Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Pollcast: The Liberals' electoral reform gambit

On Wednesday, the Liberals announced they would be striking an all-party committee to study options for changing the way Canadians vote. The intention is to ensure that the 2015 election will be the last decided under the first-past-the-post system.

But this all-party committee includes two parties, the Greens and Bloc Québécois, that won't be able to vote on how Canadians should vote. And a majority of the seats on the committee will be held by Liberals.

Has the Liberal government stacked the deck in their favour, as the opposition parties claim? What about holding a referendum to put the government's electoral reform proposal to Canadians? And can a change to the way Canadians vote be implemented in time for the next election in 2019?

Joining me to try to answer these questions on the latest episode of the Pollcast are the CBC Parliamentary Bureau's Aaron Wherry and Alison Crawford.

You can listen to this podcast here.

Partisan interests difficult to avoid in electoral reform debate

"This is not about what's good for one party over another," said Maryam Monsef, minister of democratic institutions, on Wednesday after announcing the Liberal plan to set up a committee that will look into changing the voting system.

"This is about what's in the best interests of Canadians."

Maybe. But the fact remains that some parties stand to do better than others, depending on which rules are in place by the next election. And the people who will be deciding on the rules just happen to be those who will be most affected by them.

You can read the rest of this analysis on electoral reform here.

How Conservative and NDP leadership contenders stack up on the money

Money talks — especially in party leadership races, and the money raised in recent years by potential Conservative and NDP leadership contestants suggests that a few candidates could prove to be more formidable than currently thought.

And others may have more of an uphill climb ahead of them.

Contributions received by sitting MPs, as reported in the financial returns of their electoral district associations can be indicative of a leadership contestant's potential success.

You can read the rest of this article here.


  1. I told you Bernier was a serious candidate.

    1. Both Bernier and Leitch I think will do well. The more Trudeau looks like a tax and spend Liberal the more Bernier's appeal will grow I think. With the chaos going on in the sovereignty movement now is a good opportunity for Bernier and others to make the case for smaller governments operating within and respecting each others jurisdictions. A contrasting vision of federalism that may have the potential to court and woo soft-nationalists in La Belle Provence.

      Leitch is underestimated-she is Flaherty's protoge after all. She is not as well known as Lisa Raitt but, if she can outperform Raitt in fundraising she may emerge in the top tier of the leadership field.

      Both the NDP and Conservative leadership contests are wide open. Unlike the Liberal party where every leader since MacKenzie King has been pre-ordained both opposition parties have wide open fields where the front runner if any is far from assured victory or even a close finish. This is probably the best opportunity in a generation to shape policy and vision to rebrand them into modern entities.

    2. Ira,

      Most Conservatives don't see themselves as Libertarian. And Max's career is seen as more of a dalliance than vocation.

    3. Ghost both Bernier and Leitch are dead meat.

      Bernier because he really is known as a dilettante and Leitch over the Abuse Hotline fiasco !

    4. They might not see themselves as libertarian, but they're generally favourable to libertarian ideas.

      Only the social conservatives would really object to libertarianism, but visibly alienating social conservatives would probably do the CPC some good in the general election. Canadians, for the most part, don't like social conservatism.

      Even if Max can't win, having him be a strong candidate is a boost for the libertarian movement.

      I'm also a fan of Michael Chong.

    5. "Most Conservatives don't see themselves as Libertarian."

      They might not, but they never win power without them.

  2. "Unlike the Liberal party where every leader since MacKenzie King has been pre-ordained"

    Hmm, Turner preordained over Chretien? Chretien over Martin? Dion over Ignatieff on a *fourth* ballot? and going farther back before I was a full grown adult, Trudeau over Hellyer also on the fourth ballot?

    What are you talking about?

    1. Man, you need to read a book. WLMK chose St. Laurent as leader and Pearson and Turner as his successors. PET chose Chretien as his successor the list goes on. Unfortunately, I don't have time to relay the 150 year history of the Liberal party for you.

    2. And you should read the book past 1958, which was the last time the baton was passed in a preordained fashion. Previous leaders might have their preferences, but starting with PeT we had several seriously open conventions.

    3. Not really. Turner won on the second ballot (but it wasn't close), Chretien won on the first ballot, Martin won on the first ballot, Ignatieff won on the first ballot and Justin won on the first ballot which leaves 1-one truly contested or contestable leadership convention-2006-that elected Stephane Dion.

    4. Of course both St. Laurent and Pearson were elected on the first ballot as well.

  3. The Liberals need to be careful with the optics of this electoral reform project. It wouldn't serve them well to appear to have rigged the system in their favour.

    That said, I don't find the CPC insistence that they have to hold a referendum compelling. The nature of our system - and particularly of the system the CPC is trying to preserve - is that we elect majority governments and those governments are then free to make changes to our public institutions without any further public input. We elect a government, and then we let it govern.

    However, if the Liberals do implement an unpopular new system without a referendum, simply relying on the democratic legitimacy of having been elected on that platform (and a vague platform - they didn't campaign on any specific new electoral system), that will open the door to future governments doing the same thing.

    We could end up with our electoral system changing every 2 elections in perpetuity if this government establishes that it's permissible for elected governments to implement electoral reform as they see fit.

    1. Agreed on optics - I don't think the Liberals will proceed with anything without at least one opposition party in support. I doubt the Conservatives will ever fully get on board, but if they're smart they can influence the process towards reforms that strengthen their party in the long term too. The Tories have a grand total of 0 seats in either of the two largest cities in Canada, or the Atlantic provinces. These sorts of regional distortions have made it a challenge to maintain two national parties in this country - something that has had disastrous consequences for the Tories in the past and may well again.

      "We could end up with our electoral system changing every 2 elections in perpetuity if this government establishes that it's permissible for elected governments to implement electoral reform as they see fit."

      Perhaps. The vast majority of countries have adopted reforms without a referendum and have stuck with it, provided the reforms were sensible. Only New Zealand and Switzerland got to their current systems by way of referendum. Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Estonia, Lativa, Poland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Chile, Malta, Iceland, Japan, Austria, Costa Rica

      Oh and Canada too. We never had a referendum to adopt FPTP in the first place.

      I'd remind you too we have been tinkering with our system over the last 150 years. The secret ballot was copied from Australia in the 1870s. Universal suffrage was copied from New Zealand in 1960.

      Are you concerned either of those reforms are in danger of suddenly being reversed?

    2. Provincially there have been some experiments, too. Who can forget Alberta giving urban voters 5 votes each in 1921?

    3. The recently past Conservative government implemented lots of electoral reform. Changes to fundraising rules - that's electoral reform. Changes to election id rules, so that proof of address was closely checked, while proof of Canadian citizenship was left completely to the honour system - that's electoral reform. Changing the maximum term of government to four years was also electoral reform, and unlike the others relatively uncontroversial. The Conservatives didn't put any of those electoral reforms, controversial or otherwise, to referenda.

    4. The fixed elections date isn't something the government even had the power to do. If the new government chooses to ignore the fixed date law, there will be no legal consequences. Harper's fixed election dates were just political theatre.

      And while Harper's governmet did tighten up the finance rules, the big change (capping individual donations and prohibiting union & corporate donations) was brought in by the Chrétien government.

  4. Eric - I think it's worth noting that the terms of reference of the committee pretty much exclude any reform that would help the Liberals' short term partisan interests.

    In the long term I think all parties would benefit from a fairer electoral system though. Even the Conservatives.

  5. "the people who will be deciding on the rules just happen to be those who will be most affected by them".

    Absolutely right Eric. That is why any reform, especially since Trudeau is using ultra-constitutional means to "reform" the Senate, should be submitted to the people in a referendum. Precedent clearly sides with referenda on issues of major constitutional change in the modern era, Meech and Charlottetown and to pass the most important piece of constitutional change since 1867 without public approval is a terrible idea. PET tried this strategy and the repercussions nearly destroyed the country leading to two decades of inertia and constitutional wrangling and two referendums on Quebec independence. Electoral reform without agreement by and with the citizenry is cynical and self-serving (if it is such a good idea what is the harm of people having a say?). Trudeau and the Liberals can and should do better.

  6. erh, you contradict yourself. Neither the 1980 constitution nor the Meech lake accord went to referenda. Nor did universal suffrage, the women vote, or voting age to 18. So how exactly precedence "clearly sides with referenda"??

  7. You are right Meech was not subject to a referendum. I do not write the 1982! Constitution was subject to a referendum I opine that its failure to be voted on by the public was a crucial failure that caused two decades of political strife that followed nearly breaking up of the country. In other words the means by which the 1982 Constitution was accepted should not be a guide for future constitutional reform as it was not only a failure but, entailed a level of risk that is unacceptable. B.C., Ontario, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa all held referena on constitutional and or electoral reform.
    Precedent is not on Trudeau's side nor is the Constitution that clearly states:

    Whereas the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have expressed their Desire to be federally united into One Dominion under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom:

    Clearly a change to the electoral system would be in conflict with this clause and so to do as Trudeau proposes without amendment to the constitution is at best constitutionally circumspect. Trudeau can do better, Canada can do better, it is only a vote, something a democracy should be encouraging!

    1. No, that's not right. The voting system isn't a principle of the constitution; it is set out in ordinary legislation, which has been amended many times and continues to be amended almost yearly. (For example, the Government added 30 seats to the House of Commons for the 2015 election by ordinary legislation.)

      The Canadian constitution is uncharacteristically explicit on requirements for voting: certain provinces have certain minimum numbers of MPs; all citizens have the right to vote and stand for election; a five year maximum term for the House of Commons, etc. The "similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom" is an interpretive clause, meaning that where the constitution is unclear, then judges can look to the UK to interpret it; the clause does not (and could not possibly) mean that all Canadian governmental institutions must have the same operating rules as the UK.

    2. No the procedures for voting is ordinary legislation ie. The Election Act. As the preamble for the Constitution Act, 1867 clearly states the system ie. The Westminster system of parliamentary government is a constitutional principle.

      I agree it can be interpreted but, if so, one should err on the side of caution and treat electoral reform as an amendment to the Constitution. PET brought in a Constitution with an amending formula for just this purpose: No longer could the Federal Government unilaterally change the Constitution without provincial consent! For young Trudeau to so blatantly disregard and usurp his father's signature policy demonstrates the uselessness of the Constitution Act, 1982 and why it is a poor piece of legislation; it is totally unamendable and apparently as Justin Trudeau demonstrates easily circumvented through ultra-constitutional means whether to "reform" the Senate or change how we elect memeber of the House of Commons thereby amending the Constitution Act, 1867 as well as the agreement(s) and legislation that founded Canada. Justin Trudeau is setting Canada up for a constitutional crisis. I am trying to give him the benefit of the doubt but, his rampant reform of our parliamentary institutions without proper consultation or consent is shocking and reminds me of the bad old days of politics not the bright "sunny ways" promised. Justin is an old style politician in a BackStreet boy's body. He's more Allan MacEacheran than Nelson Mandela, more Margaret Thatcher than Ghandi. I am disturbed by his ruthlessness.

    3. The constitution's preamble doesn't work that way. Constitutional preamble does not have substantive requirements.

      Where a statute (including any part of the constitution) is vague, its intention or purpose is unclear, or if it makes unwritten assumptions, then the preamble can be of assistance in interpretation. The Supreme Court has ruled that, in the absence of specific wording in legislation, the "similar in principle to the UK" preamble means that we can interpret that legislation takes for granted certain long-established UK constitutional principles (eg., the rule of law, the inherent jurisdiction of superior courts).

      What constitutional preamble *cannot* do is nullify an express provision of statute. Only an operating clause of the constitution can do that. An amendment to the Elections Act might violate the Charter of Rights or the separation of powers clauses but it cannot "violate" preamble.

      So, no, an amendment to the Elections Act would never be considered a "constitutional amendment" to the preamble to the BNA Act. If it were, you can bet that every amendment to the Elections Act that gave an advantage to one party over another would be challenged in court.

  8. Éric,

    I was running some numbers and I come to a different conclusion that you do. In the CBC column you write:

    "This is because the Conservative Party is the second choice of few Canadians, according to recent polls. Unless that changes — and a change in the electoral system would force the party to adapt its strategy — the Conservatives stand to be penalized the most by a preferential ballot."

    But in a preferential ballot system with three parties not being second choice is not that important. What matters is that you are the 2nd choice of the third place losers.

    Let's say for a moment everyone voted in one of three possible ranked ways:

    40% of voters 1 LPC, 2 CPC, 3 NDP
    35% of voters 1 CPC 2 NDP 3 LPC
    25% of voters 1 NDP 2 LPC 3 CPC

    In this case the LPC wins with 65% of the vote and CPC is second, even though 40% of the people had the CPC as second choice, the most of all parties.

    Now in a different scenario we have

    40% of voters 1 LPC, 2 NDP, 3 CPC
    35% of voters 1 CPC 2 LPC 3 NDP
    25% of voters 1 NDP 2 CPC 3 NDP

    Observe that we have less voters going for the CPC as second choice yet in this case the CPC wins with 50% of the vote.

    So the problem with preferential ballot for the CPC is that the LPC (who are their likely source of second choice votes) does not finish in third place often enough.

    I actually expect that in a preferential ballot system the liberals would break about 50-50 for a slightly redder CPC/NDP in their second choice. Still, in most cases this would be of no help to them, even if all the LPC voters were to chose CPC as second choice en masse, since the LPC is third in only about 25% of the ridings, compared to the NDP which is third in about 75% of the ridings.

  9. All of this sturm und drang over voting reform ignores one key item.

    The public doesn't care !! As several polls have shown the interest is minimal and must be seen as a real negative to change. Plus any change is going to require a massive, non-partisan selling job to be accepted !!

    1. I think the public does care very much in fact. What polls have you seen to indicate general bemusement and non-interest in the subject? Judging by the comments in the papers and other places this is an important issue to Canadians holdiong meaning beyond simply politics but, stretching into and helping to express Canadian identity.

    2. I don't know how many polls I've heard quoted on both the CBC and CTV and the clear opinion expressed is "it doesn't matter" !!

      Because as most of the public knows it doesn't matter who gets elected the people get the shaft !!

    3. Maybe that is what they teach in the Liberal party. Most Canadians do care who they are governed by only the very cynical would think otherwise.

      In short then you only have anecdotal evidence to suggest "the public doesn't care".

      So, the polls you write about are illusionary? Where is the quantitative evidence you write about? Why would you suggest "the public doesn't care"? Wow!

  10. The polls from B.C. demonstrate what I have been writing over the past six months-the NDP are in serious trouble! On the surface it looks to be a competitive race but, underlying the close numbers is the frequency of turnout which has beguiled the NDP into thinking they are competitive when they are not. We know from past elections, The 2015 federal race being the most recent, the NDP do better in the polls than on voting day, The most recent election the 2015 federal campaign demonstrates this proof; The NDP polling average on Oct. 18th was 21.7 yet, they only took 19.9% at the ballot box, roughly 90% of their poll average, in the B.C. 2013 general election they did even worse capturing roughly 86% of their polling average. So while the polls appear to show a two point Liberal lead in all liklihood the distance between the BC Dippers and BC Liberals is probably closer to 6-8 points which would easily produce a fifth straight BC Liberal majority government.

    Horgan has done a fairly decent job as Opposition Leader but, the baggage of Carole James in particular and Adrian Dix, Glen Clark and Ujjal Dosanjh still haunt the Party. Consecutive poor leadership choices have hurt the Party's brand to the point where many British Columbians do not consider the NDP to have any experience in management or business.

    What is the BCNDP"s brand? What does Horgan et al. stand for? Who are potential cabinet ministers? Where is the Government-in-waiting? They need a simple message that will resonate with people. Frankly, the B.C. NDP need to spend more time in Vancouver and environs not just East Vancouver but, places where the Liberals are not universally popular but, are the default choice. They need a plan for resource development and a tie to Site "C". They need vision! For all of John Horgan's attributes (which are considerable) there does not appear to be an over-arching vision for British Columbia which gives the Liberals a leg up in the nascent election campaign. Christy has LNG as her ticket to future prosperity-the NDP only has criticisms.

  11. Torstar May 17
    Conducted just days after the six month anniversary of the new Liberal government, the national survey by Forum Research Inc. found 48 per cent of Canadians think the country is moving in “the right direction” compared to just one quarter who took that position last summer.

    Meanwhile, 37 per cent, think the country is moving in the wrong direction and 12 per cent believe the country is moving in neither the right nor wrong direction.

    Forum president Lorne Bozinoff noted the results show the government is still in voters’ good books, long after the traditional “grace period” would be over.

    1. I wouldn't vote for Trudeau, but I would agree that the country is moving in the right direction. The stuff that this government has done so far had been good.

      We'll see how their economic stewardship works out over the next few years, and if their lack of transparency (something Harper also did) comes back to bite them.

    2. Peter Meldrum wrote:

      All of this sturm und drang over voting reform ignores one key item.

      The public doesn't care !! As several polls have shown the interest is minimal and must be seen as a real negative to change. Plus any change is going to require a massive, non-partisan selling job to be accepted !!

      Clearly the poll above is not the poll(s) referenced in the quote. You clearly state the public is not bothered (by what type of voting system they use) yet, provide no evidence to back your assertion. The poll above is not about types or Canadians' preference on voting system but, on how the new Government is managing. They are not the same. I must ask: Why are you so blatantly fabricating the truth?

    3. So far Ira I've been satisfied with this Govt although looking ahead I can see stuff coming that I won't be happy about.

      Their performance on the Fort McMurray disaster has been almost exemplary.

    4. Premier Notley's as well. I can't fault any government's reaction to the wildfire.


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