Democratic Reform in Canada: Online Voting, Referenda, and the Governance Ecosystem #ERRE
Maryantonett Flumian, President of the IOG, appeared before Canada’s Special Committee on Electoral Reform alongside Profs. Dennis Pilon and Jonathan Rose on July 28th, 2016. The trio were asked to provide expert testimony to the committee as it reflects on electoral reform in Canada and examines the viability of alternatives to the first-past-the-post system, as well as other means of enhancing the democratic process such as mandatory voting and online voting. Discussion was lively and committee members were engaged and interested in the views of the respondents.
Aside from Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef, Ms. Flumian was the first woman to appear before the committee.
Ms. Flumian cautioned the committee against a referendum on electoral reform, noting that referenda tend to be blunt instruments that bring binary, divisive, winner-takes-all thinking to complex questions that deserve to be thoroughly deliberated. She encouraged the committee to assist parliamentarians in fulfilling their decision-making role as representatives of the Canadian public, and to make a recommendation to the government on behalf of citizens. Parliamentarians are empowered by the Canadian public to make decisions on behalf of their constituents, and the public places a fundamental trust in them to rise above the partisan fray and act in the interests of all Canadians. She told the committee that Canadians will very likely accept its recommendations: “Lead Canadians, and we will likely follow”, she said, encouraging them to work through the parliamentary system and legitimize its role in the Canadian democratic system. Referenda are not the answer to the need for long term democratic renewal in Canada.
Indeed, Ms. Flumian pointed to the importance of understanding that the formula by which we select our representatives is only one element in the broader Canadian governance ecosystem; and there may be numerous distinct ways to invigorate the democratic process in Canada. In addition, the committee should bear in mind that changes to that electoral formula can be expected to have impacts in many corners of the Canadian Westminster system. How will changes to the electoral system affect the functioning of Parliament, government and its supporting institutions such as the federal public service? How will key constitutional conventions around cabinet solidarity, non-confidence, and dissolution of Parliament, be affected by reforms that affect the role and status of MPs, as well as the process by which governments form?
Ms Flumian also called for ramped up civic education, suggesting that Elections Canada be empowered to educate Canadians on how to fulfill the responsibilities of democratic citizenship; and online voting received Ms. Flumian’s enthusiastic support. In this day and age, where citizens live their lives online, she argued, our antiquated paper-based electoral process has yet to take the turn of modernity; and maybe the Fair Elections Act needs to be re-examined, too, to empower Elections Canada to take the bold steps it will need to take if the electoral process is to be modernized in the ways Canadians want it to be.