Today, our Government announced that we will not proceed with the critical issue of electoral reform. I know this will disappoint many residents in the riding and in particular some who may have cast their ballot focused on this issue.
Over the last year, Parliament worked very hard to find a way forward. We engaged in an unprecedented dialogue with Canadians through town halls held by many of my colleagues, an on-line survey, and a House of Commons Committee that travelled extensively. I also held a consultation at City Hall in Spadina-Fort York and had numerous meetings with engaged and passionate residents on this issue. I would like to thank all who participated and I know you will stay engaged and remained committed to dialogue on this issue and hopefully others.
For advocates of particular types of voting reform, and in particular the Mixed-Member-Proportional system, I understand your disappointment and as an elected representative I recognize that our government will not be fulfilling a commitment made to you in the last election. It was not a campaign pledge abandoned without effort to achieve Parliamentary consensus, nor is it a move we are making in isolation or taking lightly.
An evaluation of outstanding, emerging and unexpected challenges as well as the existing legislative calendar in front of the House of Commons, requires our government to set defined pathways for critical legislation. Across a series of portfolios, that agenda includes many serious files that must fit through a compressed legislative schedule. Despite significant investments by the federal government, the health and social crisis afflicting aboriginal youth continues and has tragic implications if more focus is not applied. Global political volatility and unpredictability is increasing and it too requires our government’s increased attention. The situation facing the traveling public, and of course refugees in the past week, clearly highlights the necessity to position our government to respond to quickly to very sensitive issues. The tragic violence witnessed in Quebec City also shows how important it is to remain focused on striking the right balance between civil rights and public safety as we review and make changes to Canada’s national security laws and policies and in particular reforming C-51 with a robust public process. The horrific incident reminds us of how much work we have to do combating hate and racism in Canada. This too will require the attention of Parliament.
The Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform made recommendations on how to proceed. Proportional representation was prescribed as the general way forward, but there was no exact system or format presented. Equally, the call for a referendum created additional complexities. The idea of a potentially divisive and necessarily time consuming referendum would have challenged an incredibly vital, complex and crowded legislative agenda. Our government had to prioritize issues and this is the decision that was reached. I respect that the elected opposition of the House have defined and principled but also different positions on the question of electoral reform. It is not clear that a compromise was possible, nor was there a quick way to proceed. In addition, while we heard a wide range of opinions from Canadians, there is no clear public consensus on an alternative voting system for Canada.
Governments must be accountable for the platforms that they run. But, it is essential that as circumstances change, opposition is clarified, policy is examined, public consultations report back, and new priorities emerge, governments must also be flexible. I would argue good government and a healthy democratic process must always be prepared for the possibility that priorities and campaign promises are subject to re-evaluation. This is a critical component of parliamentary democracy. We will be held accountable by our voters and the opposition, now and ultimately at election time. This is our system. We are not pretending that we have broken a promise. This is the explanation why.
Today’s decision does not mean democratic reform is stalled. As I have said at public meetings and expressed to residents consistently, there is more to democratic reform than just the question of how we vote. Reforming how Parliamentary Committees do their work, changing the appointment process for federal agency boards and commissions, reforming how Senators are appointed, and a program of extensive public consultations, are all areas where our government has made considerable progress and where more work can and will be done. Additionally, we have already introduced legislation to repeal undemocratic elements of the previous government’s Fair Elections Act. We will continue to move forward with other measures to strengthen our democracy, including increasing transparency in political fundraising and protecting our democratic institutions from cyberattack. These priorities are, in fact, central to the mandate letter of the new Minister of Democratic Institutions, the Honourable Karina Gould. This will build on the other measures we have taken to reform the Elections Act, including reinstating the independence of the Chief Electoral Officer amongst other reforms.
On a personal note, I first sought a seat in Parliament for a very specific reason. I have been clear, that above all else, that the creation of a national housing strategy is my top priority as an elected office holder. In my view, no other issue, no other challenge, is more important to Toronto or Canada. No issue is more important to me personally. This remains the work I am focused on. It is the issue I am dedicated to. This Parliament must and will deliver on this file.
The Prime Minister has just appointed me as the Parliament Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development (Housing and Urban Affairs), and I serve Minister Jean-Yves Duclos in this capacity. He, in turn, has just named me as Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Homelessness. In this role, I will lead a consultation and recommend new policies for dealing with the situation endured by far too many Canadians. It is a huge honour and an important task.
As stated at the start of this letter I respect the principled and passionately held views of Spadina-Fort York residents and others on this issue. I recognize that there is more you wish to say on this topic, and you might have more questions for me. As always, I look forward to engaging in conversation.