Lib­er­als aban­don prom­ise to change vot­ing sys­tem

Op­po­si­tion feels be­trayed af­ter Trudeau promised re­form dur­ing elec­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JOANNA SMITH

OTTAWA — Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau is aban­don­ing his long-held prom­ise to change the way Cana­di­ans vote in fed­eral elec­tions — an about­face his op­po­si­tion ri­vals an­grily char­ac­ter­ized Wed­nes­day as a cyn­i­cal be­trayal of trust.

In a man­date let­ter for newly ap­pointed Demo­cratic In­sti­tu­tions Min­is­ter Ka­rina Gould, Trudeau makes it clear that elec­toral re­form — once top of mind for the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment — is no longer on the agenda.

“Chang­ing the elec­toral sys­tem will not be in your man­date,” the prime min­is­ter writes in the let­ter, re­leased Wed­nes­day.

A va­ri­ety of con­sul­ta­tions across the coun­try have shown that Cana­di­ans are not clam­our­ing for a change in the way they choose their fed­eral gov­ern­ment, the let­ter con­tin­ues. It also rules out the pos­si­bil­ity of a na­tional ref­er­en­dum.

“A clear pref­er­ence for a new elec­toral sys­tem, let alone a con­sen­sus, has not emerged,” Trudeau writes. “Fur­ther­more, with­out a clear pref­er­ence or a clear ques­tion, a ref­er­en­dum would not be in Canada’s in­ter­est.”

Gould, a Burling­ton MP, echoed that mes­sage in an in­ter­view with The Spec­ta­tor.

“Ref­er­en­dums can be in­cred­i­bly di­vi­sive… We do not feel we have the sup­port of Cana­di­ans to move for­ward with the change at this time.”

Trudeau re­peat­edly promised — both as a cam­paign­ing Lib­eral leader and as prime min­is­ter in a speech from the throne — to get rid of the cur­rent first-past-the-post vot­ing sys­tem in time for the 2019 fed­eral elec­tion.

New Demo­crat MP Nathan Cullen, the party’s demo­cratic re­form critic, sav­aged Trudeau as a “liar” dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in the foyer of the House of Com­mons.

“This is one of the most cyn­i­cal dis­plays of self-serv­ing pol­i­tics this gov­ern­ment has yet to en­gage in,” Cullen said, ac­cus­ing the Lib­er­als of “seek­ing any ex­cuse, how­ever weak, how­ever ab­sent, to jus­tify that lie to Cana­di­ans.”

Trudeau, he added, “promised to con­duct him­self with hon­our and in­tegrity .... It puts into ques­tion any prom­ise, any com­mit­ment Mr. Trudeau makes or has made in the past.”

Green party Leader El­iz­a­beth May said she felt be­trayed, not­ing that many mem­bers of her party had urged peo­ple to vote strate­gi­cally — in favour of the Lib­er­als — based on their prom­ise to bring in elec­toral re­form.

“I feel more deeply shocked and be­trayed by my gov­ern­ment to­day than on any day of my adult life,” she 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 much-ma­ligned on­line sur­vey called MyDemoc­racy.ca.

Ac­cord­ing to the man­date let­ter, Trudeau did not be­lieve those con­sul­ta­tions have pro­duced their de­sired — al­beit un­de­fined — level of sup­port for elec­toral re­form, let alone any clar­ity on a pre­ferred re­place­ment.

The New Democrats, long sup­port­ers of a sys­tem of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, went into a meet­ing with Gould on Tues­day hop­ing to hear the new min­is­ter re­peat Trudeau’s orig­i­nal, un­equiv­o­cal prom­ise: that the 2015 vote would be Canada’s last un­der first-past-the-post.

Gould, how­ever, said Wed­nes­day evening Trudeau “stated very clearly from the very be­gin­ning that we would not move for­ward un­less we had the broad sup­port of Cana­di­ans,” re­fer­ring to the throne speech.

The new min­is­ter said her of­fice has spent the past three weeks re­view­ing feed­back from hun­dreds of thou­sands of Cana­di­ans, which didn’t show enough of an ap­petite for change.

“It’s no longer part of my man­date and I am look­ing for­ward to work­ing on the things that are in my man­date. Ul­ti­mately, my job is to work to strengthen and to pro­tect and to en­cour­age greater ac­cess to our democ­racy, and that’s what I’m plan­ning on do­ing.”

Trudeau wants Gould, De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan and Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale to come up with ways to de­fend the Cana­dian po­lit­i­cal sys­tem against cy­berthreats and hack­ers — a pos­si­ble con­se­quence of the “voter fraud” and hacked email con­tro­ver­sies em­a­nat­ing from the rau­cous elec­tion in the United States.

“This should in­clude ask­ing the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Se­cu­rity Es­tab­lish­ment (CSE) to an­a­lyze risks to Canada’s po­lit­i­cal and elec­toral ac­tiv­i­ties from hack­ers, and to re­lease this as­sess­ment pub­licly,” he writes.

He also wants the three min­is­ters to ask the CSE to “of­fer ad­vice” to Elec­tions Canada and po­lit­i­cal par­ties — in­clud­ing op­po­si­tion par­ties — on “best prac­tices” re­gard­ing cy­ber­se­cu­rity.

The let­ter also asks Gould to take the lead on de­vel­op­ing leg­is­la­tion to bring stricter rules — and greater trans­parency — to po­lit­i­cal fundrais­ing, a re­sponse to months of neg­a­tive head­lines about so-called cash-for-ac­cess Lib­eral fundrais­ers.

The promised leg­is­la­tion would re­quire cabi­net min­is­ters, party lead­ers and lead­er­ship can­di­dates to pub­licly ad­ver­tise their fundrais­ers in ad­vance, and re­lease a re­port af­ter the fact with de­tails of the event.

The pro­posed new law, if passed, would also re­quire events to take place in pub­licly avail­able spa­ces, a move de­signed to ad­dress con­cerns about well-heeled donors bend­ing the ears of cabi­net min­is­ters in pri­vate homes.

“Other mea­sures may fol­low af­ter dis­cus­sion with the other po­lit­i­cal par­ties,” Trudeau writes.

The let­ter also re­peats ear­lier com­mit­ments, such as re­peal­ing some el­e­ments of the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment’s Fair Elec­tions Act and ex­plor­ing the idea of an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sioner to or­ga­nize lead­ers’ de­bates dur­ing fed­eral elec­tions.

It also in­cludes re­view­ing cam­paign spend­ing lim­its and work­ing with Trea­sury Board Pres­i­dent Scott Bri­son and Jus­tice Min­is­ter Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould to in­crease the open­ness of gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing re­view­ing the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act.

At 29, Gould be­came the youngest fe­male MP to hold a cabi­net post in Cana­dian his­tory af­ter Trudeau’s port­fo­lio shuf­fle in Jan­uary.

In 2015, she un­seated long­time Con­ser­va­tive in­cum­bent Mike Wal­lace.

In her first year in of­fice, she served as par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary to In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment Min­is­ter Marie-Claude Bibeau.

Gould speaks in the House of Com­mons.

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