Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/12/2016 (1750 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — An all-party committee of the House of Commons looking at electoral reform says Canada should develop a new voting system that reduces the difference between the number of seats a party wins in the House of Commons and its share of the popular vote.
It also says Canada should hold a referendum to determine which system does that the best.
That was not good enough for Democratic Reform Minister Maryam Monsef, who stood in the House of Commons Thursday afternoon and accused the committee of not doing its job.
"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, going on to say the committee "did not complete the hard work we had expected it to."
The reaction to her comments was swift, with some accusing her of thinking Canadians were stupid and others demanding she apologize for insulting the committee members.
Green party Leader Elizabeth May, who sat on the committee, said it was "the most insulting treatment imaginable."
Tej Sahota, the husband of Ontario Liberal MP and committee member Ruby Sahota, was outraged, taking to Twitter to say, "My son saw his mom for total of six hours over three weeks, while #ERRE committee toured Canada. So, try again Maryam."
The tweet was later deleted, but it’s not a good sign when even your own people throw mud on you.
Monsef seems to believe the committee’s mandate was to tell her what to do. But if she reads the mandate, the committee did exactly what was asked of it, which was "to identify and conduct a study of viable alternate voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system."
The committee was to assess how those various options advanced five principles of electoral reform, including effectiveness, engagement, accessibility, integrity and local representation.
The committee produced more than 300 pages in its report, detailing all aspects of what it heard over the past six months.
The only thing not that surprising about the report is that the MPs on it pretty much stuck to party ideology on electoral reform. The dissenting or supplemental reports written by the Liberals, NDP and May conform to long-standing party talking points.
Monsef’s response to the report is perplexing unless you understand that while the Liberals never promised what kind of electoral system they wanted to change to, the party has always preferred a ranked ballot over any other option. Since a ranked ballot isn’t the top choice, or even usually the second choice, of most of the people who made their views known to the committee, her rejection of their work makes more sense.
From the beginning of this exercise I said the government of the day is not going to change to an electoral system that isn’t beneficial to its chances for power. No prime minister is going to be that altruistic.
The Liberals’ enthusiasm for democratic reform — something they promised in 2015 would happen before the next election — waned after winning for the same reason few sitting governments favour electoral reform.
Why kill the system that elected you in the first place?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated as much a few weeks ago when he told a Quebec newspaper the demand for electoral reform had lessened since the defeat of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. It is an indication the push for electoral reform wasn’t about what is best for the country but it was about what is best for the Liberals.
Now that the system the Liberals prefer isn’t the one getting the gold star at the committee and the existing system can clearly be trusted to elect Liberals despite its flaws, it appears Trudeau and company are ready to walk away.
The gobbledygook of excuses for doing so is hard to wade through. Some, like Monsef accusing the committee of failing its mandate or insisting the government only promised to act if there was "broad support" for change, are outright falsehoods.
If the Liberals truly only wanted electoral reform if it meant a ranked ballot then that is what they should have promised. Instead they left an open-ended promise on the kind of system we would change too and pledged to consult Canadians. Now that Canadians aren’t giving them the answer they want, they are ready to walk away.
Sunny ways, indeed.
Mia Rabson is the Free Press parliamentary bureau chief.