The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) teamed up with Leadnow, a political advocacy organization, to hold an electoral reform town hall last Thursday.
The town hall — held in the Ryerson Student Learning Centre — was designed specifically for students to give input on electoral reform.
Following the 2015 federal election, electoral reform has been a widely discussed issue in Canadian politics. During the campaign, Justin Trudeau promised to end the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system. Since then, a House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform has been created and consultation sessions are being held across the country.
In September, Maryam Monsef, Minister for Democratic Institutions, held a consultation session at University College.
Using the information and suggestions gathered during these sessions, the goal is for these changes to take effect during the next Federal election. This timeline requires a quick consultation period so that Elections Canada has time to implement these changes.
In addition, the federal Conservative Party is calling for a referendum to take place on electoral reform — something that Monsef has argued against.
Katelynn Northam, the Electoral Reform Campaigner for Leadnow, facilitated the two-hour town hall. Presentations centred around Canada’s electoral system and alternatives to it. Small-group discussions on electoral representation and lowering the voting age followed.
Canada’s FPTP electoral system was critiqued heavily at the town hall.
Under FPTP, there is one seat to be won in each riding and whoever has a plurality of the votes wins the seat. This creates the possibility for parties to form a majority government without winning a majority of the popular vote.
Last election the Liberal Party won a majority government but received only about 40 per cent of the popular vote.
Other electoral systems discussed included various majoritarian systems, proportional representation systems, and mixed systems.
At the town hall, UTSU President Jasmine Wong Denike spoke on the importance of young people voting: “The only way to get the government to notice student issues is to actually start voting, so it’s really great that we’re here to talk about electoral reform.”
In their event description on their website, Leadnow stressed the importance of youth voices.
“Our current electoral system does not encourage political parties to work on issues that matter to young people. They say we’re an apathetic generation, but we are political and engaged in all sorts of ways, working hard to improve our communities,” a portion of the description reads.
Although the event was intended for U of T and Ryerson students, individuals from other schools and some members of the community also came out to give input and learn about Canada’s electoral processes.
Leadnow is holding another youth town hall on electoral reform at the 519 Community Centre on October 4. A report will be sent to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform following the two sessions. The Committee on Electoral Reform is expected to produce a report to the House of Commons by December 1.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Katelynn Northam’s job title was Eastern Regional Organizer. In fact, she is Leadnow’s Electoral Reform Campaigner.