October 13, 2016 - 5:52 AM
OTTAWA - New Democrats are putting pressure on the Trudeau government to adopt a proportional voting system in time for the next federal election in 2019.
NDP democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen says the party has undertaken an "unprecedented" cross-country consultation with more than 37,000 Canadians and has found overwhelming support for a proportional system.
Cullen says 84 per cent of those consulted want a voting system in which the percentage of seats won by each party reflects its share of the popular vote.
As well, he says 82 per cent want to maintain a strong connection with their local member of Parliament.
And a little more than 66 per cent want to increase the representation of women and visible minorities in the House of Commons.
A spokesman for Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef says the government will "take note" of the NDP's findings.
However, the all-party committee currently exploring options for electoral reform hasn't yet processed all the public submissions it has received, nor has it yet completed its own hearings.
The committee has until Dec. 1 to submit its report on the best replacement for Canada's current first-past-the-post voting system.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed during last fall's election campaign that it would be the last conducted under the existing system.
First-past-the-post, as it is commonly known, is widely criticized for routinely handing a majority of seats to a party that wins less than 40 per cent of the vote, under-representing small national parties, over-representing regionally concentrated parties, exacerbating regional tensions and encouraging adversarial politics.
"Canadians are seeking a change in our political culture," Cullen told a news conference Wednesday.
"They want to see a political system that is more oriented towards co-operation and consensus by nature."
Among other things, the NDP consultations found almost 80 per cent believe it's vital that parties work together collaboratively. And that includes the outcome of the all-party committee's work, Cullen said, warning that any attempt by the governing Liberals to unilaterally change the voting system would have no legitimacy in the eyes of the public.
But whether the committee can achieve a multi-party consensus remains to be seen.
The Conservatives have shown little interest in finding an alternative to FPTP, insisting instead that whatever change is proposed must be put to a national referendum — a route that killed electoral reform proposals in three provinces in the past.
During the Liberal leadership contest in 2013, Trudeau expressed a personal preference for a ranked ballot system but he has since said he's open to other options. Cullen said the Liberals on the committee have been a bit "cagey" about their preferences.
Both the NDP and Green party Leader Elizabeth May favour a proportional system.
Nevertheless, Cullen said he remains optimistic that the committee can come to some consensus.
"The incentive to get to agreement is very high," he said.
"Simply folding your arms and pouting in the corner achieves virtually nothing. (Change) is happening. So to all of my colleagues ... this is going ahead, so let's participate and have some influence on the process."
Similarly, Monsef spokesman Jean-Bruno Villeneuve said the government remains hopeful that a consensus can be reached. But he stressed it "will not move forward on reforms without the broad support of Canadians."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016