This Canadian electoral reform survey is pretty pathetic

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If you haven’t had your intelligence insulted lately, you might try one of those online quizzes like “What Do You Really Need in Your Life Right Now?” or “Which ‘Lord of the Rings’ Villain Are You?”

Or you could try the federal government’s MyDemocracy.ca online survey. The chances are good, however, that you’ll decide it’s not something you “really need in your life right now.” So in an effort to save you from a little wasted time, I’ll break it down for you.

Remember when Justin Trudeau said the last election, which he went on to win, would be the last under the “first-past-the-post” system of winner-take-all? Well, it turns out that he’s not so gung-ho now that the old system gave him a majority government. He continues to give lip service to the idea, but the minister he put in charge of the file can barely mask her fear that some actual reform might happen. That’s why Maryam Monsef rejected a report by a Commons committee where all four opposition parties — Conservatives, New Democrats, the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois — agreed that a form of proportional representation should be submitted to Canadians via referendum.

Getting such a wide array of parties to agree is no small accomplishment, which is no doubt why Trudeau signed off on letting the opposition parties hold the majority of votes on the committee — he never expected them to come together. But when they did (after the Greens and NDP dropped their opposition to a referendum), the Liberals on the committee got frostbitten feet and rejected the majority report. Then his minister, Monsef, criticized the committee for not doing things she hadn’t asked them to do (it’s okay to scratch your head) in a performance that one Toronto Star columnist generously described as “mind-bogglingly stupid, and dishonest and cynical.”

Monsef was trying to clear the decks for the next step in the Liberal charade, the pointless MyDemocracy survey, which combines elements of “push polling” (framing questions so they point respondents to a preferred response) with confusingly vague statements that are supposed to magically produce a clear picture of “Canadian values.”

Here, let me show you.

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“Voters should be able to express multiple preferences on the ballots, even if this means that it takes longer to count the ballots and announce the election results.”

Is the question about proportional representation or the mechanics of vote counting? There are all sorts of democratic principles that can result in slower vote counts, such as allowing independent candidates on the ballot, allowing party representative to double-check each ballot as it is opened, keeping polls open late, etc. Since when has the speed of the vote count been seen as a legitimate reason to limit democratic principles? It’s clear that the way the question is formulated is  intended to weaken support for alternative voting systems.

“Which would you prefer: Having many small parties in Parliament representing many different views OR having a few big parties that try to appeal to a broad range of people.”

Again, this is a question designed to push people to the preferred option, the status quo. “Do you prefer chaos or cushiony softness?”

“There should be parties in Parliament that represent the views of all Canadians, even if some are radical or extreme.”

Subtext: Proportional representation will allow loonies on the Hill.

Survey items dealing with voting age or mandatory voting are free from such value statements, however. When they ask if you support fining people who don’t vote, they don’t add “even if this will disproportionately affect younger, lower-income, immigrant-background and less-educated portions of the population.”

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What’s the point of the survey, then? Obviously, portions of it are intended to prove Monsef’s oft-repeated claim that there is no consensus among Canadians on an alternative to the status quo. The survey itself only adds to the confusion, pointedly avoiding any direct questions about the electoral elephant in the room: proportional representation.

Other parts, especially the ones offering vague value statements about the party system and how parties work together, are meaningless as long as they are divorced from any concrete proposals for change. When the survey asks if you agree the government party should “negotiate” with other parties to form policy, for example, it offers no insight into how this would be done. When it questions whether MPs should be beholden first to their party or their constituents, it fails to acknowledge that party discipline is not a function of how Parliament operates, but of how parties do.

Should Canadians participate in the survey?

Only if they want to see how little regard the Liberal government has for their intelligence and how willing it is to waste taxpayers’ time answering questions that are only marginally more useful than, “If you were an appliance, which one would you be?” ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.

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