Committee to call for electoral reform referendum
A special committee studying electoral reform is set to recommend the government hold a referendum to choose a new way for Canadians to elect MPs, CTV News has learned.
The committee is still meeting behind closed doors to write its report on the matter, which is due in a week, but two sources confirmed one of the recommendations will be that the government hold a referendum. One cautioned the report is not yet complete.
Since last year, the Conservatives have called for the question of reform to be put to a referendum, while the NDP said last week that they would agree with that call in order to move closer to consensus on the all-party special committee.
The Liberal government has so far resisted calls for a referendum.
"I've been quite clear from the very beginning that I don’t believe that a referendum is the best way to go about having a really complex conversation about an important public policy issue like electoral reform," Monsef told reporters in Ottawa Thursday morning.
Monsef says referendums have low voter turnout and are expensive, and said her personal opinion is that they’re divisive. But she said the special committee has the ability to suggest ways to gauge whether there’s broad support for a change to how Canadians elect their governments.
"That's one of the many reasons I’m looking forward to seeing that report on Dec. 1," she added.
In the measure agreed to Thursday morning, the committee notes the overwhelming majority of those who want to change the system prefer proportional representation. It recommends a referendum that includes the current first-past-the-post system as an option, along with an alternative, proportional system.
The government would design the new system to be put to referendum before the referendum campaign starts, according to the committee’s recommendation. The recommendation sets a benchmark for the alternative proposal according to the Gallagher index, a scale designed to measure the difference between ballots cast and seats won.
'Not privy' to committee discussions
In an interview with Don Martin, host of CTV's Power Play, Monsef wouldn't say whether she would comply with the committee's recommendation.
"I'm not privy to what the committee is discussing," she said. "Would you comment on something you haven't seen?"
New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen, who sits on the committee, wouldn't comment on the recommendation, citing the committee's private deliberations. (Parliamentary committees operate in-camera while writing their reports).
Cullen said he thinks the committee can reach "a broad consensus as the government has talked about," though there may be dissenting views on some of the points in the majority report.
"We're not just looking at voting systems. We're looking at mandatory voting, online voting, access to voting. We've got some pretty big questions in front of us," Cullen said.
"[On] some of those questions, members might diverge -- I might diverge -- from whatever the majority says. So that's a realistic thing and I wouldn't see that as unusual or a problem, particularly if the main question is answered properly, which is that Canadians want a proportional voting system."
Conservative MP Blake Richards said he wasn't pleased to hear Monsef's comments about not supporting a referendum.
"Meetings are in-camera, so I can't discuss what's happened or not happened in the meetings," he said.
"We've been clear publicly, we've also been clear privately, about the need for a referendum."
Many question whether Elections Canada has enough time before the 2019 race to both run a referendum and update its processes to account for a changed electoral system. It would take six months to hold a referendum, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand told the Canadian Press Thursday. Mayrand has said in the past that the referendum legislation needs to be updated and that any changes to the voting system will take two years to implement.
The committee spent several months hearing from experts and from Canadians across the country. It travelled from coast to coast as well as holding meetings in Ottawa.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, during the 2015 election campaign, that it would be the last election under the existing first-past-the-post system, a pledge Monsef repeated Thursday morning.
A spokesman for Monsef said she will consider the committee’s report, "along with what she heard during the Electoral Reform Dialogue process and other information as we determine the next steps forward."