Electoral reform scuttled by PM

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By Chris Marchand

Kenora Member of Parliament Bob Nault (Liberal) says he’s faced little fall-out over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to cease pursuing electoral reform in Canada.

A significant component of Trudeau’s 2015 election campaign, the Liberals struck a special committee, embarked on a series of nationwide townhall meetings and an online survey to explore the idea with Canadians — all of which the Liberals say failed to demonstrate the broad consensus among Canadians they would require to move forward.

A public meeting in Dryden in October attracted 40 residents — mostly those dissatisfied with the current first-past-the-post system.

Speaking for himself, Nault says he has a number of issues with electoral reform, firstly the optics of making fundamental changes to the structure of government as a member of a ruling party.

“My sense of it, without putting myself in the Prime Minister’s shoes, is that if we go ahead as a party and put in place a proposal that would be perceived to benefit the Liberal Party, then we would be putting ourselves as a government in a pretty rough position from the perspective of people seeing us as gerrymandering the structure so that we benefit from it for generations to come.”

Nault adds that while the first-past-the-post system can produce majority governments with under 40 per cent of the popular vote, other voting systems can consistently produce ineffective coalition governments, which can be an equally frustrating result for voters.

“We’re not in a crisis situation,” he said. “Keep in mind that if we’re going to make significant change to how you elect members of Parliament, you also change the structure of how government runs. I for one, have no interest in having coalition governments over decades like some countries are stuck with. The kind of governments we’ve been able to elect have not been perfect but they’ve done a reasonably good job over the past 150 years.”

Nault says the question of using a referendum to usher in such change is another idea with a poor track record in Canada. Electoral reform referendums in Ontario (2007), PEI (2005) and British Columbia (2005) each failed to garner enough public support to pass. Part of that, Nault admits, is that the inner workings of various forms of electoral systems is difficult subject matter to communicate effectively and quickly to Canadians.

“Those of us who are practitioners of politics have trouble getting our heads around it,” he said. “Most Canadians aren’t paying very close attention to electoral reform. It’s shown over the last several attempts — every one of those referendums have failed. The track record isn’t very solid and I think governments, ours included, have tried to steer clear of that as best we could.

“We’ve spent enough time on this issue of electoral reform with the knowledge that there are so many major issues on our plate, whether it’s the environment, free trade, our relationship with the United States — there are some serious matters government has to face.”

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