A crowd of protesters braved the frigid temperatures in Whitehorse on Tuesday to urge the federal government not to back down on its promise to change Canada’s voting system.
The group rallied at Yukon MP Larry Bagnell’s office to deliver copies of the Liberals’ own election promise to ensure “that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.”
Last month, in an interview with Quebec newspaper Le Devoir, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to back away from his commitment to reform how Canadians vote before the next federal election.
Tuesday’s event, organized by the advocacy group Leadnow, coincided with similar rallies in 50 communities across Canada.
The crowd carried a number of signs, several printed in festive holiday colours. “All I want for Christmas is electoral reform,” one read.
Several of the protesters also wore Santa hats for the occasion. “We just want fair elections, we just want fair elections, we just want fair elections, and proportional too,” they sang to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
“We don’t need a referendum, we don’t need a referendum, we don’t need a referendum, we already voted.”
Julia Duchesne, a Leadnow volunteer who organized the Whitehorse rally, said the protesters wanted to “send a clear message” to Bagnell about how important electoral reform is to Yukoners.
“I think both across Canada and in the Yukon, a lot of people often have to vote strategically, rather than voting where their heart lies,” she said. “I know that personally that’s what I did in the last federal election, and it’s something that I’d rather not have to do again.”
Astrid Vogt said she attended the rally because she hopes her children won’t have to vote strategically. She grew up in Switzerland, which has a system of direct democracy that allows citizens to propose changes to the constitution or to ask for a referendum on any law.
“I love this country (Canada) with all my heart. I live here since 25 years,” she said. “But I really do miss that option — the citizen is just not as important as when I lived in Switzerland.”
Bernard Briggs said he voted Liberal in the last federal election in the hope that Trudeau would keep his promise on electoral reform. He believes the Liberals will lose a lot of voters if they don’t follow through on that commitment.
“Proportional representation … allows a fairer cross-section of what society actually wants instead of majority governments being elected with a small percentage of the votes,” he said. “If you’re a Conservative in B.C. or if you’re an NDP (voter) in Saskatchewan or if you’re a Green Party (voter) almost anywhere in Canada, those votes aren’t getting counted.”
On Dec. 1, a special all-party committee on electoral reform recommended that the government design a new proportional voting system, and hold a referendum to gauge public support.
But the Liberal members of the committee concluded that Canadian citizens haven’t been sufficiently engaged in the issue, and said it would be unrealistic to propose a new voting system before 2019.
In response to the recommendations, Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef criticized the committee for failing to come up with a specific alternative to a first-past-the-post system. She later apologized for her comments and agreed that Canadians need to be more engaged before the government moves ahead.
The government is now asking Canadians to fill out an online survey on electoral reform at mydemocracy.ca. The quiz has been criticized for including leading questions and leaving out questions on a referendum.
Duchesne said it will be an “uphill battle” to convince a majority government to change a voting system it benefited from. But she’s optimistic.
“I think this government cares a lot about its public image and it made some pretty strong and unequivocal commitments early on,” she said.
Leadnow doesn’t believe a referendum is necessary, she said, “because historically in a referendum the status quo benefits.”
Still, it’s unclear how electoral reform will affect the North, since each territory has only one MP, and that seems unlikely to change.
When the special committee visited the Yukon in September, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said that under several proposed voting systems, “nothing would change at all in the territories.”
Contact Maura Forrest at email@example.com