– Members of Parliament will vote this week on a controversial Motion that would, if passed, reopen the debate over abortion in Canada. Local MP Scott Reid held a riding referendum – his sixth – to give every eligible voter in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington the opportunity to voice their vote. As with his past referendums, Mr. Reid has vowed to respect the decision of the people, and will vote according to the majority of ballots cast by his constituents.
“I have always believed that people, not politicians should make decisions on the most important issues,” stated Mr. Reid. “That’s why I’ve held this referendum, and five others since I was first elected in 2000.”
The question was whether or not Mr. Reid should vote in favour of Motion M-312. Motion M-312 is considered by some people to be contentious because, if passed, it would reopen the debate on abortion.
“I have always promised to ask the people whom I represent in Parliament – the residents of this constituency – how I ought to vote on critical issues,” stated Reid. “I asked the folks who live in our area for their honest opinion on this motion, and I will vote according to the majority of votes cast in this referendum.”
Last month, each household in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington received a copy of a publication outlining the issue. Included were arguments from public figures on both sides of the issue, as well as advocacy websites that can be browsed for more information.
The publication included an official ballot to be sent to Scott Reid by mail, postage-free.
Mr. Reid commented stated that he will be receiving and tallying any more ballots he receives right up until the day of the vote. But because the result is unlikely to change, he has announced that he will be voting against Motion M-312.
This will represent Mr. Reid’s sixth riding referendum since he was first elected in 2000. He has always voted according to the will of the majority of votes cast – even if it has meant voting against the rest of his caucus colleagues.
How did the Constituency Referendum on Motion M-312 work? Every household in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington was sent a single flyer in August, each containing four ballots. Eligible voters were invited to answer the question: “Should Scott Reid, MP vote FOR the Motion M-312?” The flyer included an explanation of Motion M-312, along with prominent arguments for and against the bill. The actual mailing of the flyer is conducted by Canada Post, and is handled as “unaddressed” mail – so that every household receives a copy, rather than individual constituents. As correspondence to Members of Parliament can be sent postage-free, constituents who participated in the referendum did not have to affix a stamp to their reply.
How did you ensure the process would be impartial? Scott Reid has designed his ballot forms, for this referendum and for previous referenda, on the model of the impartial voter information booklets that are mailed to voters in state referenda in Washington State, California, and Switzerland.
Why were voters asked to include their name and address on each ballot? Respondents were asked to include their address and the names of each participating voter on their ballot, so that it could be confirmed that each vote originated from within the constituency and from an individual eligible to vote in elections (as per the Elections Canada list of electors). The contents of each individual ballot has been kept in strict confidence, the ballots have been kept in a secure location, and every ballot will be destroyed following the House of Commons vote.
What were the rules for the Constituency Referendum? The following rules were contained on the ballot form: VOTING RULES:
1) One vote may be cast, per REGISTERED VOTER in each household.
2) Ballots will be reviewed against the Final Voter’s List for the 2011 election. If more votes are cast than the number of voters residing at that address, all of the votes will be considered spoiled. (However, there is no requirement that all voters residing at an address participate, in order for the ballot to be counted).
3) In order to prevent multiple voting, please give your name(s) and address below. By law, your information cannot be divulged to anyone. For further security, the ballots will be destroyed after the vote on Motion M-312.
4) The results of the referendum will be made public prior to the vote in the House of Commons.
How did you determine which votes were spoiled or ineligible? Some were invalid due to voter ineligibility (out-of-riding address, no address). Others were invalid because it was not possible to determine the voting intention of the voter(s). (For example, some voters failed to mark either a “Yes” or a “No”.)
Isn’t a constituency referendum an extra cost for the taxpayer? Every Member of Parliament is permitted to send four “householder” mailings to their constituency per year, as the costs are already provided for by parliamentary budgets. Most MPs use this allocation to send calendars or holiday greetings to their constituents. As a means of giving his constituents a greater say in issues facing Parliament, Scott Reid has chosen instead to use some of his householder allotments to ask voters how he should vote on specific issues.
What other constituency referenda has Scott Reid conducted in the past? The vote on M-312 is the sixth constituency referendum that Scott Reid has launched since his election in 2000.
The first referendum, in August 2001, asked constituents whether Scott should opt out of a proposed $21, 000 MP pay raise, or opt in and give the money to charity. 83% of respondents directed Scott Reid to opt in and give the raise to charity. Scott Reid has followed up by donating $21, 000 for CPR training and the purchase of defibrillators for local emergency services, each year since 2001.
The second referendum, in October 2001, asked constituents how Scott Reid should vote on Bill C-5, the Species at Risk Act. 65% of participants voted to support the bill, and he accordingly voted in favour of the bill at Third Reading.
The third referendum was conducted in November 2001, and asked voters whether or not Scott Reid should support Bill C-36, the Anti-Terrorism Act. 73% of respondents directed him to vote against the bill, which he did when the bill came to Third Reading in Parliament.
The fourth referendum took place in October 2002, asking constituents their opinion on the Electoral Boundary Commission’s decision to alter the federal constituency boundaries. 84% of respondents voted to maintain the boundaries of Lanark County within the riding, and 79% voted to include Smiths Falls in the same electoral district as Lanark County. Scott Reid presented these results to the Commission, requesting its decision reflect the stated views of his constituents. When the Commission ignored the request to keep Lanark County united, Scott Reid petitioned to overturn the decision. He has pledged to continue to work to re-unite Lanark County within a single electoral district.
The fifth referendum took place in 2005, asking voters whether or not Scott Reid should support the traditional definition of marriage. 9,176 voters participated at the time. 80% were opposed to the redefinition of marriage and 20% were in favour of the redefinition of marriage.