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All-party consensus still lacking as House Electoral Reform Committee enters final stretch

By Tim Naumetz      

The NDP is now backing Conservative MPs in support of a national referendum on reforming the voting system.

'All I can say is I’m still hoping we have a consensus report, but it’s clearly harder slogging than I thought it would be,' says Green Party Leader and House Electoral Reform Committee member Elizabeth May. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

PARLIAMENT HILL —A special House of Commons committee that spent nearly four months gathering expert testimony and public views across the country on reforms to Canada’s electoral system is running out of time to hammer out a final report with support from all parties in the House of  Commons.

The NDP is now backing Conservative MPs on the committee in support of a national referendum on reforming the voting system, a scheduled meeting Thursday was cancelled, and committee members are indicating a final report will be hammered out next week, despite signs that not all parties are on the same page.

“All I can say is I’m still hoping we have a consensus report, but it’s clearly harder slogging than I thought it would be,” Green Party Leader and committee member Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) told The Hill Times Thursday after the committee had held a closed-door meeting the previous night.

“It’s tricky,” she said. “To get to consensus requires a deep degree of mutual trust and commitment to co-existence, and that means I’m being very quiet about whatever we’re discussing.”

Ms. May and NDP MPs declined to disclose what went on late Wednesday during the in-camera committee meeting, but there were Question Period clashes Thursday between New Democrats and Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef (Peterborough-Kawartha, Ont.) over online surveys the government secretly retained to sound out Canadians on a new voting system.

NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont-La Petite Patrie, Que.), who’s also on the committee, told The Hill Times Thursday, without disclosing details of the Wednesday committee proceedings, that a decision on a report to the Commons will be taken next week, with only two weeks remaining before the report is due to be tabled in the House on Dec. 1.

“Let’s just say that everybody will bring their recommendations and next week we’ll decide,” said Mr. Boulerice.

As Mr. Boulerice and NDP MP and House Electoral Reform Committee vice-chair Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.) pressed Ms. Monsef over a report quoting from the private survey on elector views the government contracted last September, without informing the committee. Ms. Monsef confirmed the government survey while ducking questions about widespread support from committee witnesses and the public for proportional representation.

“I want to thank the Member opposite for his commitment on this file, and I want to thank him for bringing up something that we’ve been working on for months,” she said in reference to Mr. Cullen.

“We want to find as many ways as possible to hear from as many Canadians as possible on the topic of electoral reform. We want to hear about the values that matter most to them.”

“To that end, Mr. Speaker, we are working with Vox Pop labs on a new initiative, and as the Member opposite understands full well, standard procedures require testing and re-testing. We will have more information on this initiative in the coming weeks,” said Ms. Monsef.

As the government began setting up its own survey, which includes mail-outs to a reported 13 million electors for views on reform, the special committee held a total of 39 meetings in all the provinces and territories, gathered a total of 571 written briefs, and heard 731 witnesses, including 427 witnesses who spoke at open-mic sessions.

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