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Electoral reform will take more than a few years, says MP

Despite interest in changes, consultation process yielded no clear results, say Paul Lefebvre

Editor's note: The following letter is in response to the letter, “MP's excuse for cancelling electoral reform is unacceptable,” published Feb. 21

I share your letter writer’s disappointment that the efforts to improve our electoral system will not continue. Not least because thousands of Canadians, including many in Sudbury, showed a keen interest in improving it, as did I.

At a town hall I held in the fall, there was excellent discussion on a variety of topics, such as mandatory voting, proportional representation and ranked ballots. From it, there was indeed clear support for proportional representation, as there was nationally, but no consensus on what form it would take or how to implement it.

My priority, made clear in that town hall and every opportunity since, is that any reforms must ensure the voices of Sudbury and Northern Ontario are well represented in Ottawa. That’s a difficult assurance to meet.

Let’s take an example: If the federal Liberals were to win 40 per cent of the popular vote in 2019, as was the case in 2015, then under a system of proportional representation, the Liberal Party would earn 40 per cent of the seats in the next parliament. But who takes those seats? Do parties appoint MPs from their own ranks? If so, what assurances are there that any of the parties will appoint someone from Sudbury or Northern Ontario?

Do we keep 338 riding MPs and add more MPs elected proportionally? Do we reduce the number of elected riding MPs so we can elect more proportionally? If so, that would make northern and rural ridings even larger than they are now and almost certainly erode representation of Northern Ontario in Ottawa.

This is what happened in town halls across the country: Lots of great ideas, but very little consensus. In the meantime, the process in Ottawa became highly politicized, with each party clearly staking out their own preferences. By the time the decision was made to end the process, the interests of voters had already been eclipsed by the interests of the various political parties.

What I take from all this is that democratic reform is a long-term process. We have been electing governments this way for 150 years. Reforming it is going to take more than a couple of years. And it’s probably best if the process is not driven by politicians, political parties and political leaders.

While I am disappointed the discussion on electoral reform has ended, I believe it will be back, and I trust we’ll be better prepared for it when it does return.

In the meantime, I’ll leave your readers with this food for thought: Two-thirds of Northern Ontario residents (and 100 per cent of Greater Sudbury residents) have a seat at the government table right now. 

That is already a high bar for representation in Ottawa that will be difficult to beat.

Paul Lefebvre,
Member of Parliament for Sudbury