Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s musings on abandoning his promise of electoral reform are making things “weird” for a parliamentary committee examining Canada’s voting system, says MP Nathan Cullen, committee vice-chair and the NDP critic for Democratic Reform.
The all-party committee has heard from 336 witnesses and received 163 briefs on ways to reform Canada’s electoral system and has to present a final report with recommendations by Dec. 1.
But Cullen said Trudeau’s comments to a Quebec newspaper this week suggesting the issue is now a lower priority had an immediate impact on the mood of committee meetings.
“We had one this morning, and it was a bit weird,” the Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP said Thursday.
Cullen said he found it strange that Liberal committee members were reluctant to accept a motion inviting Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef to debrief the committee on her recent public consultations on the issue. Monsef has been touring the country hosting “town hall” meetings to gather opinions on what changes people would like to see to Canada’s voting system.
Despite the Liberals’ hesitations, the motion was passed Thursday evening unanimously.
Trudeau and the Liberals promised the 2015 election would be the last time Canadians voted under the current first-past-the-post system. The committee was established to study alternate systems, like proportional representation or ranked ballots, which could ensure Parliament more accurately reflected voters’ preferences.
But Trudeau appeared to be moving away from the commitment this week.
In the interview with Le Devoir, Trudeau said Canadians are less interested in changes to the voting system since his election. The desire for electoral reform might have been linked to the unpopularity of the former government of Stephen Harper, he said.
Some analysts have said it appears the prime minister is testing how a retreat from the promise would be received. Critics have said that the Liberals, having power under the current system, want to stick with it.
Whether it’s part of a plan or just a poorly worded comment by the prime minister, Cullen said the comments were “unhelpful.”
“For the prime minister to pour a bucket of cold water on the enthusiasm that Canadians have for this would be incredibly cynical,” Cullen said.
Trudeau “is essentially saying the system was only broken until they elected me,” Cullen said.
On Thursday Monsef missed her deadline to submit a report to the House of Commons detailing the results of the government’s consultations with the public on the issue.
Cullen said abandoning the electoral reform promise would be “immoral.” He’s still optimistic the changes will go through, he said.
The Liberals’ current popularity may have sparked a desire to abandon the promise, he added.
“It seems to be that they are entering or well into that self-delusion stage, that some polling or likes on Facebook has given them the license to take every promise they made as a conditional thing.”