Op-Ed

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef recently held a discussion on electoral reform in Iqaluit. Photo: CC Philip Halling

Canadian government needs to better tailor discussions to each community

In the midst of the recent Brexit vote and the ongoing American election, Canadians have had a lot to chew on when it comes to voting practices. This is especially true considering the fact that the current government came to power on a promise of widespread electoral reform.

The government is currently in the process of organizing hearings in different parts of the country that aim to inform Canadians about the potential changes to our voting system. The main topic of conversation revolves around whether we should abandon the current “first past the post” system, where candidates need to get more votes than the others in their riding, but don’t need a majority of votes.

This discussion is important, because the question of whether or not the members of a democracy still trust their voting system is vital. Just take a look south of our border where politicians—most notably Donald Trump—are attempting to rally voters by appealing to fears that their voting system is “rigged.”

And Canadians seem to agree that discussion about alternative types of voting is important. A recent poll has shown that when it comes to deciding on the best voting system for our country, 65 per cent of Canadians believe any change must be made through a referendum.

However, even more important is making sure all communities across the country are well informed on the issues at hand—this means bringing proper discussion beyond big urban centres. The recent Brexit referendum, which saw voters claiming they would have made a different decision if they had been better informed, should serve as a warning—because they didn’t get to take it back.

But if that’s the government’s goal, it’s not off to a strong start.

On Aug. 29, Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef began a “cross country tour” on electoral reform, making an early stop in Iqaluit. The meeting was described by residents as a last-minute and poorly timed affair—being scheduled to take place from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on a work day. The briefing also wasn’t  translated into Inuktitut, the local language, meaning that many people would not have been able to participate anyway.

Northern communities already cite difficulties when it comes to accessibility under the current voting system, and if stronger efforts aren’t made to include them in reform discussion, there’s no reason to believe things will improve after a referendum.

Since it’s still early on Monsef’s tour, the government needs to take this experience and learn from it quickly. Going forward, they really need to put in the time and effort to prepare for the specific needs of each region the tour visits. Because while Iqaluit is a unique location in a geographic and cultural sense, these kinds of differences exist all across the country and they all need to be accounted for.

If you’re going to decide on an important change in the way your country functions, you should ask the people what they think. And in a nation with as many diverse regions and groups as Canada, you can’t create a one-size-fits-all plan and march it across the country.

If all communities aren’t equally informed, we run a strong risk of leaving some without a voice, which is unacceptable if the goal of a referendum is to improve the lives of Canadians everywhere.