COLUMN: Referendum needed for voting method change

When a government proposes to change the method of how representatives are elected, regardless the level of  government,  voters must have the final say.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated during his victory speech on October 19th that this federal election would be the last one using the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) method. Part of the Liberal’s campaign platform was to switch from FPTP to another method of voting such as Proportional Representation (PR). Reviewing Canada’s democratic processes should be mandatory every so many years. There is much to be concerned about the method of review the Trudeau government is proposing.

Under the Prime Minister’s plan, a panel will travel the country and have extensive consultations with stakeholders. Then the government will draft and pass legislation to alter how we choose our members of Parliament (MP). Lets read this how it should be written. The Prime Minister will select a panel of Liberals to travel the country in Liberal-held ridings. Having extensive consultations with stakeholders who support the Liberals.  That plan will then pass through the Liberal-held majority in the House of Commons. The only chance of actual review will be the Senate, which has already stated that they will work with the government.

The problem here is not just the process the Prime Minister chooses to use, but the lack of review when the process has come up with a solution.

The government can set up all the traveling panels they want, asking for feedback from whomever they want. Governments do that all the time. Its an exercise in optics of at least considering the views of “all” Canadians. Only the most recent one did not do this. There was no question who ran the show. Why waste money on optics when there is  another Canadian Action Plan sign needed? Panels like the one proposed will fill with party graft. Party members or supporters pushing through the party’s agenda. Again, this happens all the time, except in the last decade. For the purposes of this column, there is no issue with this.

Then comes the review. The legislation will pass with a Liberal-held majority. When it makes the senate floor, it will also pass. Senators are more concerned with keeping their jobs and attention away from themselves. Thus the senate will prostrate themselves to the government.

What ever the plan is by the Trudeau government, the final say needs to be voted on by the Canadian people. If the Liberals are confident in the plan they set out, then the electorate should have no problem supporting the changes via a referendum. This government should not be afraid to put it to the people. The same goes for future Conservative or NDP governments.

There is the fear by some that a referendum would start the country on a slippery slope where people would vote on everything. Canada has only ever had three national referendums. The first on prohibition in 1898; the second during World War Two on the issue of conscription in 1942; and most recently in 1992 on the Charlottetown Accord. Three referendums in 148 years shows no chance of this country adopting the proposition system used by some of the states in the United States.

Some have stated in the press that those who push for a referendum do so for partisan reasons, or that they do not trust the government. Partisan reasons may be there for parties like the Conservatives, who are still licking their wounds from October, it is the latter that is the real reason. People put far too much faith that the government will act in their best interest all the time, checking out of the process. Allowing the government to change the rules in how future governments are elected, without oversight, means we all lose.

If there is a referendum and people do not take part, at least there is legitimacy in having had one.

Voters elect their MPs to represent their constituencies in the House of Commons. The only people who should decide changes to how those MPs are elected are the ones who vote them into office.

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