Call it the tale of two democratic institutions ministers.
As the Liberal government walks away from electoral reform, new minister Karina Gould has taken the uncomfortable step of defending the first-past-the-post system her predecessor called “antiquated,” mere months ago.
Former democratic institutions minister Maryam Monsef and current minister Karina Gould. (Photo: Parlvu)
“The first-past-the-post system may not be perfect. No electoral system is,” Gould told a House of Commons committee Tuesday. “But it has served this country for 150 years and advances a number of democratic values Canadians hold dear, such as strong local representation, stability and accountability."
Gould told her colleagues that her new focus would be to strengthen democratic institutions within the existing Canadian system.
CBC News has a clip of Gould's remarks:
But in July, former democratic institutions minister Maryam Monsef told a special committee on electoral reform that pointing out how the system works is no reason to ignore a pledge to make it better.
“First-past-the-post is an antiquated system designed to meet the realities of 19th century Canada and not designed to operate within our multi-party democracy,” Monsef testified.
“We require an electoral system that provides a stronger link between the democratic will of Canadians and election results.”
Maryam Monsef appears as a witness at an electoral reform committee on Parliament Hill on July 6, 2016. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
Monsef said at the time a FPTP system regularly elects MPs for whom the majority of constituents did not vote, including her.
She said since more than 60 per cent of Canadian voters supported a party promising electoral reform in the last election — either Liberal, NDP, or Green — Canadians expect to see a change.
At one point, Quebec Liberal MP Sherry Romanado noted other Canadians are happy with the way the democracy functions.
“There’s an old saying, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,’” Romanado said. “What are your thoughts on this?”
Monsef said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the pledge to move away from FPTP because that’s what he heard from Canadians.
"First-past-the-post is an antiquated system designed to meet the realities of 19th century Canada and not designed to operate within our multi-party democracy."
— Former democratic institutions minister Maryam Monsef, July 2016
“While our system works, it can be better,” she said. “The simple fact that something works is no reason not to make it better, and this is one commitment that we made to Canadians.”
Monsef was named minister for status of women in a cabinet shuffle last month.
Liberals now say there is no consensus among Canadians on electoral reform and no “responsible” way to make good on their promise the 2015 election will be the last under FPTP.
Though New Democrats are blasting the government on the decision, Conservatives have stayed mostly quiet.
An online petition demanding Liberals reconsider, sponsored by NDP democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen, has received tens of thousands of signatures.
On Wednesday, the NDP will table a motion it hopes will force Liberals to concede they "misled Canadians" on the electoral reform file.
The text of that motion:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government misled Canadians on its platform and Throne Speech commitment “that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system”, and that the House call on the government to apologize to Canadians for breaking its promise.