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NDP Seeks To Move Power Away From Liberal-Stacked Electoral Reform Committee

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OTTAWA — The NDP will attempt Thursday to change the makeup of a parliamentary committee recommending a new electoral system by moving power away from the majority Liberal government to the opposition parties.

UPDATE: In a move that outraged Conservatives, Liberals agreed to support the NDP idea.

B.C. MP Nathan Cullen, the NDP’s democratic institutions critic, wants the House of Commons to vote on whether it is fair and reasonable for the Liberals to stack a committee that could shape the way MPs are elected in the future.

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NDP MP's Nathan Cullen and Alexandre Boulerice hold a press conference to comment on the government's announcement on electoral reform at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

The Liberal government introduced a motion in May that would give Grit MPs a majority on the yet-to-be formed committee: six Liberals, three Conservatives, one NDP MP, and two non-voting seats for the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party. The chair of the committee would also be a Liberal.

Cullen's motion, announced on Wednesday, would give the Liberals five seats, the Conservatives three seats, the NDP two seats, the Bloc one seat, and the Greens' one. Quorum could be called when four MPs — with at least one government MP and one opposition member — are present.

"With our model, no one single party would be able to direct the outcome. Cooperation and cross-partisanship will not only be encouraged it will be essential," Cullen told reporters.

"Any process as fundamental to our democracy as changing the way Canadians vote must reflect the broad will of all Canadians. And all parties must have a seat and a voting seat at the table."

Liberals deny wanting to advance their own interests

When Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef was asked last month why Liberals were hogging the majority of seats on the committee, she said it reflected the composition of the House.

"This is not about advancing a skewed partisan interest, but about giving greater and more representative voices to all Canadians to express their values, needs, and aspirations in elections," she said, on May 11.

The Liberals obtained only 39.5 per cent of popular support during the last election and hold 54.4 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons.

Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc suggested, at the time, that proportionally allocating the seats according to the popular vote — as the NDP suggested — would create a very large and unwieldy committee.

The government’s motion setting up the committee, which has been roundly criticized by the media, has yet to be debated. Cullen said it doesn’t figure on the House’ agenda for the next two weeks and it seems there is little urgency on the part of the government to pass it.

The motion, however, calls on MPs to hold town halls over the summer and to report back to the committee by Oct. 1. The NDP’s proposal now changes that date to Nov. 1 giving elected representatives more time to consult with constituents during the fall, when people are less likely to be on vacation.

Over the weekend, Monsef told The Toronto Star the government "will not proceed with any changes without the broad buy-in of the people of this country."

But in the House, she and her parliamentary secretary, Mark Holland, have refused to say whether that means the Liberals will not press ahead with a new electoral system without the support of at least one other political party.

Don't stack the deck: New Democrats to Grits

Cullen said it was a longstanding tradition in Canada that no party would ever unilaterally change the way that citizens vote. The "sacred practice" held until Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper "vanquished it" under the so-called unfair elections act, he said.

"We are calling on the Liberals to change course and work collaboratively with the opposition parties instead of stacking the deck in their favour."

The NDP wants to see the current first-past-the-post system replaced with a mixed-member proportional representation — which would likely benefit the New Democrats and other smaller parties. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has, in the past, expressed a preference for a preferential ballot — which would likely benefit the Liberal party — and other centrist parties. The Conservatives have not said what system they prefer but have argued a referendum is required before any changes can occur.

The NDP's motion will be voted on early next week.

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