The Broadbent Blog


Trudeau’s broken promise on electoral reform betrays the public interest

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Through my many decades of involvement in politics and public life, I’ve lived through a number of disappointments and broken promises.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to abandon his commitment to make the 2015 election the last held under the broken first-past-the-post electoral system is one of the most cynical I’ve seen.

He made a progressive promise to lure voters in the campaign. He won his election. Then he broke his promise.

The decision shows utter contempt for Parliament’s electoral reform consultations and the special committee’s recommendations to the government. His decision trades recklessly on the trust citizens put in his government to pursue any of its promises in good faith.

Recall that Mr. Trudeau pledged real change, and to do politics differently. He won election on a platform that included an explicit reform promise, and he himself was outspoken about our broken system and repeatedly stood by his (ostensible) belief in “making every vote count.”

As someone who testified at the electoral reform committee, I believed Mr. Trudeau. On Wednesday he not only broke his promise, but also denied the truth – namely that there was a consensus on electoral reform.

The consensus reached by all opposition parties in the committee’s majority report was quite precise. They recommended the adoption of a proportional voting system with strong local representation, to be decided by national referendum.

This was a clear mandate for the kind of consensus-building reform the Liberals had said they would be open to.

Consensus on these recommendations did not emerge out of thin air; rather, it emerged from the kind of “evidence-based policy-making” and collaborative spirit of Parliament the Liberals had claimed to support.

The committee heard from an impressive group of electoral-reform experts from civil society and academia both in Canada and internationally, not to mention former politicians, civil servants and thousands of Canadian citizens. According to an analysis, undertaken by Fair Vote Canada, 88 per cent of expert witnesses to the committee, and the vast majority of people who spoke at the committee’s open mic sessions, were in favour of proportional representation. This included a majority in the Prime Minister’s own riding of Papineau, Que.

That the testimony was overwhelmingly supportive of replacing a system the government itself has called “archaic” seems not to have mattered to Mr. Trudeau. The Liberals’ supplemental report to the committee ignored the evidence in support of proportional representation, and thus damaged the overall integrity of the committee’s work.

Under our current first-past-the-post system, successive governments by Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau obtained a majority of seats with the support of fewer than four in 10 voters. The reform proposed by the committee, based on local representation and proportionality, would have ended false majorities, promoted cross-party collaboration and put more power back in the hands of voters, where it belongs.

We would have had an electoral system like most of the world’s advanced democracies.

Mr. Trudeau had an opportunity to inspire and deliver real change for a generation. Instead, he has chosen to abandon reform, break his promise and contribute to political cynicism.

Ed Broadbent is Chair of the Broadbent Institute. Originally published in the Globe and Mail.