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Maryam Monsef Poised To Move On Other Democratic Reform Promises

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OTTAWA — The Trudeau government is poised to introduce a bill on Thursday that will deliver on some of the Liberals' campaign promises to reform Canada's election laws, even as suspicion remains that they may renege on their commitment to replace the country's first-past-the-post voting system.

The bill is expected to restore the right to vote to expatriates who've lived outside the country for more than five years.

maryam monsef
Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef speaks in the House of Commons on Oct. 20, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

And it's expected to go further, following through on at least some of the other numerous promises Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made to reform the democratic system.

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef served the required 48-hours notice late Tuesday that she will introduce a bill to amend the Canada Elections Act and make "consequential amendments" to other legislation.

During last year's election campaign, Trudeau promised to impose limits on how much money political parties can spend between elections, review spending limits during elections and create an independent commission to organize leaders' debates during elections.

Trudeau pledged to repeal aspects of Fair Elections Act

He also pledged to repeal some of the most contentious provisions of the previous Conservative government's controversial Fair Elections Act which, the Liberals maintained, made it harder for Canadians to vote and easier for lawbreakers to evade punishment.

Specifically, he committed to restoring the use of voter information cards as valid pieces of identification at the polls, remove restrictions on the chief electoral officer's ability to communicate with voters, give Elections Canada the resources needed to investigate violations of the law, restore the independence of the commissioner of elections — who investigates suspected violations — and increase penalties for lawbreakers.

Electoral reform report due Dec. 1

It's not clear which of those campaign promises may be included in the bill, which is likely to be followed up in future with more legislation dealing with other campaign pledges.

Monsef has said she'll introduce separate legislation in May to deliver on Trudeau's most significant democratic reform promise — that the 2015 election would be the last conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.

An all-party committee, which held public hearings on alternative voting systems, is meeting behind closed doors this week to try to hammer out a consensus and is to report back to the government with its recommendations by Dec. 1.

Although the vast majority of expert witnesses and average Canadians who turned up at townhalls and public hearings favoured a proportional voting system, Monsef continues to insist she's seen no consensus on any specific voting model. She's also repeatedly said the government won't proceed without broad consensus.

Suspicion Grits will renege on key promise

That has raised suspicion among opposition parties that Trudeau intends to renege on his promise and stick with the status quo, which handed Liberals the majority of seats in the House of Commons with just 39 per cent of the popular vote.

Thursday's bill may be deliberately timed to demonstrate that the Liberals are serious about delivering on at least some democratic reforms.

It is expected to deal with the issue of expats, who are currently prohibited from voting via special ballots if they've lived longer than five years abroad.

That provision was struck down by the courts but the previous Conservative government appealed the ruling before last year's election. The appeal is scheduled to be heard in February by the Supreme Court.

Good news for expats

Late last month, the Trudeau government filed with the top court written arguments in defence of the restriction on ex-pats' voting rights. However, Monsef simultaneously issued a statement making it clear the government was simply complying with the court's schedule. She announced she would introduce legislation before the end of the year that would "meet the needs of highly mobile Canadian citizens who live in today's increasingly interconnected world."

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