Call that B.C. by­elec­tion, Mr. Trudeau

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion -

If Justin Trudeau thinks he’s clever in de­lib­er­ately stalling NDP Leader Jag­meet Singh’s bid to win a seat in Par­lia­ment, the prime min­is­ter is deeply mis­taken.

While cyn­ics might ap­plaud Trudeau’s em­brace of such bare-knuck­led, par­ti­san tac­tics, fair-minded Cana­di­ans who yearn for a vig­or­ous, but re­spect­ful democ­racy, will feel be­trayed.

This was the Lib­eral leader, af­ter all, who in op­po­si­tion earnestly pledged to do things dif­fer­ently, de­nounc­ing the “neg­a­tiv­ity” he saw in fed­eral pol­i­tics.

But his de­ci­sion at the end of Oc­to­ber — to call a by­elec­tion in an On­tario rid­ing, but not in the Bri­tish Columbia rid­ing where Singh is vy­ing for a seat — shows Trudeau has again bro­ken a prom­ise.

Since be­com­ing NDP leader last year, Singh has been hin­dered by his lack of a seat in the House of Com­mons.

With less than a year be­fore the next gen­eral elec­tion, he’s ea­ger to prove him­self in Par­lia­ment as a leader, a fighter, a par­lia­men­tar­ian and, yes, a primem­i­nis­ter-in wait­ing. As an elected MP, Singh would stride Canada’s big­gest po­lit­i­cal stage where he could be seen and heard by more vot­ers than ever.

It’s un­der­stand­able Trudeau and the Lib­er­als want to deny him this op­por­tu­nity and keep Singh twist­ing in the B.C. wind as long as pos­si­ble. But it’s still in­de­fen­si­ble. And this is true de­spite the Lib­er­als’ fee­ble ex­cuses for their ac­tions.

On Oct. 28, Trudeau called a by­elec­tion for Dec. 3 in the On­tario rid­ing of Leeds-Grenville-Thou­sand Is­lands and Rideau Lakes. He didn’t call a one in three other rid­ings with va­cant seats, in­clud­ing Burn­aby-South that is cru­cial to Singh and the NDP.

Crit­i­cized for not call­ing those three by­elec­tions, the Lib­er­als ar­gued the law was on their side. The On­tario rid­ing had been va­cant much longer, they said. In­deed, the govern­ment was legally com­pelled to call a by­elec­tion there by the end of Oc­to­ber.

In con­trast, the B.C. rid­ing had been va­cant only since Septem­ber. The law per­mits the Lib­er­als to wait un­til next March be­fore set­ting a by­elec­tion date there.

But hav­ing the tech­ni­cal right to post­pone the B.C. by­elec­tion doesn’t give Trudeau the mo­ral right to do so. There’s no good rea­son for the Lib­er­als to de­lay the Burn­aby-South vote and deny Singh a shot at Par­lia­ment for so long, other than that the de­lay favours Trudeau.

As long as the Burn­aby-South seat is va­cant, Singh will need to de­vote much of his time and en­ergy to cam­paign­ing there. Ev­ery day he’s on the West Coast is a day he’s ab­sent from Ot­tawa, where the real po­lit­i­cal ac­tion is go­ing on. If Singh even­tu­ally wins in Burn­aby-South — and that could be as late as next April — he’ll have al­most no time to make an im­pres­sion in Ot­tawa be­fore Par­lia­ment’s sum­mer re­cess and then the elec­tion cam­paign it­self. But if he loses, even worse. The NDP would likely need to choose a new leader just months be­fore the fed­eral elec­tion.

Trudeau might be pleased by this strat­egy. But it’s a dis­ser­vice to vot­ers, es­pe­cially those in Burn­aby-South and the other rid­ings who have no rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Ot­tawa. It dis­cred­its our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. It breeds voter mis­trust. And it’s the cyn­i­cal, neg­a­tive brand of pol­i­tics he vowed to end.

Trudeau can, of course, eas­ily change all this by im­me­di­ately call­ing the three by­elec­tions. He need wait no longer to do what’s right.

There’s no good rea­son for the Lib­er­als to de­lay the Burn­aby-South vote and deny Jag­meet Singh a shot at Par­lia­ment for so long, other than the de­lay favours Trudeau.

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