Electoral reform committee recommends referendum on proportional representation

The special committee of MPs studying electoral reform in Canada recommends the government hold a referendum that pits the current system against a system of proportional representation, without specifying a particular alternative.

But the Liberal members of the committee do not agree that a referendum should be conducted at this time, and suggest that electoral reform cannot be implemented in time for the 2019 election.

NDP and Green members, in a joint supplementary report, also still question the need for a referendum.

Members of the committee are speaking with reporters at 10:30 a.m. ET. is streaming that news conference live. New Democrats have called their own news conference on the same topic for noon, and the Liberals on the committee have called a separate one for 12:30 p.m.

“The committee recommends that the government should, as it develops a new electoral system … minimize the
level of distortion between the popular will of the electorate and the resultant seat allocations in Parliament,” reads the majority report of the special committee.

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MPs who have spent the last several months studying how Canada’s voting system might change are releasing their recommendations Thursday. (Peter Power/Canadian press)

That system would then be put against the current first-past-the-post system in a referendum.

NDP MPs and Elizabeth May propose alternatives, question need for referendum

In a joint supplementary report, the NDP members of the committee and Green MP Elizabeth May recommend two alternative models:

  • Mixed-member proportional, with two-thirds of the House of Commons elected to represent direct constituencies and one-third elected as regional compensatory members. 
  • Rural-urban proportional, a mix of urban ridings with more than one MP and conventional rural ridings with a single representative. An additional 50 seats would also be distributed across the country to make the result proportional to the national popular vote.

But the New Democrats and May are not enthusiastic about a referendum: “While it remains an option,” they write, “we have serious concerns about holding a referendum on electoral reform.”

If a referendum is held, the three committee members argue, their two alternatives should be on the ballot alongside first-past-the-post and Canadians 16 and older should be eligible to vote.

Liberals suggest government proceed slowly

In their supplemental report, the Liberal members of the committee question the basis for proceeding with a referendum.

“The recommendations posed in the majority report regarding alternative electoral systems are rushed and are too radical to impose at this time as Canadians must be more engaged,” the Liberals write.

“Our position is that the timeline on electoral reform as proposed … is unnecessarily hasty and runs the risk of undermining the legitimacy of the process by racing toward a predetermined deadline.”

The committee was struck in June to study alternatives to the current first-past-the-post voting system for federal elections. In last year’s federal campaign, the Liberals committed to forming such a committee and implementing a new system in time for the 2019 election.

The committee also recommends that the government not proceed with either mandatory or online voting at this time.

The Liberals initially proposed that the committee have six Liberals, three Conservatives and one New Democrat but agreed to allot the seats differently after opposition complaint.

Instead, the committee included five Liberals, three Conservatives, two New Democrats, one member of the Bloc Québécois and May — the seats allotted roughly in proportion to the popular vote in 2015.