As Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government took its first step in overhauling the country’s electoral system, a new poll suggests nearly three-quarters of Canadians say any changes should be put to a national referendum.
The poll, conducted exclusively for Global News by Ipsos Public Affairs, found 73 per cent of respondents “agree” (37 per cent strongly/36 per cent somewhat) that the Liberals shouldn’t make any changes to the country’s voting system without a national referendum first.
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“It seems that there is a consensus view that if we’re going to make major changes it probably needs to go to a referendum,” said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos.
“There seems to be this view that any significant change to the system requires some sort of consent from the public, and that simply having a mandate and winning an election isn’t enough.”
While every province was in agreement on the referendum issue, Albertans (80 per cent) were most likely to agree to a referendum. Quebec was the least likely to agree with 62 per cent.
Seventy-six per cent of B.C. and Ontario residents agreed with the statement, while 75 per cent of those surveyed in Saskatchewan and Manitoba were in agreement. Atlantic Canada residents reflected the national average at 73 per cent.
“There is a lot of public support for a [referendum], so you would have to have a pretty compelling reason not to have one,” said Bricker.
Conservative MP Scott Reid said the results of the poll reflect Canadian values that have been held since the 1992 Charlottetown Accord.
“Canadians since that time have simply accepted and deeply internalized the belief that no fundamental change should occur to our political system without the approval of the Canadian people.”
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During the 2015 federal election, the Liberals pledged it would be the last under the first-past-the-post system after securing a majority government with 39.5 per cent of the popular vote, roughly the same share of the popular vote as Stephen Harper’s Conservatives received in 2011.
Critics of the first-past-the-post system say it silences the voices of millions of voters because it ignores everyone who didn’t vote for the winner in their riding.
When it comes to referendums, Canada has had only three federally. However provinces like British Columbia and Prince Edward Island in 2005, and Ontario in 2007 have held referendums on whether to change their voting systems, and in each case opted to keep the status quo.
Last week, Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef unveiled the long-awaited special all-party committee on electoral reform that will how make recommendations on how the voting system might be changed (to preferential ballots or proportional representation, for example).
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The Conservatives have consistently said electoral reform should not proceed without a referendum.
“When it comes to changing the way we vote now more than ever Canadians need to have the final say,” Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer said in the House of Commons Friday, before calling on Monsef to commit to holding a referendum.
In response, Monsef said the government “will go out of our way to ensure Canadians have the first and final say in how we conduct our electoral reform.”
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Last Thursday, Monsef argued in the House that by consulting Canadians using a variety of methods, including town hall meetings over the next few months and online tools like social media, the government will be able to gain insight from “those who aren’t normally included in this conversation.”
NDP MP Nathan Cullen told The West Block the Liberals should have created a more balanced committee as they hold 60 per cent of the seats, but looks forward to working with all parties on the issue.
But do Canadians want actually want change when it comes to how they vote?
The poll found 52 per cent of Canadians “disagree” (15% strongly/37% somewhat) that “Canada’s election system works fine as it is” while 48 per cent agree (16% strongly/32% somewhat) that the current system works well.
“Interestingly enough the places where they are divided on whether or not we need to do anything are the places that were among the least likely to vote for the Liberals, like Alberta for example,” said Bricker.
Global News reached out to the NDP for comment but did not get a response at the time of publication and we will update this story if they respond. The Liberal Party refused to comment on the poll.
Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos.” This poll was conducted between May 18 and May 20, 2016 , with a sample of 1,005 Canadians from Ipsos’ online panel and is accurate to within +/ – 3.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
— With a file from Monique Muise