Maryam Monsef's Eight Principles



Canada's Liberal government has promised to get rid of First-Past-the-Post.  But what should they replace it with?  Ranked Choice Voting? Mixed Member Proportional? Single Transferable Vote?  And more importantly, what process should they use to figure that out? Public consultation? A Citizens' Assembly? A referendum?

All these questions have fallen into the lap of Mayram Monsef, Canada's new Minister for Democratic Institutions.  At a recent event in Ottawa, Minister Monsef gave us a peek at how she's planning to approach this difficult topic.  There's a great article on iPolitics that summarises the "Eight Principles" that the Minister put forward.  Below is a word-for-word transcript of her presentation, including a few links we've added to the text. Enjoy!


Mayram Monsef, April 14 2016, iVote Symposium  (VIDEO available here)

"Let me tell you a little bit about what I’ve been up to as your Minister for Democratic Institutions.  Much like the promise I made to the people of Peterborough–Kawartha that I would do politics differently, that same principle and that same way of doing politics differently is something that I’ve brought to my mandate here.

And so I’ve actually been reading all your letters and tweets and Facebook posts and emails.  I’ve been paying attention to the editorials and the various conversations that are happening within traditional media outlets.  I’ve also been bringing together my caucus colleagues to hear from them why we need change, which I think the majority of the people – well, I guess everyone in this room agrees that we need change, but – but how to move forward and what values and principles need to anchor this process?  But I also know that this very sacred responsibility we have to not just maintain, but enhance our democratic institutions.  This is something that crosses party lines, and if we are to do this right, we need to put our interests as partisan politicians aside and do the things that we need to do with the idea that Canadians are at the heart of this.  We need to put Canadians before party interests.  

And so to that end, I hosted an all-parliamentary meeting with MPs from across party lines, but also senators who serve honourably and work very hard to achieve positive results for Canadians, and we came together in a townhall kind of style and had a conversation about just that, the reforms that we must pursue.  

There isn’t a lot of consensus out there over what particular method we ought to choose.  The research out there does not say that one system is better than the other.  Actually, the only consensus that there seems to be out there, whether it’s research or with conversations I’ve had, is that the values and principles that we appreciate as Canadians need to be the cornerstone of whatever reform we hold.

The importance of those values goes beyond ensuring that the – you know, ensuring that the changes we bring forward are changes that make sense for Canadians.  A conversation about values has the added benefit of ensuring that those Canadians who don’t normally engage in conversations about, I don’t know, a single transferable vote or mixed member proportional or first past the post, FPT, Canadians who don’t normally engage in the democratic process would also appreciate language and concepts that each one of us as Canadians, regardless of vocation or extracurricular interests hold, Canadians appreciate a conversation about values and can get engaged in that.

So we’ve been listening and we’ve been doing research and we’ve been meeting with leaders like many of you in this room, organizations who’ve been at this for years and decades to ensure that what we bring forward as your government are processes and mechanisms that engage Canadians to the fullest capacity.

Now this particular issue of electoral reform is something that I care deeply about, just as you do.  I come from a place where democracy is but a dream.  I come from a place that has a lot of potential and a lot of assets, but something is broken there, and you know, people will line up for three days and three nights, so that they can vote.  And then when the system is flawed, they’ll come back and they’ll line up again and they will vote.  And so I come from place where democracy is fragile and just budding, but a place where democracy is dreamed of and longed for.

And so to have an opportunity in this great nation to lead a process with all of you is not a responsibility I take lightly.  And so I have committed to ensuring that the process that I come forward with is a process that I’ve thought about, that is inclusive of the various voices that are already engaged in this process and is a concept and a framework that will engage those Canadians that don’t normally engage in the democratic process.

So where we have found consensus is there are some things within the current system that work, obviously.  There’s been a recent transfer of power from one party to another and there hasn’t been chaos.  There hasn’t been war.  The machine has moved forward.  I’d say that’s mostly because we have amazing public servants who make sure that things move forward, but something in the system is currently working well, but of the 30-plus OECD countries, we are one of the few that continues to hold on to first past the post.  Surely we can do better than that.

Now those principles that we walked about, they need to act as a touchstone for our objective in this whole process and values as a country and they need to guide our government’s approach when it comes to evaluating the various options that are out there for changing our systems.  There are some overarching principles that can be identified from past electoral reform experiences.  Scott Reid does a really good job of reminding me of those experiences.  And also from other countries we are a leader in many areas, but we have a lot to learn from other nations as well. 

So the first principle.  Electoral reform must ensure that Canadians perceive the outcomes of elections as legitimate.  Canadians should believe that their intentions as voters are fairly translated into election results without significant distortion that often characterizes elections conducted under the first past the post system.  This is one of those values that there seems to be consensus on.

Second, electoral reform must restore Canadians’ confidence that they can influence politics and that voting makes a meaningful difference.  It’s vital for Canadians to be engaged and to participate in the democratic process more broadly and if we do this right, this can lead to higher voter turnout.

Third, changes to the system must ensure the kind of inclusive politics that Canadians want.  This means selecting reforms that contribute to increasing civility in politics.  This means, beyond that, restoring the public’s trust in their government and strengthening representation by encouraging greater diversity in both the House of Commons and in politics more broadly.  

Fourth, reforms will likely lead to changes to how we vote, but reforms should not make the voting system overly complex.  

Fifth, changes to the voting system should be designed to making voting more user-friendly and more accessible in the broadest sense of the world.  This means reducing or limiting barriers that prevent Canadians from voting where possible, including time constraints, physical impediments and social conditions.
Sixth, changes to our voting system should take into consideration the relationship and accountability between citizens and their representatives in Parliament.  Canadians value the understanding that local MPs have of their community.  I know as an MP the love and appreciation I have for Peterborough–Kawartha is at the heart of the work that I do.  And Canadians value that connection and the incentive for MPs to discuss and resolve their concerns.  Local representation also has enabled our legislature to reflect the vast and richly diverse geographic span of our country.

Seventh, reform must protect the integrity and the security of the vote.  Canadians need to know that election outcomes are based on objective and verifiable processes that protect election results from cyber or physical tampering and ensures that the secrecy of their votes is protected.  This is particularly relevant to the conversation around online voting.

And finally, our electoral reform must fundamentally shape our democracy as one that inspires Canadians to find common ground, pursue consensus and encourage governments to cast a broad tent that seeks to include all Canadians regardless of their partisan positions.

So these are just some of the principles that are emerging in our conversations and in the research we’ve been examining so far.  We know that Canadians expect more from their MPs and more from their governments.  They want us to work together, to achieve results and to compromise and also be – be accountable to them.  They expect more from their democracy, including being able to vote for who they want rather than feeling like they have to vote strategically.

So we all agree that real change is needed.  I think we also agree that what a privilege it is for us to be able to be part of a conversation about the kind of governance we’d like to see in this country and how timely is it that we get to have this conversation around the country’s 150th anniversary, or birthday, rather.  This is – this is important, and you know, once upon a time, Canadians didn’t have secret ballots.  Once upon a time, we didn’t have a Chief Electoral Officer.  Once upon a time, young people could not vote.  Once upon a time, not too long ago, unfortunately, women, indigenous peoples were not able to vote.  

I’m sure that when those changes were made, it was not easy, but we can look back now, and you know, those reforms seem rather commonsense.  And I know that once we’re done with this journey, people will look back and say, well, of course, the system was broken and it needed to be fixed.

Now I’ve got to tell you I have an ulterior motive for being here.  I’m about to expand my conversations across this great nation.  I’ll be working with my Parliamentary Secretary the Honourable Mark Holland, who I’m so fortunate to have, but I need help on this journey.  Each of you has a wide network of individuals who have other networks.  Each of you has creative ideas about how we could engage those segments of our population who don’t traditionally vote.  Each of you is, you know, hopefully bursting to share some of those interesting and creative ideas to engage with Canadians and each of you, I hope, is hoping to make sure that the democratic institutions we live behind for our children and grandchildren are worthy of them, but also honour the sacrifices of those individuals who work so hard to protect our democratic institutions, as fragile as they are.

And so here’s my challenge to you, especially those of you who are social media savvy, engaged, or I would say addicted. ... I’m telling it like it is, folks.  My Twitter handle is @MaryamMonsef.  And I have a three and a half hour drive back to Peterborough ahead of me and so my challenge to you how do we engage those segments of our population who don’t usually engage in the democratic process to engage in this important conversation about electoral reform?  Is it Twitter townhalls?  Is it Facebook Live?  Is it door-knocking?  Is it live townhalls?  Are there organizations in this room who are already crafting and creating interesting ways of doing that?  

Share those creative ideas with me.  In the coming days, an all-party parliamentary committee will be the topic of Parliament and I’m counting on my colleagues to ensure that the motion passes quickly through the House, so that they can begin their important work around the methodology of voting.

My job is to work with Canadians and to mobilize and to ensure that every single Canadian hears about this democratic reform conversation and hopefully feels compelled to engage.

I thank you very much for inviting me here today.  This is the beginning of a series of conversations, I hope, and I look forward to all of you spamming my Twitter account in a few moments.

Thank you."

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Showing 7 reactions

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commented 2016-11-22 03:34:30 -0500 · Flag
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commented 2016-04-29 08:47:19 -0400 · Flag
There’s an element of mutual misconception here (and elsewhere).

The “principle” that the Liberals generally — and Minister Monsef particularly — have been touting in their prosecution of both government and this electoral reform project has been to ask to Canadians about their values and use the answers to inform their definition of the problems with democracy and voting that we are trying to solve.

As much as it would have been correct for the Minister to have been much more transparent about the provenance of these principles she did qualify their introduction:

<i>So these are just some of the principles that <b>are emerging</b> in our conversations and in the research we’ve been examining <b>so far</b>.</i>

And she made no bones about soliciting an expansion of the ways and means of obtaining more citizen opinion.

These are not “THE” principles… they’re simply the start.

And it is our job as citizens to make ourselves heard. This isn’t a spectator sport. The values and principles of the citizenry have not been established “long ago” by the “experts”… they are being generated right now.
commented 2016-04-26 15:41:25 -0400 · Flag
I don’t believe the Minister should be setting the list of principles. Those were well established long ago