OTTAWA – The Liberals are giving up their majority on the committee that will explore how best to change the way Canadians vote – a major concession for the government and a big win for the NDP.
Democratic Institutions Minister Maryann Monsef told the House of Commons that the government has decided to support an NDP motion that would see the committee’s membership reflect each party’s share of the popular vote in the last election.
“I’ve been persuaded that an additional way to demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity is to break with tradition and to have both the Bloc (Quebecois) and the Green (party) as full voting members,” Monsef told the House of Commons.
“Such an approach means the government will not have a majority on the committee, and hopefully this will assure members that the government comes to this process with an open mind.”
Monsef acknowledged that the changes would replace a government majority with a majority of opposition members, but she said to focus on that would be to miss the point.
“The issue is that every member, regardless of party, must combine their partisan perspective with meeting the important need that Canadians have to improve the electoral process.”
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It was a significant change of heart for the Liberals, who have been facing opposition charges of seeking to stack the deck in their favour with a majority of the seats with voting rights on the all-party committee.
Critics have said they suspect the Liberals want to ensure the committee ends up proposing a ranked-ballot system that would unfairly improve the government’s chances at being re-elected.
As recently as Wednesday, Monsef was strenuously refuting that notion.
“The only outcome that we have arrived at to this point is bringing together parliamentarians in this place to review the options available to us,” Monsef said during question period Wednesday.
The current make-up of the committee would have seen six Liberals, three Conservatives and one New Democrat, with a Bloc MP and the Green Party’s Elizabeth May on the committee but without a vote.
The NDP proposal changes that to five Liberals, three Conservatives, two New Democrats, one Bloc MP, May and a vote for everyone.
The motion, which would be binding if passed, would also mean the committee would begin meeting within 10 days.
“I think Canadians will welcome enough conversation about the process to start the process, but to actually begin the conversation around electoral reform,” Cullen said on Wednesday.