Five things you should know about voting reform

Lyndsay Poaps
Jun 16, 2016 · 4 min read

It’s been one year since Justin Trudeau and his Liberal team made their historic promise to fix our broken voting system by making every vote count. Their election platform promised that the 2015 election would be the last one held under the first past the post system that delivered 100% of the power to the Harper Conservatives even though they only got 39% of the vote.

So, how’s that promise coming along? Here’s five things you should know about the plan to change our voting system in Canada.

1. The government set up a special committee to recommend a new voting system.

Earlier this year the Trudeau government set up a special committee made up of MPs to look into the best way to change Canada’s voting system. The thing was though, the government kinda messed it up.

Originally the committee was controlled by the Liberals, with all the other parties playing a minor role, and the Greens and Bloc not getting a say at all. But after Canadians, including many in the Leadnow community spoke out, a fairer balance was struck: the Liberals listened and changed the makeup of the committee to be proportional to the results of the last election.

Crucially: at least two parties will need to work together to recommend a new voting system for Canadians.

2. But there are tons of questions about how this committee will actually do its work.

It’s important who sits on the committee. But where the committee goes and who they talk to is just as important. The Liberals rightly recognize that a decision to change the way we elect our representatives demands listening deeply to Canadians.

In particular it is vital that the committee, who will recommend a new voting system to the Prime Minister, goes the extra mile to meet with Canadians who are alienated from our current voting process: young people, First Nations and low income Canadians. The format of the committee meetings also matters.

A traditional design of speakers making 5 minutes speeches and then listening to 20 minutes of questions from droning politicians is not going to cut it. For some great ideas on how to connect young people to this process check out the work of Samara

3. We also don’t know what will happen once the committee is done consulting Canadians.

So far there is very little detail on what happens with everyone’s input post December 1, 2016 when the committee hands down its report to parliament. We don’t know if the government will implement the recommendations of the committee. We don’t know if they’ll release the results of the online survey that will accompany the committee’s consultations. Basically, we need to know the the government will listen to Canadians and what they will do with that input, and so far the haven’t shown us how they will do that. We hope to hear more from the Minister on this point soon.

4. I really hope your town has a hall…

This new government loves a good town hall, and that’s great. But without some support for local MPs it’s like inviting someone to a party you have no intention of hosting. Sounds really exciting, but then it’s a real let down when you find yourself with nothing to do on a Saturday night. The Minister of Democratic Reform has said her vision is 338 town halls in every riding in Canada providing a report back to the committee on their views. We love this.

But let’s just #realtalk for a second. The committee won’t be able to make it to every community. Members of Parliament are under no obligation to host these town halls and as far as we know the Minister has offered no support, guidance or education materials of any kind to help MPs make these events happen.

We know how hard this is because right now MPs have been invited to host town halls on the government’s climate change plan, and as of today only 20% of MPs have confirmed they be hosting them. This is after months of pressure from communities to get MPs to hold these events. So we have a situation brewing where there is a great expectation of town halls happening, but no resources, no education materials and no support has been provided.

5. The right way to consult Canadians is… to get out here and talk to us!

At the end of the day the best way to understand what Canadians want in their voting system is to put in the effort to talk to as many of us as possible — in person, and online. We know it can be done.

The US offers some great examples of better ways to run town halls on issues this important. Why not a large scale process like the one America Speaks pioneered with their 21st Century Town Halls — a deliberative process, facilitated by skilled people that seeks to engage small table groups of people in conversation and over the course of the session loop them into the larger conversation of the whole, polling participants for points of agreement and divergence as it goes and collecting all the feedback throughout.

But for this to work, Justin Trudeau and Maryam Monsef need to provide proper support and resources to MPs. Talking to Canadians might be simple. But talking to enough of us, and making sure those conversations really get at the heart of what we think about this complicated issue. Well, that takes effort. But we firmly believe that when given the facts, and engaged in a meaningful way, everyday Canadians can help create an electoral system we can all be proud of.

Join our campaign to fix our broken voting system and replace it with something that is fair and proportional.

Lyndsay Poaps

Written by

Lyndsay Poaps is the Executive Director of, Canada’s largest independent people-powered movement.