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Voting on Voting

Spencer Morrison (1L)

Realisticles: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberals have avowed that 2015’s federal election will be Canada’s last to use the first-past-the-post system. Instead, they will create a new electoral system, the specifics of which are still unknown.

Regardless of where you stand on electoral reform, I think we can agree that how something is done is as important as what’s done. Therefore, I argue that the proposed electoral reform, if it’s as transformative as Mr. Trudeau suggests, should be put to a referendum before implementation. Here’s my thinking:

First, according to a poll done by Torch Research, 73% of Canadians would like this proposed change put to a referendum. That’s a big number. In fact, extrapolating the data suggests that more Canadians would like a referendum on electoral change than actually voted in 2015.

This brings me to my second point. Although Trudeau holds a majority government, he lacks the political legitimacy, the moral authority, to fundamentally alter our democracy’s architecture. He was elected with 39.5% of the vote, and since voter turnout was 68.5%, this means just 27%, less than a third, of eligible Canadians actually voted Liberal.

In what universe does this give Trudeau the moral right to unilaterally, and forever alter a democratic system which has functioned, without fundamental change, for the last 149 years? Especially since he has provided absolutely no concrete details of what his reformed system would look like. All Trudeau said on the matter was that he preferred a preferential ballot, which would have resulted in the Liberals taking roughly 70% of the seats in the last election. If that seems self-serving, it’s because it probably is.

To ensure our democracy’s integrity and legitimacy, the elected should not dictate how they’re elected: this is why an arms-length body draws riding boundaries and counts votes. It’s simple: don’t let the fox build the henhouse.

Everything else aside, it’s a matter of principle: fundamental democratic changes should be done democratically. Let’s hope Trudeau does the right thing and gives us the final say.

Rongulus: As usual, Realisticles provides a reactionary perspective on a pseudo-problem under the guise that the Liberals propose changing the fundamental principles of our democracy. This misconstrues the suggestion made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trudeau merely suggested a change in democratic architecture to calm the unrest felt by the Canadian public about our current voting structure.

For those who are unaware, our current voting structure, the so called “first past the post” method, often results in unrepresentative elections that result in majority governments where no such majority actually exists among voters. Trudeau promises to meaningfully change our voting through electoral reform that would hopefully allow a more representative distribution of Canadians’ values and opinions in our House of Commons. Many Canadians understand that our current voting structure needs change, but many do not understand how we could fix it.

This is, in part, the point of electing a competent government to represent the people’s interests. We elect governments to make difficult decisions about complicated problems on the public’s behalf. If this were a debate on changing taxes, another fundamental principle of democracy, no one would argue Trudeau unilaterally implementing a new tax plan. Many Canadians care about taxes, but they aren’t the ones running the country. The purpose of representative democracy is to have public interest represented by the few to expedite the process of making decisions as a whole. Putting issues to a referendum defeats the purpose of representative democracy.

We elected the man to make the big decisions. I say let him.

Realisticles: I agree, our system leads to imbalances, but that’s not really my point. The fact is that any system we adopt will have pitfalls: even a purely proportional representation system will marginalize peripheral communities, and won’t necessarily account for regional differences. But, this debate isn’t about which system we pick, it’s about how we pick it.

I also agree, electoral reform is a complicated problem that most people don’t know much about. But just because it’s complicated, that doesn’t mean it should be left solely to the “experts” (Sidebar, Trudeau is an expert on literally nothing), the people should have the final word. Furthermore, a referendum and “expert” design are not mutually exclusive. A referendum would either be a binary choice, the current or the new model, or a selection amongst numerous models, each vetted by Parliament. In either case, we get the best of both worlds.

Your taxation analogy falls flat. We elect governments assuming they’ll tax us. We don’t elect governments assuming that they’ll fundamentally and forever alter our democracy, especially when they don’t provide any details in their election campaign. To say Trudeau has an explicit or implied mandate to alter our democracy’s architecture is laughable. Let’s have a vote.