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Canadians want electoral reform





Canadians want electoral reform Canadians want electoral reform

Canadians want electoral reform, but preferred options are unclear: survey
 
When it comes to electoral reform, Canadians are relatively certain about two things – they want to vote online and they don’t want mandatory voting in federal elections.

After that, it gets a little less clear.

The Ottawa-based Institute on Governance and the Environics Institute in Toronto probed the issue of democratic reform as part of a broad survey on governance and reform of the country’s federal institutions.
 the House of Commons on Monday, and electoral reform is expected to be a major theme.

The newly published poll results show that many Canadians like the idea of reforming the electoral system, but that they don’t know how and have no clear preferences on how to replace the first-past-the-post system that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to scrap.

It also found no overwhelming desire to change the way we elect MPs. About 24 per cent thought the system needed a major overhaul but 29 per cent didn’t think any changes were needed. Another 38 per cent said they thought only minor changes were needed.

Trudeau came to power last fall with the promise that the 2015 election would be the last time Canadians went to the polls using the first-past-the-post electoral system. The Liberals set a Dec. 1 deadline to introduce its new electoral legislation and an all-party Commons committee has been holding hearings all summer on how to change how we vote.

The parliamentary committee’s mandate includes exploring the possibility of online voting and mandatory voting. The committee and its expert witnesses have also had plenty of discussion about whether changing the electoral system should require a referendum.

The survey found Canadians’ top pick when presented with four possible voting reforms was online voting, with 58 per cent wanting to vote through a secure website. About 55 per cent supported changing election financing laws while 45 per cent opposed making it mandatory to vote in federal elections.

As for changing the existing first-past-the-post way of electing MPs, 41 per cent were supportive and 12 per cent opposed. One-third gave a guarded response that it “depends” on what replaces the current system.

“I see that as an openness of people to change … but without any clarity on specifically what the new system should look like,” said Karl Salgo, executive director of public governance for the Institute on Governance.

Emmett Macfarlane, a political scientist who has studied electoral reform, says Canadians have paid scant attention to the committee’s hearings and “aren’t even aware that it is a live issue.”

He said he’s not surprised Canadians want the convenience of voting online but that the complexities around security, identification and privacy have not even registered with most.

Before replacing the existing system, Macfarlane said, Canadians need more information and public discussion to better understand the alternatives. He suggested the survey reflects the uncertainty Canadians feel because they don’t even know the reasons why some believe first-past-the-post isn’t working, let alone how to fix them.

“There’s not a clear majority wanting reforms, which means Canadians are not aware of the obvious defects in the current system or they don’t think it has defects.

“They will pay attention when a decision is made and a specific alternative is on the table.”

The survey was conducted online in February with 2,000 Canadians over age 18. That was before the committee began its summer hearings. The committee is now beginning a cross-country tour to hear from Canadians.

A majority favours changes to the current voting system but only one in four Canadians believes that these should be major.

The survey probed deeper into how the system should be changed by presenting four systems, including the existing first-past-the post, and asked respondents to rank them. The others were mixed member proportional; proportional representation and ranked or preferential ballot.

None of the options emerged as a clear winner but the mixed member option got the most support, with 36 per cent making it their first preference, 34 per cent selecting the current system as their first choice, 21 per cent going with the proportional representation and 17 per cent picking ranked or preferential ballot.

When the results were examined among those who want electoral reform, the mixed member proportional representation emerged as the favourite, with 37 per cent picking it compared to the other three options, each getting about 20 per cent.

The mixed member proportional system was the most popular in Quebec, where about 40 per cent of respondents picked it as their first choice.

Support for keeping the current FPTP system was strongest in Atlantic Canada, immigrants, those over age 60 and those with post-graduate degrees. About 40 per cent of each of those groups picked the status quo.

Those who had no clear preference for any of the options include: women, rural residents, those with lower education levels and income as well as those who described themselves as not engaged and who say they believe government is broken.

Explaining the options is complicated and the political parties don’t agree on how to change the voting system. The Conservatives want a referendum on the issue; the Greens and New Democrats are set on proportional representation and it’s unclear what the Liberals want, though Trudeau himself once said he prefers a ranked ballot system.

Online surveys don’t have a margin of error but the sample was weighted by region, age and gender to match Canada’s population.

The survey question on what voting system Canadians prefer:

01 – Single Member Plurality (current system). Canadians vote for a single candidate running in their electoral district. The candidate who wins the most votes in the electoral district is elected to Parliament.

02 – Pure Proportional Representation. Canadians would vote for a political party and the number of seats each party gets in Parliament is based on the number of votes it receives nationally.

03 – Mixed Member Proportional. Canadians would have two votes. First, they vote for a single candidate running in their electoral district (like in the current system), and second, they cast a separate vote for a party. The number of seats each party gets in Parliament is proportionate to the number of votes each party receives from both types of ballots.

04 – Ranked or Preferential Ballot. Canadians would rank all of the candidates running in their electoral district from most preferred to least preferred. If a candidate wins 50 per cent or more of the first choice ballots they are declared the winner. If no candidate wins at least 50 per cent, the candidate with the least first choice votes is eliminated from the race. If a voter’s preferred candidate is eliminated, their vote is automatically transferred to their second choice on the list. This repeats until one candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the votes.


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