Questions & Answers

How will BMP help ordinary Canadians?
BMP makes every vote more effective by ensuring more Canadians are represented in Parliament. Further, by using the Senate, BMP ensures that representation is proportional within provinces and territories, as well as nationwide. This means that local minorities across Canada get their right to representation, be they New Democratic supporters in Western Canada, Conservative supporters in Atlantic Canada, or any other underrepresented group that can build sufficient political presence.

In seeking public participation on electoral reform, the government has posed several questions asking how to assess potential changes. Here are our answers for BMP:

How could any proposed reforms strengthen effectiveness and legitimacy by better reflecting the democratic will of Canadians?
BMP means the vote of more Canadians will be considered in creating our bicameral parliament. Currently many Canadians, especially those living in “safe” ridings, feel their vote has no impact, if it is not for the eventual winner of the Commons seat. But those votes will play a role in determining the composition and members of a BMP Senate.

How could any proposed reforms foster civility, cohesion and openness in politics that will help encourage Canadians to take part?
A BMP Senate will require the Commons and the Senate to cooperate and collaborate as they craft legislation and shape Canada. This change will take time, but we expect it to foster more civility in Parliament, which will spread into civil society. Additional reforms, such as seating Senators by province, instead of in traditional Westminster opposition format, would also help.

How could any proposed reforms enhance the sense among Canadians that they can contribute to, participate in and influence politics?
A BMP Senate would give candidates a second-chance at serving Canada by being appointed to the Senate. This should encourage more Canadians to run, or to run again if previously unsuccessful. It will also give Canadians another point of contact in Parliament, since they will be able to reach out to a like-minded member of the Senate.

How could any proposed reforms support accessibility and inclusiveness for all Canadians in our diverse society?
A BMP Senate will improve the chances of candidates representing minority issues or groups becoming part of Parliament, where they can give voice to these constituencies.

How could any proposed reforms ensure that Canadians can trust election results?
A BMP Senate does not change the voting system; Canadians would cast their ballots as they always have. BMP Senators would be determined based on data from Elections Canada. The criteria and logic would be publicly available, so Canadians could check the calculations themselves. We would expect major media and electoral organizations to be following along in real-time, which would check the official results as they are released.

How could any proposed reforms affect MPs’ accountability to citizens?
MPs in the Commons would continue to serve the constituents of their riding just as they always have. Senators would have a broader constituency, consisting of all supporters in their province or territory. We think this would improve accountability of all Senators over the current situation, as citizens and the media would pay more attention to the workings of the Senate.

Here are our answers to many other questions you might have about BMP:

Is BMP just another system that further confuses electoral reform?
BMP brings something new to the table by tackling another seemingly intractable Canadian political problem: the Senate. Using it to bring balance means more Canadians get represented in Parliament. It reinvents the Senate’s constitutional requirement to provide regional balance and representation on federal issues. BMP does all these things without adding seats to Parliament or changing the voting system.

How would Senators be chosen?
Canadians would influence this based on their vote. We think the best approach—simple and direct—is to appoint the strongest finishers in the general election for each province or territory to the available Senate seats. For example, if the Purple Party earned two Senate seats in a province, then the top two unelected Purple Party candidates would be named. Similarly, an Independent candidate who finished a strong second could sit in the Senate.

Alternatively, parties could campaign on lists of candidates from which Senators would be chosen. A list can be closed—where a party chooses anyone they wish from their party—or open—where voters see each party’s list and can vote for them individually. Personally, as described above, we prefer to choose the best performers in each province or territory, which is akin to an open list (i.e. those candidates running in the election) but with voters determining the “list” order directly with their existing FPTP vote.

Will we see the same Senate residence shenanigans?
BMP will not clean up the Senate’s operations and internal rules directly, but it will add incentive to do so. New Senators with a single term to serve their region will be motivated to reform the Senate into a more respected part of Parliament.

Is a Constitutional change required to replace Senators?
Currently, incumbents serve until the age of 75. To formally change this would require amending or repealing section 29 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which would require the agreement of both houses of Parliament and several provinces (the so-called 7/50 procedure). This could take some time, but in the interim there would be significant public and party pressure on Senators to resign when the writ drops. However we do not believe it is an impediment to beginning to use BMP to change the way we select senators. A Prime Minister (PM) committed to BMP could undertake to fill all Senate vacancies as informed by BMP after the election. Other parties could commit to this as well, or not, and would be judged by the voters accordingly. It would be part of their platform on electoral reform. A truly committed PM would cede this responsibility to the Governor-General where it legally lies, while amending legislation is making its way through the provinces. A PM who reneged on this promise would face the wrath of Canadians for breaking a major campaign promise.

Is changing the Constitution impossible/dangerous/a can of worms?
We acknowledge the difficult history faced by Senate reform in the past, from Meech Lake to Charlottetown to the Harper government’s efforts. We recognise it will be challenging, but do not accept that it is insurmountable, particularly if there is public will for change.

What about existing Senators?
Some parties or candidates may vow to resign at the next election. But even if incumbents remain, the BMP system can still improve the balance of Parliament, even with as few as 20 open seats (see Appendix D). And in the event that the first election is held before section 29 of the Constitution Act, 1867, is changed, a vote for parties that support BMP would send a message to the respective provincial legislatures to pass the required resolutions.

How will Senators be appointed in Quebec?
Quebec appoints Senators to 24 regions based on the electoral districts as they existed at Confederation in 1867. This adds an extra wrinkle, which will need to be worked out, however Quebec can amend this special rule by itself under section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982. (This would also present an opportunity to address the fact that residents of northern Quebec are unrepresented in the Senate, because this area was not part of Lower Canada in 1867.)

Will incumbents declare themselves non-affiliated to avoid being counted towards their original party, thereby helping to “stack” the Senate?
Maybe – but if they sought to rejoin a party after new Senators were sworn in, they would invite public ridicule and party angst. The alternative is to identify Senators by the advising Prime Minister’s party affiliation regardless of subsequent declarations. (We’ve used this approach in Appendix D which investigates the impact of incumbent Senators under BMP.)

How will Senators caucus in a BMP Senate?
This is really a question for Senators themselves to address. But we note that Senators are already under a lot of pressure to reinvent how the Senate works, and BMP will bring new perspectives and voices. An obvious caucus grouping under BMP would be into provincial or regional groups. And imagine if the Senators sat in such groups rather than in the conventional Westminster government versus opposition ranks?

Will some provinces be stuffed with incumbents while others have more new candidates?
Yes, but that may be an advantage, as it will let Parliament evolve slowly rather than lurch to a new system. Canadians will see how their vote can shape the Senate and thus the overall proportionality of Parliament. Provinces and territories might take a more direct interest in who is representing them in the Senate, since they will now have a greater hand in creating and shaping legislation.

Is the Senate not just a rubber stamp house?
BMP will make the Senate relevant again. A broad spectrum of Senators can better provide sober second thought on behalf of all Canadians, instead of just the old parties.

Will a BMP Senate be a roadblock stopping legislation from the House of Commons?
Not if it wants to be relevant. Like other forms of proportional representation, BMP will encourage all parties and both houses to work together to craft legislation. This will take time, as parties and politicians learn to communicate and collaborate. Importantly, Commons majorities won’t be able to ram through unpopular or poorly written legislation, budgets or omnibus bills, since the government party is almost certain to be a minority in the Senate. Through analysis of past election results, we can see that the resulting BMP Senate composition would be mostly of the three largest parties in the House of Commons (see Past Election Results and Appendix B). Parties earning a small proportion of the vote would have remained a minority in the Senate.

Will parties stuff their lists with party hacks and bagmen by running them as paper candidates?
Maybe, but other parties will run strong candidates hoping for an outright FPTP win or a strong second that would send them to the Senate. Informed voters and attentive media will point this out, which will sway people’s votes. There will likely be political junkies and grassroots groups who will examine the candidates for their province or territory and draw attention to that in social and conventional media.

Will a BMP Senate be full of fringe parties?
No. Even without a threshold, a small party or even an independent would need about 1% of the vote to possibly win a Senate seat in Ontario or Quebec. But a province with fewer seats has an inherent threshold that is a function of the quota for that province. In fact you will need more than 2% of the vote to guarantee a seat in Alberta or British Columbia, and 5% in four more provinces, almost 8% in Newfoundland and Labrador, and more than 12% in Prince Edward Island. The territories, with just one Commons and one Senate seat each, will not see a “fringe” candidate unless he or she has a lot of popular support, in which case he or she deserves a seat to represent those Canadians. Regardless, the simulations run to-date show just two “Other” Senators in a BMP Senate (see Appendix B, specifically for 2000 and 2004). These two examples notwithstanding, it is generally expected that a more proportional system will lead to more votes for smaller parties and therefore a few members of new parties finally representing small but dedicated constituencies. That said, a threshold could be imposed, or perhaps provinces could work with Elections Canada to set their own thresholds (see Appendix C for further discussion).

Will BMP lead to minority governments?
Since BMP would not change the way the Commons is elected, we may still frequently have majority governments. But as voters understand how much more their vote counts, we anticipate less strategic voting. This suggests we are less likely to see wild swings of the throw-the-bums-out variety. Like all forms of proportional representation, we may see weaker majorities and more minorities or coalitions. However the more important result for Canadians is that the governing party in the Commons will have to reach across the aisle and over to the Senate to craft legislation that can pass both houses. Thus, BMP provides more stable governments than PR systems that only use seats in the Commons to achieve proportionality.

How will by-elections work?
By-elections for vacated seats in the Commons would be unchanged. Vacancies in the Senate need some thought. The simplest option would be to appoint the next available candidate from the appropriate party list (whether party-built or based on election results). This may become challenging if it happens several years later. Some criteria could be set, after which the seat would lie vacant until the next election. Other options could be to ask the party that held the seat to nominate a replacement, or to ask the Governor General to appoint a replacement, as is already his or her responsibility (although currently it is, by convention, on the recommendation of the sitting Prime Minister).

Why not just have an elected Senate?
A Senate elected in the same fashion as the Commons would be simple duplication and defeat the purpose of an independent house. A Senate could be elected in a different way, such as by proportional representation (e.g., as in Australia), but Canadians seem reluctant to change their voting system, despite growing awareness of the weaknesses in and alternatives to FPTP, and being displeased with the current Senate. BMP addresses these concerns by making the Senate a proportional house, informed by the same voting system we have always used.