It was a happy homecoming for Maryam Monsef. Inside of the Mount Saint Joseph Church, about a hundred people gathered to give Maryam their input on how to change the country’s electoral system for the better. It was clear that in two years she had transitioned from the voice of dissent in a mayoral race into a consensus builder.
The moods ranged from adoration to tepid optimism in a room that, much like Peterborough, was sprinkled with different minorities but ultimately dominated by a politically active retired class.
A Trent faculty member expressed his preference for a “first past the post” (FPP) electoral system because of his belief that communities should have strong representation in the House of Commons. Many voiced support for a “mixed proportionality” system that would mirror that of Germany. An older woman lamented the lack of economic democracy as a reason for political disengagement and apathy among youth. Tasked with giving the closing remarks for the event, a young citizen simply expressed how thankful she was to have a space where she felt her voice would be heard.
Maryam herself is a terrible politician. She’s honest, openly questions her party, and welcomes criticism that comes her way. During her speech she placed an emphasis on voting access for all Canadians and incorporated the audience heavily into her speech. Despite this, Jacosta Boone’s presentation, which alleged to be on the different options available, largely neglected explanation of new systems and instead focused on the FPP.
The structuring of the aforementioned presentation adds fuel to critiques of the process: the Liberals have a vested interest in maintaining the current FPP system. In sports terms, the Liberal Party has been a dominant team in the landscape, boasting a variety of iconic franchise players: Wilfred Laurier (five dollar bill dude), William Lyon Mackenzie King (spoke to ghosts), Pierre Trudeau (kept the country together), and finally Jean Chretien (legit choked a constituent out).
The Liberal Party of Canada is known for having generally captivating leaders, but the real MVP is FPP. Last election, an 8% difference in the popular vote between Liberals and Conservatives resulted in the Grits more than doubling the amount of seats in the House of Commons, thanks to a system that does not count votes for a party’s candidates that did not win their riding.
There is currently a false dichotomy being presented to Canadians that FPP represents less democracy whereas a proportional representation system brings more. The difference between the two is really based on representation of ideas in parliament versus representation of regions.
A proportional representation system would most likely strip communities of their regional representation, but would give the Green Party real clout and voting power in the House of Commons. This is why most countries strike a line down the middle and go with a mixed proportional system.
Of course things are not utopian on the side of a mixed proportional system either. Just ask Europe about their nationalistic parties headed by Marine Le Pen or Nigel Farage. These parties started off on the fringe and got seats in their respective parliaments based on popular percentage of the vote. Larger, more mainstream parties have had to form coalitions to secure majorities in their legislature and build consensus. To do this they first have to curry the favor of the fringe, and in this way many far-right nationalists have enjoyed a newfound prominence.
This problem also plagues the Israeli electoral system in which Binyamin Netanyahu must regularly form governments that involve Zionist parties, which has resulted in a two-state solution being removed from the party’s constitution.
The result of the upcoming electoral reform could decide whether Justin qualifies for the Liberal Hall of Fame. A move to a more proportional system would severely hamstring the Liberal Party’s grip on the Canadian political sphere and Justin Trudeau would go down as the man who betrayed his party to keep a campaign pledge.
This isn’t the first time that Canada has attempted to reform its electoral process. Electoral reform has been put to a provincial referendum twice: it was voted down in British Columbia in 2005 and in Ontario in 2007. Although the Ontario referendum was seen as less of a catastrophe in its conception and educational campaign, it was soundly defeated nonetheless.
This is why a common topic at the meeting was the question of whether electoral reform is something that should go to referendum. The general fear among those opposed to it is that complacency and lack of education among voters would lead them to stick with the status quo of sticking to the status quo. Those who are for the referendum—73% of Canadians—cite that a change in Canadian democracy should be dictated through Canadian democracy.
The issue quagmires further through the Liberal Party’s claims that their majority signifies they have been given a mandate by Canadians to make a change in the electoral system, despite only receiving 39.5 percent of the vote. The fact that a majority government believes that they have given a democratic mandate by the Canadian public at large despite a lack of democratic mandate is exactly why some believe in electoral reform.
When asked about Justin’s stance on weakening the Liberal Party’s prospects by establishing electoral reform, Maryam replied, “If we give the people what they want, they will vote for us”.
The people in that room for the most part believe in Maryam Monsef and her good intentions to bring change to the electoral process. What the people don’t know is whether the party is willing to have the courage to loosen their iron grip or whether they are using Maryam Monsef to pay lip service to the issue, only to throw it out to a referendum which history tells us will result in adhering to tradition.
The question is whether her party is throwing a rising star on a grenade that they pulled the pin out of.