Quebec backtracks on promise, no referendum on electoral reform in 2022

·2 min read
Quebec's Bill 39 lays out a mixed-member proportional representation system for the province. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Quebec's Bill 39 lays out a mixed-member proportional representation system for the province. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Quebec government will not hold a referendum in 2022 on whether to reform the province's electoral system, the minister in charge of the file said Wednesday.

Sonia LeBel told a legislative committee hearing that the bill outlining the reforms won't be passed by June, which Quebec's head of elections had given as a deadline for holding a referendum next year.

But LeBel, who is also chair of the Treasury Board, stressed that she remains committed to seeing the proposed reforms put before the public at some later point.

"A referendum in 2022 is no longer on the table," LeBel said. "But we remain convinced, at this point, that it should ultimately be submitted to the people."

The electoral reform bill, Bill 39, proposes moving Quebec from its current first-past-the-post system to a mixed-member proportional representation system.

But it also stipulates that before the new electoral system can be implemented, the public needs to approve it in a referendum — to be held at the same time as the 2022 provincial election.

LeBel blamed the pandemic for scotching that plan. "We'll see what the public health situation is in September," she said.

Circumstances or a broken promise?

Premier François Legault campaigned on the promise of electoral reform and had signed a pledge with two opposition parties — Québec Solidaire and the Parti Québécois — to change the system in time for the 2022 election.

But since taking power, Legault has progressively wavered on that promise. First, by pushing back the timeline to after the next election, then by adding the referendum condition, which Legault initially said wouldn't be necessary.

'A referendum in 2022 is no longer on the table,' Sonia LeBel, the minister in charge of electoral reform, said Wednesday.
'A referendum in 2022 is no longer on the table,' Sonia LeBel, the minister in charge of electoral reform, said Wednesday.(Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

During the committee hearings on Wednesday, PQ MNA Pascal Bérubé accused LeBel of breaking the campaign promise her party made in 2018. He said members of the government were likely rejoicing at the fact there would be no referendum.

"Nobody suggested that we use this opportunity not to go ahead with the reform," LeBel had said earlier in the hearings.

"The bill is not being abandoned. We're not giving up on our commitments," she said.

But with the 2022 referendum off the table, and the government also insisting the reform can't go ahead without a referendum, it is not clear what timeframe voters can expect.

Under the mixed-member proportional representation system outlined in the reform bill, the National Assembly would still be composed of 125 MNAs, but 45 of them would be selected from regional lists as opposed to majority vote.

Voters, in other words, would cast two ballots. One for their choice of MNA in their riding — same as the current system — and another for their choice of candidate or party in a larger regional district. These regional seats would be assigned proportionally.