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Canada abandons electoral reform in reversal of Trudeau pledge

By Leah Schnurr

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Abandoning a major campaign promise, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government dropped plans on Wednesday to overhaul the country's electoral system.

The move, which prompted one opposition member of parliament to call Trudeau "a liar," adds to pressure the Liberal Party prime minister is already facing for controversies surrounding cash-for-access fundraisers as well as an ethics probe into a vacation at a private island over the New Year's holiday.

Trudeau had promised during the 2015 election campaign that Canada would have a new voting system in place by the 2019 election, a reform expected to benefit smaller parties, such as the left-leaning Green Party, which holds only one seat in parliament.

Momentum for reform waned last December after the minister in charge dismissed an official report that recommended having a referendum before changes were made, something the Liberals had said was not necessary.

The government's decision to abandon the plan came in a letter from Trudeau to recently appointed Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould that said changing the electoral system would not be in her mandate. The letter also ruled out a referendum.

Trudeau said later there was no consensus among Canadians over whether the system should be changed or what should be used instead.

"There is no clear path forward," Trudeau said in the House of Commons. "It would be irresponsible for us to do something that harms Canada's stability."

Critics have said Trudeau is less enthusiastic about reform now that he has won a majority under the current first-past-the-post system, which allows a party to win a majority of parliamentary seats with less than 40 percent of the popular vote.

The Liberals received 39.5 percent of the vote in 2015 but won 184 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons.

New Democratic Party member of parliament Nathan Cullen, who had been vice-chair of the all-party committee examining electoral reform, called the reversal a "cynical (display) of self-serving politics."

"What Mr. Trudeau proved himself today was to be a liar," Cullen said in unusually blunt remarks.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who was also on the committee, tweeted she was "so shocked" by the announcement.

A report released by the committee last December was criticized by then-Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef for not recommending a specific alternative system. Monsef was replaced by Gould in a wider Cabinet shake-up in January.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Bernard Orr and Peter Cooney)

 

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