What a difference a couple of months makes.
Recently, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that reforming the controversial "first past the post" electoral system was no longer on the agenda for his Liberal government.
It must have been a difficult moment for Trudeau, since it was only two months ago that he had reaffirmed his commitment to reform in a meeting with The Toronto Star editorial board. Trudeau said he wouldn’t shy away from the election promise simply because it was going to be hard to achieve. And he noted Canadians had made it clear they “want a better system of governance, a better system of choosing our governments.”
Now, apparently, we don’t.
Not only are Canadians decidedly unenthusiastic about the prospect of reform, but we have failed to reach a consensus on what any new system might look like, according to the Liberals.
So, what happened?
Well, it’s not like the government didn’t attempt to tackle the issue. A special committee for electoral reform was established with a mandate to study alternatives and garner input from Canadians. (It was not tasked, however, with proposing a specific system to replace first past the post). And the MyDemocracy.ca online survey gave Canadians a chance to express their views on what a democracy should look like. More than 380,000 people completed the survey, but, again, they were not asked which specific system Canada should adopt.
Abandoning a promise, especially a potentially transformative one, always exposes a politician to ridicule. The NDP were quick to pounce on the PM, calling his announcement a betrayal of voters and of those who had engaged in the dialogue on reform.
It’s difficult to dispute that viewpoint. Trudeau may attempt to divest himself of responsibility for keeping his promise by suggesting there’s no mandate for change, but the truth is he was given the mandate in the last federal election. It’s fair to suggest voters were ready to move away from a system that can give majority power to a party that has less than 50 per cent voter support.
But the Liberals didn’t give us a system to move toward, which begs the question: Why even make the promise if you have no clue what to put in its place?