It takes time to do electoral reform quickly

It takes time to do things quickly. – Sir Humphrey Appleby in ‘Yes Minister’

The Federal Liberals promised in the last election campaign 2015 would be the last election using first-past-the-post and new electoral reform legislation would be tabled by spring of 2017.

But things appear to be going astray. 

The Special Commons committee charged with studying our electoral system held its second day of meetings on Parliament Hill yesterday. The facts so far:

  • Mr. Mayrand, the Chief Electoral Officer, stated Elections Canada would need “at least two years” for any simple changes and longer if more complicated. The intervals are “not elastic” he said.
  • In order to hold a national referendum on the proposed changes six months will be required.
  • It will take two years to redistribute federal ridings if needed.
  • At least a year is needed before the next election to educate the public on the new system.
  • The traveling committee mandated to consult extensively all across the country does not start until this fall.

Let’s do some math. The last election was in the fall of 2015. The Liberal’s self-imposed deadline would be spring of 2017 to introduce a new electoral system in all of its details. Assume the next election is four years out in the fall of 2019 (and not a winter election in 2020). Working backwards a final decision will have to be issued to Elections Canada by fall 2017 at the latest. Public education would have to overlap the implementation. A referendum would have to be called in spring of 2017. So all debate, the details of the bill and voting will have to be finished by late spring of 2017. So the traveling committee will have to finish and issue its findings by early spring 2017.

In theory doable, but there is no slack. What if the traveling committee cannot finish in time or there is no clear consensus on a new system or the debate in parliament takes longer or NGOs such as Fair Vote Canada resist the solution suggested. Any one of these will cause the process to go off schedule. Some time could be gained by dropping the referendum and having the government impose a system but the people would resist such a move.

More worrying is notice that redistribution is no longer an option, there is no time. This precludes electoral systems that require different electoral boundaries such as Single Transferable Vote, (an excellent system). Mr. Mayrand also intimated that any change should be simple otherwise it would not get done for 2019, this probably means a complicated Mixed Member Proportional Representation system or some form of pure PR (which is quite different from what we have now) are no longer options due to time constraints.

The concern is this approach has already excluded viable options and Canada will end up with a poor electoral system as a result. Better to take the time needed to get it right (and have a referendum) rather than rush based on a political schedule.


Jonathan G Dean


Atlantica Party