Tweets like the above appeared today following Minister Monsef's Q&A at her Victoria BC electoral reform public consultation. Her remarks echo those of Justin Trudeau earlier this week, giving rise to the fear that the Liberals are backtracking on implementing electoral reform and their campaign promise that 2011 would be "the last election under FPtP".
I've transcribed her responses to the two relevant questions from the audience in full below so you can judge for yourself.
Shorter : She repeated Trudeau's recent remarks about people no longer clamouring for change under the new government, that implementing electoral reform depends on a broad consensus from Canadians and the ERRE committee, and that she's "very, very sorry" but she cannot advocate for proportional representation because 1) she has not heard PR asked for from "an overwhelming majority across the country" and 2) "political realities"..
A refugee from Iran made a heartfelt plea to Mosef, refugee to refugee as he said, to bring in proportional representation, PR, and not to water it down, to repay the debt to this country. "That will your legacy to this country." Huge applause.
Transcript of Monsef's response :
"To my Iranian-Canadian friend : I agree with you we didn't come here for the natural resources in this country; we came here so that we can be whoever we want to be; we came here so that we can have choice, and choices, and we have that because our democratic institutions have provided us with opportunities, means, and liberties.
So where I think your argument kind of lost me is you went from like the only way to do this is through proportional representation. In this room, there is a lot of appetite for moving towards PR. My job isn't to advocate for PR specifically; my job has been to go across the country and hear from a diverse range of perspectives. And most rooms are different - there hasn't been a consensus on any specific system. And that actually makes my job very very difficult. It puts more emphasis on the work of the committee because now they have to find the consensus that they couldn't find in the country.
It's why conversations and you ranking these principles is important because maybe it's not a pure proportional system, maybe it's not MMP, maybe it's a system that's never existed, maybe it's a hybrid that makes sense for Canada. I haven't arrived at that conclusion because there is no consensus. But what I am hearing is how much Canadians cherish that local representation, how much they want a more legitimate and effective system, how important inclusion and accessibility is. These are basic pieces that are really helpful.
So I can't promise you that I'll be advocating for PR because I haven't heard that from an overwhelming majority across the country.
But what I can promise you is that I'm hustling with my parliamentary secretary and we are advocating hard for reform, for reform that means improvement, that sets the stage for the next generation of leaders to come in and make the system better and I think that is my responsibility. And you're right I do have a great deal of debt to repay to this country - that's why I'm doing this and sometimes especially over the last month things have gotten a little bit crazy and absurd. Over the last month I have asked myself a few times - why are you doing this? You had a good job; people liked you; you got to make a difference and you got paid, you got to stay in Peterborough, evenings and weekends to yourself - what were you thinking? But it is true I have all these privileges because a lot of people have made it possible for me. I do have a significant debt to pay back and I intend to pay it back so I can get on with the rest of my life where I have maybe a bit more privacy and sanity, but I promise you that I'm doing this for the right reasons and at the end of the day, I want to make things a little bit better so more people feel involved to be a part of this process so that those silly pieces like the older woman in my riding what she had to deal with and went through - we can fix those things.
So I'm looking for that consensus - I haven't seen it across the country and now I'm waiting on the committee. I can't make you a promise. I'm very very sorry."
Question from audience : How can you possibly quell out fears about what Trudeau said about not needing a change in the election system? Those of us engaged in this process for months and months were really upset.
"So it's a little bit frustrating in some ways because literally since May I've been saying what the Prime Minister has been saying. We want things to be better, we want reform. We're inspired by what we're hearing from Canadians like you. But we're not going to move ahead with reform unless we have that broad support from Canadians. We have a majority, sure we could ram through whatever we want, but we're not going to do that. We heard that loud and clear at the beginning of this. The Prime Minister remains I think he said deeply committed to electoral reform, as do I. We're now going to wait for this committee to come back to us. What he said was ... these rooms, this room is full right now but I gotta tell you in most rooms across the country it hasn't been standing room only.
People aren't clamouring for change the way they were under the former government. And I get that - people have other priorities like jobs, kids, and grandkids and house concerns and they care about things like the environment. But this does have a significant longterm impact and it does matter and like I said I'm pushing for this every day. We're finishing our tour right now hearing from Canadians who wanted to be part of this conversation. We're very serious about this and we're going to see it through. We really really hope that the Canadians that have come to us with a thoughtful consensus that they've been able to come to because we are not going to ...
Even though the Prime Minister has a preference, even though I am arriving at a preference of a specific system with certain elements, we're not going to move ahead unless we have support from Canadians. So yes we want change but we're not going to ram it through because that's just a political nightmare and anti-democratic so ..."
Audience : Didn't he say it would be the last election under FPtP?
"Yeah and I was standing behind him when he said it in Ottawa. He said he'd bring together a committee to study the issue and if conversations like this were happening in the country during the summer of last year, you can bet anything that these rooms would be packed and people would be asking and demanding for change."
Audience : "Well they might be in four years. [cheers, claps] ... The majority in this room did not stand up and say Yes for FPtP. ... Yeah like 6 people ... In four years it could be a very different story - that's not the way to go."
Monsef : What's not the way to go?
Hard to hear audience responses here : Campaign promises ... people are still hopeful .. You promised last election under FPtP ... clapping
"I'm not disputing that. I have a mandate to advocate and pursue and propose change. I'm not disputing that. What I'm adding here though is a reality that we're all aware of - If the Liberal Party were to say Hmmm there's no consensus among the committee, we haven't heard from all Canadians - I don't really think a referendum is a good idea but the committee might come back and say that it's the only way .... ok I know there's some scars in this room, please ... if reform does not have broad support of Canadians, we're right back in the same problem area that you just said"
Audience member : No we're not because the Liberal Party was elected on a campaign platform ... backtracking ...
"Ok we're not backtracking - I'm explaining a political reality that what we said was Canadians are going to come and recommend something and then we're going to move ahead. We established the committee. We established the committee under traditional rules and people freaked out - oh these rules with the majority and the minority means you're going to ram through whatever change you want. That's not what we voted for - And so here we have this room full of people who feel like me, who feel like the Prime Minister, but that's not every room in the country and you have to take that into consideration.So again, my commitment to you, to everyone in this room, is every day we're advocating for change."
Audience member : Please make a decision that isn't a non-decision.
"I'm hustling every day, like 24 hours a day for change. That's my job and I'm wholeheartedly committed to it. There are political realities around it that anybody in this room given what you've experienced with electoral reforms [STV vote in BC] is ignoring - well that's not really helpful or effective. My job is to take all of that into consideration. So my promise to you is I'll be advocating for change. .. on both sides of the aisle within both chambers because we're going to need the help of Senate as well."
Transcribed from livestream of the meeting at https://www.facebook.com/CdnDemocracy