Referendum a must before election reform

Why don’t our politicians want to engage us in a voter reform debate?

Why don’t our politicians want to engage us in a voter reform debate?

My engagement in politics began with a national referendum, the Charlottetown Accord. I was young, politically naive but still became interested in the process and what Canadians were being asked to endorse. I sent away for the government information; what was sent back was pathetic, a fluffy video telling me how wonderful the new Accord would be. The package was devoid of actual information. I was alarmed the government provided so little for something so important that I began researching the Accord on my own.

It turned out the Accord was a document to secure special rights for various special interest groups. Like many Canadians at the time the Accord was unacceptable and was duly rejected in the referendum, so much so that every succeeding government has been afraid to engage in much needed Constitutional reform. But an important result, for me at least, was that the referendum created political engagement that never ended.

That is why I am especially concerned about the recent efforts to reform the way Canada votes for our national leaders without the use of a national referendum.

Although I am a supporter of keeping first past the post (FPTP), like most conservative minded people I am not against an open, public discussion followed by a referendum (i.e. a consultation with Canadians) on the issue.

I am alarmed by the efforts of partisans across the political spectrum to exclude everyday Canadians from the decision making process. Are people aware that partisans are campaigning to not engage everyday Canadians in a fundamental change to our voting system? Do average Canadians even know how the voting systems work that we are apparently going to be using in the near future?

Unbelievably, the same people who claim changing our political system will increase engagement are in fact working diligently to not engage us. There will be no referendum, no public debate on voting systems (when town halls are packed with partisans and partisan information, they don’t count as public engagement).

During last October’s election I heard no talk about voter reform, especially not from the candidates. I have attended two town hall meetings where it was pro proportional representation and FPTP shaming. Both rooms were filled with partisans who heckled most of the people (certainly the known right of centre people) who supported FPTP or those who believe in the importance of a wide consultation through public discourse and referendum. The excuse given for not widely engaging Canadians? Canadians lack the capacity to identify misinformation and are unable to understand the complexity of voting systems.

In my mind this process could be an attempt to gerrymander voting. Ranked ballot favours centralist parties (and was a failed system abandoned in B.C. in the 50s) and proportional representation favours fringe parties and special interests (there are a multitude of examples: the fall of the Weimar government being my favourite, the current debacle in Spain and in Australia). I would love to have an open discussion on voter reform, but it will be pointless without a referendum.

Demand an open process from your representative. Demand a public debate followed by a referendum. As an engaged voter, I would assume any politician not willing to have a referendum before a change on something as fundamental as how we elect our government is actively engaged in gerrymandering. Be disengaged at your own peril!


Martin Barker