Letter: The promise parties keep making -- and breaking
Monday, February 1 marked the four year anniversary of Trudeau’s broken promise on electoral reform.
“We are committed to ensuring that the 2015 election will be the last federal election using FPtP”
It was a key campaign promise which Trudeau repeated over 1800 times. An all party parliamentary committee, ERRE, heard from experts from around the world, MPs sought input from constituents and 360,000 Cdns completed a national survey. The committee’s majority report recommended a process towards adopting an effective system of proportional representation for Canada, and it was not the only study in Canada to do so either.
On February 1st, 2017, shortly before noon, Karina Gould’s government missive put an abrupt end to the whole thing.
But Trudeau was not the first politician to break his promise for electoral reform. A century earlier, Liberal leader William Lyon Mackenzie King did almost the same thing. In 1919, King promised that 1921 would be the last election under FPtP.
Like the Trudeau Liberals, King held a special Parliamentary Committee to study the issue, but after two years of silence on the issue, King’s Liberals voted against it. Then Conservative leader, Arthur Meighen, called out King’s Liberals, for being “silent, impotent and bloodless” on the issue, adding that “while they, the government, favoured the principle, it was utterly opposed to the practice.”
Pierre Trudeau, concerned with national unity and regional imbalances, said “I would support a system of proportional representation. We can make sure that the national parties have representation in Parliament closer to the number of people voting for them.” Although he did become our Prime Minister again after the Joe Clark government fell, he too did not follow his words with action.
His son Justin Trudeau is just the most recent, in a long string of Canadian politicians, who speak in favour of the principle of electoral reform, and they are by no means all Liberals..
Both Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney spoke passionately and eloquently in favour of electoral reform, and Notley’s NDP quietly removed Proportional Representation from their party platform when it appeared they might win. Canadian politicians of all political stripes quickly lose their enthusiasm for electoral reform when they get a taste of the raw power which majority government gives them. Seven referendums in Canada, stymied by deep pocketed opposition, fear mongering, high thresholds, low voter turnout and general confusion have failed to produce change as well. This, while polls show that over 70% of Canadians, consistently, and across party lines, support change.
A hundred years after the first broken promise, the question remains how to best deal with this issue, which clearly refuses to go away. The best way forward may be to take another look at the BC’s Citizens’ Assembly process in 2004. The transparency and the absence of politicians in that process gave British Columbia voters the confidence to give it nearly 60% support in the following referendum. BC would have been the first Canadian province with a proportional voting system if it wasn’t for the artificially high majority requirement in that referendum which was set by, you guessed it, politicians.
With an election looming it is clear that Trudeau’s broken electoral reform promise is still hurting him. Canadians just do not like to be so blatantly deceived and we have not forgotten. A federal Citizens’ Assembly on electoral reform might not only finally bring us the electoral reform we want, but may also help restore some much needed trust in the words of our political leaders.