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Electoral reform committee recommends current voting system be included in referendum on proportional representation

By Tim Naumetz      

Liberal committee members publish a dissenting report, disagreeing with the committee's recommendation to hold a referendum, calling it "premature" and stating the need for more engagement.

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef has maintained that she does not support a referendum, calling them 'divisive.' The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

A special Commons committee on electoral reform has recommended the government hold a national referendum that would give Canadians a choice between maintaining Canada’s current first-past-the-post federal voting system, or a new proportional system that would reflect the “popular will of the electorate.”

The all-party House committee heard hundreds of expert witnesses as well as citizen opinion during more than four months of hearings since last July. “The committee acknowledges that, of those who wanted change, the overwhelming majority of testimony was in favour of proportional representation,” the report stated.

“The committee recommends the government hold a referendum, in which the current system is on the ballot,” the report said, as the committee also recommended that the government complete the design of a proportional system to include on the referendum ballot prior to the start of a referendum campaign period.

The Liberal members of the committee released a dissenting report, as they disagreed with the recommendation to hold a referendum without further study. The Liberals propose further engagement on the issue, and added that the recommendations from the committee were “premature.”

The committee report, 333 pages of detailed explanation of its findings and recommendations, included lists of witnesses, a dissenting report from the Liberal committee members, and a supplementary report from the NDP and Green party members.

The report also recommended that the government should not implement mandatory voting or online voting “at this time”—both of which were major changes Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef (Peterborough — Kawartha, Ont.) asked the committee to study in a mandate passed by the House of Commons last June.

The committee recommended that Elections Canada should be in charge of producing and distributing literature describing any option the government puts on a referendum ballot, including maps of potential electoral district boundaries, and a sample ballot design before the start of a referendum campaign period.

“The Committee recommends that any electoral reform seek to enhance the likelihood of improving voter turnout and to increase the possibilities for historically disenfranchised and underrepresented groups (i.e. women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, visible minorities, youth, and Canadians of lower economic means) to be elected,” the report states.

The government has set a target of May 2017 to table legislation proposing a new electoral system for Canada, but Ms. Monsef has consistently said she does not support a referendum because of the cost, an estimated minimum of $300-million, and the “divisive” nature of national referendums.

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