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Monsef apologizes to MPs for criticizing electoral reform group

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef repeatedly apologized in the House of Commons on Friday for belittling the work of a special committee that spent months studying electoral reform at her government's request.

Ms. Monsef rose during Question Period on Friday to offer the apology the day after she criticized the all-party committee for failing to "complete the hard work we had expected it to."

"Yesterday in the House I used words that I deeply regret," Ms. Monsef said, in answer to a question from NDP MP Niki Ashton, who accused the minister of having insulted her fellow MPs.

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"I would like to sincerely apologize to the members of the House, to Canadians, and to the members of the special all-party committee on electoral reform. In no way did I intend to imply that they did not work hard, that they did not put in the long hours, or that they did not focus on the task at hand. I thank them for their work."

Ms. Monsef went on to apologize twice more in a muted reversal from the fiery tone she struck less than 24 hours earlier after the committee released a 333-page report with recommendations for electoral reform, which included holding a referendum on a yet-to-be-determined proportional voting system.

The majority recommendations, however, were not supported by the five Liberal MPs on the committee who urged the Trudeau government to break its election promise to change the voting system by 2019 because such changes would be "rushed" and "too radical" to implement until more Canadians are engaged.

The minister on Thursday blamed the committee for failing to come up with a specific alternative to the current first-past-the-post system. "On the hard choices that we had asked the committee to make, the members of the committee took a pass," Ms. Monsef said.

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On Friday, she reiterated the need for greater engagement with Canadians before the government moves on its promise.

The controversy raged on as the Liberal government mailed out postcards to 15 million households to promote an online survey on the values that Canadians want to see reflected in their political system. The survey at mydemocracy.ca is expected to go live Monday and run until the end of December.

The survey will not determine Canadians' favourite electoral system. Instead, the goal is to allow voters to explain whether they prefer a system made up of a small number of broad-based parties or a greater number of smaller parties, whether they value stability or inter-party collaboration in Parliament, and what kinds of MPs they want.

The results will be tabulated early in the New Year, at which point the government is expected to come up with a formal proposal to deal with one of its key election promises.

Speaking in Toronto on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said electoral reform is a challenge, but that he continues to take the issue seriously.

"People want their votes to count better, they want their choices to be better reflected in both the makeup of the House of Commons and the kind of legislation that is put through," he said. "And they want our government and our Parliament to do a better job of reflecting the full range of diversity and identities that Canada is comprised of."

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Still, Mr. Trudeau said the issue is not necessarily a priority for some Canadians who care more about bread-and-butter issues.

"People are not always as plugged in on the intricacies of political questions as they are on issues of 'Am I going to be able to pay my mortgage? Where are my kids going to find a job? How are we protecting the environment? How are we building for the long term?'" Mr. Trudeau said.

Conservative MP Gérard Deltell said Friday he accepted Ms. Monsef's apology, and quickly moved to pressure the government on taking its proposal for electoral reform to the public.

"Ms. Monsef did what she had to do, namely to apologize. Now we are looking forward and hope that the government will hold a referendum," he said.

Ms. Ashton also thanked the minister for her apology but added that she wants to see the government act on the committee's recommendations.

"We've heard an apology, but it's not clear that they're going to live up to that commitment they made to Canadians, and that in and of itself is unacceptable," Ms. Ashton said.

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Laura Stone is a reporter in The Globe's Ottawa bureau. She joined The Globe in February 2016. Before that, she was an online and TV reporter for Global News in Ottawa. Laura has done stints at the Toronto Star, Postmedia News and the Vancouver Province. More

Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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