Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has abandoned his campaign pledge to reform Canada’s voting system, it has emerged.
Moving to a voting system of proportional representation was one of Trudeau’s key campaign promises in the run-up to the 2015 election.
However, in a new mandate letter issued to Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould, Trudeau makes it clear this will no longer happen.
“A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged, Trudeau writes.
“Furthermore, without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada’s interest. Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.”
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Gould said it was a difficult conversation to talk about how we govern ourselves.
“We took the time, we consulted, and we listened. And now we’re moving forward with a plan,” she said.
This is ‘massive political deception’
The government’s page inviting Canadians to have their say on electoral reform, mydemocracy.ca, is still up, last updated on January 24.
According to Gould’s mandate letter, 360,000 people contacted the government through the website.
But despite outreach by MPs of all parties, and the work of the committee, the letter said, no one could agree on how to proceed.
At a rowdy Question period in Parliament today, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said Trudeau and the Liberals had “betrayed Canadians.”
“Once elected, they shamelessly break that promise,” said Mulcair. “[That is] massive political deception.”
Trudeau said he had long preferred the preferential ballot, while the members opposite wanted proportion representation, and the official Opposition wanted a referendum.
“There is no consensus, no clear path forward, and it would be irresponsible to do something that harms Canada’s stability,” said Trudeau.
Unclear question would be irresponsible, says Trudeau
Mulcair hit back by calling the government’s mydemocracy.ca page “a charade.”
“What expression from Canadians would have been sufficient?”
Trudeau said there was no consensus among Canadians on the issue of electoral reform.
Instead, he said, they would be focusing on strengthening the Canadian system against cyberattacks from foreign influences.
“Cyberattacks? What about attacks on truth?” asked Mulcair incredulously.
Switching to French, Mulcair said the system’s biggest problem today is cynicism, but Trudeau repeated that holding a referendum without a clear question was “irresponsible.”
Mulcair claimed Trudeau had repeated his pledge to effect electoral reform more than 1,800 times since he was elected.
“How can Canadians trust anything he has to say?”
Committee recommended referendum
As recently as December, the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, looking into changing the voting system, said Canadians should get to vote on any changes in a referendum.
At the time, in a supplementary report, the Liberals called the committee’s recommendations “rushed.”
“We believe Canadians are far from being adequately engaged with the electoral reform discussion,” said the supplementary report.
“We contend that the recommendations … are rushed, and are too radical to impose at this time as Canadians must be more engaged.”
What is proportional representation?
Canada currently uses the first-past-the-post voting system; the party winning the most ridings forms a majority government, even if more people actually voted for other parties.
Proportional representation can take many forms, but the goal is to make the number of seats awarded in Parliament reflect the proportion of votes a party actually receives.
So, for example, under first-past-the-post, a party can sweep to power with only 30% of the ridings, if the other parties running individually win fewer than that.
But under proportional representation, a party with 30% of ridings may only get 30% of seats in Parliament; the rest could also be split among the other parties proportionally.
Another option is the alternative vote system, in which people rank candidates in order of preference, in case the party with the most 1st preference votes does not have a majority.