This past week in Ottawa has been difficult for me, and a number of my MP colleagues. The project of electoral reform for which I had high hopes is no longer in the Minister for Democratic Institutions’ mandate.
Since this government’s decision to not continue the electoral reform initiative, my office has been flooded with your comments and responses. These reflect the diversity of Canadians’ views over the course of the past year’s consultation. Indeed, some are happy this means we will keep the first-past-the-post system, but most expressed sincere disappointment, even anger, in the decision to drop a key campaign commitment.
This past year I have heard from citizens who are passionate about various types of proportional representation, who are in favour of preferential ballot, who support the current electoral process, and who favour, or are against, holding a referendum. All of this commitment to good governance in Canada is deep and passionate, for which I thank you. I truly do understand the deep disappointment of those who voted Liberal in the last election primarily in support of electoral reform. You may be aware that I have been a champion of parliamentary cooperation, and advocated for reviewing and improving our electoral process during my Leadership campaign in 2012/13. I see parliamentary cooperation as foundational for Canadian governments to effectively tackle critical long-term public policy challenges like climate change, and I support measures that aim to improve collaboration across party lines.
Our government’s electoral reform efforts raised the hope for a structural solution to minimize the pendulum swings that have characterized Canadian politics – where newly elected governments devote much effort to undoing the policies of the previous, only to have the favour returned following the next change of government. Our platform timeline for this reform was highly ambitious given the complexity of the initiative, and given the importance of broad engagement and support for any substantive change to a fundamental part of Canada’s democracy. After all it’s not just “what we do”, it’s “how we do it” that matters.
I will continue to support other types of reform initiatives that can also strengthen the foundations of a more cooperative parliament, and reduce incentives for polarization and division. Canadians have noticed such improvements through changes in Standing Parliamentary Committee independence, extensive consultation on government initiatives, and openness to accepting opposition amendments to government legislation. The tone and collegiality in the debating Chamber has become noticeably more positive. Greater cross-party cooperation in the House of Commons will expedite our country’s progress in tackling complex generational issues facing governments, like healthcare for an aging population, and equality of opportunity and success for indigenous Canadians.
Let us build on the recent unprecedented level of consultation and dialogue. While it may have been a bridge too far to realize electoral reform so quickly, these consultations were essential steps in building necessary public interest, engagement and understanding over time. This process of thoughtful discussions on our democracy in town halls and kitchens across the country encouraged greater engagement with our political system – most especially among young voters – and caught the interest of many who may not have previously thought about either the existing electoral system or its reform. The decision to remove the mandate is now prompting even more discussion about how best to govern Canada. These discussions will continue, and are good for the health of our democracy.
I sincerely appreciate everyone who has worked with me on this issue over the past years, who attended my public meeting on electoral reform last summer, who communicated or met with me, and who wrote in or called in the wake of the recent announcement.
The recent election in the United States highlights the importance of this issue. Over the coming years, Canada will face great geopolitical challenges, some of which may deepen our understanding of the importance of cooperation, and greater representation in our governance. There are many other policy change and improvement initiatives our government plans to implement that I also strongly support. I am committed to representing the voices of Vancouver Quadra to the government in Ottawa, and for that I ask you to continue engaging in discussions on public policy, and to be vocal about what we can do to make this country better.
Joyce Murray, MP