Re­form re­dux

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - This ed­i­to­rial orig­i­nally ap­peared in The Tele­gram

“We will make ev­ery vote count.” It was a bold prom­ise made by the Lib­er­als last year dur­ing the fed­eral elec­tion cam­paign. Elec­toral re­form caught the at­ten­tion of many Cana­di­ans want­ing an im­proved po­lit­i­cal process.

The Lib­er­als vowed that 2015 would be the last fed­eral elec­tion con­ducted us­ing the first-past­the-post vot­ing sys­tem. Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau re­peated that pledge at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. His gov­ern­ment con­vened an all-party com­mit­tee to re­view re­form op­tions and is ex­pected to de­liver rec­om­men­da­tions to Par­lia­ment by Dec. 1.

Now comes the hard part. The Lib­er­als also promised that within 18 months of form­ing gov­ern­ment, they would in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion to en­act elec­toral re­form. It seems in­creas­ingly un­likely, es­pe­cially af­ter the PM’s com­ments dur­ing a re­cent Que­bec news­pa­per in­ter­view. Trudeau ar­gues now that there were so many peo­ple un­happy with the Stephen Harper regime that elec­toral re­form looked at­trac­tive as a way to get rid of an un­pop­u­lar gov­ern­ment. Now that Cana­di­ans have a gov­ern­ment they’re hap­pier with, the mo­ti­va­tion to change the elec­toral sys­tem is less com­pelling. It’s a smug at­ti­tude for a gov­ern­ment that has only held power for a year.

A lit­tle clar­i­fi­ca­tion might be in or­der. It’s the PM who has lost his ap­petite for elec­toral re­form. The Lib­er­als took power and the ur­gency to change the sys­tem quickly waned.

The Con­ser­va­tives are mak­ing a strong ar­gu­ment for a na­tional ref­er­en­dum. They ar­gue that chang­ing how we elect politi­cians must be sup­ported by a ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans and not de­pend on MPs who - let’s face it - are in a con­flict of in­ter­est po­si­tion. But the odds are that only Par­lia­ment will vote on the re­form ques­tion.

The gov­ern­ment has other pre­oc­cu­pa­tions and so elec­toral re­form is be­ing pushed off the agenda. The fed­eral flip-flop comes just as Prince Ed­ward Is­land pre­pares to launch its own plebiscite on elec­toral re­form. The P.E.I. re­sults might in­flu­ence how Ottawa pro­ceeds. If there is sup­port for change from Is­lan­ders, then Trudeau might warm up to the idea again. If Is­lan­ders opt for the sta­tus quo, then the PM can point to those re­sults as an­other ar­gu­ment to slow down the fed­eral process.

Trudeau is obliged to fol­low through on his elec­toral re­form prom­ises and the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tions must be acted upon. Cana­di­ans al­ready voted in a ref­er­en­dum last year - it was called a fed­eral elec­tion, and it called for change. Cana­di­ans should de­mand ac­tion on elec­toral re­form, as promised.

Does Trudeau be­lieve he’s such a good choice as PM that the sys­tem doesn’t have to be changed un­til the Lib­er­als lose power?

Per­haps it’s time for a re­fresher course. The PM should go back and read through his plat­form from last fall. It might clar­ify things.

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