Phase two of Democracy Guelph's charm offensive to get Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to put electoral reform back on the national menu began tonight at eBar by appealing to a necessary member of Trudeau's caucus, Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield. The official launch of Local Proportional Representation was meant to appeal beyond the audience of one though, it's a kick-off to a city-wide campaign to make push reform forward by convincing people that LPR is the best way to make it happen.
After some opening statements from members of Democracy Guelph, Longfield got a chance to address the full house in the eBar. "There are many MPs that were disappointed that we wouldn’t get to talk about electoral reform on the floor of Parliament, but events happening south of the border that took us in another direction," he said. "I love that this is happening in a way that’s not partisan and we can look at a democratic solution once it's available to us."
Message received, Longfield was ready to run with the play.
University of Waterloo Computer Science Professor Byron Weber Becker then walked Longfield, and the audience, through LPR.(You can walk through LPR yourself in the Guelph Politico article from last week.) Becker check marked all the various things that research determined were the electoral values Canadians looked to most, including: local representation, proportionality, sincere voting, accountability, collaborative governments, diverse parliamentarians, manageable parties, simplicity of voting , and no new MPs. Not only does LPR represent all those values, but Becker added that it "can be implanted by 2019 with no problem what so ever."
As to the questions from the crowd, someone who "lives out in Kellie Leitch land" part time asked how the various ridings will be grouped. "I would pawn it off on someone else," Becker said adding, "This is why we have the Electoral Boundaries Commission. This is where they come into play and I'm pretty confident that this would be handed off to them."
Many in the crowd seemed disappointed that LPR wasn't more proportional, so they were interested in the upgrade Becker had mentioned. In essence, it will add a "top up" layer of list seats in order to make the system even more proportional because while LPR improves proportionality, the first phase isn't completely proportional. The idea is to get people used to the idea by making a system that's easy for them to click with.
A woman asked if LPR is in used anywhere. No, it isn't. This is a Canadian model that uses parts of Single Transferable Vote, Mixed Member Proportional, and the idea of protecting the last MP candidate from being dropped off the ballot came from a paper written by a man in Moncton, NB. Someone also asked how local candidates would be chosen, and the answer is exactly the same as they are now.
Revisiting MMP, some people wondered how LPR might foster more diversity on the ballot. Becker said that seeing the regional ballot will encourage parties to run a more diverse slate in lieu of seeing five "middle-aged white guys" listed side-by-side. Along with diversity, Becker said that any proportional system will change the rhetoric because "parties would be more willing to work across party lines. in a proportional system. They know they will have to."
There were still some skeptics though. Some thought that LPR was still going to flow the vote to the three main parties, but Becker said that we're right now walking a tightrope between not wanting to discriminate against smaller parties and fear-mongering about fringe parties and their views. Others were concerned about potential gerrymandering of the regions, or that people will still vote along party lines, but the message Becker offered to the crowd was this was just the first step.
"My preference would be to very much have the upgraded system and the reason I'm presenting this is because we have a prayer of getting it through in the near future," said Becker to those missing a more MMP-style system. "LPR still discriminates against the Greens, not as much as First-Past-the-Post does, and that breaks my heart. But we've got Elizabeth May’s support though for the two step process."
After the Q&A, Longfield returned to the stage to offer a sign of hope. "I've talked to some MPs and they’re saying let's bring this forward and talk about it," he said, although it seems the group's ambitious plan to get this in place for 2019 is in doubt from the governmental side. Still, Longfield said he plans on bring LPR to meetings with his House colleagues soon. There's just one thing left.
"We need to hear from the citizens in a resolutely local, non-paritsan way and reach out to a broadest section of the community," David deWeerdt said. "[Longfield] needs to know that he has the support of his community to take bold steps in Parliament."
With that, all those in attendance signed the petition and many posed for a group photo. So what becomes of LPR from here on out? Stay tuned...