An NDP critic says the all-party committee poised to recommend changes to Canada’s voting system has been thrown under the bus by the very minister in charge of the file.
Nathan Cullen rose in question period Monday to call out Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef for raising new questions about the government’s pledge that the 2015 election would be the last conducted under first-past-the-post.
NDP MP Nathan Cullen and Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef are shown in the House of Commons. (Photo: The Canadian Press)
Monsef appeared on CTV’s “Question Period” Sunday, where she told host Evan Solomon that she has not yet felt a consensus from Canadians that they want the voting system to change. Solomon wondered if that meant there is a chance Liberals could leave things unchanged.
“We’re committed to this initiative, but we’re not going to move forward unless we have the broad support of the people of this country for whom we’re making this change,” Monsef said.
“And you haven’t felt that yet?” Solomon asked.
“Not yet,” Monsef replied.
'The minister for undermining democratic reform'
Cullen wondered why Monsef went on television to “undercut” the work of the committee, which will release its long-awaited report on Thursday.
He also sought a clear commitment that Monsef will implement the group’s recommendations.
Monsef said she looked forward to the report, but suggested she was actually on TV to promote other democratic reform initiatives in her recently-tabled Bill C-33. That bill seeks to gut controversial elements of the last government’s Fair Elections Act and restore voting rights for Canadian expats.
“She’s supposed to be the minister of democratic reform, not the minister for undermining democratic reform,” Cullen shot back, adding that Monsef’s “single, most important job” was to shift away from first-past-the-post.
Cullen said hundreds of experts and thousands of Canadians have told the committee the current voting system “distorts the democratic will” of Canadians.
"When the committee is working so hard to build a compromise, when so many Canadians are saying 'yes' to reform, why is it that this minister has become the voice of 'no?'"
“When the committee is working so hard to build a compromise, when so many Canadians are saying 'yes' to reform, why is it that this minister has become the voice of 'no?'” Cullen asked.
Monsef said she has been committed to the file since day one and respects the committee’s independence.
“We’re going to take the time to give that report the respect it deserves and present this House with a thoughtful plan forward,” she said.
That was much the same response Monsef gave NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair earlier in question period when he suggested Liberals were preparing to back down on electoral reform.
Mulcair: Liberals may have 'rediscovered' charms of FPTP
Mulcair wondered if Liberals had “rediscovered the charms” of a system that gave them a “false majority” after winning 39 per cent of the vote.
New Democrats have long favoured a proportional representation voting system, in which a party’s number of seats in the House of Commons roughly matches its share of the vote. This week's report is expected to show the vast majority of witnesses before the committee favoured some form of PR.
Conservatives, however, say they won’t support electoral reform unless Canadians have their say through a national referendum. Cullen recently revealed the NDP would be prepared to support such a referendum.
At a digital town hall with the Huffington Post Canada earlier this month, Monsef said she did not think a referendum would be the best way forward.
“That said, if the committee comes back — and this is how much respect I have for this committee’s work — if the committee comes back and says a referendum is the only way to legitimize this process, then I have to take that very seriously,” Monsef added.
The minister added it would be “really hard to say no” if all 12 MPs on the committee recommend a national vote.
Tories and New Democrats have also accused Liberals of wanting a shift to the ranked ballot system about which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expressed a preference in the past. Such a system lets voters rank their choices in order of preference — a process opposition parties say would most benefit Liberals who might be the natural second choice of many NDP voters on the left and Tory voters on the right.
Trudeau remarks raise red flags
But Trudeau also suggested in an interview last month that Canadians may not be as excited about changing the system since Liberals replaced Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in power.
“(Canadians) now have a government with which they are more satisfied,” he told Quebec newspaper Le Devoir. “And the motivation to want to change the system is less compelling.”
The prime minister later affirmed he remains “deeply committed” to reform.
With files from The Canadian Press