Second constituency referendum a bad idea
To the Editor,
Both last week's Haliburton Echo and Minden Times carried an article outlining our local MP Jamie Schmale's intention to hold a second constituency referendum, this time on the question whether there should be a national referendum on reforming the electoral process for our House of Commons. The first referendum held last spring, on the subject of medical assistance in dying, was on a subject which all of us as individuals can relate to quite directly and there is a relatively short history of actions by governments. That question was much easier for people to give an opinion on than this second question. Reforming the electoral process has little direct effect on individuals and also, there is a much longer history of governments around the world taking actions. Correspondingly, there have been many academic studies on the results of changes to electoral systems. These studies can be tedious reading, it is much harder to follow the arguments for or against particular election processes than to have an opinion on medical assistance in dying.
Consequently, I believe the idea of holding any referendum, local or national, on the subject of electoral reform is going to cause delays and results that indicate a lot of misunderstanding.
Perhaps the clearest example of the length of time for a government to enact electoral reform has occurred in New Zealand. There, the MPs voted to change the voting process from first past the post to mixed member proportional and a referendum was held later and people confirmed that they liked the change. This showed that relying on our elected representatives to make the decision about a change of electoral process is workable. After all, we elect them to make decisions. Even this process took something over 10 years to get done. Surely we can learn by other governments' actions to condense the time period the change can take. One significant action that has happened within the present government is that the membership of the parliamentary committee that is charged with recommending action on electoral reform has been changed from being dependent on the percentages of party MPs to the percentages of voters for those parties during the last election. This change shows that the importance of the percentages of voter preference for political parties across the country is is a very significant factor in considering electoral reform.
This parliamentary committee has obligated all MPs to hold town hall discussions in their various constituencies and to report on their constituents' opinions. These town hall meetings should be significant learning opportunities for voters which a local referendum cannot be, especially if it is concerned with a question of holding a national referendum. To hold a referendum cannot be a substitute for a series of town hall meetings for the purpose of improving understanding of electoral reform. After all, the primary purpose of this reform is to improve the effectiveness of our model of representative democracy, which requires that MPs as a group closely resemble the makeup of the voters in the country. MP Jamie Schmale seems to think that the single-member plurality (aka first past the post) system has served the country well for 150 years and that it should be continued. But there have been many elections using first past the post (including provincial elections) where the political party that has most MPs and forms the government has not been supported by a majority of voters. The federal elections of 2011 and 2015 have together been an outstanding example of this problem, the present government with a similar false majority in the House of Commons in spite of less than 40 per cent voter support is spending considerable effort dismantling a long list of actions and legislation that the previous government had introduced.
Finally, as a member of the white-haired (if at all), white skinned, with allegiance for all my life to the same monarch, community which has traditionally been over-represented in our country's legislatures, I look forward to a time when all legislatures show good balance between political persuasion, gender, skin colour, ethnic and cultural backgrounds and will be truly representative of the population.