Trudeau Backpedals on Electoral Reform

Last fall, Justin Trudeau was unequivocal: if he won the elections, he would make sure that it would be the last election to happen under the first-past-the-post system. After exactly one year in office, the Prime Minister is backpedaling.

In an interview with Le Devoir on Thursday, Trudeau was much vaguer on his plans for electoral reform: “We’re going to see what happens at the consultations, the reactions and the results of the reports.”

He pleaded that switching to a more representative system such as Single Transferable Vote or Mixed-Proportional can only be done if the population “is open to it.”

He explained that smaller improvements could be made more easily: “Less support and a small change; that might be acceptable. A bigger change would need more support.”

What constitutes a small or a bigger change? Those questions will be answered through “rigorous and intelligent conversations with Canadians,” according to Trudeau.

A committee mandated by the government is currently conducting consultations through the country about how to make the voting system more representative. A report containing their conclusions and recommendations is awaited on December 1st.

Trudeau is not ready, however, to promise the recommendations will be followed, according to Le Devoir. What sort of proof of popular support does the government need to go forward with a “bigger” electoral reform is not clear either.

“We’re not going to prejudge what is necessary, but when we say a substantial support, it means something,” said Trudeau.

Lack of popular support?

The minister of democratic institutions, Maryam Monsef, has frequently brought up the importance of having the support of the population before going forward with the reform in the last few months. It didn’t seem particularly significant, considering the undisputed popularity of the idea.

After all, the Liberals were counting on on it during their campaign in 2015.  After one year in office, though, they seem a lot less certain.

“Under Mr Harper, there were so many people who were dissatisfied with the government and its approach that people were saying ‘it takes an electoral reform so we’ll stop getting governments we don’t like’. And under the current system, they now have a government with whom they’re more satisfied, so the motivation to change the system is less glaring,” argued Trudeau.

However, a poll conducted by Abacus Data (commissioned by Broadbent Institute) in December showed that Canadians wanted the Liberals to uphold their promise. 83% of respondents thought the way MPs were elected needed at least some changes, with 44% believing it needed either major changes or complete transformation. Unsurprisingly, Quebeckers and supporters of Greens, NDP or Bloc were the most likely to want drastic changes.

In 2015, the Liberals won a majority government with 39% of the vote, just like the Conservatives did in 2011.

It should be noted that all major parties, except the Conservative Party, are in favour of electoral reform. Needless to say, the questions period on Thursday was not an easy one for the Prime Minister.

“The Prime Minister said that while he liked the idea of getting rid of our unfair first-past-the post-system, now that he has been able to get elected using that very system, it might not be so bad after all!” summarized Thomas Mulcair, the leader of NDP. He claimed that the desire of Canadians for an electoral reform was clear.

Rhéal Fortin, interim leader of Bloc Québécois, later commented that Trudeau was betraying the trust of the voters. Even Conservatives joined in, accusing the Liberals of self-contradiction.

The government will be conducting public consultations about the electoral reform throughout October.

*Featured image by Adam Scotti

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