“We are committed to ensuring that the 2015 election will be the last federal election using first-past-the-post,” Justin Trudeau said in front of a group of campaign supporters on June 2015.
Fast forward 18 months and a new mandate letter issued to Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould states, “changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.”
The announcement became official last week that, despite his campaign promises, Prime Minister Trudeau is going back on his words for the future of Canada’s voting system.
For local MP of the Kootenay-Columbia riding, Wayne Stetski, the word that comes to mind is “betrayal.”
“I do think it’s a sad day for Canada and a sad day for Kootenay-Columbia and potentially a sad day for certainly voters and those people who voted Liberal based on this promise — and it was a promise.”
Stetski said Trudeau’s aim for electoral reform centered around a ranked ballot voting system, which would force voters to rank the parties in order of personal preference during an election. Stetski said — using the political spectrum with the NDP on the left, Liberal Party in the middle and Conservatives on the right — voters would most likely rank the Liberal Party as their first or second choice most frequently, producing a common result each election.
“When you look at sort of the amalgamated rankings under preferential ballot, it would likely have been that the Liberals would have ruled Canada for the rest of history,” he said.
The announcement comes on the heels of months of research by the special committee studying electoral reform that went across the country to gather the input from Canadians on what new voting system they wanted to see put in place.
Among them was Stetski who made his way around the Kootenay-Columbia riding this past summer, holding open discussions in cafes to gather public opinion before presenting to the committee later in the fall. He said the people he spoke with commonly asked for proportional representation as it would more accurately represent the country they are representing.
“One of the reasons we were hoping for some change is that right now with 39 per cent of the vote of Canadians, the Liberal Government has 100 per cent of the power in Parliament,” he said, noting that the misrepresentation was even more disproportionate under the former Conservative government. “Generally, when you look at proportional representation in other countries, it often requires different parties to work together and in my view, working together while celebrating good ideas regardless of which party it comes from makes for a better Canada in the end.”
Despite the broken promise, Trudeau hasn’t silenced the opinions of members within his own party with several Liberal MPs penning letters open to the public voicing their displeasure.
“I am disappointed that we have broken our promise, and I strongly disagree with our government’s decision to abandon electoral reform,” Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Liberal MP of Beaches East-York, wrote in an editorial posted on the Huffington Post.
Besides Trudeau’s broken promise to the electorate, Stetski said he is upset at the news for another reason — in that a politician who cast himself as an honest man promoting “real change” has helped strengthen the cycnicism many Canadians have towards politics.
“A lot of young people got involved in the last election and voted Liberal believing that Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister would bring significant change to Canada and with democratic reform being front and centre, so I’m quite concerned that it adds to the cynicism around politics and politicians in general,” Stetski said.
Working with a majority Liberal government in Parliament, Stetski said there is little the NDP, Conservatives or Green Party can do in terms of reigniting the dream for electoral reform. Instead, he, along with politicians and Canadians across the country, will have to deal with the reality of another first-past-the-post election in 2019.
“It was a sad day I think for Canada, it was certainly a sad day for me and it was a sad day for a lot of people who had hoped for real change under the Liberal government,” he said.