Sunday, February 12, 2017

Trudeau refuses to keep promise on electoral reform

During the last federal election campaign Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised reform of the federal election system. Trudeau wrote in a letter to Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions, that electoral reform would not be in her mandate.

In his letter to Gould, Trudeau said:
​"There has been tremendous work by the House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform, outreach by Members of Parliament by all parties, and engagement of 360,000 individuals in Canada through, A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged. Furthermore, without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada's interest. Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate."The former minister Maryam Monsef was able to avoid being involved in the issue as she was replaced by Gould last month. Gould defended the government position saying:Our view has always been clear. Major reforms to the electoral system, changes of this magnitude should not be made if they lack the broad support of Canadians. It has become evident that the broad support needed among Canadians for a change of this magnitude does not exist."
Trudeau had committed the government to replacing the present first-past-the post system back in June 2015 just before the federal election campaign. In the first throne speech he also promised that 2015 would be the last election under the first-past-the-post system. The former Minister of Democratic Institutions conducted a national tour and there was an on-line survey about the Canadian political system. A special committee of the House of Commons was struck in June 2016 and there were numerous town hall meetings on electoral reform. A majority of the committee recommended that a referendum be held on some form of proportional representation. Some of the alternatives to the present system are discussed in the appended video. Gould claimed that the government was moving forward with a plan that respected all contributions Canadians had made in discussing the issue. She concluded: "It is a difficult conversation to talk about how we govern ourselves. But we have listened to Canadians and this will not be part of my mandate."
New Democratic Party critic Nathan Cullen said that the move was a cynical display of self-serving politics. Cullen said to reporters:"I was a bit surprised that it wasn't Mr. Trudeau out here, somehow lacking the courage and fortitude to make this announcement himself. He certainly had no problems making the promise, but not the courage to break that promise in front of all of you here today.. What Trudeau proved himself today was to be a liar, was to be of the most cynical variety of politician. Saying whatever it takes to get elected, then once elected seeking any excuse, however weak, however absent, to justify that lie to Canadians."
The interim leader of the main opposition Conservative Party, Rona Ambrose, said that Canadians should think twice before believing what Trudeau says. The leader of the Green Party, a member of the special committee, and sole Green Party member of parliament, said she felt shocked and betrayed by the government decision and that it could have significant ramifications. The Green Party would in all likelihood gain more members if there were proportional representation of some sort. May said:"I am deeply afraid that this betrayal will strike much more deeply in the hearts of Canadians than Prime Minister Trudeau realizes, particularly among young people. We are in a time of dangerous politics. You must never do anything as a politician who understands what's at stake that feeds cynicism. Cynicism has enough to feed itself. It is work to feed hope. It is work to feed faith. And when you break faith you will reap what you sow."
Thomas Mulcair called Trudeau's action a "massive political deception". Trudeau pointed out that there were differences of opinion among the major parties. He pointed out that he preferred a preferential ballot while the NDP wanted proportional representation whereas the Conservatives wanted a referendum. There was no consensus and hence no clear path forward. It would be irresponsible to act he claimed and the country should be moving forward to grow the middle class.
The momentum for reform slowed last December as then Minister of Democratic institutions Maryam Monsef dismissed the report in which a majority had recommended some form of proportional representation and recommended a referendum on the issue. This obviously did not sit well with Trudeau. Trudeau did not think a referendum was necessary and also wanted a preferential ballot. Critics claim that Trudeau is less enthusiastic about changing the present system now he has been elected with a majority government. The present system allowed Liberals to win 184 or 338 seats in the parliament with just 39.5 percent of the vote.
Critics point out that even a majority of residents in Trudeau's own riding of Papineau recommended electoral reform. Trudeau's office said that in general most of those who attended an event hosted by Trudeau himself favored a proportional and mixed-proportional system. Even Karina Gould had been still advocating reform last September. Speaking to a TV station in her riding she said:"The first-past-the-post system that we have is pretty good at producing majority governments but it's often considered to be a false majority because our government and the previous Conservative government didn't really go above 39%, 42% of the vote yet would have much more than 50% of the seats in the house."
Trudeau also referred to data from the 380,000 individuals who had filled out the government's quiz. The site was widely ridiculed and was even thought to be an attempt to sabotage electoral reform. Even the company that designed the quiz said it was modelled after personality quizzes that "command little if any credibility". Trudeau himself referred to the quiz as a "fun little questionnaire".

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