News / Canada

Liberal MPs recommend breaking electoral reform promise

All-party report recommends referendum on change, Liberal MPs say that's too radical and rushed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to change Canada's electoral system by 2019. It's unclear that deadline will be met.

The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to change Canada's electoral system by 2019. It's unclear that deadline will be met.

OTTAWA–Liberal MPs are recommending the government break its promise to overhaul Canada’s electoral system by 2019.

An all-party committee report released Thursday recommended giving Canadians a choice between the status quo and a new, more proportional voting system in a nationwide referendum.

But the Liberals on the committee dissented from that report, saying the timeline set by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is too “rushed,” and the recommendations of the committee too “radical.”

“We believe Canadians are far from being adequately engaged with the electoral reform discussion,” their dissenting report reads.

“Our position is that the timeline on electoral reform as proposed in the (report) is unnecessarily hasty and runs the risk of undermining the legitimacy of the process by racing towards a predetermined deadline.”

Trudeau promised during last year’s election campaign that “2015 (would be) the last election under first-past-the-post,” a system that critics argue distorts the popular vote. The last two majority governments, for instance, were elected with less than 40 per cent of the popular vote.

It took months, however, for the government to strike an all-party committee to begin studying the issue. And in May, Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef changed the promise, pledging electoral reform only with “broad support” from the public.

What constitutes “broad support” has still not been defined. But in their report, the Liberals simply say not enough Canadians are engaged on the matter to move ahead with a new system for 2019.

It will be up to Trudeau and the Liberals to either accept their MPs recommendations, or to push ahead with their promise.

The all-party report made 13 recommendations, including holding a referendum where Canadians choose between first-past-the-post and a “proportional electoral system” of the Liberals’ own design.

While the parties maintained they had a consensus for the main report’s recommendations, “supplemental reports” were issued by both the Liberals and the NDP/Greens, calling into question some the committee’s major suggestions.

The NDP/Green report, for instance, called into question the need to hold a referendum to choose a new system.

“While it remains an option, we have serious concerns about holding a referendum on electoral reform,” their report reads. “The evidence for the necessity of change is overwhelming; the evidence for the necessity of holding a referendum is not.”

It’s not clear where the 333-page report leaves the Liberals on electoral reform. Monsef is expected to unveil a national public consultation later today, including a direct mail campaign to 13 million Canadian households as well as an online survey.

More to come.