The federal government survey you are being asked to complete is really part of a high stakes poker game.


Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

December 9th, 2016



When did you stop kicking your dog? That question isn’t on the federal government’s survey on electoral reform. But at more than one point I was sure it was coming, as I struggled with the survey.

This online survey the federal government is asking Canadians to complete has drawn the ire from the opposition benches. Elizabeth May compared it to a dating website and was waiting for the question, ‘do you like pina coladas and taking walks in the rain’.


It is a survey at least worth looking at.

There is some speculation that the result is fixed, skewed to give the government the results it wanted.

I’ve worked a fair bit with surveys, but it was only after I’d completed this one that I appreciated the skill that has gone into developing it. There is a difference between a poll and a value-based survey – and this is the latter. The result the surveyors inferred from my responses was illuminating – everyone should try the survey.

Here is where you go to find the survey.

Mr. Trudeau has a problem of his own making. His minister of democratic institutions, Maryam Monsef, created a special parliamentary committee giving the members a mandate to recommend an alternative to our current first-past-the-post (FPP) election system. That was one of the key commitments in Mr. Trudeau’s winning election campaign.

Maryam Monsef at a town hall meeting at Mount Community Centre on Tuesday, September 6, 2016 for a meeting on electoral reform. (Photograph by Cole Burston)

Maryam Monsef the federal Minister responsible for electoral reform at a town hall meeting. (Photograph by Cole Burston)

Of course, the parties can’t possibly agree on any one system. The minority parties (NDP, Greens and Bloc) will only ever be satisfied with mixed member proportional representation, the formula that would maximize their presence in the House, While the only option which will allow the united Conservative party to form majority government again is the existing FPP.

The Liberals could live with a mixed-member proportional system, and they have also won consistently with our existing FPP system, including just last year. Still they really would like a preferential or ranked ballot, since they are the party of first or second choice for most Canadians. Elected MPs would better represent the preferences of the majority of Canadians than FPP, and the system would be easier to understand and implement than complex proportional representation.

So, given the diversity of opinion on this matter, perhaps the government expected the committee to fail. That would then open the door for it to take the initiative and move forward unilaterally. Except the minister had given majority membership on the committee to the opposition parties, thus letting the fox run the hen house. So the Conservatives took a strategic perspective and played a brilliant hand.

They bluffed. The Tories anted up to the NDP and Greens bid for a proportional system. But then they raised the bid – requiring a mandatory referendum before any change can be made. Having made sure it was all-in, they then put their cards on the table.

The committee had clearly gone beyond their mandate in recommending a referendum. So a furious minister called them on it – giving them a tongue lashing in the House. But she was bidding with a weak hand and ended up apologizing for accusing them of cheating.


And just who is holding what in the manipulating of the way we get to elect our federal leadership.

This is the adult game of poker, not go-fish. Yet, as if in a game of bridge, the Minister had been finessed. Since nobody but the Liberals are putting their money on a preferential, or ranked ballot come next election, she lost her hand. In fact she lost it to the Conservatives because the minority opposition parties (NDP, Greens, Bloc) were accepting fools’ gold instead of cold hard cash. The Tories are banking on the referendum failing. And that would leave our system exactly where it is – FPP.

But even with a successful referendum there would not be enough time to change the system before the next election in 2019. And Conservatives are gambling that the shine will have come off Mr. Trudeau by then. And perhaps with new leadership in the opposition parties they will put a dent in the powerful lead the Liberals have in popular support. That might just result in another minority government in 2019, given we’d be playing under existing house rules – FPP.

NA-TRUDEAU-EDBOARD5 The editorial board met with Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau on April 5, 2013. CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thinking through his next move.

And were the Tories to form a government again, that will be the last we ever hear of electoral reform. Just look at what they did with other Liberal policies, such as the long gun registry or public funding for political parties.

But the game is not yet over, and now it’s Mr. Trudeau’s turn at the deal.


rivers-on-guitarRay Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington in 1995.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.     Tweet @rayzrivers


Background links:

Monsef Apologizes –   Special Committee –   Referendum –    Critics of the Survey

FPP Commitment –    Electoral Reform Consultations

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8 comments to The federal government survey you are being asked to complete is really part of a high stakes poker game.

  • While this article may be confusing to readers in the U.S. two main party system (now one main party), it is an education in the inner machinations of a government which seeks to present itself as a democracy representing all constituents. For me, it strengthens my case that there are inherently upper limits to the effective function of governing a diverse population.

  • Larry

    Ray, Thanks for a reasoned article on the actual topic.
    Not sure why the conversation so far has gone sideways into an anti T rant …

    C’est la Vie – what we have is (dis)proportional dilution of the topic!

  • Hans

    I completed the survey. I thought it was of extremely poor quality and the conclusions did not reflect my attitudes anywhere near accurately. A waste of time.

  • Gary

    My primary complaint against monkeying with our political system is that the country has done very well over many decades with FPP. You know who to blame when things go south in our current system and you know what to do about it come election time. And, most importantly, you can do something about it. The Liberals should stop screwing around with this file and proposed a system that they like and see what the voters think about it in a referendum.

  • Stephen White

    I completed the survey yesterday. It was without a doubt the worst survey I have ever completed. It was confusing, ambiguous and repetitious. A high school student could have produced a better product.

    Rather than fixating on the composition of Parliament and the electoral process why not focus on how to meaningfully engage citizens between elections and ensure their views, perspectives and input are given the recognition and respect they deserve.

    Oh, sorry….that would actually require some thought and detailed analysis from our PM and his Minister. Anything more than glib superficial analysis is usually beyond this government’s limited capabilities.

  • Bill Boyd

    I take it the survey responsibles use a huge algorithm to analyze the individual’s responses then provide feedback. That itself is quite refreshing.

    Thanks, Ray.

    Bill from Virginia

  • Dale Oliver

    Seems like many of those who voted for Mini-Trudeau drama teacher are starting to have doubts, including Ray. Including the media. Good thing!! And not surprising!!

  • Byrlon Linley

    “While the only option which will allow the united Conservative party to form majority government again is the existing FPP”

    Sorry to spoil your biased position but there is, of course, one guaranteed way for the Conservatives to win the next election – regardless of which electoral system is in place.

    All that is required is for selfie boy to continue on his current path to eventual obscurity.