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  • Writer's pictureLeah Taylor Roy

PMB - M-86 citizen's assembly on Electoral reform

Updated: Feb 6



Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise for the first time this session to

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise for the first time this session to

represent the people of Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill and to speak to the

matter about which many of my constituents are passionate, and that is

Motion No. 86 on a citizens' assembly on electoral reform, sponsored by the

member of Parliament for Nanaimo—Ladysmith and jointly seconded by me and 20

other members of Parliament.

The motion calls for the creation of a citizens' assembly on electoral

reform, which, in turn, would determine whether electoral reform is

recommended in the Canadian context and make suggestions as to how the

electoral system could be improved.

We must address voter apathy and lack of trust in our electoral system.

When young people say that they do not vote because their vote is not going

to make a difference in what the government looks like after the election,

we need change.

When people in certain regions in the country feel that they

are not represented because most of their elected representatives are from a

party that has drastically different views from theirs, we need change.

When certain groups of Canadians do not feel welcomed or able to participate in

our parliamentary system, which is oppositional and largely the legacy of

male white settlers and colonialists, we need change.

When qualified individuals who want to help make our country a better place opt out due tothe polarization and abuse fostered by our current system, we need change.

When the only way to inflict policy is to demonize and overthrow the

existing government rather than to collaborate and work together to come up

with the best solutions to help Canadians, we need change.

We know we need change, and over 75% of Canadians agree and support

electoral reform.

How do we get it and why a citizens' assembly? We know that a citizens'

assembly is made up of representatives of non-elected Canadians, a wide

range of Canadians from across the country, who can be chosen by subgroups

to represent every group across our country. It is selected like a jury,

with steps taken to ensure representation of the population. It can look at

a broad range of reforms and options for reform, and the findings can either

be referred to government or we can go to a referendum. There are different

options, depending on how we proceed.

We have already seen that trying to find consensus on election reform

through the usual order of business in government procedures has failed. In

2015, it was the will of this government to implement electoral reform, but

the process found consensus only on retaining the status quo. While the

intention was to create a more representative and responsive democratic

process, achieving consensus on a specific alternative proved elusive.

However, Canadians still want electoral reform.

It may not be the most urgent issue facing us today, but it is an extremely

important one to the future of our democracy and our country. There are

always going to be more urgent issues. After trying to find a way to change

our electoral system, the government was confronted with many challenges,

including a change in the government to the south of the border, which posed

many challenges to our government. We then went into the COVID pandemic, and

that took up a lot of urgent attention. Then there have been wars like in

Ukraine and now the Middle East. There is the affordability crisis in the

post-COVID economy. There are always more urgent issues for the government

of the day to deal with, so trying to address this important issue through

the normal course of business is very difficult, and we have to find another

way to do it.

This is one of the reasons why a citizens' assembly is the way to proceed.

It would allow for the issue to be re-examined in a way that goes beyond

electoral cycles and parties. It could lead to better outcomes based on

evidence. The participants would develop an in-depth understanding of the

issue by listening to experts who share their knowledge with the assembly.

They would aim to reach a consensus and make recommendations, either to

Parliament, where negotiations and compromise could continue to reach a

multiparty agreement, or through a referendum. It would provide legitimacy

in making hard decisions and build trust in government and democratic

institutions.

A citizens' assembly allows for ordinary Canadians to participate directly

in government by discussion, which is one of the hallmarks of a

parliamentary system, one that has been on the decline over the past

decades, a decline that has coincided with the rise in conspiracy theories.

To quote Rob Goodman in his recent book Not Here:

...the rise of the conspiracy theory to the dominant style on the Canadian

right, from [the Leader of the Opposition] (“They've been following you to

the pharmacy, to your family visits, even to your beer runs”) to [another

member] (the World Economic Forum is “actually talking about putting

microchips in our bodies and in our heads") to Maxime Bernier ("A FUTURE

WORLD GOVERNMENT . . . WILL DESTROY CANADA”). It is not a novel point to

observe that these sorts of messages are delivered, without fear of

contradiction, to siloed and bunkered audiences, that they grow in the dark

like mold, that they couldn't bear even a minute of scrutiny. Yet they are a

baroque and unreal projection of the very real fact that meaningful politics

is conducted far out of ordinary earshot.

A citizens' assembly would allow discussions to be conducted in the earshot

of Canadians. What better way to combat this trend than to use a citizens'

assembly where ordinary citizens are engaged in discussion to tackle some of

the divisive and politically difficult issues of the day, such as electoral

reform?

Citizens' assemblies have been used in Canada, in Ontario and British

Columbia, and around the world in many countries, such as Ireland, France,

the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain to name a

few, on a number of different topics. Even though the citizens' assemblies

that were in Canada, in Ontario or B.C., did not result in changes, they

were very robust and well-received assemblies that brought forth some good

suggestions. We can change the way these work so that we can actually act on

the suggestions that come forward.

With the increasing polarization and extremism in Canada, we need less

confrontation and more co-operation. We need to find a way to ensure better

representation of all Canadians. As Canada evolves, our electoral system

must accommodate the changes to ensure a robust democracy.

Our parliamentary system, while having evolved somewhat over the years, was

developed in a very different time. Since then, women and indigenous people,

to name two groups, have been given the vote. However, Canada's institutions

of government have not changed dramatically to accommodate these groups or

facilitate their full participation. We adopted our own flag under former

prime minister Lester B. Pearson. We repatriated our Constitution and

adopted a written Charter of Rights and Freedoms under former prime minister

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, recognizing the changing nature of our country.

Our electoral system should also change so that our government better

reflects the changes in our society. While our parliamentary monarchy has

served us well, we should consider whether a parliamentary public system

might be better suited to the Canada of today, a natural evolution from the

repatriation of the Constitution to the development of our own written

charter.

Would proportional representation, such as Iceland has, or a mixed

proportional system, such as Germany or New Zealand have, better serve the

interest of all Canadians? These questions need to be addressed.

Motion No 86 is not merely a proposal; it is a declaration of our commitment

to a democracy that is inclusive, representative and resilient. By

supporting the establishment of a citizens' assembly, we are taking a bold

step toward a more just and equitable Canada, one where the votes of the

many guide the decisions that shape our collective destiny.

In our diverse and vibrant democracy, it is imperative that the voices of

all citizens are not only heard but are actively incorporated into decision

making. The citizens' assembly envisioned by Motion No. 86 would serve as a

powerful mechanism for fostering inclusivity, ensuring that every Canadian,

regardless of background or affiliation, would have a genuine opportunity to

contribute to shaping the future of our nation.

To quote Ernest Naville, a Swiss philosopher and theologian, “The right of

decision belongs to the majority, but the right of representation belongs to

all.”

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