At least half the trash talk about electoral reform survey is richly deserved

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
December 9, 2016 - 5:00am

KAMLOOPS — Did you get your postcard in the mail this week inviting you to take part in the federal Liberals’ online survey on “democratic values”?

The Libs are getting lambasted for it, and at least half of it is deserved.

Critics, especially New Democrats and Conservatives, say the survey, intended to get feedback on the issue of electoral reform, doesn’t get to the point. They’re right.

The closest it comes is to ask a couple of questions that try to gauge whether you prefer a multiple-choice ballot or a pick-one lineup: “A party that wins the most seats in an election should still have to compromise with other parties, even if it means reconsidering some of its policies.”

It never asks, though, if you want to continue with the current first-past-the-post voting system or would rather see some form of proportional representation.

It also doesn’t ask the critical question: should electoral change be decided via a national referendum?

And all the “even if” questions are really annoying, and mostly impossible to answer honestly.

“Canadians should have the option to cast their vote online in federal elections, even if it is less secure.”

Well, I’m not totally against expanding voting options but I also like the idea of people actually getting off their arses and gathering at a polling station to express their democratic privilege in writing. On the other hand, I’d like to talk about the issue of security.

“Members of Parliament should reflect the diversity of Canadian society, even if it means putting in place special measures to increase the representation of certain groups.”

Yeah, I’m all in favour of reflecting diversity in Parliament, but what do you have in mind when you say “special measures”? Disqualifying some candidates based on their ethnic, social, cultural, economic backgrounds or lifestyle preferences? We need to talk.

I ended up answering “neutral” on quite a few of these because they aren’t yes-or-no situations.

On the other hand, some of the questions are interesting, such as the ones that ask whether you think an MP should follow the wishes of constituents or be independent, and whether people who don’t vote should be fined. I’m guessing the one about voting on statutory holidays isn’t going to get a lot of buy-in.

Opposition parties and social media jokers are having a field day. NDP democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen asked Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef, "Does she believe seats in Parliament should be allocated based on popular vote or based on the outcome of rock, paper, scissors?"

Some of the competitors of Vox Pop Labs, which created the survey for the government, are being a bit catty, suggesting it doesn’t matter how many people respond to a survey if the questions are bad.

Online, tweeters are having fun posting questions under the #rejectedERQs hashtag such as “Would you prefer to continue to use the First Past the Post system, or would you like a punch in the head,” and “Would you like to keep the status quo OR let democracy as we know it burn in a hellfire of chaos?”

Columnist Andrew Coyne’s entry was “Would you like LITERALLY HITLER to govern for all eternity, or would you like things to stay more or less as they are?”

You get the drift — the verdict on the survey isn’t good news for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. The poll raises one big question about itself: What the hell is the point of it?

Since the government won’t find out what kind of change really want, or how they want to decide, is this simply a way for the Liberals to reinforce whatever vague intentions they already have for electoral reform?

That’s a question only they can answer.

By the way, if you haven’t done the survey yet (it’s at www.MyDemocracy.ca) and are now thinking “why bother?” don’t be put off. It’s kind of fun anyway, and at the end of it you will be categorized as an Innovator, Co-operator, Guardian, Pragmatist or Challenger.”

I’m a Guardian, which means I like decisive and accountable government over the wishy-washiness of too many parties having too many fingers in the pie. Okay, it’s not quite worded that way but that’s the general idea. And, yes, I’m “the least likely to support moving from paper ballots to online voting.”

Furthermore, my views are in line with 56-year-old male urbanite. Could have been worse.

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