Referendum on voting system open to manipulation

Non-binding referendum campaign could sow misinformation, division

TORONTO – Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice (CUSJ) applauds the House of Commons Standing Committee on Electoral Reform for throwing its support behind key democratic reforms that could see Canada join its modern industrialized peers with a more proportional system of representation. However, a poorly formed referendum question could, as has happened in referendums in the recent past, result in campaigns that spread misinformation, unnecessarily polarize the issue, and end in a result that reflects Canadians’ frustration with leadership more than an opinion on voting systems.

“Justin Trudeau was elected on a promise to scrap Canada’s antiquated First Past the Post electoral system and ‘Make every vote count,’” said Margaret Rao, President of CUSJ . “For the first time in Canada’s 149-year history, we have an opportunity to implement real change in Canada’s democracy. Instead, we have a reform conditional on both responsible political referendum campaigning and an informed, engaged public. We should have had political leadership that wasn’t afraid to take responsibility for their own election promises instead.”

The final report of the ERRE Committee, tabled in Parliament on December 1st, recommends that Canada’s winner-take-all voting system be modified to better reflect the popular vote in election results by adding an element of proportionality. Instead, Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Democratic Institutions, falsely claimed the committee hadn’t reached a consensus and further stated, there would be no movement on electoral reform before receiving more online feedback from the Canadian public. This stalling tactic jeopardizes the promise made to the Canadian electorate to have a fair voting system in place before the next federal election in 2019.

The governing Liberals should instead, introduce legislation in the spring outlining the actual reforms to Canada’s voting system, subject to a non-binding national referendum. However, recent ‘winner take all’ polls, such as Brexit in the UK or the recent US election, suffer from many of the same problems that ‘First Past the Post’ is famous for.

“For Unitarian Universalists, this democratic reform goes to the very heart of our principles and beliefs,” said Rao. “Our faith calls us to respect the inherent worth of every person and our principles ask us to live democratically: to uphold democracy both within our communities and in the larger society. A system that continually distorts the will of the people and systematically under-represents minorities and women – one that pits regions and citizens against one another instead of encouraging consensus – is simply not compatible with our principles.”

For more information:
Margaret Rao, CUSJ President: Tel. 416-658-0998 or

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.