EDITORIAL – Trudeau was right to cancel plans for electoral changes

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

YOU’D THINK, by the way the Opposition is talking, that an election promise had never been broken before Wednesday.

Sometimes, election promises are broken for no good reason; at other times, breaking a promise is justified. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged during the last election campaign that it would the last under the first-past-the-post system. Yesterday, he changed his mind.

vote-federalThere are good reasons for reversing himself on his promise, the main one being that there’s really no advantage to getting involved in the complexities of proportional representation. Another is that it’s not an issue that Canadians care all that much about.

Rather than the Opposition claim that putting the brakes on changing how we vote is “cynical,” Trudeau’s move is the right thing to do. It’s not that he didn’t try to put some steam behind electoral reform. There was a Parliamentary special committee, town halls and local committees (including Kamloops), a traveling road show and an online survey — though the latter was quite a flop.

Still, Trudeau could have put some choices to the people in a national referendum, and he’s decided not even to do that. He resisted a referendum right from the start, and it’s never been clear why. After all, something as fundamental as the manner in which we pick our governments seemed tailor-made for a referendum. Somehow, Trudeau had the idea that determining whether there was broad support for electoral-system change was best achieved by other means.

Anyway, Trudeau has decided there isn’t enough support to make changes. “A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged,” he states.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen calls it “a cynical display.” Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose (even though her party has always been critical of the initiative) basically says that, because of the flip-flop, people can’t believe anything Trudeau says.

And Green Party leader Elizabeth May calls it a “betrayal.”

Oh, come on. It was a bad idea in the first place. Trudeau belatedly figured that out.


About Mel Rothenburger (5787 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

5 Comments on EDITORIAL – Trudeau was right to cancel plans for electoral changes

  1. These comments and the article itself display a general lack of knowledge on electoral systems. The “admiration of every democratic country”? Hardly! 90 countries have adopted PR since 1900 — how many have adopted FPTP? Zilch. The only ones still stuck with this outdated system are the former colonies of Britain who have never known anything else, for it is only if you’ve never experienced another system that you will call this one “good” or even “good enough”. Countries which use PR see 95% of votes cast actually electing someone, that is 95% of people actually see their vote reflected in the makeup of Parliament. In Canada? Less than 50%.

    The majority of Canadians are “represented” in Parliament by someone who does not share their views on policy. How does that make sense? I can tell you from personal experience that every single time I have asked our current MP to vote a particular way on a certain topic, she has voted the opposite way — how is that “representing my views”? Canada is a diverse country, and that diversity of opinion should be reflected in the makeup of our Parliament, as it is in the best-governed countries in the world. 39% of the votes should equal 39% of the seats.

    It is a mystery to me why people feel it’s OK to give complete control of Parliament to a party that wins only a minority of the vote. This is the norm in Canada, where due to the distortions of FPTP, 39% of the vote magically becomes 54% of the seats, which in our system equals 100% of the power. Especially in this age of the rising right, it’s more important than ever that a minority not be allowed to rule over the majority.

    As to a “lack of consensus”, that’s wishful thinking. There was very clear agreement amongst those who spoke up. 88% of the expert testimony to the ERRE committee recommended PR, over 87% of the speakers at consultations spoke in favour of PR, and even the government’s ridiculous little “fun survey” found that over 70% of Canadians believe that parties should have to collaborate in order to govern (you don’t hear that little fact bandied about in the media much now, do you?) Every single commission and assembly that has studied the question in detail has recommended some form of PR, including the most recent ERRE committee. How much more consistency do you want?

    No, the reason we didn’t get the change we were promised is the same this time as it has been every other time: the party in power decided that reform looks a lot better when you haven’t just benefited from the idiosyncracies of this system. PR would have held the Trudeau government to a minority in 2015 (their own 39% of seats, to be exact), and this doesn’t seem very appealing when you’re sitting on a comfy (false) majority.

    I realize that most people who aren’t particularly interested in this topic might be relieved by Trudeau’s decision, because change is hard, and they prefer to stick with the devil they know. Ignorance about the alternatives, however, doesn’t change the facts. If the Liberals’ excuses on this one were used in other matters of government, we’d get statements like this: “Unfortunately the Liberal government cannot adopt an annual government budget at this time, due to a lack of consensus between political parties and because of the electorate’s lack of familiarity with macroeconomics.”

    “No advantage to getting involved in the complexities of PR”? Just because you’ve always advocated against electoral reform doesn’t change the facts, Mel. There’s nothing complex about marking 2 X’s instead of one, or marking a 1 followed by a 2 or 3 if you feel like it. I think we could handle it — we’re no dumber than the folks in New Zealand, are we? And the evidence for better governance under PR is unequivocal. Countries using PR perform better on pretty much every measure you can name: socially, environmentally, and economically. And they will continue to outpace Canada’s progress as we waste time and money swinging from one extreme to another, each successive government undoing the policies of its predecessor, as we’re seeing right now.

    Am I disappointed? You bet I am. I care about this country, and our Prime Minister just chose to throw away the best chance we’ve had in generations to evolve our democracy to the level of the rest of the developed world (with the notable exceptions of the US and the UK). Instead we’ll stay stuck in the mud, and maybe for variety next time, we’ll get our own version of Trump as head of state. Woohoo.

  2. Dale Shoemaker // February 2, 2017 at 2:01 PM // Reply

    You can tell the parties are going to elect a leader soon and with so little to criticise they are picking on this.

  3. “A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged”…why wouldn’t that be the truth?
    Considering that only a few dozen local entrenched naysayers participated in the debate and even then failed to clearly identify a better and easily explainable mechanism perhaps Mr. Trudeau made the wisest decision under the circumstances.
    Like the Aga Khan story, the indignation is as empty as an uninflated party balloon.

  4. There is nothing wrong with the voting process in Canada, it represents everyone and there is six week period prior to every election during which every last man and jack can vote in accessible regional offices, the voting process is the admiration of every democratic country. The change is needed in the selection of whom we vote for and what area that person represents and how much voting for him/her counts in the selection of winners.

  5. Frankly, unless the information that was used to come to their conclusion is made public, we won’t be able to fairly judge whether it was a bad idea or not…

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