PM aban­dons prom­ise to change vot­ing sys­tem

Cape Breton Post - - CANADA - BY JOANNA SMITH

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau made an un­equiv­o­cal prom­ise to change the way Cana­di­ans vote in fed­eral elec­tions. Then, af­ter win­ning one, he aban­doned it.

That was the nar­ra­tive his po­lit­i­cal ri­vals were build­ing Wed­nes­day af­ter Trudeau of­fi­cially walked away from his oft-re­peated com­mit­ment to get rid of the first-past-the­p­ost vot­ing sys­tem in time for the 2019 elec­tion.

Crit­ics like the NDP’s Nathan Cullen char­ac­ter­ized the about-face it as a cyn­i­cal be­trayal of trust, even if po­lit­i­cal ob­servers had seen a climb­down com­ing from miles away in a port­fo­lio that’s long been a sore spot for the Lib­er­als.

Trudeau ar­gued that mak­ing the right de­ci­sion was bet­ter than stick­ing with what he has since been con­vinced was a bad one.

“The fact of the mat­ter is I am not go­ing to do some­thing that is wrong for Cana­di­ans just to tick off a box on an elec­toral plat­form,” Trudeau said Wed­nes­day during ques­tion pe­riod in the House of Com­mons.

“That is not the kind of prime min­is­ter I will be.”

In a man­date let­ter for newly ap­pointed Demo­cratic In­sti­tu­tions Min­is­ter Ka­rina Gould, Trudeau ar­gued that con­sul­ta­tions across the coun­try have shown that Cana­di­ans are not clam­our­ing for change in the way they choose their fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

“A clear pref­er­ence for a new elec­toral sys­tem, let alone a con­sen­sus, has not emerged,” Trudeau writes in the let­ter re­leased Wed­nes­day, where he also rules out the pos­si­bil­ity of a na­tional ref­er­en­dum.

The re­ac­tion from the NDP, who ac­cuse the Lib­er­als of ca­ter­ing to their own sup­port­ers, only to back off when they re­al­ized there was no ap­petite for their pre­ferred ranked-bal­lot op­tion, was swift and sav­age.

Cullen, the NDP’s demo­cratic re­form critic, called Trudeau a “liar” and “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.”

Green party Leader El­iz­a­beth May said many mem­bers of her party had urged peo­ple to vote strate­gi­cally for the Lib­er­als in hopes of see­ing elec­toral re­form come to pass.

“I feel more deeply shocked and be­trayed by my gov­ern­ment to­day than on any day of my adult life,” May said.

Cana­di­ans made their views known through the House of Com­mons spe­cial com­mit­tee on elec­toral re­form, town halls held by MPs from all par­ties, the trav­els of for­mer min­is­ter Maryam Mon­sef and a much­ma­ligned on­line sur­vey called MyDemoc­racy.ca.

Said in­terim Con­ser­va­tive leader Rona Am­brose: “Cana­di­ans should think twice about be­liev­ing what Justin Trudeau says.”

In his let­ter, Trudeau said he did not be­lieve those con­sul­ta­tions have pro­duced their de­sired - al­beit never quan­ti­fied - level of sup­port for elec­toral re­form, let alone any clar­ity on a pre­ferred re­place­ment.

That mes­sage has evolved over time.

At one point, the Lib­er­als ar­gued that their elec­tion win, as well as the votes cast for other par­ties that in­cluded elec­toral re­form in their cam­paign plat­forms, should be con­sid­ered suf­fi­cient grounds to pro­ceed with­out a ref­er­en­dum. “Over 60 per cent of Cana­di­ans ended up vot­ing for par­ties that clearly stated their com­mit­ment to im­ple­ment­ing a dif­fer­ent way of vot­ing,” Mon­sef said last July when she ap­peared be­fore the elec­toral re­form com­mit­tee.

Last Oc­to­ber, Trudeau sug­gested in an in­ter­view with the Que­bec news­pa­per Le Devoir that Cana­di­ans might be less keen on elec­toral re­form now that the Lib­er­als had re­placed the Con­ser­va­tives.

Later, how­ever, he dou­bled down on the orig­i­nal prom­ise.

“I’ve heard loudly and clearly that Cana­di­ans want a bet­ter sys­tem of gov­er­nance, a bet­ter sys­tem of choos­ing our gov­ern­ments, and I’m work­ing very hard so that 2015 is in­deed the last elec­tion un­der first-past-the-post,” Trudeau told the ed­i­to­rial board of the Toronto Star on Dec. 2.

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