Why Trudeau’s broken electoral reform promise could rebound on him

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


Green Party: Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system must go.

It represents neither our voices nor our values.

The results of the next federal election—if electoral reform had happened

A Green-NDP merger? It could be a big hit.  A new 338Canada analysis shows the ‘Green Democrats’ would hold the balance of power in a minority government after the next election

Philippe J. Fournier: A new 338 Canada projection shows that under a proportional representation system the Greens and NDP would take a combined 90 seats

Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May introduces newly elected Green MP, Paul Manly, on Parliament Hill on Friday, May 10, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

Proponents of electoral reform couldn’t help but reiterate their displeasure with the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system when commenting on last week’s 338-seat projection, and the numbers certainly suggested they may have a point.

The Conservative Party of Canada, then with an average support of 36.6 per cent of Canadian voters according to the latest poll aggregate, was projected to win an average of 174 seats—just above the 170 seat threshold for a majority at the House of Commons.

“A majority government with less than 37 per cent of the vote?” many of them rhetorically asked, not without disdain.

National seat projection under PR

Under the regional proportional representation system described above, the Conservative Party of Canada would be projected at an average of 125 seats—the highest amongst parties, but a total that would be far from the 170 seat threshold for a majority at the House of Commons. The Liberals would win an average of 108 seats.

Here are the PR seat projections with 95-per-cent confidence intervals:

As in the case of our hypothetical NDP-Green merger simulation, this regional PR projection is an exercise of pure politics-fiction. Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have shown any interest whatsoever in promoting such reform [PR]  and, from these numbers above, we can understand why. SOURCE

Visit your NDP or Green candidate about making PR an election issue!


Sign up to visit your NDP or Green candidate about proportional representation HERE.

In the last federal election, the Liberals, NDP and Greens all promised that 2015 was the last election using first-past-the-post and to make every vote count in 2019.

The results of five months of consultations with Canadians showed overwhelming support for proportional representation from citizens and experts, giving the Liberal government a strong mandate to proceed with proportional representation.

Let’s get proportional representation back on the table in this federal election! With your support, we can help ensure that our broken electoral system is a topic in the media, at debates, on social media and at the door. Ensuring candidates in favour of PR are well informed and will speak up for it often is important. SIGN HERE

B.C.’s electoral reform vote fails

B.C.’s voting system will not change, Elections BC announced Thursday.

B.C.’s voting system will not change, Elections BC announced Thursday.

In the electoral reform referendum 61.3 per cent of voters voted to stay with B.C.’s current first-past-the-post electoral system, while 38.7 per cent of voters backed proportional representation.

A total of 1,403,358 votes were received, representing 42.6 per cent of registered voters, Elections BC said.

When the results are broken down by electoral district, it’s clear that Vancouverites and people on Vancouver Island supported proportional representation, while those in other areas of the province did not. For example, 74 per cent of ballots returned from Vancouver- Mount Pleasant were in favour of pro-rep. In the West End, 61 per cent were in favour and in Point Grey, 52 per cent were in favour. In most parts of Surrey, less than 30 per cent were in favour.   MORE

Vaughn Palmer: B.C. voters decide against Horgan’s ‘leap of faith’ as proportional representation bites the dust

Premier John Horgan and B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver following their speeches at a rally in support of proportional representation. CHAD HIPOLITO / THE CANADIAN PRESS

VICTORIA — Premier John Horgan tried to stack the referendum deck in favour of proportional representation, believing it would improve the chances of another term of “progressive” NDP government in partnership with the Greens. MORE

BC Says No to Proportional Representation

Some 61.3 per cent of voters opt for current electoral system.

Unlike past referenda on electoral reform, this one became partisan. The BC Liberals opposed the change while the NDP and Greens campaigned in favour. MORE