The all-party Special Committee for Electoral Reform presented its report to the federal government last Thursday after a summer of touring the country to hear from Canadians, and Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen is front and centre as the committee’s vice-chair.
Their report detailed an overwhelming desire from Canadians and 200 elections experts for a proportional voting system. While not specifying which proportional model should be implemented, the report stated that many Canadians favoured a ‘mixed-member proportional system’ where riding MPs are elected the same way they are now, but additional MPs are elected regionally based on the overall country-wide popular vote and distributed based on public party lists.
The implementation of the new system was recommended to be through a national referendum to judge interest from Canadians on the new system.
Cullen lauded the process as having no partisanship elements, and said that while he heard from experts over the summer that told the committee that referendums can have unintended consequences and can be very divisive, coming to a consensus as a committee was very important.
“What we’ve said from day one is that a referendum is a legitimate way to confirm something, yet they’re hard to do well,” said Cullen last week.
“You saw with Brexit and the challenges Canada had with the referendums we underwent – constitutional ones. It can be divisive. Lies can spread easily. They’re still a legitimate tool, they just have to be handled with a great deal of respect. The primary goal for me through this whole process was to get a fair voting system and to achieve consensus with my colleagues from different parties.”
Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef also toured the country but said she found very different results than the committee, with no one system dominating among Canadians’ favourites.
“I don’t know what she’s talking about,” said the Skeena MP, adding that had Monsef actually asked the question ‘Which system do you support?’ she would have gotten the same results. “It’s a bit insulting to people’s intelligence when they issue a survey asking people do they like risk, do they like comfort, do they feel attached to the world or connected to the community,” he said.
The Liberal government has previously waned on changing the electoral system, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claiming that Canadians don’t have as much of a desire for it anymore, with the Conservatives ousted.
“It would be weird if you had a scenario where the opposition parties would agree on helping the Liberals keep their promise, but the Liberals didn’t agree on it. It’s such an upside-down scenario,” Cullen said.
“As soon as the committee has done its work, the attention will turn back to the government and the pressure will be on them to follow through on those recommendations.”
The Skeena MP was voted best orator in Parliament by his fellow MPs in a Maclean’s poll in mid-November. Cullen says he’s honoured and that his debate-centric upbringing helped.
“Let me first say that I’m disproving that award every day every time I open my mouth. Being raised Irish-Catholic is the exact equivalent to being raised in a debating society so you get a lot of practice as a kid,” he said.
“I try to talk without notes as much as possible and just speak as close to the heart and talk about the northwest and those seem to be easy guidelines for anybody standing up in an elected position.”
NORTHERN GATEWAY PROJECT
Cullen is glad to see Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project rejected.
“It’s a significant breakthrough for people in northwestern British Columbia – some of us have been fighting Enbridge Northern Gateway for more than a decade now. A lot of people … from all walks of life joined together when this threat was first proposed many years ago and today is a good day for them,” he said.
“This was a dead project. This finally finishes it off.”