OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau has apologized for suggesting opposition parties are to blame for the delay in setting up a parliamentary committee on electoral reform.
The prime minister promised during last fall’s election to create a committee that would be mandated to recommend within 18 months an alternative to the existing first-past-the-post electoral system.
But six months into his first mandate, the committee has still not been set up.
During a news conference Wednesday, Trudeau reiterated his commitment to replace first-past-the-post in time for the next election, but he said discussions about the mandate and focus of the committee are continuing as opposition parties push their own reform agendas.
Opposition MPs were puzzled since they say they’ve not been consulted on the shape or focus of the committee.
Queried by Conservative electoral reform critic Scott Reid about why he’d invented “this patently false story about opposition delay,” Trudeau offered a brief apology Thursday.
“I apologize, through you (Mr. Speaker), to the member of the House,” he said in response to Reid’s question. “We are engaged in many different processes on this.”
The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond when asked to clarify what other processes Trudeau was talking about.
Trudeau added that he hopes the committee will get moving “in short order.”
Reid shot back that Trudeau should apologize three times since he made three different “false” allusions during Wednesday’s news conference about alleged lack of opposition co-operation.
“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,” Reid said – a sarcastic reference to Trudeau’s viral-video riff on the subject during a news conference last month.
Outside the Commons, Reid teamed up with his NDP counterpart, Nathan Cullen, and Green party Leader Elizabeth May to emphasize that there have been no consultations with opposition parties about the formation of the promised committee.
In an interview, Cullen said chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand has told him Elections Canada would need 24 to 26 months before the 2019 election to make adjustments to riding boundaries, which would almost certainly be required if FPTP was replaced by a system of proportional representation. The agency would also need time to educate Canadians about any new electoral system.
The longer the government waits to set up the committee, Cullen said the less likely there will be enough time to implement a new system by the next election.
Some critics have suggested Trudeau is deliberately ragging the puck because he’s no longer eager to replace a system that handed his party a majority of the seats in the House of Commons despite winning just less than 40 per cent of the popular vote.
However, Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute, a think tank that advocates proportional representation, doubted Trudeau would continually repeat his promise to end to first-past-the-post if he didn’t intend to keep it.
Trudeau indicated Wednesday that the parliamentary committee would be just one avenue for consultation on electoral reform. Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef is conducting direct consultations and there will be “a form of public consultation” to be unveiled in “coming weeks.”