Federal leaders slam Trudeau’s refusal to call by-elections

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House of Commons

Federal opposition leaders are joining forces to denounce Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s refusal to call by-elections in three of four vacant seats in the House of Commons.

On Tuesday, the four opposition party leaders signed a letter to the prime minister urging him to “do what’s best for Canadians” and immediately call the three other by-elections.

Earlier this week, Trudeau called a by-election to fill the vacancy in the eastern Ontario riding of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, which has been vacant since last May, when Conservative MP Gordon Brown died.

But, without explanation, Trudeau did not call by-elections in three other vacant ridings: Burnaby South in British Columbia, York-Simcoe in Ontario and Outremont in Quebec.

The opposition party leaders’ letter states:

“Your decision … denies hundreds of thousands of Canadians their simple democratic right to be represented in Parliament. The longstanding tradition in Canada is to call the by-elections for all vacant seats at the same time … you have offered no clear explanation as to why you only called (one) by-election … while 334,000 Canadians … continue to go without federal representation.”

The letter is signed by Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, Green leader Elizabeth May and Bloc Québecois leader Mario Beaulieu.

“While the parties we lead disagree on what solutions are best for the challenges facing Canadians,” the four leaders say, “we are in complete agreement that Canadians deserve to have elected representation as soon as possible.”

A number of observers have noted that the current prime minister is defying precedent by balking at promptly calling the three by-elections. For one, it is general practice to call by-elections for all vacant seats on the same day. Secondly, in the case of one of the vacant seats, Burnaby South, where Singh is a declared candidate, the ruling party generally promptly calls by-elections to allow party leaders take a seat in the House.

In the past, when other seat-less party leaders indicated their intentions to run in by-elections, the prime ministers of the day called those votes promptly and without delay. Stephen Harper, Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney all benefited from that prime ministerial courtesy. In the case of Mulroney, the man who extended him that courtesy, allowing him to quickly take his place on the opposition benches, was the current prime minister’s father, Pierre Trudeau.

According to the law, however, a prime minister can delay up to 180 days before calling a by-election. 

Photo: House of Commons

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.


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