Members of Parliament voted against a motion to create a citizens’ assembly on electoral reform that was put forward by Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Lisa Marie Barron.
On Wednesday, Feb. 7, MPs defeated the motion which aimed at developing an assembly of Canadians who would help develop a new electoral system to replace the current first-past-the-post system.
Members of all parties from across the country spent an hour debating and sharing their thoughts on the motion on Monday, Feb. 5, following a first round of debate in November.
“We must address voter apathy and lack of trust in our electoral system,” said Liberal MP Leah Taylor Roy. “When people in certain regions in the country feel that they’re not represented because most of their elected representatives are from a party that has drastically different views than theirs, we need change. When certain groups of Canadians do not feel welcomed, or able to participate in our parliamentary system, which is oppositional and largely the legacy of male white settlers and colonialists, we need change. “
She said the citizens assembly is the right way to proceed with electoral reform, and it would allow for the issue to be re-examined “beyond electoral cycles and parties.”
In the assembly, she said, participants would gain a greater understanding of the issue by listening to experts, and members would reach a consensus and make recommendations to Parliament, which could lead to a referendum.
“A citizens assembly on its own is completely insufficient to determine any new electoral system,” said Michael Cooper, Conservative MP. “Nothing short of a referendum would suffice.”
He said some Canadians would think “certain partisan actors” would take advantage or manipulate the electoral system for “partisan or ideological gain.”
Cooper questioned if Canadians even wanted electoral reform. Despite polls showing that the majority of Canadians support electoral reform, like a 2020 Leger poll that showed 80 per cent of Canadians would support a citizens assembly on electoral reform, Cooper noted that in five out of seven provincial referendums held since 2005 in B.C, Ontario, and P.E.I., Canadians voted against electoral reform.
Bloc Quebecois MP Alain Therrien said he and his party support the motion; however, they hope to see proper Quebec representation in the assembly.
“It’s never worked when politicians are in charge of this, so this places the reflection and the study in the hands of citizens, those who we represent and those we want to be represented by our electoral system,” said Therrien. “The Bloc Quebecois though, would like to mention that this citizens’ assembly can’t be done ‘willy nilly,’ there does need to be a referendum.”
NDP MP Heather McPherson said electoral reform could curb extremism in Canadian politics, mentioning a handful of politicians who she said rely on and work on behalf of their “far-right” supporters despite most Canadians being moderates.
“I feel right now that our politics are becoming so much more divisive, so much more pushed to the sides, and the problem is Canadians, for the vast majority, don’t live on the outside edges, most Canadians are centrist, most Canadians want to see common sense, they want to see their politicians working together,” said McPherson. “Because of our political system, things are moved to the side, things are moved to the edges, and it’s very, very dangerous.”
Barron closed the debate by calling on MPs to work together to strengthen Canada’s democracy, to ensure elected officials are representative of their communities, and to “implement real solutions at the pace required to meet the emergent needs faced by Canadians.”
Her motion was defeated with 102 members voting in favour and 218 opposed, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. NDP, Green Party of Canada and Bloc MPs supported the motion, and so did 40 Liberal MPs and three Conservative MPs.
“Canadians are facing really big problems right now: the detrimental impacts of the climate crisis, a lack of affordable housing, and keeping food in the table are all top of mind for people – and with that, Canadians should see a government that reflects them and their values,” said Barron in a news release after the vote. “Both the Liberals and Conservatives showed Canadians today that they don’t want to move forward on better electoral representation.”Follow @Baileyseymour02