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Referendum is the only legitimate way to reform Canada’s electoral system

On Oct. 19, the Liberals were elected on a platform that included dozens of promises, including more than 30 on various aspects of democratic reform.

One of these was the dramatic but vague promise that 2015 would be “the last election conducted under the first past the post system.” The authors of the platform can be forgiven for sacrificing precision for the sake of a punchier-sounding promise.

But the new government really cannot be excused for the assertions that it has since made, that it was given a mandate to unilaterally select a new electoral system in time for the 2019 election.

The Liberal government cannot make a fundamental change to the way Canadians elect their federal representatives without bringing that change forward in a referendum. In the absence of naming any specific alternative, voters have not had the opportunity to choose one over others.

The Liberal party does have a mandate to govern. If in the course of carrying out that mandate, they wish to bring alternative electoral systems to the people, they can certainly do that. And the only democratically legitimate method of bringing those options to the people, given the concerns raised above, is in a referendum.

The Liberals have ruled out letting Canadians have their voices heard through a referendum, instead signalling that a parliamentary committee is sufficient enough to make any such changes.

If the government wants to make a fundamental change to our country’s voting system, the process must not be dominated by one political party’s interests. When you change the rules of democracy, everyone gets to have a say.

A referendum on the Liberal plan is the only way to ensure any change has the clear support of Canadians, and that the government’s plan is fair and transparent. A near-consensus of editorial and opinion commentary has urged the government to put any proposal to a referendum. Recent polling confirms that Canadians want the same thing: they want a vote. The Conservative Party insists that Canadians must have the final say, in a national referendum, on any proposed changes to how Canadians elect their M.P.s. Whatever the plan, and whatever the process, Canadians want a vote—yes or no—before the government tries to change the voting system. That is what Canadians deserve from their government, and that it what the Conservative Party will continue to push for.