A virtual petition calling on the Liberal government to keep its promise to reform Canada’s electoral system has formally closed this week with the signatures of more than 130,000 Canadians.
NDP MP Nathan Cullen — who blasted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “liar” last month for abandoning plans to move away from the first-past-the-post system — released a statement Friday lauding the results.
Cullen, his party’s critic for democratic reform, sponsored e-petition 616 on behalf of Ontarian Jonathan Cassels last November. But the veteran MP from B.C. said in a release that it surged after Trudeau and new Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould broke the promise to reform Canada’s system in time for the 2019 election.
Members of the House of Commons special committee on electoral reform, including Nathan Cullen (centre) hold a news conference in Ottawa in December 2016. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)
“The petition was originally launched to pressure the Liberals to keep their promise,” Cullen said. “But a few weeks after it was online the Liberals announced they would be breaking that key platform commitment, and that’s when it went viral.”
Cullen said E-616, with 130,498 signatures in total, is "one of the most signed petitions ever sent to the federal government."
“People are angry. They were told these Liberals were going to be different, that they would restore faith in our politics and our democracy,” he said. “The Liberals have chosen cynicism over doing what is right, and they’ll have to answer to voters.”
After Cullen tables a certified copy of the petition in the House of Commons, Liberals will have 45 days to provide a written response, which will be posted online.
“The Liberals have chosen cynicism over doing what is right, and they’ll have to answer to voters.”
— Nathan Cullen
Trudeau and Gould have both argued that lengthy electoral reform consultations on the matter yielded no “consensus” on the best way to move forward. New Democrats have accused Liberals of taking a pass after the special all-party electoral reform committee provided a clear path to reform.
The committee recommended in December that the government create a proportional system and hold a national referendum to test support from Canadians. In perhaps the first sign that Liberals were poised to hit the brakes, Grits on the committee urged Trudeau to scrap his pledge.
Trudeau has since said that a referendum would be too divisive for the country. He has also contended that a proportional system would elevate “extremist” voices in the Commons and appeared to blame New Democrats last month for being “absolutely locked into proportional representation, no matter what, at any cost.”
Those digs led NDP House Leader Murray Rankin to accuse the prime minister of spreading “alternative facts.”
While Tories have largely stopped challenging the government on electoral reform, New Democrats appear unwilling to let the issue fade away. Cullen’s release notes the NDP won’t give up the fight to reform the voting system and will be “launching a new initiative in the coming weeks.”