The minister of democratic institutions attempted to use a mathematical formula to deride months of work by the special all-party committee she tasked with studying electoral reform.
Maryam Monsef sparked outrage from opposition MPs in question period Thursday when she charged that the group did not get the job done with its long-awaited report, released earlier that day.
Maryam Monsef speaks in the House of Commons on Dec. 1, 2016. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/CP)
The committee recommended that the Trudeau government design a proportional voting system and hold a national referendum to determine support from Canadians. Liberal MPs on the 12-member group, however, urged the government not to change the voting system in time for the next election so that more Canadians can be consulted.
Conservatives pressed Monsef in the House of Commons to commit to holding a referendum before any changes are made to the voting system. New Democrats urged her to implement the committee’s recommendations to move beyond the first-past-the-post system to one that is proportional.
In response, Monsef bemoaned that the group failed to provide a “specific” alternative system.
However, the committee’s mandate was always to “identify and conduct a study of viable alternative voting systems,” and the report outlines possible proportional systems to consider.
“We asked the committee to help answer very difficult questions for us. They did not do that,” Monsef said, sparking jeers. “We now have to make those hard changes.”
Under sustained pressure, Monsef highlighted one recommendation that the government use the so-called “Gallagher Index” as a tool while designing a new proportional model. The math formula measures the degree of disproportion between the share of votes received by parties and their number of seats in the legislature.
Monsef had an enlarged picture of the equation printed on a piece of paper and, though props aren’t allowed in the House, it was visible as she suggested that the committee recommended a math formula instead of a new system.
“The committee did not offer a specific alternative to first-past-the-post. Instead, it offered us the Gallagher Index,” she said.
The minister incredulously charged that Ambrose wants a referendum on the question: “Would Canadians like to take the square root of the sum of the squares of the difference between the percentage of the seats for each party and the percentage of the votes passed?”
She was heckled as she read the prepared remark.
Committee didn't 'complete the hard work we had expected'
Monsef used the same tack on NDP democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen a little later as he pressed Liberals to fulfil their promise that the 2015 election will be the last under first-past-the-post.
“I have to admit that I am a little disappointed because what we had hoped the committee would provide us with was a specific alternative system to first past the post,” Monsef said. “Instead, it provided us with the Gallagher Index."
She said the committee “did not complete the hard work we had expected it to,” a slam that made many opposition MPs livid.
At a press conference after question period, Monsef again turned to the Gallagher Index when the going got rough.
“They’ve not helped answer the hardest question of all which is an alternative to first-past-the-post,” she said.
A reporter insisted that the committee wasn’t asked to come up with an alternative system, but rather to identify and research different systems. It did that.
Again, Monsef held up the equation for the cameras.
— CPAC (@CPAC_TV) December 1, 2016
Ambrose and Cullen both criticized Monsef's performance and suggested she was trying to play Canadians for fools.
“She insulted the hard work of members of Parliament and frankly it is a disgrace,” Ambrose said.
The interim Tory leader also wondered why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wasn’t in the House to respond to a report involving one of his major campaign promises.
Cullen accused Monsef of looking for dissension at a time when parties were able to compromise.
“Stop it. People aren’t stupid,” Cullen said. “Let’s get to work.”
With files from The Canadian Press