Professor Emmett Macfarlane (Political Science, Waterloo University), a noted authority on constitutional matters (author of, ‘Governing from the Bench: The Supreme Court of Canada and the Judicial Role‘) has weighed in on the question of changing the voting system in an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail.
Prof Macfarlane says that “the Liberals have a clear mandate to pursue electoral reform but they do not have a mandate to enact any specific system.” (My emphasis added.)
That’s the issue: the Liberals did, indeed, promise that 2015 would be the last election held under our familiar, effective, honest, trustworthy first-past-the-post system but they made no promises, at all, as to how we would vote in the future.
Prof Macfarlane goes on to say that, “The promise of consultation is interesting because it does not necessarily imply a referendum. However, given the very arguments that critics of first-past-the-post make about governments in Canada gaining 100 per cent of the power after receiving only 40 per cent of the vote, it would be deeply ironic for the government to change the electoral system without first making sure that a majority of Canadians do not prefer the status quo. Some commentators note that other parties also supported electoral reform, and while this is true, nothing about the 2015 election can be taken to presume support of any particular electoral system by the general public … [but] … isn’t this an issue that should be decided by Parliament? Yes and no. There is no doubt that Parliament should be engaged in different forms of consultation – as the committee is doing, for example – to analyze issues relating to electoral reform and consider alternatives. But the democratic legitimacy of any change might be called into question without a referendum, particularly if there is not all-party support for a new system. A perception that parties are using electoral reform to their own advantage, for example, would only raise further issues for the public’s general trust of the system.“
In short: Team Trudeau and, especially, Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef, have made a rookie mistake: they didn’t think through the strategic implications of a quick, tactical promise. They promised “consultations” and we, the people, should expect nothing less than expansive, national, public consultations followed by:
- A government proposal for a new system; and
- A national referendum that will allow Canadians to choose from no less than three systems ~ the government’s proposal, proposals by, at least, the main opposition parties, and the current, first-past-the-post system.
If the national referendum does not result in 50%+1 votes for any system then no change should be made.