A flyer from my local MP urges me to demand that Justin Trudeau hold a referendum

Posted by on Jun 15, 2016 in Brian's Blog | 0 comments

  • UPDATE: My math-challenged MP has just sent me another communication, this time a type of postcard, in which he repeats the fiction that six Liberal MPs will decide how Canadians vote in the future. He invites me to mail back the card telling him what I think of the job he is doing. I wonder what I should say?

A flyer from my local MP – a Conservative – shouts at me in bold-faced capitals that the Liberals plan to “RIG” the 2019 federal election and that I can stop it. Here’s how it begins:

“Justin Trudeau promises to the [sic] change the way you elect Members of Parliament. Only six Liberal MPs will determine how all Canadians vote because he refuses to hold a referendum.” The flyer then urges me to demand a vote, demand a referendum, sign an online petition, and then check the boxes at the bottom of the page. One of the boxes, oddly enough, is next to a line that makes the rest of the flyer redundant: “I OPPOSE a referendum on electoral reform.”

On the back of the flyer, under an all-caps headline that says “Stop the Liberals from Manipulating Our Democracy,” there are quotes from four Canadian newspapers. One of the quoted writers is Harrison Ruess, who does occasional guest columns for the Toronto Sun. The newspaper identifies him as the founder of a website that’s calling on the government to hold a referendum before enacting electoral reforms. But – and the paper doesn’t tell you this – Ruess is something more than that. He’s also a communications officer for Interim Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose.

Another quoted writer is Peter Loewen, who writes regular guest columns for the Ottawa Citizen. The newspaper identifies him as an associate professor in the department of political science and the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. But, again, he too is something more than that. He’s a former chief strategist for Bill Black, a businessman and card-carrying Conservative who ran for the leadership of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative party back in 2006. (Black lost.)

You see where I’m going with this? The federal Conservatives and their allies are pushing for a referendum on electoral reform because they think any substantive change to our current first-past-the-post voting system would benefit the ruling Liberals. Yet during their nine-plus years in power, when they implemented many changes to election laws that – as Halifax journalist Dan Leger points out – hardly made Canada more democratic, how many referendums did the Harper Conservatives hold? Zero.

They could, for example, have held a referendum on the secretly negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, which, as my friend and political blogger David Climenhaga notes, “actually surrenders our national sovereignty to corporate-run trans-national entities.” But no, the Conservatives only want a referendum on still-to-be-decided changes to our electoral system that could possibly cost them the next election.

My MP’s flyer, which landed in my mailbox yesterday afternoon, claims that “only six Liberal MPs will determine how all Canadians vote.” This is wrong. The all-party investigating committee consists of five voting Liberals, three voting Conservatives, two voting NDP members, one voting Bloc Quebecois member and one voting Green. If you do the math, you will see that the Liberals don’t have a majority here. After consulting widely with the public this 12-member committee will send recommendations to the government, which the government may or may not accept. If a new election bill is then drafted, it would have to be passed by the House of Commons and the Senate before being enacted into law. So no, it won’t be six Liberals who determine how Canadians vote. Parliament will decide how Canadians vote. And, frankly, I don’t see Parliament making this happen before 2019 because there are so many complexities involved.

So should there be a national referendum on the matter? The simple answer is that there cannot be under existing laws. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada’s former chief electoral officer, says one can only hold a federal referendum in Canada on a constitutional matter “and changing the electoral system is not a constitutional matter.”

So please, Mr. MP, stop putting flyers in my mailbox urging me to “stop” the Liberals from “rigging” the 2019 election. If you can muster enough support from your colleagues on the opposition benches, you should try to do that yourself. And good luck to you, Sir.

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Copyright 2016 Brian Brennan - Author

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