WAYNE'S COLUMN: Democratic Reform - A betrayal?

During the 2015 federal election campaign, Justin Trudeau and his slate of Liberal candidates promised repeatedly that that election would be the last run under the first-past-the-post electoral system.

First-past-the-post has long been criticized for producing false majorities and under-representing smaller parties. For example, when you look at the 2015 election results, the Liberals won a majority government with only 39% of the popular vote. In other words, 9 million of the 17 million votes cast elected no one. They virtually did not count.

This was the system the Liberals promised to change. But fast forward one year, and they have changed their tune. In an interview this October with Le Devoir, Prime Minister Trudeau said:

Under Mr. Harper, there were so many people dissatisfied with the government and its approach they were saying, ‘We need electoral reform so that we no longer have a government we don’t like. However under the current system (still first-past-the-post), they now have a government they are more satisfied with. And the motivation to want to change the electoral system is less compelling.”

Now that they have won people’s votes, it seems that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are much less interested in fulfilling their promise to them.

This fall, a 12-member Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform crisscrossed Canada to hear from hundreds of witnesses. What did they learn?

Canadians overwhelmingly expressed support for a proportional representation voting system in Canada. This view was backed by:

  • 88% of expert witnesses who testified,
  • 87% of Canadians who spoke at the open microphones,
  • 69% of town hall reports from Members of Parliament, and
  • A clear majority of the 22,000 Canadians who responded to the Committee’s online consultation.

Here in Kootenay – Columbia, I travelled across the riding to hold Democratic Reform consultations in 14 communities. My office also sent out a mail survey, to which almost 650 people responded. Among my constituents, there was very strong support for a system that includes both proportional representation and local representation.  As your Member of Parliament, I ensured that the views expressed by my constituents were shared with the Parliamentary Committee and with the government. I know that many other Members of Parliament did the same.

Was all of this consultation for nothing?  For the last month – even under intense questioning in the House of Commons – the Liberals are no longer saying they are committed to bringing in proportional representation by 2019, as promised.

The Special Parliamentary Committee delivered its report to government on December 1st. But the Minister of Democratic Reform has decided to send you a postcard “to hear more from Canadians.”

Should the Liberals decide not to move ahead with much needed and widely supported democratic reform legislation, now apparently targeted for May of 2017, it can only be considered as a betrayal of all those who held out hope for a government that  would keep its election promise and demonstrate that it truly believes in change.

Stay tuned...