A rookie minister finds herself in a minor furor

Maryam Monsef, the rookie minister for democratic institutions, faces opposition indignation in her second question period

Canada's new Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef is sworn-in during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa November 4, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie  - RTX1URRR

Canada’s new Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef is sworn-in during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa November 4, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie –

“Mr. Speaker, some questions must be answered with a clear yes or no,” posited Conservative MP Blake Richards, apparently heralding a new era for question period.

The question, in this case, was something the new official Opposition had asked of the new government the day before: Would the Liberals conduct a national referendum before overhauling, as promised, the federal electoral system?

“Yesterday, the Minister of Democratic Institutions skated around the question when asked whether the Liberals would be holding a referendum on a proposed new electoral system,” Richards recounted. “Today, I will ask a very direct question. After the consultations on electoral reform have taken place and a proposed new electoral reform system has been designed, will the government hold a referendum on that proposed new system? Yes or no.”

Over then to Maryam Monsef, the rookie MP and youngest member of cabinet whose preternatural poise will be greatly tested by the hornet’s nest of electoral reform.

“Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for his question and I remind the 337 other members of Parliament in this House that what we committed to was an open and robust process of consultation,” she offered.

The Conservatives, a yappy bunch so far through the first two days, called out for either of a yes or no.

“I will not,” she concluded, “prejudice the outcome of that consultation process by committing to a referendum.”

Monsef stared across the aisle as she returned to her seat. Her fellow Liberals stood to applaud her. But a furor was now afoot.

The Liberal party committed itself earlier this year to ensuring that the 2015 election would be the last federal vote conducted under the current first-past-the-post rules, but without specifying what the alternative would be. Rather, an “all-party committee” would review the options and then make recommendations to Parliament. Then, within 18 months of taking office, the government would introduce legislation to enact reforms.

In June, the Conservative took the position that any proposal for reform should be tested by a referendum. And one read of Monsef’s statement might be that the all-party committee could recommend a referendum. And that would be interesting enough—newsworthy, even*.

But the Conservative benches heard it differently. Conservative MP David Sweet tweeted that this was “one of the most troubling statements” he had “ever heard in the Canadian House of Commons.” Jason Kenney and Tom Kmiec mocked. “Liberals just said a referendum on electoral reform ‘would prejudice public consultations,’ ” reported Kenney. “Huh? A referendum *is* public consultation.”

And when questions in the House came back around to the Conservative side, Scott Reid, the official critic on this file, conveyed this indignation to the House.

“Mr. Speaker, the minister actually just said that she will not prejudice the outcome of her process by asking the Canadian people what they think of her electoral proposals in a referendum,” he reported, proceeding to high dudgeon.

“Heaven forfend that she could ask the Canadian people what they think in a referendum. Is she really asserting that Canadian people are incapable of deciding in a referendum how they should be governed and how our elections should take place? Are Canadians too immature to handle a referendum on this subject, yes or no?”

(Amazingly, this would seem to be the first time in recent history that an MP has used the word “forfend” in the House of Commons.)

So now Ms. Monsef stood to deal with the first furor of the 42nd Parliament.

“Mr. Speaker,” she said, “the people of this country deserve to be consulted on a matter as important as—”

The Conservatives leapt up to applaud, subjecting the rookie minister to the old trick of the premature and disingenuous ovation. Apparently not used to being loudly mocked in public, Monsef put her hands on her hips and smiled awkwardly. When she attempted to continue before the Speaker had restored order, the Prime Minister turned and advised her to wait.

“Mr. Speaker, we were clear in our commitment to the people of this country that this would be the last first-past-the-post federal election in Canadian history,” she eventually said, amid more yapping, “and we will do that by engaging the people of this country, coast to coast to coast, in the robust process that is inclusive and involves every single member of this Parliament as well.”

The Liberals stood to applaud her again.

Here at least was a reminder of how quickly the dander can be sent up.

Afterwards, as MPs were milling about, Monsef got out of her seat and walked over to where Reid was standing and the two shook hands and chatted for a few moments in the centre aisle, the conversation seeming civil. Whatever was said off the record, and whatever Monsef meant to say, the minister and her critic are not likely anywhere near done with this discussion.


*I put this reading of Ms. Monsef’s statement to her spokesman. He responded that, “The Minister has said that she will be working with the Government House Leader to convene an all-party parliamentary committee to examine a wide-range of electoral reform options. The government believes that decisions on this issue should be based on a thoughtful, comprehensive study and an open and collaborative process and we will not pre-judge the outcome of that consultation process.”


A rookie minister finds herself in a minor furor

  1. It doesn’t even matter what the Liberals say they’re going to do. Like their entire campaign, they’ll lie and tell people what they want to hear and then just go ahead and do whatever they damn well please. This government has broken more campaign promises in under 2 months than the previous government did in 10 years.

    • Apparently Bill eats only the blue shit; red shit seems to offend him.

    • In 9 YEARS of Question Period the Conservative party did not answer one question with a yes or no answer!

  2. The only way it’s possible to unequivocally say that “this would be the last first past the post federal election in Canadian history” and also have a referendum, is if the status quo is not a referendum question option. And, I don’t believe anyone outside of the LPC thinks that a legitimate referendum question can leave out the status quo as an option.

    So the possibilities are:
    1) No referendum, or
    2) Referendum in which the status quo is not an option.

    This will indeed get interesting.

    FWIW, I’m a big supporter of ranked or preferential balloting. Having said that, I don’t see how one can make a non-trivial change to the voting system without having explicit buy-in from voters.

  3. Good grief, she’s saying that she won’t commit or comment on whether a Referendum should happen until after the Parliamentary consultation process. Conservatives are a despicable, partisan and outright pandering to idiots bunch… oh yeah, that’s why 70 percent of the electorate chose to throw them out on October 19th. That’s why they’re so abjectly terrified that electoral reforms will force them to stop engaging in wedge politics and force them to move beyond their “base”

    • thank God, I’m exhausted by all the referendums the harper government gave us…. no wait-harper even sent to war without one…..

      • At least Harper brought his war plans to parliament. Neither Chretien nor Trudeau did that. Trudeau might be pulling a few planes out of the air but he is putting a good number of boots on the ground in harms way. The training goes on at the front line. Two Canadian soldiers have already died that way. Why is no one complaining about Trudeau sending more when he ran on a platform of aid only….

    • Let us not forget that Trudeau only received 39 percent of the vote so in fact 61 percent voted against him and his plans for the country.

  4. And of course the Conservatives made all kinds of changes to our electoral system in the (Un)fair Elections Act and did not consult the electorate by way of referendum – and this after they did not indicate in the previous election that they intended to undertake ANY changes. Hypocrites one and all.

    • Apples and oranges comparison in the sense that a change to the actual voting system can be significantly more far-reaching (e.g. a change to proportional representation), than the easily undone changes in the “Fair Elections Act”. That’s one reason why ON, BC, and PEI all had referendums on proposed changes to their voting systems. And, if you do want to compare the commitment to democratic principles of the current LPC government with that of the former CPC government, you’d be setting the bar so low that the LPC government could easily tiptoe over it with both eyes closed.

      My question: why shouldn’t the voters of Canada have a direct final say on any proposed change to the voting system?

      • Well, given any reasonable reform to the electoral system would tend to make it more responsive to the will of the majority, if people are dissatisfied with the change, they will be free to vote for a party that will repeal it. If a majority of people vote for such a party, then it will be overturned.

  5. The Liberals have not been found cheating in any election but the Conservatives were found guilty of cheating 2006, 2008 and 2011. And they even changed the Fair Elections Act to give them an advantage. That shows how badly Canadians wanted to get rid of them. What campaign promise have the Liberals broken? Not one yet. I won’t even list all the lies Harper told Canadians in 9 years before they actually figured it out.

  6. We’ve just had an election which sent the reform party a very clear message: we don’t want you. The electoral reform question came up quite early in the campaign and surely, since almost 70% of progressive electors voted for “change”, does this not render a referendum moot?

    • It does not render a referendum moot because, for one of many reasons, a specific voting system was not part of the LPC platform, only a different voting system. One could possibly make an argument for no referendum if the LPC had done what the NDP had done and campaigned with a specific change in mind (proportional representation in the case of the NDP), but the LPC didn’t do that. The LPC basically said, “we’re going to change the voting system to something possibly radically different, but we don’t know what that will be”. That’s not a mandate for a specific change.

      Here’s my question: why shouldn’t the voters of Canada have a direct final say on any proposed change to the voting system?

      • They will at least have a final say in the form of the next election.

  7. I wish to applaud the Hon. rookie minister for an excellent response to her first question from the roaring opposition.

  8. Whenever the Liberals want to change something, they usually do it in the way that most Socialist countries normally do. They just smother people with utmost use of power and the stern advice: “gulp it down; I am telling you that it is the only thing that is good for your health”.
    To realize what a harebrained scheme, the Liberals have, to effect a change to the electoral process, just compare it to the way the Party Quebecois has conducted itself on their referendum project. How many times have they won power? Did they rush it past the people? To tell the truth as it is, a majority of Quebecers support the PQers at any given time even when they push them aside during an election. This party has been very consistent in saying that regardless of whether they win or lose the election, they will secede only upon winning a referendum. The rest of the Country too has been busy prescribing what kind of question they can ask or not ask in such a referendum. The Supreme Court has been pondering on the threshold of the acceptable voter support before Canada and Quebec will start negotiating secession. Quite inexplicably, not one of such measures has become worthy of pondering over at all in the current fiasco of a change?
    Now, you do not have to answer me; just tender it to your own heart for an honest explanation. Don’t the right of people of this country to be consulted, needs be respected on this issue of fundamental alteration of the process by which they will be represented in the ultimate ruling authority over themselves? Doesn’t that process need be supported by a referendum in which an unambiguous question will be posed? Don’t the Canadians deserve additional information by way expert consultations and thorough analytical studies which can tell them the pros and cons of the decision they will make in a referendum? If you don’t want to consult the people but will rather steamroll over them on this issue, can you then prevent the Quebec separatists when they decide to adopt similar tactics? Don’t you even have to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court on this question that fundamentally alters the nature of the House of Representatives? Can a Supreme Court that made so much fuss over a decision the manner of appointing Senators, now turn their eyes the other way if and when a challenge is presented to them? In any case, can a Supreme Court that condones this undemocratic act, again turn around and condemn the action of the separatists when they ultimately do a “cut and paste” of Liberal tactics.
    Don’t take at face value, the words of a panderer who promised everything to everybody just to win an election. Do not help him to destroy this Country. He never put out a concrete plan of action as to how he will proceed with this change. The only thing he promised during the elections is extra money for the CBC journalists, extra money for the unions, and some extra money for all the unhealthy “single issue interest groups”. He even promised extra money for the general public for health care, knowing very well that such monies will ultimately get counted within the transfer payments to the provinces and therefore are of no significance. Provinces do not have account for those funds to this man unless he hopes to be able to change the existing Federal-Provincial arrangements in a very significant way. Such a hope can only be a day dream. This man shouldn’t be allowed to think that he has the authority to change the electoral process for the representation of the people without the express consent of the very same people who are affected. Most important of all, the People of this Great country should not rush to the conclusion that this man has the authority to tinker with their fate in a most abhorrent way. It should be opposed in every legal and democratic forum.
    Look, this kid has already played with so many of the valuable possessions in the House and has managed to break them all in a matter of just two months. Right now, he is ready to thrash on the floor, this rare family inheritance of a “one-of-a-kind” crystal vase. If you think that the insurance will cover it well and the kid needs to play anyway, good luck to you.

  9. Maryam Monsef’s ambigious and vague answers to relatively simple questions are part of the new Liberal transparency.

  10. Hello all;

    Quite frankly I am amazed at how much the Conservatives seem to have learned since the election about how our Westminster Parliamentary system of government is supposed to work.

    Best wishes and best regards to all;

    Mr. Brian Leslie Engler

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