To those in Orléans disappointed with the Government of Canada’s decision to no longer pursue a new system of voting before the 2019 federal election, I wanted to acknowledge your frustration and express my own regrets regarding the outcome of this endeavour to those who cast ballots based on this part of the Liberal platform.
I want you to know that this campaign pledge was not abandoned without effort to achieve a parliamentary consensus, nor is it a move that was taken lightly. I know that my Liberal colleagues and I will be held accountable for this decision at election time, and you will be able to decide whether the priorities we have acted upon outweigh this issue.
I am proud of the actions of my government in starting a conversation on democratic values and our electoral system. Over the last year, Parliament reached out to Canadians from all corners of our society, including in Orléans, to best hear you out on the complex question of electoral reform and on the values we want reflected in a new voting system. The Special Committee on Electoral Reform, which included an unprecedented minority of members from the majority governing party, travelled to every province and territory and heard the diverse views of experts and Canadians. Meanwhile, Members of Parliament held town halls across the country to directly hear the views of their constituents. I held a consultation in Orléans and had numerous meetings with a number of engaged residents on this issue. The Government also had extensive conversations with Canadians through social media and created a suite of web-based resources to support citizen learning and dialogue.
The parliamentary committee on electoral reform prescribed proportional representation as the general way forward, but no exact system or format was presented. Although many systems of proportional representation exist, the challenge is finding a system that fits the original criteria of fostering civility in politics, increasing voter participation and safeguarding the integrity of our voting system. In addition, it was important to me that a direct link be maintained between a community and its elected official in any new electoral system.
In addition, the all-party committee call for a referendum created additional complexities that were not originally anticipated. The idea of a potentially divisive and time-consuming referendum would have challenged an already complex and crowded legislative agenda. It is unlikely that a compromise was possible, particularly considering the deeply held opposing opinions of all parties in the House. In addition, while we heard a wide range of opinions from Canadians, only a very small fraction of Canadians participated in the town halls, online surveys or discussions with their MPs. This left a high degree of uncertainty as to whether the government had a legitimate level of consensus to move forward with such a major overhaul of the voting system.
As a first-time MP and as Chief Government Whip, I have gained a greater appreciation of what it takes to successfully achieve the Government’s agenda within the legislative calendar. Every bill and motion is measured in weeks, days and hours, and we must prioritize accordingly. To achieve the stated goal to have a new voting system in place for 2019, much more heavy lifting would be necessary in Parliament: more study and consultation to decide which system to present to Canadians in a referendum, a bill to update Canada’s referendum laws and Government efforts to ensure its success. These efforts would compress or take up the time available to debate and address other serious priorities across a series of portfolios. Parliament has yet to fulfil other pledges that must also be addressed sooner rather than later: restoring lifelong pensions for disabled veterans, meeting our climate change objectives, taking action to improve quality of life and opportunities for Canada’s Indigenous peoples, dealing with a potential US trade agreement, fixing the flawed Bill C-51 and allowing for flexibility to address other issues as they arise.
Governments must be accountable for the platforms on which they run, but it remains essential that, as opposition is clarified, policy is examined and new priorities emerge, governments be flexible. I would argue that good government and a healthy democratic process must always be prepared to reassess priorities as circumstances change. I acknowledge that I and my party will be held accountable for this decision by the opposition and ultimately by voters at election time.
I would also like to stress to all Orléans residents that this decision does not mean the process of strengthening our democracy is stalled—there is more to democratic reform than changing the voting system alone. Our government has made significant progress on changing the appointment process for federal agency boards and commissions, reforming how Senators are appointed and implementing a program of extensive public policy consultations; however, all these areas also require more work that can and will be done. Additionally, we have already introduced legislation to reverse undemocratic elements of the previous government’s so-called Fair Elections Act, including by reinstating the independence of the Chief Electoral Officer, increasing transparency in political fundraising and protecting our democratic institutions from cyberattack.
I respect the principled and passionately held views of all Orléans residents on this issue. I intend to continue an open dialogue on democratic values and reform, and my door is always open to any concerns or thoughts you may have. As always, I look forward to engaging in this conversation going forward. I do believe that one day our voting system will change, and I look forward to that day.
Andrew Leslie, MP