Politics

Maryam Monsef willing to stick with 1st-past-the-post elections if Canadians want them

Canadians will get what they want when it comes to electoral reform, even if it's the current first-past-the-post system the Liberals campaigned against, the minister charged with reforming Canada's electoral system tells CBC Radio's The House.

If 'Canadians tell us that they want system X, we will deliver on that need,' says minister

Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef says the Liberal government will deliver an electoral system Canadians want, even if it's the current first-past-the-post setup. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canadians will get what they want when it comes to electoral reform, even if it's the current first-past-the-post system the Liberals campaigned against, the minister in charge says.

"Look, if an overwhelming majority of Canadians tell us that they want system X, we will deliver on that need and listen to what they've said," Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef  told Chris Hall in an interview on CBC Radio's The House.

But she doesn't think that's what people want.

"We know that we made this commitment based on evidence and what we heard from Canadians. So, we will continue to work towards that commitment of 2015 being the last first-past-the-post federal election."

It wasn't the only climb-down of the week. After widespread criticism from the opposition parties, the Liberals agreed to support an NDP proposal that gives no one party a majority of seats on the committee that will study electoral reform.

"Ultimately, our decision was guided by the need to move the conversation about electoral reform away from a hyper-partisan debate on process and towards actually getting the committee to begin it's work of hearing from Canadians," Monsef said. 

Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef discusses the decision to support the NDP proposed structure for the electoral reform committee. 8:17

"For us it was an opportunity to demonstrate that, you know, we're going to give the opposition the majority on this...You know that promise we made  to do politics differently during the campaign? We're going to honour that."

Monsef: Conservatives consulted

At the behest of the NDP, seats on the committee will be allotted proportionally according to the popular vote in last year's federal election. The 12-member committee would be composed of five Liberals, three Conservatives, two New Democrats, one member of the Bloc Québécois and Green MP Elizabeth May.

The original plan was to form the committee on the current seat count. That would have  meant six Liberals, three Conservatives and one New Democrat. The Bloc and the Green Party would have been allowed to sit on committee, but wouldn't have been able to vote.

The course correction still wasn't enough for "mighty ticked off" Conservative democratic institutions critic Scott Reid.

Reid was responding to the Liberal-NDP deal on Electoral Reform 0:43

He described the agreement between the New Democrats and Liberals as a "backroom deal" and said he was not consulted beforehand — something Monsef flatly denied.

"They were consulted," she told The House. "Wednesday afternoon, both Scott and his deputy critic Blake [Richards] and I sat together in the House of Commons. I asked for their feedback on the NDP's motion. I let them know that I was interested in working with them to see something move forward."

Referendum on table

Figuring out what the preferred "system X" is still an issue.

The Conservatives have long been insisting that a national referendum be held before the electoral system is changed.

Monsef suggested a referendum isn't out of the picture if the committee ends up recommending one in its final report this December, but threw water on the idea. 

"I have yet to be persuaded that in the 21st century a referendum is the best way for us to gauge that broad buy in of Canadians," she said.

"When it has happened in Ontario for example, in B.C. for example, half of the population has not participated in that debate. We're not hearing from the marginalized …. That begs a question … is a referendum the best tool for engaging broad support, and secondly, is it wise for the government to presume where things are going to be?"

The government is racing up a deadline of May 2017 to change the country's electoral system, in order to give Elections Canada enough time to adjust to a new voting process as needed.

​"With this work, as you can see, a lot of work can happen in one or two days," Monsef said. "So every day matters."



Listen to CBC Radio's The House at 9 a.m. (9:30 NT) on Saturdays. Follow on Twitter @CBCTheHouse.

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