Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about Canadian federal electoral reform

Why does the Government want to reform the electoral system?

First-past-the-post (FPTP) is a system inherited from our past. Canadians deserve better and our government is determined to meet our commitment that 2015 was the last election to use a FPTP system.

In a multi-party democracy like Canada’s, FPTP distorts the will of the electorate. It is part of the reason that many Canadians don't engage in or care about politics. Our country is better when governments address the needs of all Canadians, including women, young people, Indigenous Canadians, new Canadians, those of lesser means, Canadians living in rural and remote parts of our nation, and people with disabilities and exceptionalities.

What impact will electoral reform have on the nature of Canadian democracy?

Electoral reform should fundamentally shape our democracy as one that inspires Canadians to find common ground, pursue consensus and encourage inclusive participation. The impact on the nature of Canadian democracy will depend on the values, needs and aspirations Canadians express during the consultations and how they believe those values should be reflected in a voting system. A broad consultation process will allow all Canadians to express their views and shape the future of their democracy.

Why is the Government simply not introducing electoral reform legislation, as opposed to having a special all-party committee study this issue?

The Government wants the views of Canadians to inform the debate on electoral reform. The all-party committee will be an open and transparent vehicle for ensuring that there are meaningful consultations with individuals, experts and organizations across Canada.

What is a special committee of the House of Commons?

The House of Commons may appoint a special committee to carry out specific studies or other tasks which the House of Commons judges of special importance. Special committees are established by a motion passed by the House of Commons which defines the committee’s mandate, and usually other provisions, including its powers, its membership and the deadline for submitting its final report. Once the special committee’s final report is submitted, it ceases to exist.

What are the key guiding principles for electoral reform?

The choice of an electoral system should be based on the values and objectives of the community it serves. Therefore, the Government wants to ensure that reforms to our electoral system are fully and fairly studied and developed through an open and transparent engagement process that is inclusive to all Canadians.

The parliamentary committee will be guided by the following five principles:

  1. Restore the effectiveness and legitimacy of the voting by reducing distortions and strengthening the link between voter intention and the electoral result.

  2. Encourage greater engagement and participation in the democratic process, including inclusion of underrepresented groups.

  3. Support accessibility and inclusiveness to all eligible voters, and avoiding undue complexity in the voting process.

  4. Safeguarding the integrity of our voting process.

  5. Preserve the accountability of local representation.

What is the composition of the special all-party committee on electoral reform?

The committee is composed of twelve (12) members of which five (5) shall be Government members, three (3) shall be from the Official Opposition, two (2) shall be from the New Democratic Party, one (1) member shall be from the Bloc Québécois, and one (1) member from the Green Party.

Why does the proposed special all-party committee include members from recognized and non-recognized parties in the House of Commons?

The proposed all-party structure of the committee reflects the desire for a process that is inclusive and moves beyond narrow partisan interests and promotes the public good. By granting voting rights to parties with non-official status, the Government is entering the electoral reform discussion with an open mind, prepared to listen to Canadians and to work constructively with opposition parties to advance Canadians' best interests.

What is the mandate of the special all-party committee?

The special all-party committee’s mandate includes:

  • Identifying and studying viable reform options and assessing each option against the five key guiding principles;

  • Taking into account the applicable constitutional, legal and implementation parameters, and seeking out expert testimony on these matters;

  • Conducting meaningful consultation with a broad cross-section of Canadians, travelling widely and making a range of input opportunities available to citizens;

  • Developing its plans and recommendations with the goal of strengthening the inclusion of women, Indigenous peoples, youth, seniors, Canadians with disabilities, new Canadians, and residents of rural and remote communities.

What will the special all-party committee be studying?

The special all-party committee will consider a wide variety of viable reform options against the five key guiding principles.

In addition to the study of viable alternative voting systems, the special all-party committee will study new modes of voting including mandatory voting and online voting.

What is the timeframe for the special all-party committee to complete its work?

The special all-party committee will issue its final report to Parliament by December 1, 2016.

What is the role of individual Members of Parliament in the reform process?

All Members of Parliament are encouraged to get Canadians involved in the debate. The special all-party committee will invite Members of Parliament to hold town halls in their ridings and report back to the committee so that the views of Canadians in all 338 electoral districts can inform the committee’s work.

How can Canadians get involved?

The all-party committee will conduct a comprehensive and inclusive consultation with Canadians by:

  • Inviting written submissions;
  • Developing digital engagement tools;
  • Holding committee hearings in different areas of the country (subject to travel and funding approval).

In addition, civil society organizations will be able to foster and engage in discussions among their communities on changes to Canada’s electoral system with the assistance of digital engagement tools and educational products. Canadians can also get involved locally as all Members of Parliament are invited to conduct consultation activities such as town halls in their respective ridings and provide a written report to the special all-party committee for its consideration.

The Government will be providing details in the coming weeks on other tools and mechanisms to engage as many Canadians as possible in this conversation, both in-person and online.

Will the special all-party committee travel across Canada? When will they be in a city near me?

The special all-party committee is empowered to hold committee hearings in different parts of the country in order to facilitate discussion and engage with a broad cross-section of Canadians, electoral reform experts and organizations. The special all-party committee will decide and publish details of its consultation process.

What is the role of the Minister of Democratic Institutions in these consultations?

The Minister of Democratic Institutions, along with her Parliamentary Secretary, will conduct significant outreach activities to complement the work of the parliamentary committee. Ministerial outreach will work to inform Canadians about the need for electoral reform and the electoral reform process. The Minister will not promote any specific changes to the voting system, but will encourage participation from all Canadians in this important discussion.

In particular, the Minister will reach out to Canadians from groups that are traditionally underrepresented or often go unheard, such as new Canadians, young people, people in rural and remote areas, people with disabilities and exceptionalities, and people from more humble socioeconomic backgrounds.

Will changing the electoral system have any impacts on the Constitution of Canada?

The special all-party committee is encouraged to seek out expert testimony concerning the constitutional, legal and implementation parameters of viable reform options. The Government is confident that multiple reform options are possible without constitutional negotiations.

Does the Government prefer a certain change to our electoral system?

The Government pledged to make 2015 the last election under the current first-past-the-post system and it is proposing that the special all-party committee study electoral reform – including preferential ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting and online voting – and assess options against the five key guiding principles that the Government has outlined. There is no consensus amongst experts as to a single best electoral system. The Government is proposing to engage all Canadians in a discussion on the balance that should be struck between different principles when it comes to changing how we vote. It is looking forward to receiving the special all-party committee’s final report and will carefully review its recommendations before deciding how to proceed with electoral system reforms.

What is the purpose of Canadian federal electoral reform community dialogues?

The Government, other political parties in the House of Commons, academics and many Canadians have recognized that Canada’s federal electoral system needs to be modernized.

Events, such as town halls and community dialogues, offer an opportunity for people to get involved and share their views on what principles and values are important to them in modernizing Canada’s federal electoral system. Find out more about how to participate in Canadian federal electoral reform consultations.

How do these events fit with the Government’s federal electoral reform plan?

Although Canada has a strong and deeply rooted democracy, we must continuously seek to improve the functioning of our democratic institutions—including modernizing our federal electoral system.

A Special Committee on Electoral Reform was established with a mandate to study workable alternate voting options, including preferential ballots and proportional representation, and mandatory and online voting at the federal level. All Members of Parliament have been invited by the Special Committee on Electoral Reform to conduct a town hall in their respective constituencies and provide the committee with a written report of the input received from their constituents. The Special Committee on Electoral Reform is required to submit its report to Parliament by December 1, 2016.

In addition to the work of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, individuals and community groups are encouraged to host their own dialogues on Canadian federal electoral reform and provide this feedback to the committee.

The feedback from Canadians, through the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, MPs, community dialogues and other engagement tools, will contribute to the Government’s approach on Canadian federal electoral reform.

What kinds of ideas can be discussed in Canadian federal electoral reform dialogues?

Canadians who participate in town halls and/or community dialogues will have an opportunity to express the values and principles that are important to them in modernizing Canada’s federal electoral system. These include how electoral reform options advance the following principles:

  • Effectiveness and legitimacy
  • Engagement
  • Accessibility and inclusiveness
  • Integrity
  • Local representation

Find out more about the guiding principles for Canadian federal electoral reform. You may also wish to check out this list of potential topics and questions for hosting a dialogue about Canadian federal electoral reform.

How can the discussions from these events be shared with the Special Committee on Electoral Reform?

Any individual or organization may submit a brief to a committee of the House of Commons. Briefs submitted to committees become part of their public archives and therefore, may be posted on the committee’s website. A list of names of the organizations and individuals who have submitted briefs will appear as an appendix to the report. General information on participating in parliamentary committees can be found on the Library of Parliament website.

Further information on submitting materials can be found on the Special Committee on Electoral Reform website.

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