Liberals unveil plan to overhaul elections, but timeline is tight

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Justin Trudeau‘s Liberal party has launched the first step in realizing a campaign promise to overhaul Canada’s electoral system.

The Liberals pledged during the election that 2015’s vote would be the last under the first-past-the-post system. On Wednesday, Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef and House leader Dominic Leblanc confirmed that a special all-party committee will be established to consult Canadians and examine how best to reform the voting system. The committee must deliver a report by Dec. 1, 2016.

READ MORE: Will Trudeau’s electoral reform make it ‘virtually impossible’ for Liberals to lose power?

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The committee, formed through a motion tabled this week in the House of Commons, will be made up of members of all political parties, including the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party. Members from the Bloc and the Greens will not have voting power on the committee, but will be able to participate fully in the hearings, according to the government.

“This is just the beginning of the process,” said Leblanc.

Members of Parliament are being asked to host town halls in their ridings to get a sense of the kind of electoral reform Canadians wish to see.

WATCH: 2015 ‘the last time’ Canadians will vote in first-past-the-post federal election

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    In addition to looking at how the voting system might be changed (to preferential ballots or proportional representation, for instance), the committee has been given a mandate to look at possibly introducing electronic voting and mandatory voting.

    Within minutes of Wednesday’s announcement, however, Monsef and Leblanc were already facing questions over the composition of the special committee, which will include six Liberals.

    Asked if this majority would skew the committee’s recommendations in favour of a Liberal plan, Monsef said everyone should be going into the work with an open mind and that the committee’s makeup will reflect the current composition of the Liberal-majority House of Commons.

    “We’re open to all kinds of scenarios,” she added. “This is not about advancing a skewed partisan interest.”

    That wasn’t good enough for the NDP’s Nathan Cullen, who said the committee essentially reinforces the very problem the Liberals are trying to fix. Instead of using the House composition (which was established using a first-past-the-post system) he suggested, the committee should have been struck using the proportion of votes received by each party in the election.

    WATCH: ‘Plane Talk’ with the NDP’s Nathan Cullen

    Cullen said his party is also concerned about holding town halls in the middle of the summer (because attendance will “fall off a cliff”), and about overall timelines. By the time the committee starts sitting, submits recommendations, and legislation to reform the system is introduced, Cullen said, it will already be early 2017.

    WATCH: Electoral reform aims to ‘accurately’ reflect Canadians wishes

    After that, the legislation must still be debated and passed by the House and Senate, and if the Liberals throw a national referendum on the reform into the mix, which Leblanc and Monsef did not discount, then getting a new system in place by 2019 will be next to impossible.

    “The timeline is incredibly tight,” Cullen said. “There is no room for error.”

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