Backgrounder: Motion to Propose All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform

All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform

The Government has committed that 2015 would be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system. A motion to establish an all-party parliamentary committee to study how Canadians vote was passed in the House of Commons on June 7, 2016. The all-party parliamentary committee will review a variety of reforms, such as preferential ballot, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting. This is part of the Government’s effort to restore public confidence in our democratic system.

We are launching this national dialogue to strengthen the connection between citizens and their representatives. The Government is asking Canadians and their elected representatives to participate in a process that reflects our shared values of fairness, inclusiveness, gender equity, openness and mutual respect as they determine together the democratic principles and characteristics that should be reflected in our electoral system.

The Need for Change

While Canada is a strong and respected democracy, we inherited first-past-the-post (FPTP). The Government believes that it is time to create a new system that is broad and representative of voters’ views. Of the 34 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada is one of only three that continue to use the FPTP system to elect legislators.

It’s time to remind Canadians that they are in charge. Modernizing our voting system will provide all of us with an opportunity to participate more fully in shaping our country. Under FPTP, the candidate with the largest number of votes wins, even if that is less than a majority of the votes cast. While proponents of FPTP have argued that this system is simple for voters and most likely to produce governments with a stable majority of seats, others have noted:

  • First-past-the-post routinely forms governments without majority popular support, and at times, with less popular support (but more seats) than the second place party;

  • First-past-the-post incentivizes “strategic voting” which distorts voter intention; and

  • “Minority rule” and “strategic voting” can weaken the perceived legitimacy of elected representatives and government.

While there is no such thing as a perfect electoral system, we can do better. We deserve broad, representative politics that lead to:

  • Elections that inspire Canadians to vote;

  • Stable governments that respond to the needs of Canadians; and

  • Representation that reflects our diversity and political views.

Guiding Principles

The Government is proposing five principles that would be used to guide the parliamentary committee’s study and act as a framework for the Government’s eventual policy decisions:

  1. Restore the effectiveness and legitimacy of the voting system by reducing distortions and strengthening the link between voter intention and the electoral result;

  2. Encourage greater engagement and participation in the democratic process, including by fostering civility and consensus building in politics and social cohesion;

  3. Support accessibility and inclusiveness for all eligible voters, including by avoiding undue complexity in the voting process;

  4. Safeguard the integrity of our voting system; and

  5. Take into consideration the accountability of local representation.

The principles do not prejudge an outcome but help encourage Canadians and parliamentarians to engage in a thoughtful, substantive debate on changes to our voting system.

The Committee

The special all-party committee includes parties without recognized status as full voting members of the committee. The all-party structure of the committee reflects the desire for a process that is inclusive and moves beyond narrow political interest to address the broad public interest.

The committee will:

  • Identify and study viable alternatives to the current voting system as well as mandatory and online voting;

  • Conduct a national engagement process that includes a comprehensive and inclusive consultation with Canadians including through written submissions and online engagement;

  • Invite all Members of Parliament to hold town hall consultations with their constituents and issue a report to the committee from each of the 338 ridings across Canada.

The special all-party committee will take into account applicable constitutional, legal and implementation parameters, and seek out expert testimony on these matters. The Government asks that the committee develop its plans and recommendations with the goal of strengthening the participation of all Canadians, including women, Indigenous peoples, youth, seniors, Canadians with disabilities, people with exceptionalities, new Canadians and residents of rural and remote communities.

The Government’s special all-party committee is mandated to report its findings and recommendations to the House of Commons by no later than December 1, 2016.

The Role of the Minister of Democratic Institutions

The Minister of Democratic Institutions, along with her Parliamentary Secretary, will conduct significant outreach activities to complement the work of the parliamentary committee. Ministerial outreach will work to inform Canadians about the need for electoral reform and the electoral reform process. The Minister will not promote any specific changes to the voting system, but will encourage participation from all Canadians in this important discussion.

In particular, the Minister will reach out to Canadians from groups that are traditionally underrepresented or often go unheard, such as new Canadians, young people, people in rural and remote areas, people with disabilities and exceptionalities, and people from more humble socioeconomic backgrounds.

It is of great importance to the Minister and the Government that those who are often excluded from discussions on democracy get involved. The views of Canadians from all communities across our diverse society must be heard and incorporated to design a better system for Canada.

As we approach the 150th anniversary of Canada’s birth, we have an opportunity to reach out to Canadians to participate in an inclusive national dialogue to discuss the future voting system of our country.

More details will be available in the comings weeks on additional means to engage as many Canadians as possible in this important initiative. This will include online tools, in-person and virtual events, and inviting all Canadians to express their views about their democratic institutions.