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Tweaks to Electoral Reform Committee an 'Insult,' Says NDP Critic

Nathan Cullen says giving Greens and Bloc Québécois ability to file a report is nothing special.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 17 May 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

This coverage of Canadian national issues is made possible because of generous financial support from our Tyee Builders Tyee Builders.

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The Liberals' proposed electoral reform process 'is stacked in the Liberals' favour,' says Nathan Cullen, NDP critic for democratic reform.

Changes made Monday to the new electoral reform committee in Ottawa are an insult to 1.5 million Canadians who voted for the Bloc Québécois and Green parties, according to NDP critic for democratic reform, Nathan Cullen.

A Liberal motion to create a committee last week to explore options for changes to Canada's electoral system immediately provoked complaints from opposition members.

According to iPolitics, NDP leader Tom Mulcair also revealed today that his party would not support the motion tabled to create the committee.

One gripe from the Bloc Québécois and Greens is that they won't have voting or motion privileges on the 12-member committee, which will make recommendations to the government on what changes should be made to the way Canadians vote.

Both parties have one member each on the panel, with Elizabeth May representing the Greens as the party's sole MP.

Along with the ineligible-to-vote Green and Bloc parties, there are six Liberals, three Conservatives, and one New Democrat on the committee. The other parties have full privileges.

After a few days of political pressure, Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef said Monday that she would accept reports from Green and Bloc members on the committee if they don't ''agree with the majority report'' produced by the committee.

Monsef made her comments in Question Period.

But the NDP's Nathan Cullen said that since more than 1.5 million Canadians combined voted for the Bloc and Greens, they should have full status on the committee.

He said Monsef's offer to accept reports from the Greens and Bloc amounts to the two parties handing her something to read that she can disregard.

''I think what was offered was an insult,'' Cullen said. ''It's putting lipstick on a pig here. The process is stacked in the Liberals' favour.''

The committee has faced complaints that the number of Liberals on the committee gives the party the power to push through whatever voting changes it wants, including those to its own benefit.

The NDP has proposed the committee instead be composed of five Liberals, three Conservatives, two New Democrats, and one Bloc and one Green, all with full voting status.*

Cullen said such an arrangement would make the committee more proportionally representational.

''I hope that they have regrets about not picking up our offer to balance the conversation,'' he said. ''But they haven't expressed that.''

'Open and inclusive' committee: minister

In response to a request to The Tyee, Monsef sent an emailed statement nearly identical to comments she made in the House of Comments, saying the government has ''an open and inclusive approach'' to the committee.

She said that the Bloc and Green committee members will be allowed to interview ''witnesses'' or experts who will testify about the electoral system as part of the committee process.

''Our proposed motion includes both the Bloc and Green party members on the committee and goes beyond normal practice by allowing them to participate in developing the witness lists to travel and to question witnesses,'' the statement read.

But Cullen said there's nothing new or special about the role the Greens and Bloc will be able to play at the committee, pointing out they can present reports to Parliament any time they wish.

He said they could get the same treatment on any committee on which they sit, referencing a burst of laughter that echoed through the House of Commons when Monsef revealed the changes to the committee.

''There was a reason it was laughed at in the House,'' he said. ''She announced something that already exists.''

*Story corrected May 17 at 10:45 a.m.  [Tyee]

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