Lib­eral vot­ing re­form prom­ise just a cheap prop

Was Trudeau ever se­ri­ous about keep­ing his word to Cana­di­ans?

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - Chan­tal Hébert Chan­tal He­bert is a na­tional af­fairs writer with Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices.

As re­cently as last month’s’ town hall tour, Justin Trudeau was in­sist­ing that he was still in­ter­ested in chang­ing the vot­ing sys­tem.

But things turned out dif­fer­ently.

Now it is fair to ask whether Trudeau was ever se­ri­ous about keep­ing his word to Cana­di­ans. From day one, his gov­ern­ment’s ac­tions on the file never matched his words.

For it is fair to ask whether Trudeau was ever se­ri­ous about keep­ing his word to Cana­di­ans. From day one, his gov­ern­ment’s ac­tions on the file never matched his words.

With a clock tick­ing on the lo­gis­ti­cal fea­si­bil­ity of re­plac­ing the first-past-the-post sys­tem in time for 2019, it took months for a spe­cial par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee to be set up.

Once it was in place, the gov­ern­ment never ad­vanced a po­si­tion or tried, in any way, to craft the con­sen­sus that it now says it has failed to find.

For months on end, the op­po­si­tion par­ties and Cana­di­ans alike were left to try to di­vine Trudeau’s think­ing.

At times, it was as if the Lib­er­als were go­ing out of their way to en­sure that no pat­tern could be dis­cerned in the tea leaves they pur­ported to be guided by.

They re­jected both the no­tion of putting var­i­ous op­tions to a con­sul­ta­tive ref­er­en­dum or of ask­ing Cana­di­ans for their pref­er­ence in the mas­sive on­line con­sul­ta­tion they en­gaged in at the end of last year.

In pol­i­tics, a con­sen­sus is not like a rare mush­room only to be found by an ex­traor­di­nar­ily lucky hunter. In any event, in this case, the gov­ern­ment seemed more con­cerned with bury­ing any hint of a con­sen­sus than un­earthing one.

It is true that the ex­er­cise did not elicit much ap­petite for a ranked bal­lot, Trudeau’s pre­ferred al­ter­na­tive to the first-past-the-post sys­tem. But then it is not as if the gov­ern­ment even tried to make a case for it.

The op­po­si­tion par­ties feel that they were taken for a year­long ride, and it is hard to dis­agree with them.

As the sole elected MP of her party, Green Leader El­iz­a­beth May did dou­ble and triple duty last fall to par­tic­i­pate in the process. Elec­toral re­form is a long­stand­ing pri­or­ity of her party. On Wed­nes­day she said she had never felt so be­trayed by a gov­ern­ment.

For his part, the NDP’s Nathan Cullen called the prime min­is­ter a liar.

Ex­pect par­lia­men­tary co­op­er­a­tion, go­ing for­ward, to be hard to come by.

There are those who will ar­gue that Trudeau is wise to walk away from his elec­toral-re­form prom­ise, as he needs to clear the decks to fo­cus on the Canada/U.S. front.

But then one could make that same pro­nounce­ment about many other Lib­eral com­mit­ments, in­clud­ing some that are more likely to act as ir­ri­tants in deal­ing with the new White House. The plan to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana comes to mind.

The elec­tion of Don­ald Trump has brought about a ma­jor re­al­lo­ca­tion of gov­ern­ment re­sources on Par­lia­ment Hill. But it would be eas­ier to find virtue in the gov­ern­ment’s tim­ing if it had shown one ounce of po­lit­i­cal will to ful­fill its prom­ise in the full year that pre­ceded the Amer­i­can elec­tion.

Or if Trudeau had not con­tin­ued to say he in­tended to change the vot­ing sys­tem months af­ter Trump’s vic­tory.

The prime min­is­ter could have come to Cana­di­ans this week to say he had un­der­es­ti­mated the time re­quired to re­form the sys­tem and that he needed to push back the dead­line for achiev­ing his goal be­yond 2019.

But Wed­nes­day’s an­nounce­ment was about pulling the plug on the plan, not about re­cast­ing it.

Cana­dian vot­ers are a for­giv­ing lot. The as­sump­tion by Lib­eral gov­ern­ment strate­gists that most will not be in­clined to pun­ish Trudeau for break­ing a prom­ise that never ranked high in the elec­torate’s list of pri­or­i­ties is prob­a­bly right.

Af­ter all, a plu­ral­ity of Cana­di­ans did not hold it against Jean Chre­tien that he broke the more cen­tral prom­ise to re­place the GST.

There are par­al­lels. Both com­mit­ments were shiny Lib­eral plat­form ob­jects that turned out to be lit­tle more than cheap props. Plus ca change! (Trans­la­tion: “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”)


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