In a minority Parliament, he could find himself painted into a corner
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s about-face on electoral reform was an unambiguous example of a broken campaign promise. He probably hasn’t heard the last of it. (Terry Reith/CBC)
Four years after he made it, Justin Trudeau’s promise of electoral reform haunts him still.
But while reform is a nagging headache for Trudeau, it is still the dream of proportional representation’s advocates, including Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats — even if it’s rather unclear how any leader could now promise to move forward with the sort of change that Trudeau rejected.
While the greater question of whether Trudeau has lived up to his promises is at least debatable, when it comes to electoral reform, the answer is fairly straightforward.
In June 2015, Trudeau vowed that the federal election of that year would be the last conducted under the first-past-the-post system. In February 2017, as prime minister, he decided to walk away from that commitment.
Whatever the merits of that decision (Trudeau had misgivings about the ramifications of moving toward proportional representation and feared that a national referendum would be divisive), electoral reform is easily classified as a “broken” promise — an example readily available whenever a critic or political rival wants to assess the Trudeau government’s four years in office.
Regardless of how many (or few) Canadians were eager to see the electoral system changed, that abandoned commitment has become a totem for the argument that Trudeau has failed to live up to expectations.
What do Canadians want?
But then, there’s also what happened after Trudeau broke that promise — when actual voters were asked whether they wanted to adopt reform through referendums in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island.
In December 2018, British Columbians voted against moving to proportional representation by a margin of 61 per cent to 39 per cent. Four months later, in Prince Edward Island, the vote was different but the verdict was the same, with Islanders saying no to proportional representation by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.
Ballots from B.C.’s electoral reform referendum are counted in Victoria, B.C. on Dec. 11, 2018. (Michael McArthur / (CBC)
Those results don’t change the fact that Trudeau promised electoral reform, nor do they answer questions that might be asked about how his government approached the issue after it came to office.
But those two referendums suggest a significant number of Canadians share the prime minister’s discomfort with proportional representation. The two votes also underline the risk that a national referendum would have produced a narrow or divided result that broke down along provincial or regional lines.
Still, those results have not deterred the New Democrats from promising to move forward with a change to a mixed-member proportional representation system should they form government after this fall’s federal election. MORE
It represents neither our voices nor our values.