February 10, 2017 9:02 am
Updated: February 10, 2017 7:10 pm

Trudeau cites Leitch, fringe voices when questioned on electoral reform

'You think Kellie Leitch should have her own party?': Trudeau's response to electoral reform

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IQALUIT, Nunavut – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that one of the reasons he abandoned a key 2015 campaign pledge on electoral reform was out of concern over parties representing fringe voices gaining too much sway in Parliament, naming Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch as one of them.

“Do you think that Kellie Leitch should have her own party?” Trudeau said Thursday as he mingled with a crowd in Iqaluit.

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The remarks were picked up on a boom microphone by pooled television networks as Trudeau conversed with a woman who had engaged him in a discussion about electoral reform and explained why he did not think proportional representation should replace the current first-past-the-post voting system.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau bails on long-held promise to change Canada’s voting system

Leitch, an Ontario MP who is seeking to replace former prime minister Stephen Harper as the leader of the Conservative party, has made a controversial proposal to screen potential immigrants and refugees for “anti-Canadian values,” an idea that has been compared to those championed by President Donald Trump.

The woman suggested Leitch was part of a different conversation, but Trudeau insisted it was not.

“Because if you have a party that represents the fringe voices … or the periphery of our perspectives and they hold 10, 15, 20 seats in the House, they end up holding the balance of power.”

On Friday, Leitch dismissed Trudeau’s “fringe” comment during a one-on-one interview on “The Andrew Lawton Show” on AM980.

“My supporters are the majority of Canadians. They believe that we have a shared value set, they believe that we have a unique Canadian identity, and last I checked, the majority of Canadians are with me on the files I care about,” said Leitch.

“[I’m] looking forward to making sure he’s part of the fringe.”

 Trudeau had promised – during the 2015 election campaign, in the speech from the throne and repeatedly since then – that he would change the way Canadians cast ballots in federal elections in time for 2019, but abandoned that pledge last week.

WATCH: Liberal’s abandoned electoral reform not sitting well with opposition

The conversation picked up by the microphone in Iqaluit began with the Trudeau saying that proportional representation – a different electoral system – was the wrong way to go.

“Proportional representation in any form would be bad for Canada,” he said.

The woman said she respectfully disagreed and that is when he brought up Leitch.

Trudeau said it is important to listen to all voices, rather than amplifying small ones.

“The strength of our democracy is that we have to pull people into big parties that have all the diversity of Canada and we learn to get along,” he said.

Trudeau suggested improvements could have been made to the country’s current electoral system, but proportional representation wasn’t the solution.

He also said the federal New Democrats were unwilling to budge on proportional representation.

“The fact that the NDP was absolutely locked into proportional representation, no matter what, at any cost, meant there was no give and take possible on that,” he said.

— With a file from Scott Monich

© 2017 The Canadian Press

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