South Surrey-White Rock MP Dianne Watts and Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag

Electoral reform subject of forum in South Surrey

Voters in Semiahmoo Peninsula rejected provincial change in 2009

Reforming Canada’s electoral system – a key Liberal commitment in the last federal election campaign – will be the subject of a town hall meeting Wednesday in South Surrey.

The forum is being organized by the South Surrey-White Rock Federal Liberal Association. Gary Mullins, vice-chair of the association’s policy committee, said it’s a non-partisan event, offering people a chance to learn, ask questions and comment on alternative electoral systems.

“We’ve got a consultative process happening in Canada right now, which involves all political parties. We want to have our presentation and our relationship with those who are reflecting that pan-Canadian view.”

In June the House of Commons created the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. It’s been tasked with identifying and conducting a study of viable alternate voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system. It’s also examining ideas of mandatory voting and online voting.

“Changes to Canada’s electoral system may be as important to Canada’s long-term future as has been the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is an important issue for all Canadians,” said Mullins.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post system. He has also promised that within 18 months of forming government, the Liberals will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.

His Conservative rivals, including South Surrey-White Rock MP Dianne Watts, insist Canadians should have the final say in a referendum.

“Canada is one of the most stable and admired democracies in the world. Any change to what our vote means can only be made with the consent of the people,” according to a post on Watts’ website.

Watts’ legislative assistant Alla Drigola said the MP had preliminary plans for a “community conversation” meeting on the topic, but that it has been postponed temporarily due to constraints of Watts’ current schedule.

Mullins, a South Surrey resident, said electoral reform hasn’t been on the forefront of people’s minds over the summer months, but will very much be an issue this fall. Among concerns voters have expressed with the current system is that members of Parliament can be elected with a relatively small percentage of popular support in their riding, he noted.

“The fact it’s an issue that pops up frequently and over several decades, is an indication I think that it is significant,” he said.

Next week’s town hall meeting will offer a presentation on electoral alternatives, followed by a discussion with John Aldag, MP for Cloverdale-Langley City and a member of the electoral reform committee.

In a statement provided to Peace Arch News by email, Aldag said his committee has already heard a wide range of opinions.

“Our witnesses have included renowned scholars, experienced politicians and civic action groups, with specialized briefs and feedback coming from all corners of the country. It has been particularly interesting to hear compelling accounts of many different systems, as many people feel strongly about what constitutes the best change, and all are driven by sincere desires to improve Canadian democracy.”

Aldag said the committee will hold public hearing sessions across Canada this fall, including a Sept. 28 hearing in Vancouver – the only such hearing scheduled for the Lower Mainland.

Canadians are also welcome to participate by offering feedback online through a 30-minute “e-consultation” session at tinyurl.com/hhzc8x3

Voters in B.C. have considered reforming the provincial electoral system in two separate referendums. In 2005, 58.7 per cent of voters in Surrey-White Rock voted to change to the B.C. single-transferable vote voting system. But in 2009, just 34.6 per cent of voters in the riding cast ballots in favour of changing the system.

The town hall meeting is scheduled for Sept. 14, 7-9 p.m. at Rotary Fieldhouse, 14600 Rotary Way, in South Surrey Athletic Park. All are welcome to the free and open event.

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