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WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THIS!!!!: Canada’s Electoral Reform, part I

Did you know that electoral reform is coming to Canada very shortly? Based on the relative silence about it in media and public debate, you wouldn’t guess some very important changes will soon be brought to our system of governance.

Electoral reform was a Liberal platform commitment and it’s currently being studied by a Special Committee on Electoral Reform. One can only hope that the lack of public debate around the issue will end once the committee presents its report publicly (and to the House of Commons) in early December. But, then, the timeline for debate will be tight given that reforms should be agreed upon in Spring in order for them to be implemented in time for the next election, in 2019.

However, with only 3 women out of the 12 members of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform and town halls across the country sparking little national debate, the stage isn’t exactly set for the big democratic discussion needed to sow the seeds for change.

So, what is being discussed? Among other things, proportional representation and internet voting. The parliamentary committee’s mandate reads as follows:

« The Committee was appointed to identify and conduct a study of viable alternate voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting. »

With the committee’s work ongoing since June, another important voice has put forth recommendations to consider: Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer. Just last month, his office published a report entitled “An Electoral Framework for the 21st Century - Recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the 42nd General Election”. It namely recommends greater use of technology and process-simplification, to make voting more accessible.

It also addresses civic education as a concern, pointing out the following:

“In 2014, the mandate of the Chief Electoral Officer to conduct education and information programs was restricted to those aimed only at primary and secondary school students. This is an unusual restriction on an election administrator, considering the powers of other electoral management bodies, and it impedes the ability of Elections Canada to promote civic education. While civic education for youth is obviously important, it is not less important for electors who lack the basic knowledge about democracy. “

How badly are reforms needed in these as well as other areas? Despite its very sober tone, the report flatly lays it out: « The essentials of the framework of the federal electoral process have been in place for well over a hundred years. Unsurprisingly, that framework mostly reflects the realities of a century ago.”

In that perspective, issues like electronic voting and replacing first-past-the-post are concerns of which time? Could we say that they are issues of 10 or 20 years ago? What are our democratic issues today? This is also wide a wider public discussion is needed, to ensure that today’s reforms are as relevant as possible to us, rather than reflecting decades-old ideas.

Electoral reform is an important part of helping public and democratic institutions stay relevant. However, bigger changes are needed. What would engaging and innovative governance look like today? Let’s hope this is only the start of wider democratic conversations and changes.

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