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Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, left, speaks with NDP MP Nathan Cullen at a news conferenceby Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions, and Dominic LeBlanc, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, in Ottawa on Wednesday.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Liberals have designed a process for electoral reform that will appear completely illegitimate if it ends up with the kind of voting system Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants. And its design also means it's almost certainly going to end up with what Mr. Trudeau wants.

This is the plan to consult Canadians and MPs on revamping democracy, the way they choose federal representatives and governments. Mr. Trudeau's government couldn't have made it look more suspicious if they'd delivered it wearing a trench coat and dark glasses.

Mr. Trudeau, of course, has promised that the 2015 election would be the last done under the current first-past-the-post voting system – though he promised his Liberals would keep an open mind about what would replace it. But it's no secret that the Prime Minister favours an instant-runoff system using preferential ballots, a system that also seems to give an edge to his Liberals.

For months, opposition parties complained the Liberals had to get cracking on setting up a parliamentary committee to consider electoral reform, to ensure there's enough time to put reforms in place for a 2019 vote. Then, at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night, the government suddenly announced they'd unveil their plans for the committee the next morning. Strange.

The details? The Liberal government stacked the committee with a majority of their own MPs. That's standard for ordinary parliamentary committees, but not credible when the topic is elections. It's flat-out contradictory when the goal is reforming a system that, according to the government's own press release, "distorts the will of the electorate."

The Liberals won roughly 40 per cent of the vote last year, but will have 60 per cent of the votes on the committee. Why? The Minister for Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef, explained the committee reflects the makeup of the Parliament – presumably one selected by distorting the electorate's will. Ms. Monsef somehow made earnest appeals for MPs on the committee to drop partisanship, while defending the Liberals' partisan control.

There will be, Ms. Monsef said, public consultations and town halls, but, as New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen noted, no way of using them to measure what most people want.

"Canadians aren't stupid," Mr. Cullen said. If the committee chooses the electoral system Mr. Trudeau favours without support from another party, he said, there's only one conclusion: "That this was cooked from the start."

It's not that the electoral system Mr. Trudeau prefers – an instant-runoff system where voters in each riding rank candidates, and if no one gets 50 per cent of the first choices, then second choices are factored in until there's a majority winner – is indefensible.

In fact, all the major parties prefer a system that they believe favours them. The Conservatives want to keep the first-past-the-post system and insist any change should be approved by a referendum. New Democrats, who typically get fewer seats per vote than the larger parties, want a form of proportional representation.

But the Liberals' process doesn't really make room for what either party wants.

Mr. Trudeau has ruled out using the current system again in 2019. Given the timelines – the parliamentary committee will report by December and the government promises legislation next April – there isn't time to hold a referendum to approve a reform, and then implement that reform in 2019. Elections Canada already frets they won't have time to implement a new system for 2019. Proportional representation, the NDP's choice, requires redrawing bigger, multi-MP ridings, which would likely be controversial and time-consuming.

There never was much room for compromise. The Liberals will eventually act on their own, choosing their own favourite kind of reform. They might have just proposed instant-runoff voting from the start, but that would have been harder to sell in an election campaign. Promising to change the electoral system is popular; promising a specific change is less popular, and promising self-serving change can backfire. Better to promise to consult.

But now the process will feed cynicism about the reform. We're told it's wide open and beyond partisanship, but it's built for Liberal control.

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