Liberals acting too much like Harper, Trudeau says after electoral reform concession
Published Thursday, June 2, 2016 10:59AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 3, 2016 12:26PM EDT
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government is collaborating better with the opposition parties now because he feared they were behaving too much like the previous government under Stephen Harper.
The Liberals announced today they would support an NDP motion to set up a committee on electoral reform. The NDP motion is similar to one the Liberals have put forward but gives the opposition the majority of votes rather than the government.
The government initially insisted on its own structure before deciding to back the NDP's proposal. It's the second time in two weeks it has backed down in the face of criticism. The first case saw a major public backlash when the Liberals tried to put forward a motion that would have let any cabinet minister or parliamentary secretary adjourn the House for the summer with no notice.
Trudeau said the reaction of opposition MPs made an impact.
"We heard the opposition’s concerns, that we were perhaps behaving in a way that was resembling more the previous government than the kind of approach and tone that we promised throughout the electoral campaign and we’re happy to demonstrate that absolutely, we’re looking for ways to better work with our colleagues in the House, to better hear Canadians and their concerns," he said.
"It is with great pleasure that we demonstrate today that, no, we are serious when we talk about respecting all 338 members of the House."
Agreeing to the NDP's proposal gives the opposition parties more control over any recommendations the committee makes.
Democratic Reform Minister Maryam Monsef made the announcement in the House Thursday morning.
"I believe it can allow us to move beyond discussion on process and begin debate on substance," she said.
The government has moved to set up its own committee, but drawn fire from the opposition NDP for giving themselves the voting majority. The Liberal proposal would have also denied a vote to the Bloc and Green Party members, and they've made no move yet to actually strike the committee or hold meetings.
The NDP motion would bring the votes on the committee to five Liberals, three Conservatives and two for the NDP. The Bloc and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May would each get one vote. This composition means the government will need the support of at least one opposition member for any motion to pass.
"Who has the committee majority has never been my key priority," Monsef said.
The NDP motion also calls for the committee start its work within 10 days.
The Liberal government promised during last fall's election campaign that it would be the last one under the first-past-the-post system, but so far have done little beyond announcing the parameters of the committee that would study electoral reform options. Only three full weeks remain on the parliamentary calendar before the House breaks for the summer.
The motion calls for feedback from all MPs based on townhall consultations and requires those reports be filed by Oct. 14.
Monsef said she hopes the composition will reassure people that the government has an open mind when it comes to reform. The Liberals have also proposed a long amendment instructing the committee to assess the extent to which the options would advance goals including effectiveness, engagement and local representation.
The Liberals have been heavily criticized for their handling of the electoral refom issue so far, including for dragging their feet in starting the committee work and consultations. Elections Canada will have less than three years to adapt to whatever changes come out of the legislation that will be based on the committee's work.
The committee would report back to the House by Dec. 1. Monsef wouldn't say when the committee might start its work, calling today's agreement the first step.
"Today is about us demonstrating that we continue to be committed to our promise to listen to Canadians. We recognize that good ideas come from all parties. We recognize that Canadians expect us to collaborate and cooperate," she said.
Nathan Cullen, New Democrat critic for democratic reform, congratulated the Liberals on their collaboration with his party.
"The biggest winner out of this is Canadians who want to see our voting system changed in a positive and hopeful way," Cullen said. "I know, radical notion. New Democrats believe in the idea that Parliament should work together to get things done that Canadians sent us here to do."
Scott Reid, Conservative critic for democratic institutions, called the Liberal agreement with the NDP a backroom deal.
"Support of one other party or indeed of every other party is not a replacement for the people. We don't think it's a replacement for an election, it is not a replacement for a referendum on something as fundamental as changing the way Canadians get to exercise their sacred franchise," he said.
The Liberals held a similar committee to study the options for medically assisted dying, but the government's legislation ultimately ignored three of the committee's major recommendations. Asked about the government's commitment to consulting, Monsef suggested journalists are cynical.
"I think we're trying to figure out whether this is a real committee or a consultation smokescreen, and you just do what you want anyway... I'm not being cynical, I'm just asking," said Don Martin, host of CTV’s Power Play.
"You are being cynical and after the 10 years that we've had, I don't blame you," Monsef said. "Canadians may not be used to a government that listens and responds and co-operates across party lines, but they elected us on that mandate, we're delivering on that mandate."