Leadnow at the Electoral Reform Committee

Leadnow was invited to present to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform on August 30th, 2016. Here's a video of the opening remarks we delivered on behalf of the Leadnow community. The information in our speech was gathered from a survey of the community conducted on August 23rd and 24th. 

In mid-August, when we received the invitation to present at the electoral reform committee, we knew it would be an amazing opportunity to bring your voices directly to Ottawa. To prepare, we sent out a quick survey to our entire community. Over 10 000 people participated, and this is what we found:

  • 85% of Leadnow members prefer the family of proportional representation voting systems to other systems like first-past-the-post or Alternative Vote. No clear preference for a type of PR system was expressed.
  • The Leadnow community was more split on the questions about online, mandatory and lowering the voting age:
    • Online voting: 46% in favour, 35% against, 19% unsure
    • Mandatory voting: 40% in favour, 44% against, 16% unsure
    • Lowering the voting age to 16: 40% in favour, 46% against, 14% unsure
    • Respondents under 30 were much more likely to support both online voting and lowering the voting age.
One MP told us that we were the first committee witness to survey our membership before coming to the committee, and they appreciated having that insight into what our community thinks. It felt powerful to be able to honestly tell the committee that thousands of people are calling for fair voting, and that we expect to see the government follow through on their promise to make every vote count. 

Now that the committee is hitting the road over the next month, we'll be following up with you very soon about how you can attend a committee stop in your home province and get a chance to speak directly to the MPs who will be making a recomendation on how we should update our broken voting system. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to present to the electoral reform committee on your behalf! 

Have comments? Send them directly to Katelynn at [email protected]

Did you love this speech? Consider chipping in $5, $10 or $15 to the campaign now so we can get as many people as possible out to electoral reform consultations in September and October.



Thank you to the committee for inviting me to be here today and thank you for taking your summer to work on this important and challenging issue. I’m the campaign lead for electoral reform at an organization called Leadnow. We represent hundreds of thousands of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. About 19 000 of our members live in one of your ridings. What our members have in common is that they want Canada to have a fair economy, a safe climate, and an open democracy.

Leadnow is fundamentally a member-driven organization, which is to say, we always start from what our community thinks is important, and then we work to bring their voices to the people with the power to make a difference on those issues. So I’m here today to do just that - not to speak as myself, but to speak on behalf of thousands of people who think it’s absolutely vital that Canada replace its first-past-the-post electoral system with some form of proportional representation.

To put together this presentation we surveyed our community to make sure we were representing them accurately. Nearly 10 000 people responded to our call out for input and they wanted us to share a few key messages with you today.

I just want to start by reminding us all of what it is we’re solving for. The Leadnow community strongly believes that first past the post is a broken voting system. It does not allow people to adequately and fairly express their preferences, and that, in turn, takes away power and choice from voters. It makes elections a game of riding by riding math and strategy. This is an issue that impacts our relationship to our democracy. It impacts one of our most basic rights as Canadian citizens, and it shapes our relationship to our elected representatives. It makes it difficult for people to accurately and fairly express what they really want at election time.

So the fact that millions of people at each and every election cannot effectively exercise that right is not something to be taken lightly. It’s not an unfortunate side-effect – it’s something that affected 9 million people in the last election.

And Canada is quite simply behind the times when it comes to having a modern voting system. We are, one of the only OECD countries that still uses first-past-the-post, but we are also the only one that uses it at all three levels of government. We are outliers using a fundamentally unfair and unjust way to run elections, and that needs to change.

A little context now: Leadnow’s involvement in democratic reform didn’t start with the election of this new government. We’ve been working hard to improve Canadian democracy since our founding in 2011. Over the years we’ve held hundreds of events, meetings and consultations where the topic of electoral reform has come up time and again. We’ve made thousands of phone calls, knocked on thousands of doors and stood in the snow and canvassed until our pens froze in the interests of getting us to this moment where we have an opportunity for change. Our campaign for proportional representation is called Vote Better, and over 24 000 people have signed on in support so far. A solid ? of these numbers have come from volunteers talking to people on the sidewalks, at summer festivals and on their doorsteps, and listening to their stories about why we need a fairer way of electing parliamentarians.

The reason we’ve done this is simple - our community believes, as I know everyone in this room also agrees, that having an open and transparent democracy is absolutely foundational to being able to move forward and address the really big pressing issues of our time. We need a democracy that is fair, inclusive and collaborative.

Some of you might also be aware that we have in the past run a strategic voting campaign and also the election before that advocated for inter-party cooperation. We did so because our community was frustrated by the distorted results produced by FPTP.  Our preference would be that people don’t have to work around FPTP’s pitfalls in order to express what they want. Strategic voting, as you know, happens when voters vote for who they think can win instead of who they want. It happens when people are afraid to vote for their first choice lest it split the vote and empower their least favourite choice. Canadians have been doing it for a long time, but without good local information, they are often guessing at what the most strategic choice is. Expressing your true preferences and seeing that preference reflected in an outcome should not require strategy or access to polling information.

We believe this frustration with FPTP is commonly felt. I personally spent a lot of time going door to door for our election campaign in various ridings around Ontario. I did not encounter many people who were unfamiliar with the tough choices that first-past-the-post forces voters to make. Should they vote with their hearts and accept that it may split the vote in their riding? Or should they vote for the candidate they think is most likely to win? Should they bother to vote at all if the conclusion seems forgone?

And we know that first-past-the-post can lead to big changes in the power structure of Parliament even when the popular vote doesn’t change much. You see situations where parties increase their share of the popular vote only moderately but make huge gains in seat count due to how their votes may be concentrated in key swing ridings. This can have the impact of propelling parties into majority governments without a majority of the vote, which as we know gives a party an enormous amount of power. It also means voters in those key swing ridings get more attention than voters in ‘safe’ ridings. These are symptoms of a broken voting system in action.

Democracy is not a finished product, but something that we have to constantly refine. Fortunately, one of the many things we have going for us here in Canada is that we are a country full of people who believe in democracy. Leadnow is full of such people. This room is full of such people. So the question then becomes - what’s the next step?

When asked this question, the Leadnow community overwhelmingly told us they want to see PR replace FPTP (85% on the recent survey), because it’s the only way to address the fundamental flaws with FPTP.

We’ve prepared a brief that you should have in front of you which has some more detailed reasons why laid out quite clearly. I also believe many of the electoral reform experts before this panel have ably represented PR’s benefits, so we will just summarize the things that are most important to the Leadnow community.
  • Firstly, it’s fair. First-past-the-post is what’s known as a ‘winner-take-all’ system. It gives the people who did not vote for a winner no voice. It also creates wild distortions in seat count, to the point where governments often receive majorities without a majority of the popular vote. PR would make every vote count, and gives voters greater choice without having to resort to strategic voting. Whether you are a Conservative in downtown Toronto or an NDP voter in rural Manitoba, you deserve to have your voice heard.
  • Secondly, it’s diverse and inclusive. Proportional representation systems are shown to improve representation of women and traditionally marginalized groups. It would also help to prevent parties from focusing only on the regions of the country which are seen as winnable, and instead produces policy that considers the entire nation.
  • Thirdly, it’s collaborative. It would make politics less of a zero-sum game and force parties to work together across party lines to address the big issues of our time. Our community has said that they are tired of the adversarial nature of politics and want governments that take the time to compromise and craft solutions that will stand the test of time rather than spending their time undoing or amending previous policy decisions by past governments.
I would end by relaying the appreciation and thanks of our community for taking on this issue. As I said earlier, I believe that we all share common values of appreciation for democracy and we all want to do what we can to be more inclusive of everyone. We know that changing our electoral system would be a big step. You’ve been hearing a lot of different arguments over the last few weeks and you’re about to hit the road to hear more. But the Leadnow community believes that this is the time to be bold. This process has opened an amazing window of opportunity to leave a lasting legacy and give Canada an improved electoral system. The truth is that we lag behind the rest of the world in using an unfair and unsophisticated voting system to try to represent a population that is growing increasingly more diverse. It isn’t meeting the challenges of representing everyone’s voice, and that has impacts on real people. It’s not just an abstract question of which system is best, but a question of whether we want to be committed to ensuring that everyone is included in our democracy. And the evidence is clear that PR is the best way to rectify this problem.

I want to end with a quote from one of our community members from Toronto, who wanted us to share this message with you:

“Political systems evolve. Let us not assume or be lulled into the belief that our system is a static and "finished; done" project. Rather, let us always and continually find ways --- sometimes small; sometimes major --- to better manifest democracy and representation. Let us never fear new ideas. Our current system has shown its flaws; it would be irresponsible to not try something new now.”