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By Gloria Galloway
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears to have invented reasons for why his government has not struck a promised all-party committee to examine options to replace the first-past-the-post voting system. And he has apologized.
But opposition members, Elections Canada and champions of democratic reform all say the window of time to put a new system in place before the next election is closing. And accusations that the delay is part of a plan to eliminate all alternatives except the one that most favours the Liberals grow louder.
When the Prime Minister was asked at a news conference in Ottawa this week to explain why the committee was not yet running, and to address allegations that he is "just ragging the puck long enough" that reform won't happen before the 2019 election, he suggested the blame lies with the opposition.
"As you may have gathered, there is one party who is insistent that there needs to be a referendum, and they're laying that out as a ground rule. Another party has a particular perspective on the outcome that they're very attached to. We're in discussions with the other parties about how to set up that committee," replied Mr. Trudeau.
It is true that the Conservatives say electoral reform should not proceed without a referendum.
And it is true that the New Democrats say their preferred option would be mixed-member proportional representation – as opposed to the ranked ballot system that Mr. Trudeau has said he favours. One survey suggested a ranked ballot would have given the Liberals an even greater majority in the 2015 vote than the one they obtained with 39.5 per cent of the popular vote.
But the opposition parties say they have never made their participation in the all-party committee conditional on the government agreeing to do things their way.
"For the Prime Minister to suggest that his main reason for not getting to work is the other parties have a different opinion to his is arrogance and weakness that is very surprising to me," said Nathan Cullen, the NDP critic for democratic reform.
Scott Reid, the Conservative critic, had similar concerns and he rose in the daily Question Period in the House of Commons on Thursday to express them.
Why, asked Mr. Reid, "did the Prime Minister just invent this patently false story about opposition delay?"
Mr. Trudeau responded with a mea culpa.
"Mr. Speaker," he said, "I apologize through you to the member in the House. We are engaged in many different processes. We know how important electoral reform is and how passionately members of the House feel about it. I look forward to ensuring that we get moving on this committee in short order."
Mr. Reid responded that Mr. Trudeau's answer did not ring true. "This is where I tell the PM that, even in the world of quantum computing, the non-binary repetition of an untrue statement does not make it true …"
It was a reference to Mr. Trudeau's explanation of quantum computing at the Perimeter Institute, and it caused the House to erupt in laughter.
But, the question remains: Why have the Liberals not struck the committee on electoral reform?
Mr. Trudeau himself said the fall election is the last one that will be run under the old system, and the government promised to bring in legislation on electoral reform within 18 months of taking office – a timeline set to allow ridings to be restructured, as would be required with almost any new system except a simple ranked ballot, and to allow ample public engagement.
Kelly Carmichael, the executive director of Fair Vote Canada which is urging the government to adopt proportional representation, said Thursday that her group is concerned.
If the government is taking proportional representation off the table, "it's quite problematic and, really, what they are doing is just giving Canadians another winner-take-all system," she said. "It's not at all what they promised. Adding a ranked ballot to our current system … is even worse than what we have right now."
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW IN OTTAWA
By Chris Hannay (@channay)
> The Conservative MPs who supported the Liberals' assisted-dying bill say they were just following the will of their constituents. "If I had a family member with ALS [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis] and this was the choice that they wanted, to maybe be in their own bed … looking at mountains with their favourite music, as opposed to something like palliative sedation, would I be able to deny their request for an escape from this intolerable pain and suffering?" said B.C. MP Cathy McLeod, a former nurse.
> As the Prime Minister makes his stamp on the senior levels of the public service, he's announced a few more executives are shuffling positions, including a new national security adviser.
> Forty-four people accompanied Mr. Trudeau on his visit to Washington in March, according to newly tabled documents.
> Liberal MPs on the finance committee are suggesting the Canada Revenue Agency is going too hard on average Canadians and not hard enough on the wealthy.
> Michael Ignatieff is leaving North America for a job as a university president in Budapest.
> And NDP MP Christine Moore, with her seven-month-old in tow, explains how Parliament isn't designed for members with young children. Her daughter isn't the only one accused of childish behaviour in the House.
> Alberta: The fire continues to burn at Fort McMurray, with thousands of evacuees stuck at camps north of the town and the RCMP and military helping people get out of the area. A family of refugees shares their story of fleeing a war zone then losing their apartment in the forest fire.
> Ontario: The province is bringing in new rules that will make it more difficult for school boards to buy land. The Liberals also unveiled plans for campaign finance reform that would bring the province in line with the strict policies in Ottawa.
> British Columbia: Premier Christy Clark, meanwhile, says there is no need for campaign finance reform in her province after the conflict of interest commissioner cleared her. She also said the federal program that helps provinces with disaster relief needs some improvements.
WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT
Jeffrey Simpson (Globe and Mail): "Of all the spectacles of contemporary politics, the saddest is now reserved for [Tom] Mulcair. As effective as ever in the Commons, the applause of his colleagues rings hollow throughout the chamber and across the country." (for subscribers)
Karl Moore (Globe and Mail): "One of Ottawa's main issues is with the control of the company by the Bombardier-Beaudoin family; the implicit assumption being that family control is somehow bad. I find this assumption questionable."
Gary Mason (Globe and Mail): "Leaders are often defined by how they perform in a time of crisis. If that is the case, [Alberta Premier Rachel] Notley should receive high marks for the way in which she has conducted herself amid one of the most troubling 12 months Alberta has ever known."
Rosie DiManno (Toronto Star): "Any woman in public life who has experienced the rigours of an election campaign must certainly be perfectly capable of speaking her mind without running to 'mummy' leader. Absorbing the insult, tolerating a toxic atmosphere, tacitly permits it to continue. Doing so also fosters the culture of implied victimhood, of powerless women who require intervention by a higher authority to smooth out the rough patches in their day-to-day professional existence. But of course publicizing this matter – [Ontario NDP Leader Andrea] Horwath calling out unidentified members of her own caucus – was more about political gamesmanship than exposing creepy behaviour inside the pink sandstone walls of Queen's Park."
Don Martin (CTV): "While [Senator Mike] Duffy needn't dance for media entertainment, he does owe the Senate some sign of contrition for behaviour which tarnished the chamber as the red trough of piggy-level privilege."
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