Why Trudeau needs a referendum on electoral reform now

He could win it. At the very least, he could paint the Conservatives into a corner.

The people have spoken — and they’ve said they want to speak some more. According to the latest Forum Research poll, 65 per cent of Canadians want the federal government to hold a referendum on whatever preferred voting system emerges from the House of Commons’ Special Committee on Electoral Reform.

Forum president Lorne Bozinoff suggested that, “given the huge number in favour of a referendum, even among Liberals, it will be hard for the government to not have a referendum.”

Or will it? The poll was taken July 5, as the committee began hearing witnesses — the start of a consultation process that will continue into October, with a report to be produced by December 1. MPs will be provided with a “town hall kit” to hold constituency consultations, and interested individual Canadians also can avail themselves of a “toolkit” to hold consultations as well. Over the din of barbeques, summer camp and the Olympics, MPs and the politically-minded will be busy debating the merits of preferential ballots vs. proportional representation — and trying desperately to make the average voter care.

In other words, Canadians will hear plenty about electoral reform over the next few months — in their local communities, on Facebook, Twitter and wherever else the government can occupy space. By saturating the public square with this conversation, the Liberals can then claim that a referendum is unnecessary — because Canadians already have had their say.

And at that point Canadians might be inclined to agree, if only to stop talking about a subject that, while critical to the governing of our country, is far removed from most people’s daily lives.

But consultation-by-committee should not preclude putting a direct question to the voters, because changing the system of voting is not the same as bringing in a new social program or law. That type of reform is often subject to public consultation as well, but it can always be undone or amended by future Parliaments. The way we elect our MPs is not the same sort of thing at all: Once we change how they are selected, those who benefit under the system might be reluctant to change it back.

Read the full article on iPolitics.

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