By Fred Larsen
Sometime in February all MPs sitting in our Canadian Parliament will be asked to vote for a second time on motion M86, “a motion to approve a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.” Across the country, citizens are asking MPs from all parties to support this motion.
If approved a citizens’ assembly would be formed, convened to study and give recommendations on a specific issue – in this case, the system we are using in Canada to elect our national government (and provincial ones too).
A national citizens’ assembly on electoral reform:
- Would be a non-partisan, independent, trusted process
- Would be composed of citizens selected at random, like a jury
- Would include Canadians from all walks of life, with special care to ensure that participants reflect Canadian society, including by age, gender, ethnicity and region of Canada
- Would engage citizens to learn from experts, thoughtfully consider the issue(s), and make a recommendation.
If parliamentary motion M86 is approved, without pre-judging various kinds of electoral systems, the assembly will review options to improve our current electoral system. They would be free to recommend keeping the status quo (first-past-the-post), ranked ballots, or a proportional system (including proportional ranked ballots, or any other made-for-Canada PR system).
Why consider reforming our electoral system? Simply because there are obvious signs that our democracy in Canada is not as strong as it might be. Low voter turnout (getting worse with almost every election), mistrust in our institutions – in governments, in particular -polarization, and hostile partisan politics are of deep concern to many in this country and in this community.
Also of concern for many is our national governments are often elected to a so-called “majority” with far less than 50% support from voters and less than 40%, more often than not. This is a predictable result of our current first past the post system, a system initially designed for a two-party system, now being used in a country with multiple parties. How can we call any government truly representative of the voters in this situation?
Making progress on electoral reform requires political leadership, but politicians alone won’t fix the system that elected them. Handing that job to a citizens’ assembly seems to be the logical way to examine the changes our democracy might make to improve.
If you’re reading this and you agree with giving a citizens’ assembly this job, you have two options.
First, sign the petition to be presented to Parliament via MPs across the country, including our local MP, Adam Chambers. You will find the petition at the following locations in downtown Orillia:
- the Information Orillia office in the Orillia Public Library
- Manticore Books
- Apple Annie’s Café
Add your signature and contact information to the petition by Friday, January 19. Petitions will be picked up and delivered to MP Chambers’s office in Orillia.
Second, make a call to your MP’s office and urge Adam Chambers to support the motion when it comes to the floor for a vote in Parliament. MP Chambers is aware of this motion and has had discussion with several local constituents on the issue. Letting him or his office know you too support his voting for the motion is important. He is your representative. He needs to know your thoughts on this issue. Call 705-327-0513 or email email@example.com today.
Another thing you might do is urge friends and family members to also sign the petition and/or call our MP. Good citizens need to be involved in our democracy; just casting a vote every four years is not enough these days.
As we begin the new year of 2024, many of us are far too aware of the pressing issues of the day—housing, affordability, healthcare, and so on. There is no shortage of needs in this country. At the centre of our democracy, however, is the question of whether our current system is working for Canadians. Examining how our government can be more responsive to the needs of our people is the task a citizens’ assembly would be given.
Can there be a more fundamental, more important issue than this?
Fred Larsen is the former Ontario Liberal Party riding president and has been a provincial Liberal Party candidate three times. He is also a member of the Liberal Party of Canada.