Lisa Marie Barron, MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, was on Gabriola recently, hosting a session to discuss her motion for the federal government to call a Citizens’ Assembly On Electoral Reform. The session was held at the Phoenix Auditorium at the Haven.
Barron’s motion was put on notice in June 2023, and it was debated on November 7, 2023.
It can be found online on the House of Commons web site: https://www.ourcommons.ca/members/en/111023/motions/12517157
Members of all parties, with the exception of the Bloc Quebecois, were included as seconders for the motion.
It is next up for debate and to be voted on in February.
Both in her introduction to Gabriolans, and during her introduction in November to the House of Commons, MP Barron stressed the need for this to be an issue that goes before a Citizens Assembly.
Barron acknowledges there are a lot of issues that Parliament needs to be working on, issues like the climate crisis, the housing crisis, the world is changing rapidly.
She points out, the work on these critical issues will keep cycling around in circles if we cannot get our democratic government to actually work.
Barron said, “I feel if we keep repeating the same cycles over and over again, we’re never going to get ahead.”
She points out the current First Past The Post system was implemented at a time when women couldn’t vote; neither could Indigenous peoples in what we now call Canada.
“It’s almost like the rules were made up in the 1800s, and they said we’ll keep it that way.”
In speaking to the House, Barron said, “The first-past-the-post electoral system we are all familiar with is one where the winner takes all, meaning that the candidate who gets the most votes wins all the power. This was very evident in the last two elections, where our outdated voting system allowed one party to win 100% of the power with just 39% of the vote. We see the impacts first-hand of what happens when the majority of Canadians do not see their votes represented. Canadians are sharing with me that they are feeling increasingly disengaged, and this is seen in the consistently decreasing voter turnout.”
Barron is not promoting any particular model of proportional representation – her single focus is to call together a diverse assembly of citizens from across Canada to look at what changes are needed.
“The goal is to look at the current system, evaluate it, and recommend the way,” it should change. Barron says she hears from the people who strategically vote.
“They say they are going to vote for ‘this’ person, because they don’t want ‘that’ person to get in.
“We should vote for the person we want, not strategically vote so someone else doesn’t get in.
“That’s a system people become disengaged in, because they don’t feel themselves represented in the Commons.”
Barron said, “People want to be inspired to vote for the candidate who best aligns with the vision they see for the future. They want to see their vote count. Implementing a national citizens’ assembly on electoral reform offers Canadians the opportunity to ensure Canada’s democracy is strong, not only by looking at how votes are counted but also by reviewing all factors that may impact our democracy, including the voting age, access to online voting and roadblocks to the full participation of Canadians.”
Barron pointed out there are many countries in the world who have proportional representation for their government.
During the debate in the House, she said, “out of the world’s 35 most robust democracies, 25 use a proportional representation, and another six have adopted an intermediate solution. out of the world’s 35 most robust democracies, 25 use a proportional representation, and another six have adopted an intermediate solution.”
At the Haven on Gabriola, Barron said, “I feel we need to look at other countries and what is working, and what is not. We have a spread out country, we have unique needs.”
Barron said the polls range in the mid to high 70s, with 76% of canadians agreeing to or supporting the idea of electoral reform.
Rather than seeking electoral reform through a parliamentary committee, or going straight to a referendum on a particular model, Barron believes a Citizens Assembly is the right path forward for Canada.
She points out the benefits include having an informed citizen deliberation; greater legitimacy; and an enhanced public trust that comes with an Assembly.
An assembly also means decisions are made in an environment free of partisanship & misinformation.
She pointed that both the Liberal and NDP parties at recent conventions had resolutions that were in favour of electoral reform.
During the debate in the House, MP Patrick Weiler (Liberal Party representative for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country) spoke in favour of the motion said, “The Prime Minister [Justin Trudeau], in a question and answer period in my riding earlier this year, said that not acting on electoral reform was one of the things that he regretted most.
“This represents an opportunity to change that. My hope is that this motion will pass and that a citizens’ assembly would be launched as soon as possible. Frankly, it would not likely be able to be launched before the spring of next year. I would like to see a citizens’ assembly be formed and for it to have a mandate to undertake a study and deliver it by early 2025.
“Assuming that there is an election in September 2025, it would be possible to align the election vote with the referendum vote on any change that is recommended by such a body, to change the electoral system. That way, with regard to the 2025 electoral votes, parties would have the opportunity to decide whether they commit to change the electoral system for the following election.”
It was Weiler who explained that a citizens’ assembly, “is a non-partisan, independent and trusted group of citizens who are selected at random. It is a group of Canadians who are broadly representative of the diversity of the population, who are given the opportunity to learn from experts on a particular topic, thoughtfully consider the options, and issue and make recommendations based on their work. This motion would task creating a citizens’ assembly to review our electoral system; to investigate how it could be improved, if it could be improved at all; and then to make recommendations based on their work.”
MP Scott Reid (Conservative Party representative for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston) spoke against the motion as it is currently written, saying, “This proposal is half right, but it is also half wrong. Specifically, I agree that a citizens’ assembly can play a useful role in designing what Motion No. 86 refers to as “specific measures”. More precisely, a citizens’ assembly can engage in the detailed design of one or more electoral systems, which could then be offered as alternatives to Canada’s status quo first-past-the-post electoral system.
“However, I disagree with the motion in that I believe it is not appropriate to ask a citizens’ assembly to “determine if electoral reform is recommended for Canada”. Canadians, themselves, should make this determination, and they should do so via referendum.”
Without some commitment from Government, or tighter requirements in the motion, the end result could be, according to Reid, the same as the 2015 Federal Election.
Reid said, “there is no need to repeat, in this anticipated future process, a version of what happened in the 2015 election, when voters naively supported an electoral promise by the current Prime Minister, the then leader of an opposition party, that the election then under way would be the last to be held under the first-past-the-post system, only to learn, after it was too late to retract their votes, that the only alternative to the status quo that the new Prime Minister was willing to consider was a preferential ballot, a system which would, very predictably, have greatly enhanced the electoral success of a centrist party such as the Liberals.”
MP Daniel Blaikie (NDP representative for Elmwood—Transcona) said the Conservative Party members are, “misrepresenting the truth on any day of the week, because they are chasing 40% of the vote. It is because we have an electoral system in this country where one can fight tooth and nail, and not to win the hearts and minds of the majority of Canadians, but just to get 40% or even 39% of the vote of Canadians. These are Canadians who, despite being disgusted with the state of political discourse, still show up to vote. However, if one can get 39% of those votes, and if one can use dishonesty and other misrepresentation to drive well-meaning Canadians away from polling stations, then one can get 100% of the power with just 39% of the votes.
“The culprit in all of this is the Prime Minister, who refuses to accept that our voting system encourages division. It is simply untrue to say that a proportional system would sow more division and discontent than we see in our current system. We could not pack more into an electoral system in terms of division and nasty politics than we are seeing in Canadian politics today. Yes, the Conservative leader is responsible for his fair share of that, but the motion before us is one of the things that we could do structurally in order to encourage better behaviour and more collaboration between parties despite the fact that they disagree. I am proud of the fact that New Democrats have been modelling collaboration with both the Liberals and the Conservatives, depending on the issue. We want a system that encourages that, rather than one that encourages the opposite.
“I think we have a lot of evidence to say that preserving the current voting system is not standing up against divisive, nasty politics. In Canada today, it is precisely the opposite, which is why we should support the motion from the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith.”