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Maryam Monsef Grilled By Tories On Electoral Reform Referendum

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The rookie Liberal cabinet minister in charge of democratic reform faced her first big grilling from Conservatives — and was left smiling in the end.

In just her second question period, Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef was pushed on whether or not Liberals — who pledge to end the first-past-the-post voting system before the next election — will put their eventual proposals forward in a referendum.

A day earlier, Tory MP Scott Reid, critic for democratic institutions, noted during question period that British Columbia, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island have all held referenda on electoral reform in the past 15 years.

In each case, he said, voters rejected proposed changes.

maryam monsef
Maryam Monsef thought the mock Tory applause was "great." (Photo: Screengrab)

When asked by Reid if Liberals would similarly let Canadians vote on a new system, Monsef said Monday the government would include citizens in a conversation that would "change the history of this nation's democracy."

On Tuesday, Tory MP Blake Richards accused Monsef of "skating around" a clear yes-or-no question.

"Today I'll ask a very direct question," Richards said. "After the consultations on electoral reform have taken place and the proposed new electoral system has been designed, will the government hold a referendum on that proposed new system? Yes or no?"

Monsef replied that Liberals committed to an "open and robust" consultation process. "And I will not prejudice the outcome of that consultation process by committing to a referendum," she said.

The remark sparked applause from the Grit bench, but that wasn't the end of it.

Reid rose a little later to express incredulity at Monsef's words.

"Are Canadians too immature to handle a referendum on this subject? Yes or no?"

"Is she really asserting the Canadian people are incapable of deciding in a referendum on how they should be governed and on how our elections should take place?" Reid asked.

"Are Canadians too immature to handle a referendum on this subject? Yes or no?"

Monsef replied that Canadians "deserve to be consulted on a matter as important as democratic institutions." The Tory bench erupted in mock applause before she could get the sentence out.

"Thank you," Monsef said. "This is great."

She reiterated that Liberals were clear October's election would be the last under the current first-past-the-post system. She said the process to bring about electoral reform will engage Canadians and involve "every single member of this Parliament as well."

Later, Monsef told reporters she was "humbled" to receive a standing ovation from the Tory bench.

Monsef, 30, is the youngest member of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet. She was elected in the riding of Peterborough-Kawartha in October.

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