New Democrats embittered by the Liberal government’s about-face on electoral reform have publicly blasted Canada’s prime minister as a “liar.”
It’s a charge that saw one NDP MP lose a question in the House of Commons Wednesday for unparliamentary language, and later apologize for letting anger get the best of him.
NDP democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen kicked things off at a press conference in Ottawa, just moments after new Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould made clear that the government will not move forward with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to reform Canada’s voting system.
NDP MP Nathan Cullen, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Photo: CP)
“I want to choose my words very carefully,” Cullen said. “I know words matter. The words we speak here and in Parliament matter.”
Then Cullen, not typically known as a hot-head, lowered the boom.
“What Mr. Trudeau proved himself (to be) today was a liar, was to be of the most cynical variety of politician, saying whatever it takes to get elected,” Cullen said.
The veteran B.C. MP charged that instead of Trudeau keeping his word to millions of Canadians who voted Liberal and hundreds of thousands who participated in the electoral reform process, he instead chose to “spit in their face.”
"It was Mr. Trudeau’s decision today to prove himself a liar. Nobody else’s."
He also suggested, more than once, that Trudeau lacked the “courage” and “fortitude” to announce the change himself and instead sent out his rookie minister.
“It is a Liberal decision today to break their word, it was Mr. Trudeau’s decision today to prove himself a liar. Nobody else’s,” Cullen said.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair also accused Trudeau of being untruthful about the electoral reform file on his way in to the House of Commons for question period.
“Justin Trudeau lied to Canadians about democratic reform,” Mulcair told reporters.
'Massive political deception'
Mulcair did not repeat the charge in the Commons, but accused Trudeau of a “massive political deception” by courting voters with a promise to move away from the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system that he didn’t intend to keep.
The prime minister said that after taking the time to consult with Canadians, it is clear there is no consensus on the issue. Trudeau said that while he personally prefers a preferential ballot system, the NDP wants a proportional system and Tories want the issue put to a referendum.
The prime minister suggested it was best to focus attention on other matters.
“I am not going to do something that is wrong for Canadians just to tick off a box on an electoral platform,” Trudeau said. “That’s not the kind of prime minister I will be.”
Quebec MP Alexandre Boulerice, who sat with Cullen on the electoral reform committee, stepped up moments later to note that last year’s Speech from the Throne and minister mandate letters made it clear that Liberals would bring an end to the FPTP system.
“They lied. They lied to Canadians,” Boulerice said. “What is the prime minister’s word worth?”
The line sparked applause from the NDP bench but also drew an admonishment from Speaker Geoff Regan, who asked Boulerice to withdraw the remarks.
“If they didn’t lie, then they laughed in our faces,” Boulerice responded.
“We will not be hearing from this member,” Regan told MPs.
Boulerice did retract the remarks shortly after question period.
Minister says Liberals have always been clear
Cullen also rose in question period to again hammer at a prime minister that he said promised Canadians he would be different.
“He promised to bring more people into the democratic process, he promised to make every vote count and he promised millions of Canadians that 2015 would be the last election under the outdated and unfair voting system,” he said.
Cullen then asked if any Liberal would “find the integrity” to stand up to Trudeau’s “blatant betrayal.”
Gould responded that Liberals were simply listening to Canadians who have said they are “proud of our democracy.”
“We have always been clear. Major reforms to the electoral system should not be made if they lack the broad support of Canadians,” she said.
Electoral reform survey didn't ask about specific systems
In December, the electoral reform committee released a report recommending the government design a proportional voting system and hold a referendum to test Canadian support. Liberals on the committee, however, cautioned against a referendum and recommended “a period of comprehensive and effective citizen engagement.”
Days later, the government asked Canadians to participate in an online survey on electoral reform — on the website MyDemocracy.ca. The exercise was widely mocked because the survey did not ask about specific electoral systems, such as proportional representation.
The results of that controversial survey, released last week, suggested Canadians were generally satisfied with things the way Canadian democracy functions.
With a file from Althia Raj