• James Armstrong

Electoral system reform a Liberal post-election possibility


PHOTO COURTESY JENNIFER FREZZA

Vaudreuil-Soulanges federal Liberal candidate Peter Schiefke cycles with team members and supporters in the recent St. Lazare Cyclo Tour.

Caught between a press conference in Ottawa called by his party leader Justin Trudeau and a caucus meeting to explain the proposed changes to Canadian electoral system, Vaudreuil- Soulanges Federal Liberal candidate Peter Schiefke was having a busy morning June 16. During a telephone interview later that day, Schiefke explained that 18 months after winning the election, the Liberal party plans to reform the federal electoral system to have representation by population and possibly mandatory voting. He also said this would happen with plenty of consultation with all federal parties and the electorate. Schiefke emphasized the reforms would not require changes to the Constitution or a national referendum.

The ongoing controversy surrounding the National Energy Board’s (NEB) hesitancy to force hydrostatic testing of Enbridge pipeline 9B struck a chord. “There needs to be strong oversight,” said Schiefke. “This is something that has not existed under Mr. Harper’s government.” As to the role of the NEB and how it functions, Schiefke said, “We need to ensure that we have third-party arm’s-length representation on these bodies,” he said. “The problem, under the current government, is that these bodies are being stacked with special interest groups. The decisions regarding the security of any pipeline and the oversight of the project are being made by people who benefit from spending the least amount of money on security and oversight.”

Schiefke said his party understands the economic importance of the petroleum industry and that it needs to be balanced with a safe and secure approach to the environment. “What I will be fighting for is that the members of these boards don’t have hidden interests,” he said noting the Québec system of an independent body reporting to elected politicians is a good model for the rest of the country. “I met recently with several mayors from the Municipalité Régionale de Comté de Vaudreuil-Soulanges (MRC-VS) and they expressed their concerns regarding the pipeline. One mayor said he would not allow the reversal flow through the pipeline unless the entire pipeline is changed,” said Schiefke of Enbridge pipeline 9B reversal plan.

If elected, Schiefke said he plans to bring everything he heard from the mayors to the table in Ottawa. “As Justin (Trudeau) has said many times, ‘Governments grant permits not permission,’ and it’s really up to the municipalities to rise up and voice their opinions and make sure they are heard,” he said, emphasizing the impact this can have on the decision making process. Environmental issues are an important part of Shiefke’s life.

He left his educational positions with the Al Gore and David Suzuki Foundations to enter the Canadian federal political arena. “One day I said to my wife, ‘I cannot sit on the sidelines anymore and watch this government continue to do what it is doing in every way– whether its health care, environmental policy, tax policy’ – there is very little that I agree upon with this government.” According to Schiefke, the nomination process was one of the most important experiences in his life.

“Being invited into people’s homes and having frank discussions about what they want to have government do differently was a really useful experience,” he said noting the information from these discussions has led to the election platform policies of the Liberal party. “We need a government that works for everyone,” he said as he outlined three main planks in the Liberal election platform.

He pointed to the proposed middle class income tax cut of seven per cent and a progressive increase in childcare benefits for middle and lower income families. A comprehensive national plan regarding climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is also high on the priority list for Schiefke followed by the electoral reform plan.

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