Canada: Principles, Process and Public Engagement for Electoral Reform (Report). Parliament of Canada. Retrieved February 18, 2017. 
  29. ^ Smith, Joanna (February 1, 2017). "Trudeau abandons promise for electoral reform". Maclean's. The Canadian Press. Retrieved February 10, 2017. 
  30. ^ Payton, Laura (February 1, 2017). "NDP, Greens vow broken promise of electoral reform will cost Liberals votes". CTV News. Retrieved February 10, 2017. 
  31. ^ Kupfer, Matthew (February 10, 2017). "Trudeau says national unity more important than electoral reform". CBC News. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  32. ^ Kirkup, Kristy (February 10, 2017). "Trudeau defends 'turning back' on electoral reform promise". CTV News. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  33. ^ a b Wherry, Aaron (April 4, 2017). "Liberals say no to mandatory and online voting". CBC News. Retrieved April 4, 2017. 
  34. ^ Gould, Karina. "Government Response". House of Commons Committees - ERRE (42-1). Parliament of Canada. Retrieved April 4, 2017. 
  35. ^ Stone, Laura (1 February 2017). "Trudeau abandons electoral reform, breaking key election promise". The Global and Mail. Ottawa. 
  36. ^ Wright, Teresa (31 May 2017). "Charlottetown MP votes his conscience on electoral reform". The Guardian. Charlottetown, PEI. 
  37. ^ von Scheel, Elise (February 1, 2018). "A year later, Trudeau will only revisit electoral reform if pushed by other parties — something MPs don't buy". CBC News. Retrieved 2018-05-05. 
  38. ^ Wherry, Aaron (February 7, 2017). "With electoral reform off the table, minister defends first-past-the-post". CBC News. Retrieved 2018-05-05. 

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