NDP Pushes Liberal Government To Give Up Majority On Electoral Reform Committee

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OTTAWA — The NDP is urging the governing Liberals to surrender majority control over the special Commons committee that's supposed to recommend an alternative to Canada's first-past-the-post electoral system.

Nathan Cullen, the NDP's democratic reform critic, says membership on the promised committee should include all parties with seats in the House of Commons and be proportional to each party's share of the popular vote in last October's election.

As the governing party, the Liberals are ordinarily entitled to majority membership on Commons committees; the Bloc and Greens are not entitled to any members because they didn't elect enough MPs to qualify for recognition as a party in the House.

nathan cullen
Nathan Cullen speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

But electoral reform is no ordinary issue, Cullen said Thursday.

"We think this is a special committee, being historic, being something that's foundational to our democracy."

Cullen said no single party should have the power to unilaterally change the way in which Canadians choose their governments. Electoral reform should be driven by the will of Canadians, he said, and that would be better reflected through proportional representation on the committee.

5 Liberals, 3 Tories, 2 New Democrats, 1 Bloc, 1 Green

Under Cullen's proposal, the committee would consist of five Liberal MPs, three Conservatives, two New Democrats, one Bloc Quebecois and one Green party member.

The committee is to examine, among other things, replacing Canada's existing electoral system with some form of proportional representation, under which the number of seats a party wins would be roughly equivalent to its share of the popular vote.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised that last fall's election will be the last conducted under FPTP, which routinely results in the governing party winning the majority of Commons seats with less than 40 per cent of the vote.

If the government rejects his proposal, Cullen said it could give legitimacy to the Conservative charge that Trudeau is aiming to rig the electoral system to ensure Liberal victories in perpetuity.

"We think this is a special committee, being historic, being something that's foundational to our democracy."

"If we go through some process in which they have the majority on the committee, that majority then decides on a proposal to the House of Commons where the Liberals have a majority and the Liberals are the only ones standing at the end of the day supporting a new system," he said.

"They will be open, I think fairly, to criticism that this is to their advantage and to the disadvantage of others."

Liberal MP Mark Holland, parliamentary secretary to the democratic institutions minister, said the government is in the process of determining the make-up of the committee. While he welcomed Cullen's suggestion, he would not commit to Liberals surrendering majority control.

"We recognize that this is going to be a process that impacts all parties and we want to make sure that all parties are given the opportunity to be engaged in a meaningful way," Holland said.

"We don't know exactly what form that will take at this point in time."

He doubted there's anything the Liberals can do to silence Conservative criticisms, saying the Tories seem "absolutely committed to trying to de-legitimize the process."

The best way to inoculate themselves from criticism is to ensure the committee, whatever its make-up, consults openly and widely with Canadians, bases its conclusions on evidence and makes recommendations that "will self-evidently improve our electoral process," Holland said.

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