A lot has been written recently about electoral reform -- which option is best, and whether a not the proposed reforms should be put to a national referendum. Duff Conacher writes that electoral reform is about a lot more than holding a referendum:
The first important question is the makeup of the committee of politicians that will lead the public consultation. Normally, the Liberal majority would mean a majority of Liberals on all committees. However, no more than half the committee should be Liberal MPs in order to ensure they can’t just push through whatever system they want. (The Liberals should have no concerns about giving up their majority on the committee, given that Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc has said voting-system reform should have “broad support in Parliament.”)
The committee should also undertake a “deliberative judgment” process as the “national engagement” process the Liberals have promised, as it is the best practice for meaningful public consultation. Such a process would involve either several meetings of one large citizen assembly (as B.C. and Ontario did in the past to review their voting systems) or of many small focus groups across the country – learning about the issue, deliberating and then deciding what changes (if any) to recommend.
Most importantly, there should be a number of options for consideration:
As the Liberals’ election campaign promised, the process should cover “a wide variety of reforms” – including the right to vote none-of-the-above (as voters in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan can do by declining their ballot), and the right to file complaints and have politicians penalized by an independent watchdog for unjustifiably breaking election promises.As well, when the deliberative judgment process is ending and people are asked what changes they support (if any), best-practice methods should be used to record their choices. These methods don’t offer take-it-or-leave-it choices (which can be easily biased) but instead let people indicate the level of their support of various options.
And Conacher adds this caveat:
That public consultation process, done properly, can produce a road map for change (if change is supported by most people) that is just as democratically legitimate as a referendum result.
Referendums seems straightforward. But as someone lived through the first Quebec referendum, I can testify that they can become hornet's nests. Conacher warns:
The difficulty with a national referendum in a federation is the rules. What proposal should be on the ballot, or should there be multiple, detailed proposals? Should a minimum national percentage of voters be required to vote – or a minimum in each province or each region? Should politicians be allowed to campaign using public funding or should their parties pay?If a referendum is held, given that the Constitution guarantees each province a specific percentage of seats in the House of Commons, the same rules for amending the Constitution - a majority of voters in seven out of 10 provinces representing 50 per cent of the total population - should be required to approve any proposed change.
When you're changing the way a country votes, a simple majority of fifty percent plus one won't do. We should think very carefully about how we will go about electoral reform.