June 5, 2016 10:18 am

Electoral reform referendum impossible under current rules: ex chief electoral officer

A referendum on electoral reform isn’t possible under current Canadian laws because it is not a constitutional issue, says former Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley.

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The opposition Conservatives have been calling loudly for a referendum on electoral reform, but Canada’s former chief electoral officer says they had better take a closer look at the rules.

“You can only hold a federal referendum in Canada on a constitutional matter. And changing the electoral system is not a constitutional matter,” Jean-Pierre Kingsley told the West Block’s Tom Clark.


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That creates something of a quandary for anyone who thinks Canadians should be allowed to vote on if, and how, our electoral system might change. A referendum would require a tweaking of the very rules that govern referendums, Kingsley said.

While it might not be the most exciting topic for most people, he added, the various ways we could vote in the future is something Canadians need to study up on.

“I think that Canadians have to be educated, have to take the time to be educated, what are the different systems and what will they get us?” he told Clark.

WATCH: Tom Clark explains why each federal party favours a different voting system

The electoral reform debate got bogged down in procedural issues for days recently as the Opposition blasted the Liberals for stacking the committee of MPs that will study the issue with members of their own caucus.

The government backtracked last week, agreeing to a more balanced committee and giving members from the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party a vote.

READ MORE: Under fire from opposition, Liberals surrender majority on electoral reform committee

The committee’s work is just the first step, however. After it makes its recommendations to the government, there will still need to be an electoral reform law drawn up and passed. Then Elections Canada will actually need to go about implementing the changes.

Kingsley wouldn’t give a firm answer on his preferred voting system, but noted that the current first-past-the-post method does have its drawbacks.

“A goodly number of Canadians have said 39.5 per cent of the votes gives you 54 per cent of the seats … just like before it was 39.6 that got the Conservatives a majority government,” he said. “A lot of people are starting to feel this is not jelling. There’s something happening that is not OK.”

— Watch the full interview above.

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