At the last annual meeting held in January 2019, it was agreed that a special assembly should be convened on the subject of Bill 39 alone, after the expected tabling of a reform bill. Bill 39, the Act to establish a new electoral system, was made public on Wednesday, September 25, 2019. Three days later, members convened in advance and met at the St-Pierre Centre in Montreal to discuss the issue.
Initially, our president, Jean-Pierre Charbonneau reported on the financial situation and the events leading up to the current situation. Then, Jean-Sébastien Dufresne, MDN’s Director-General, outlined the highlights of the bill by comparing them with MDN’s positions and the 2017 “Every Voice Counts” tour on the same topics. During the exchange that ensued, several irritants and deficiencies were identified, thanks, in particular, to the contribution of two of our experts, Henry Milner and Mercédez Roberge. These include:
- No mention of the word “proportional” throughout the project;
- High number of electoral regions (17), which in several places minimizes the impact of the addition of compensatory MNAs;
- Prohibition of dual candidates in constituency and regional elections;
- In calculating compensation by region, only half of the elected district representatives are taken into account (premium to the winner);
- National threshold of 10% required to qualify for compensatory MNAs in a region;
- Non-binding clause on gender parity and nothing about cultural minorities.
As a result, the draft bill that was tabled tabled only very imperfectly respects the principles of the May 2018 trans-partisan agreement and will require major improvements.
We then moved on to the referendum approval mechanism, which was scheduled to take place at the same time as the 2022 general election. Our Vice-President Françoise David made it clear that the Prime Minister, François Legault, is not living up to his commitment to introduce a new method of voting in time for the next general election. Resolutions were then passed to frame the Board’s action in the coming months while giving it the flexibility to adapt actions to the existing financial situation, as well as to coordinate with our civil society partners in the “Coalition for electoral reform now!”. The members left confident for the future and at the same time aware of how far they still have to go.