Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef says linguistic, racial and ethnic background, as well as gender, will be considered by the advisory board tasked with recommending potential Senate appointments.

Monsef’s comments comes shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government was urged by 80 prominent Canadian women to achieve gender equality in the Senate by filling all 22 current vacancies with female candidates.

“One of the criteria that this independent advisory board has been asked to consider is … making sure that linguistic, racial and ethnic minorities as well as people of different genders are included in the list that is referred to the prime minister,” said Monsef.

In early December, Monsef announced the Liberal government’s plans to create a non-partisan advisory board, which would recommend nominees for appointments to the Senate. The five-person panel will consist of five members: one federal chair, two permanent members and two ad-hoc members from the provinces or territories where the Senate has vacancies. The board will choose candidates based on merit, and not their political leanings.

Monsef said the government will announce the individuals on the advisory board shortly. The board will then work quickly to provide the prime minister with a shortlist of five candidates to fill vacancies in the provinces that are currently most under-represented: two in Ontario, two in Manitoba and one in Quebec.

“We are aware of the time restraints upon us but we are working diligently to make sure that the representation in the Senate is brought up to where it needs to be.”

The other 17 Senate spots will be filled by the end of 2016.

No commitment to referendum on electoral reform

As Democratic Institutions Minister, Monsef will also have to deal with another one of the Liberal government’s major campaign promises – electoral reform.

The Liberals committed to introduce legislation calling for electoral reform within 18 months of forming government, and convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting and online voting.

But the government is under pressure from the Conservatives to commit to holding a referendum on its electoral reform proposal; Monsef refused to commit to do so.

“The conversation that we have about this really important reform isn’t going to be about a yes or a no answer. It's more complex than that,” said Monsef. “That’s why we will be working across party lines to have a parliamentary committee set up to study and to listen meaningfully … before a report is tabled.”

Monsef said the government plans to present its decision to the House after thorough consultation with Canadians and experts.