There’s consensus on one part of electoral reform–holding a referendumDecember 7, 2016
Published on: December 5, 2016
The Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef argues that there is no consensus among Canadians on electoral reform. When it comes to finding a consensus on an alternative to the existing First Past the Post system, she may be right.
But there is an absolute consensus among Canadians, that no new electoral system should be adopted, unless it has first been approved in a national referendum.
By now, we have a year’s worth of poll data on this point, and the relentless consistency of Canadians’ views on the subject is hard to overstate.
What the polls show is this: If the pollster allows respondents to say they are undecided on the issue, the numbers break down as 65% pro-referendum, 20% willing to change the electoral system via ordinary legislation, and about somewhere between 10% and 20% undecided.
For example, here’s what the Vancouver-based firm, Insights West, found when it asked, “Regardless of how you feel about electoral reform, do you think a change in the current system should be put to a nationwide referendum, or do you think a vote in the House of Commons is enough to settle the matter?”
Responding to this question in February, 65% of Canadians favoured a referendum, 17% were okay with a vote in the Commons, and 18% were undecided. When the poll was done again in June, the numbers were 68%, 18%, and 13%. It was done a third time in September, and the numbers stayed the same: 68%, 21% and 11%.
The NRG research group ran a similar survey in May, and came back with nearly identical results: 67% pro-referendum, 17% in favour of the normal legislative process, and the rest undecided. NRG repeated this poll in July with identical results: 67% for, 17% against, with 16% undecided.
Also in July, Forum Research did a poll: “Do you agree or disagree Canada should have a national referendum on electoral reform before any changes are made to the way we elect our MPs? The result was a mirror image of the others: 65% for a referendum, 18% against, 17% with no opinion.
If the pollster only counts respondents who express an opinion, support for a referendum becomes overwhelming, reaching three quarters of respondents. In May, Ipsos Public Affairs asked Canadians whether they agreed with the following statement: “The Liberals should not make major changes to Canada’s election system without holding a national referendum to get the public’s approval for the changes.” 73% agreed with the statement, and only 27% disagreed.
This result was repeated just last week when an Angus Reid poll found 75% agreeing, and only 25% disagreeing, that “There should be referendum before any major change is made to the electoral system”.
The analysis that the pollsters have given of this data is worth noting.
Mario Canseco of Insights West told the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, “This majority of Canadians encompasses both genders, all age groups, every region, and supporters of the three main political parties.”
Lorne Bozinoff of Forum Research said, of his firm’s data: “This is a very conclusive finding. There is a strong majority opinion in favour of a referendum… and it spreads across all regions and socioeconomic groups.”
Darrell Bricker of Ipsos Public Affairs told the Special Committee, “A majority in every demographic category we looked at supported a referendum—by gender, age, education level, income, and whether or not you had kids in your house.”
Canadians are as close to a consensus on this issue as they have ever been on any live political issue. They want the final say in any proposed change to the electoral system. It is time for the government to acknowledge this consensus, and to commit not to make any changes, unless they have first been approved in a national referendum.
Scott Reid is the MP for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, and served as vice-chair of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, which presented its report last Thursday morning.