Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has abandoned electoral reform as part of his political agenda, a key campaign promise made by the Liberal Party.
“It has become evident that the broad support needed among Canadians for a change of this magnitude does not exist,” said Trudeau’s newly appointed Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould.
This is a rapid change of approach for Trudeau, who had been reaffirming his commitment to electoral reform as recently as December 2016.
“I make promises because I believe in them,” Trudeau told the Toronto Star last December. “I’ve heard loudly and clearly that Canadians want a better system of governance, a better system of choosing our government, and I’m working very hard so that 2015 is indeed the last election under first-past-the-post.”
According to a mandate letter released by the Liberal party last week, electoral reform will not be amongst Gould’s objectives.
“A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged,” stated the letter. “Furthermore, without a clear preference or question, a referendum would not be in Canada’s interest. Changing the electoral system will not be in our mandate.”
Trudeau and his ministers are worried a more proportional system could give rise to extremist ‘alt-right’ and white supremacist parties find a place in Canadian politics, reports the CBC.
The current first-past-the-post system is often criticized for misrepresenting the popular vote, creating majority governments who often receive far less than 50 per cent of the vote, and disadvantaging small parties.
The Liberal Party received only 39.5 per cent of the popular vote in the last election, but came away with 54 per cent of seats in parliament. The Green Party, meanwhile, received 3.4 per cent of the popular vote, but managed to win only a single seat.
Since coming into power, Trudeau has been a staunch supporter of a ranked ballot system, which critics believe would disproportionately advantage his party. The Conservatives have been calling for a referendum on the issue, believing that the Liberal party should enact no change without the popular support of Canadians. The NDP are in favour of a proportional representation system, and have campaigned on the promise of electoral reform for decades.
Trudeau defended his change of stance during question period, where he said, “there is no clear path forward. It would be irresponsible for us to do something that harms Canada’s stability.”
“I’m not going to do something that is wrong for Canadians just to tick off a box on an electoral platform,” he continued.
The other parties have not responded kindly to Trudeau’s pivot, criticizing him for misleading Canadians.
“Justin Trudeau lied to Canadians about democratic reform,” said NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.
“What Mr. Trudeau proved himself today was to be a liar, was to be of the most cynical variety of politician, saying whatever it takes to get elected then once elected seeking any excuse, however weak, however absent, to justify that lie to Canadians,” said NDP democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen.
“They’re fearful of having the voting system that doesn’t keep Liberals in power forever and more,” said Cullen, referencing the Liberal party’s desire for a ranked ballot system.
Conservative Party Interim Leader Rona Ambrose said people should “think twice about believing what Justin Trudeau says.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, a staunch supporter of proportional representation, warned Trudeau of the consequences of abandoning his earlier promise, “I am deeply afraid that this betrayal will strike much more deeply in the hearts of Canadians than Prime Minister Trudeau realizes, particularly among young people.”
An online e-petition asking for the Liberal Party to reaffirm its promise has already reached 40,000 signatures. The petition is sponsored by Cullen, and should bring it to the House of Commons which will mean that the government will have to issue a response within 45 days.