Incumbents in Brampton and Mississauga silent on electoral reform since Liberal u-turn in 2017
Photos Flickr-Laurel L. Russwurm/Mansoor Tanweer/Graphs Fair Vote Canada

Incumbents in Brampton and Mississauga silent on electoral reform since Liberal u-turn in 2017

In 2015, all 11 of Brampton and Mississauga’s federal ridings turned red, helping to lift Justin Trudeau and the Liberals from third party status to a majority government. No one can truly quantify the reasons individuals have for casting their votes, but four years ago one well-covered promise from Trudeau was that “the 2015 election [would] be the last federal election using first-past-the-post.” 

In 2019, voters in Brampton and Mississauga will express their electoral preference in October using the same winner-takes-all system the Liberal Party promised to scrap 48 months ago.

In 2015 Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pledged to bring in electoral reform

Following victory in 2015, Liberal discourse and urgency on the topic faded quickly. The last opportunity afforded to the people of Brampton or Mississauga on the topic of electoral reform came in 2016 — three years ago. Following his ascent to the office of Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau opted for a consultation into electoral reform, asking for public input on exactly what a new voting system should look like. 

Several town halls were held in Brampton and Mississauga to discuss the matter. In Brampton West, MP Kamal Khera conveyed a meeting on Aug. 3, 2016. On Oct. 1 of the same year, all six Liberal MPs in Mississauga held an open event at the Living Arts Centre, designed to take input and suggestions from across their ridings. The events did not end there, though, with Iqra Khalid,  then Liberal MP for Mississauga–Erin Mills, tweeting to thank the minister for democratic institutions for a visit to her constituency to talk about electoral reform, almost exactly three years ago.

Liberal incumbents Kamal Khera, above, and Iqra Khalid

All of Peel’s Liberal MPs were making the right noises on electoral reform. Then, without a fuss, they were silenced. And nothing has been heard on the topic again since.

The decision to drop moves toward electoral reform took place at leadership level in May 2017, when newly appointed Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould was told her mandate would not involve changing the electoral system. Liberal attempts to understand the will of the Canadian people were wide-ranging but the conclusions shown to the public were limited, vague or confusing. 

A study through polled 360,000 citizens on issues relating to voting reform, without asking for a preference as to voting system. That particular exercise concluded that Canadians opposed lowering the voting age and making it mandatory to vote, while also suggesting that “many Canadians simultaneously hold preferences for various attributes that are commonly associated with different families of electoral systems.” Though the final report offered interesting insights into Canadian attitudes to voting in general, the issue of electoral reform was barely touched upon. Across its 134-page length, just 39 references can be found to “electoral reform.” Equally, results drawn from local town halls seem to be limited. 

Defending the decision to drop electoral reform during Question Period in 2017, Trudeau said that there was “no clear path forward,” suggesting solutions such as a referendum would destabilize the country. 

With Mississauga and Brampton voters heading back to the polls soon, questions remain as to why such a widely covered policy was dropped so easily — and why their elected representatives clammed up. 

One person who wants answers is Pat McGrail, a campaigner with Fair Vote Canada, who lamented to The Pointer about how quickly Liberal MPs changed their tune on the issue of electoral reform. “They were all very eager to hear about  proportional representation [in 2015] and then, of course, things didn’t work out that way,” she said, expressing her disappointment. “I have now met with three MPs very recently in respect of our new campaign. As far as we’re concerned, everything went really well with the last campaign, right up until the Prime Minister put the kibosh on everything.” 

Fair Vote campaigner Pat McGrail

McGrail, who sees electing a minority government as offering the best chance at reviving the electoral reform movement, said the way Brampton and Mississauga MPs abandoned their promise was more of an indictment of the Canadian system than of individual politicians. She said: “In Canada, the nomination papers for every candidate have to be signed by the party leader, which puts them right under the thumb of the party leader. I think that’s a whole other issue, a failure of our democracy. So I am not going to point fingers at individual MPs; they all do it. When they’re told what to vote for, they all vote that way. There were two or three Liberal MPs who stood up and voted against the government on this,” but they were not in Brampton or Mississauga.

McGrail  was one of many members of the public who showed up at the Liberal Party town hall meetings on electoral reform in 2016. Though the events, she said, were often unadvertised or announced at the last minute, all were well attended. “The one in Mississauga was very well attended, with all the Liberal MPs together. They advertised that one and you had to get tickets — tickets sold out a week in advance. However, when you got there, they weren’t letting people speak on the mic. It was very restrictive.”

The Pointer reached out to some MPs who had made their voice heard three years ago, advertising town halls and meetings through social media. Ramesh Sangha (Brampton Centre), Iqra Khalid (Mississauga–Erin Mills), Peter Fonseca (Mississauga East–Cooksville), Gagan Sikand (Mississauga–Streetsville) and Navdeep Bains (Mississauga–Malton) all shared messages on Twitter in 2016 relating to electoral reform. Not one of the five MPs, all of whom are seeking reelection in October, responded to a request to comment on proportional representation or electoral reform. 

McGrail told The Pointer that, alongside her campaign for changes to the voting system in 2015, she secured a written pledge from Brampton South incumbent Sonia Sidhu, promising to work to adopt proportional representation. 

Electoral reform is not part of the Liberal platform for this election, but McGrail is persevering.  As the election looms, Liberal candidates Kamal Khera (Brampton West), Sven Spengemann (Mississauga–Lakeshore) and Khalid have all taken meetings with the passionate campaigner.

Describing Spengemann as “more or less supportive” of a proportional representation system, McGrail said Khera had been enthusiastic on the matter but had “learned how to be a politician since going to Parliament” and was careful to commit to nothing. Despite her social media posts and previous enthusiasm, Khalid, in McGrail’s view, was “a little foggy” on what proportional representation actually meant and was “clearly more focused on the election and getting re-elected.” 

Though electoral reform has not been a big part of the political discourse this election, there is still a chance the debate will reappear. The age-old defence of a first-past-the-post system is that it delivers strong majority governments. With most polls so far this election predicting a hung parliament or a small Liberal majority, that argument could soon be gone. If a Liberal or Conservative government were forced into cooperating with the Greens or the NDP to carry forward its agenda, the junior coalition partner could put electoral reform squarely back on the table. 

Until then, it seems the Liberal incumbents in Mississauga and Brampton have little or no interest in discussing electoral reform — a topic they could not talk about enough four years ago. 


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