The Liberal government's online survey on electoral reform is getting trashed by opposition MPs and critics as a wasteful exercise that leads to misleading findings and is ripe for abuse.
Government officials acknowledged on Monday there are no limits on the number of times that users can respond to the survey, which is designed to help the government deliver on its promise to reform Canada's electoral system.
The initial $330,000 contract to create the website to gauge political values and preferences was awarded to Vox Pop Labs, the creators of the "Vote Compass," an online tool that helps users decide how to vote in elections.
However, the government has yet to reveal the cost of sending out 15 million postcards to encourage all Canadians to go to mydemocracy.ca to answer 30 questions on the type of electoral system they want at the federal level.
During Question Period, the Conservative Party attacked the government for refusing to ask Canadians whether they want a referendum on electoral reform, while the NDP criticized the absence of any question about proportional representation.
The government has been on the defensive on electoral reform in recent weeks, with Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef repeatedly apologizing in the House last week for belittling the work of a special committee that spent months studying the matter.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised last year that the 2015 election would be the last one held under the current first-past-the-post system. However, he has since decried the lack of consensus around any single proposal, stating the online survey that is open until Dec. 30 would help to engage voters and shape the government's next steps.
As soon as they were unveiled on Monday, the questions were widely ridiculed on social media for describing various choices in stark terms.
The expression "even if" is used 18 times. Respondents are asked, for example, whether they agree with the following statement: "A ballot should be easy to understand, even if it means voters have fewer options to express their preferences."
In another case, respondents are asked whether they agree with the following statement: "There should be parties in Parliament that represent the views of all Canadians, even if some are radical or extreme."
After completing the survey, respondents are described as belonging to one of five categories: innovators, co-operators, guardians, pragmatists and challengers.
However, a number of respondents are complaining they are mislabelled as favouring electoral reform, even if they don't identify as such. Another recurring criticism is that the questionnaire could be used to justify a system such as a ranked ballot, which has been advocated by the Liberal Party.
Fair Vote Canada, an organization that is promoting the introduction of proportional representation in Canada, said the government will be able to interpret the answers how it wants to suit its desired outcome.
"If we are talking about electoral reform, these are not the right questions," said Kelly Carmichael, executive director of Fair Vote Canada. "There is a huge movement under foot for proportional representation, because the current system is unfair. There are no questions about fairness in this survey."
In the House, Conservative MP Scott Reid compared the survey to a "dating website designed by Fidel Castro."
"The questionnaire doesn't ask whether Canadians want a referendum," he said. "Would it be because the Liberals don't want to know the answer?"
NDP MP Nathan Cullen said the government seems to be deliberately ignoring the results of previous consultations on electoral reform.
"The minister can't even bring herself to use the word 'proportional' in her survey," he said, adding that was the most popular option in previous consultations.
Regarding the security of the process, a spokesman for Ms. Monsef said the analysis will try to filter out users who answer the survey "over and over again," while allowing members of the same family to respond from a single computer.
"Vox Pop Labs can account for behaviour like that and weight the data to reduce skews in the results," John O'Leary said.