By Chad Ingram
If the federal government is going to change the electoral system then Canadians should have a vote says Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale.
Schmale is inviting residents to sign a petition calling on the Liberals to hold a referendum on electoral reform if they are going to change the voting system.
Now-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during last year’s federal election campaign that should he be elected the Oct. 19 election would be the last federal election to use the first-past-the-post system.
While the government has said it will consult with Canadians on electoral reform Schmale says a decision of that magnitude should not be made without going directly to citizens.
“The problem with that is it basically gives the government in power the opportunity to change the way Canadians elect their members of Parliament without asking the Canadian people” he told the paper adding that Canadians would not likely have been fine with Stephen Harper unilaterally changing the voting system when he was in a majority leadership position.
While he said the promise of electoral reform brought some punch to the Liberals’ platform promises Schmale notes the party has not made it clear what method it would replace single-member plurality with.
“The Liberals have said we’re going to change it but were not sure to what” Schmale says.
In the past Trudeau has indicated support for ranked ballots a fairly complicated electoral system where voters rank their candidate choices from most preferred to least preferred. In a ranked ballot system if a candidate achieves a majority – more than 50 per cent of the vote – that candidate wins. If the leading candidate does not receive more than 50 per cent of the vote then the least popular candidate is removed from the running and the second choice votes from those ballots are allotted to other candidates.
Because the Liberal party occupies the middle of the Canadian political spectrum some electoral experts have suggested a ranked ballot system would be most advantageous for the Liberal party.
“That basically ensures the Liberal party will be in power until probably the end of time” Schmale said. “For those voting NDP and Green I think they need to be concerned about this too.”
The NDP promotes the adoption of mixed member proportional representation.
The Liberals have been quick to zone in on the Conservatives’ call for Canadians to be consulted on electoral changes with reminders that the Fair Elections Act which made numerous changes around fundraising and other aspects of the electoral process was forced through Parliament by a Conservative majority government last spring.
While Schmale acknowledges changes were made “nothing in that act fundamentally changed how Canadians elect their representatives” he said.
Schmale noted that in other countries such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom when electoral reform has been on the table referendums have taken place.
Personally the new MP is a fan of the first-past-the-post system and believes a proportional representation system would basically silence small communities.
“I think rural Canadians would lose their voice” he said. “I’m open to change. I don’t think we need to completely overhaul the system.”
Schmale said one way the existing system might be improved is giving more power to MPs when it comes to decisions such as the makeup of committees decisions that are currently made by party leaders.
The petition which is sponsored by Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston MP Scott Reid and can be signed by Canadians until April 9 can be found at https://petitions.parl.gc.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-48