Poor Maryam Mounsef. Her title is Democratic Reform Minister; her job is to explain away why the Liberals are acting anti-democratically.
The Liberals want to change the way we vote and the only legitimate way of doing so is through a referendum. When Ontario, PEI and British Columbia wanted to change their voting systems, they put it to the people. When Britain and New Zealand wanted to do the same, they also held referendums. The reason is obvious: political parties get elected to govern, but the voting system itself is not theirs to change.
The Liberals know this. Everyone knows this. But although it’s obviously the only democratic thing to do, the Liberals cannot hold a referendum. Why? Because they’d lose. The polls say so, and the votes in Ontario, PEI and BC all went against changing the way we vote – in Ontario and PEI, massively so.
Trudeau himself says this is the reason he doesn’t want a referendum: “Many of the people who propose we need a referendum, well they know that the fact is that referendums are a pretty good way of not getting any electoral reform,” Trudeau recently said at the University of Ottawa.
Poor Maryam Mounsef. She is not allowed to be so blunt or so brief. She has to make actual speeches on the topic and answer repeated questions in the House. And she has to pretend it makes some sort of sense to change our voting system without a referendum.
The Liberals have consulted Canadians on twitter, she says. (I’m not making this up.) And they encourage Canadians to continue Tweeting them their opinions (tweet, tweet).
The Liberals will even hold town halls – so hundreds maybe even a few thousand Canadians can sound off on the topic. Not that the Liberals will be bound by what ordinary Canadians say. Indeed, the well-understood purpose of town halls is to give the illusion of participation to people who are excluded from decision-making.
Will the Liberals allow 30+ million Canadians to actually determine this issue? No, no, no. That would be democratic. And the Liberals are against it.
The Liberals are also against letting the other parties in the House of Commons influence this decision. After many months of hemming and hawing the Liberals at last created an ordinary Parliamentary Committee to guide the process – so much for the Liberal’s solemn promise to seek consensus of the issue. Because as with all Parliamentary Committees, the Liberals have a majority, so what the Liberal members of the committee decide is the way the committee goes.
What’s more, before the committee even meets, before a single town hall or even a single tweet, tweet, the Liberals have already decided the change they intend to force on Canadians: it’s called alternative voting or preferential ballot.
The way it works is that you mark the candidates in order of preference, and if no candidate wins at least 50% of the votes, then you start looking at second choices. So first choice NDP, second choice Liberals, or first choice Conservatives, second choice Liberals, third choice, I’ll hang myself.
From the Liberal perspective, this is the ideal system because it favours the party in the middle. From the point of view of the NDP, the Bloc and the Greens, this is the worst option, because over the long run, it tends to squeeze out minority parties.
For their part, the little parties prefer some sort of proportional voting system. Such systems ensure you never get majority governments, so small parties get to exercise power out of all proportion to their popularity.
Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives like proportional systems, in part because they dread the horse-trading of proportional systems, in which the government is forced to enact unpopular laws in order to satisfy the special interests represented by the little parties.
Even worse, under proportional systems parties fall apart. The social Conservatives will split from the fiscal Conservatives. The NDP radicals will split with the NDP pragmatists.
The party most threatened by a proportional system, though, is the Liberals. They’re likely to split between the old guard and the new, between the Quebec wing and the ROC, between the fiscally prudent Liberals and the spend, spend, spend Liberals. More than any other party in Canada, the Liberals are a big tent party. This has always been the party’s strength: that it’s a broad coalition of differing interests.
But in a proportional system, it makes no sense for a party to try to arrive at a broad consensus that will appeal to most Canadians. Why bother? Every politician with an ego and every special interest in the land can grab a few votes, elect a few candidates and get in on the horse-trading to cobble together enough MPs to form a government.
But poor Maryam Mounsef. Her job is to pretend the Liberals aren’t trying to re-arrange our voting system to their own advantage. The NDP suggested Parliament’s electoral reform committee be appointed according to the proportion of the popular vote they received – giving the Liberals just 4 out of 10 seats on the committee; instead of 6 out of 10.
But you can see what would happen: the committee would split 4 to 3 to 3, with the Liberals in favour of the alternative voting system, the Conservatives in favour of our current first past the post system, and the NDP and the Greens in favour of a proportional system.
The only way to break this deadlock would be to put it to the Canadian people in a referendum. In which case, whatever the result, the Canadian people would win. But again, the Liberals are against that.