By Caitlin Urquhart
Buried on the third page of the Prime Minister’s mandate letter to the Minister of Democratic Institutions were 5 brief lines about electoral reform, concluding with “changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.”
And with that, the Liberals brushed off their shoulders and moved on from their promise that 2015 would be the last first-past-the-post election.
While Canadians are in mourning and fighting for the civil liberties of Muslims here and around the world, Trudeau had hoped that Electoral Reform would be far from our minds. But Canadians will not be fooled by his sleight of hand.
We all benefit from more democratic, more representative elections. (Side bar: if the US had had a proportional representation electoral system, we would be talking about President Clinton (or Saunders), not President Trump.)
More than 10,000 people expressed their interest in holding Trudeau to account on electoral reform through a Facebook event I created shortly after the election, called “Trudeau Promised Electoral Reform,” to follow up on the Liberals’ promise of reform legislation within 18 months.
Since the Liberals announced that they were reneging on their promise, the event page has been flooded with posts planning protests, petitions, and writing to their MPs.
However, more disturbing than the PM walking away from a key election promise, is the rationale. Trudeau points to irrelevant and misleading data as though it were conclusive proof and ignores the facts.
He states that the Electoral Reform committee (“ERRE”) has done “tremendous work,” and notes that 360,000 individuals engaged through mydemocracy.ca, but makes no mention of the extensive study of electoral systems, the consultations with 196 witnesses, 567 people who attended town halls, 574 people who submitted briefs, almost 22,500 who responded to the ERRE online survey, and the resulting 327-page report.
Taking a page from Trump’s book, Trudeau’s claim that Canadians do not have a preference for a new electoral system is vague and oversimplified at best. Or is it a sign that “alternative facts” have made their way into Canadian political rhetoric?
The fact is that the ERRE found that the vast majority of participants preferred electoral reform, mainly proportional representation (over 70% for both). The MyDemocracy.Ca survey, however, did not ask participants whether they want to change or maintain the current system, or to weigh their values and priorities.
Unsurprisingly, the results indicate, “many Canadians simultaneously hold preferences for various attributes that are commonly associated with different families of electoral systems.” The Trudeau government got just what it asked for: an excuse.
We are calling on the PM to reaffirm his commitment to electoral reform and to get to work on crafting a made-in-Canada electoral system that reflects our diversity, and our values. In the Prime Minister’s own words from the mandate letter to Minister Gould, “Canadians expect us to fulfill our commitments, and it is my expectation that you will do your part in delivering on those promises to Canadians.”
With co-host Andrew Bresnahan, Caitlin created a viral Facebook Event intended to hold the Liberal Government to account on their promise of electoral reform, and she helped to plan demonstrations across the country this February. She is the Chair of the Women Lawyers Forum of Newfoundland and Labrador Branch, Canadian Bar Association, and practices family law at Smyth Woodland Del Rizzo Barrett in St. John’s.