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Congratulations to you, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the swearing in of your newest cabinet. I know that this was not a simple task, with so many things to consider including gender balance, regional representation, personal skill sets and government priorities.
I have to say, though, something has been bothering me about the new cabinet.
While most of the news stories have focussed on who and what is “in,” this letter is about what has been left out of your biggest cabinet yet — the Ministry of Democratic Institutions.
I had to check and doublecheck that I hadn’t somehow missed something, but it’s true: the Ministry of Democratic Institutions, which has existed in some form since 2003, has been unceremoniously and quietly shuttered.
Without a doubt, that ministry was associated with significant personal trauma for you. It was, after all, ground zero for the 180-degree reversal on your 2015 campaign promise to “make every vote count” and to make that year’s election the last under first-past-the-post
— a broken promise that surely contributed to the Liberal Party’s diminished standing in parliament today.
Maybe this time, you would prefer not to talk about electoral reform at all. Maybe you simply can’t imagine what you could possibly include in the minister’s mandate letter?
And yet, as the poll released by the Angus Reid Institute on Nov. 21, 2019 shows, support for electoral reform has “skyrocketed” across the country since 2016, with more than six in 10 Canadians in every region saying they want proportional representation — that is, a voting system that allocates seats in parliament roughly in proportion to the total number of votes a party receives.
It’s only natural that our nonproportional first-past-the-post voting system has once again come into focus following the most recent election, which resulted in significant distortions including: your party winning only 33 per cent of the vote and forming government; a perverse outcome in which the Conservatives got more votes than the Liberals (34 per cent to the Liberals’ 33 per cent), yet won 36 fewer seats; more than nine million voters who elected no one; and no voters from Alberta nor Saskatchewan represented on the government side of the House.
The most striking finding of the Angus Reid poll is the surge in support for proportional representation among voters on the Prairies and among Conservative voters. In 2016, only 37 per cent and 35 per cent of
Alberta and Saskatchewan voters, respectively, supported proportional representation. Today, those numbers are among the highest in the country at 75 per cent and 78 per cent. Overall, support for proportional representation among Conservative voters has jumped from a low 28 per cent in 2016 to 69 per cent today.
Clearly, this is a major development in public opinion that should not be ignored. Your government should seize the opportunity presented by electoral reform as a way to reduce the national divisions exacerbated by first-past-the-post — something your late father concluded was needed all the way back in 1979.
Our democratic institutions require more care and attention than ever in the face of growing Western alienation, a resurgent Bloc Quebecois, the most distorted election results in many years and a disturbingly high level of mistrust of politicians. Electoral reform should be placed back on the table sooner rather than later. The Ministry of Democratic Institutions is the last that should have been lost in the shuffle.
Please Mr. Prime Minister, for the sake of our democracy and national unity, heed the growing call for a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform — a process that would take the electoral reform file outside the realm of partisan politics and politicians and place it in the hands of regular citizens from across the country who can forge real consensus and help renew and modernize our democracy.
Now that would be a great mandate letter for a new minister of democratic institutions.
Charlottetown's Jordan Bober is a member of Fair Vote Canada’s National Council.