Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Pollcast: What the cabinet shuffle means for electoral reform

This week's cabinet shuffle signals the Liberal government's reaction to the upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump as the new U.S. president. But will it also mean a change in direction on the troubled electoral reform file?

Maryam Monsef, the beleaguered minister of democratic institutions, was shuffled out of her portfolio to become the new minister of status of women. Her replacement is Karina Gould, the former parliamentary secretary to the minister of international development.

Joining me to discuss what the shuffle means for the future of electoral reform is the CBC's Aaron Wherry.

Note: I mentioned at the end of the episode that we'd have a regular episode later this week. Unfortunately, we had a scheduling issue with our planned guest and we weren't able to cobble together a show in time. So, this will stand as this week's episode!

You can listen to the podcast heresubscribe to future episodes here, and listen to past episodes here.


  1. I think electoral reform is dead. Doubling down by once again appointing a rookie M.P. and youngest minister in cabinet to the file sure looks like history repeating itself.

    At base the Liberal philosophy on this issue (one I disagree with); electoral reform is a parliamentary matter not constitutional change necessitating greater dialogue and popular if not provincial approval. It is curious therefore; firstly, Trudeau gives women with little parliamentary experience and knowledge a file requiring deft handling, tact and persuasion to carry any proposed Bill through three readings in the Senate (which I predict if a Bill ever gets there will become problematic for the Government) and three readings in the House of Commons. Where the Tories will filibuster if they don't get a referendum and so may the NDP if they feel the system proposed favours the Grits such as ranked ballots and the Bloc and Elizabeth May demand a say.

    Secondly, it is odd the Government has not put forth a proposed system since, their argument; electoral reform can be achieved outside constitutional change rests on a argument of Parliamentary Supremacy and the Sovereignty of the House of Commons.

    I think the Eminice Grises of the Liberal Party both inside and outside caucus have persuaded Cabinet electoral reform is a seat loser. Trudeau has a small majority, fourteen seats, the "wrong type" of electoral reform risks leaving Trudeau with a minority Government in 2019 or worse a surprise defeat! Cabinet has wisely decided to back away.

    I don't know exactly how they'll climb down from all this nonsense and mydemocracy stuff. Presumably they'll put forth some Bill either on electoral reform or some sort of consultation mechanism and let it die on the Order Paper with a prorogation.

    1. Whether or not a change to the voting system is a good idea, it's not a constitutional change needing special approval. Section 41 of the Constitution Act 1867 is relatively clear about this: it states that "Until the Parliament of Canada otherwise provides", the "Qualifications and Disqualifications of Persons' to be elected or to sit or vote as Members of the House of Assembly or Legislative Assembly in the several Provinces" and the "Proceedings at Elections" are to apply "respectively apply to Elections of Members to serve in the House of Commons for the same several Provinces". In other words, the methods for choosing MPs in 1867 remains in place only until Parliament changes it.

      Unlike some parts of Canada's "unwritten constitution", the Constitution Acts of 1867 and 1982 are explicit about which voting principles are entrenched: universal adult suffrage, minimum representation per province, each MP having an equal vote, etc. You would have to have a pretty creative argument to say that the first-past-the-post system is entrenched in the constitution when that is not set out anywhere and, in fact, section 41 seems to indicate otherwise.

    2. Had you quoted S. 41 in full all would able to discern the purpose of the section is to unify qualifications for election to the House of Commons and Legislative Assemblies among the Provinces: Previously, some Provinces required property qualifications. Section 41 does not give the House unilateral power to change the voting system. S. 38-40 of the same document does grant the powers to amend the electoral districts represented in the Commons by either decreasing or increasing the representation by Province. No clause in the Constitution Acts explicitly give the House of Commons unilateral power to change the voting system. Any opinion that it does is pure conjecture.

      If the Constitution Act did what you infer Goaltender Interference, why would the Liberals waste so much time, effort and a cabinet minister to engage in superficial and unneeded consultations? if we used your logic the Government could simply impose a new system and have it passed by Parliament; Couldn't we? They have not done so, why? Your logic would imply the Liberals have wasted political capital for no reason. The Government's actions do not make sense-they are irrational.

      No. The Government has engaged in consultations because they understand they lack legitimacy to effect such a change without popular approval. Mulroney understood this and wisely called a referendum on the Charlottetown Accord-a precedent was set-a constitutional convention may have been created. Whatever the case. Le Petit Trudeau well knows that a change of electoral systems requires more than a Liberal majority Government and that is why this particular policy is going down in flames. It needs popular approval to be legitimate. Approval only granted through constitutional negotiation and the requisite amending formula or referendum!

      I would remind you First Past The Post is set out explicitly in the preamble to the Constitution that guarantees: "...a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom". Had the UK changed their voting system through the 2011 Alternative Vote Referendum an argument could be made but, it seems unlikely since any change in the UK would have been enacted through referendum. So, if the UK needs a referendum to change their voting system and we have a constitution similar in principle to the UK and our own constitution is silent on the subject. Surely, a reasonable person would conclude a referendum or at least broad popular support is needed to effect electoral reform.

      Everyone agrees with that. Polls show this to be true with two thirds of Canadians or better supporting a referendum to change the voting system. It is only Liberal bullies who try and coerce through false logic their opinions on others.

  2. Funny thing is how much the Liberals are pushing mandatory voting both at the local 'town halls' and on the silly poll they have sent out. Never heard a single person ask for it, even in my political circles (I have run for the Green Party provincially). One wonders what is going on there.

    1. I would be fine with mandatory voting but, I do not think it a good fit for Canada. When it was introduced in Australia people's deference for political institutions was much greater. Today with our healthy skepticism toward politics, politicians and institutions the imposition of mandatory voting is likely to cause a backlash-may even drive down voter turn out. At this point however, the Liberals may have to introduce it as a face-saving measure as electoral reform appears to be going nowhere.

      The most interesting aspect of the shuffle was the booting of Mary-Ann Mihychuk. From what I could tell her only mistake was keeping a low profile and I suspect she was only removed because Dion and MacCallum were shown the door and Justin wanted a semblance of gender parity.

      With her gone her marginal seat becomes much more marginal and Jim Carr is left as the only Manitoban around the cabinet table.

      Keeping Monsef. Her transfer from democratic institutions to status of Women is a promotion in my opinion, shows Justin knew he gave her a poor hand and the brouhaha that has ensued not her fault as much as poor planning by the Government.

    2. Capilano,

      There is some talk that M-AM is known for an extremely strong personality. It seems things did not go that well in the cabinet and caucus sandboxes. Or so the understanding goes.

    3. Well she is a former Dipper cabinet minister so, I can see how she would be the odd woman out. She gave a very fiery speech to the Chiefs assembled at an AFN gathering shortly before her dismissal. I wonder if that had anything to do with her being dropped. From what I saw she wasn't defending the Government's position so much as encouraging Indigenous leaders to push for more!

  3. Freeland's appointment means that Canada won't let Trump make peace with Russia without a fight. Freeland is strongly pro-Maidan and comes from Ukrainian Catholic background (there's centuries-old history of religious conflict between the Orthodox and the Catholics in Ukraine, with recent presidential elections there and support for the war having similar fault lines).

    1. Esn,

      Canada's influence in Washington is most of the time minimal, at best.

    2. If we get a UN Security Council seat, we might have a podium to stand on.

    3. No it is literally a seat. A chair to be precise. The Security Council meets in a designated room at UN Headquarters around a semi-circular open table.

    4. @Ronald, sure, but Trump's desire to make peace with Russia also seems to be heavily opposed by the US intelligence agencies & Deep State, who could well use Freeland as a proxy to pressure him (which she would be only too happy to do; Dion might have been unenthusiastic).

      It also now turns out that Freeland lied about her family history, and that her grandfather was the chief editor of the main Ukrainian-language Nazi newspaper all through WW2: (the references there seem reliable - official Government of Alberta records and a Harvard academic article)

      I still haven't seen this covered in any Canadian newspaper.

  4. All,

    I am against referendums as a compete waste of money unless it's self-evident that a majority of Canadians want to scrap FPP.

    Referendums should always be Option A vs. Option B, with neither being FPP. If Canadians oppose any change, then simply let things be, which IMHO would be extremely regrettable.

    1. All the polling that has been done show Canadians generally satisfied with FPTP and on the question of electoral reform two thirds believe a referendum is needed.

      Unfortunately, Le Grand Trudeau's constitution is so poorly written referenda is the only mechanism able to effect change. Unless you are a Liberal with enough money through H.H. The Aga Khan or a Chinese billionaire to enter into a Court case and appeal to the SCoC.

      It is certainly strange if not hypocritical that someone in favour of electoral reform (presumable because they think reform would be more democratic than the present system) is opposed to democracy through referenda to change a system they find "undemocratic". Such an opinion is intellectually inconsistent and at base anti-democratic, autocratic or authoritarian even.

    2. Ronald,

      If FPTP should not be a referendum option, wouldn't that necessitate two referenda; Firstly, to determine if Canadians wish FPTP to be replaced and secondly to determine the replacement? It seems to me if we are to have a referendum FPTP should be an option, in order to determine 1. Do Canadians wish to change the voting system and 2. is the proposed change acceptable?

    3. Capilano,

      Referendums around the world are usually of the negative variety. I think it's fair to concede the point right now that FPTP will not be replaced in a referendum regardless of the alternative(s) proposed. So why bother wasting the taxpayers' money for nothing?

    4. I am not quite sure I follow you. referendum questions are usually negative? Are they? Brexit wasn't: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

      Well if a referendum isn't going to happen and electoral reform is dead why is the Government wasting tax payers' money for an on-line survey? Just kill it this spectacle is getting sad. It was always a silly off-the-cuff promise. I don't think anyone really believes the Liberal Party will ever be the party of electoral reform. Why would they? They have benefited most of all under the present system!


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