In the House of Commons this week, Trudeau gave a cheap answer to questions put by the opposition about why his government isn’t going to put electoral reform proposals to a referendum. “Canadians heard loudly and clearly that we made the commitment that this was going to be the last election held under the first-past-the-post system and we are committed to doing that,” said Trudeau in question period. “Canadians also chose to support us with a majority and are expecting us to deliver on the promises that we gave.
“And it wasn’t the compellingness (sic) of our arguments that convinced Canadians, it was what the last government did with their majority that convinced Canadians that this must be the last election under first-past-the-post.”
In his response, Trudeau seemed to recognize that Canadians aren’t troubled by just one, clearly-defined problem with our institutions, or calling for a single solution. Electoral reform’s public profile has more to do with the scandals and perceptions of ethical impropriety that bedeviled the last government. That’s an astonishing acknowledgment of just how divided Canadians are about the kind of electoral reform they want — a debate which, according to some polls, is far from settled. Some have even questioned whether Canadians want electoral reform at all.
Trudeau, whose government has relied on the argument that first-past-the-post fails to properly represent voters as its main motivation for pursuing electoral reform, must do a much better job at convincing Canadians that this is all worth it. He must tell voters who isn’t being represented, and why.
Sadly, this week’s announcement of the makeup of the special committee on electoral reform gave people more reasons to disengage from politics, rather than tune in. Democratic Reform Minister Maryam Monsef and Government House Leader Dominic Leblanc unveiled the Liberal-stacked special committee on Tuesday. The committee’s make-up reflects the balance of power in the House of Commons — meaning Liberals hold a majority — which was determined by the first-past-the-post system that Trudeau has vowed to end.
It was a self-interested and quixotic thing for the government to do, given how politically-charged this issue was even before the committee was named. The opposition has every right to lose its mind over this, and let the topic overwhelm question period over the next several days. You can’t make the electoral system more fair by exploiting aspects of the current system you’ve already attacked as unfair. It makes no sense.
Trudeau tried to get his electoral reform project off to a good start by proposing an all-party Parliamentary committee on the subject in his campaign platform. The idea was to put some distance between the project and the raw partisanship of most debates. But this week’s news put an end to that fond dream.
Trudeau might as well own this file and come out and defend his own ideas on why Canada must get rid of first-past-the-post. He should stop using these sham consultations as a smokescreen. He remains popular enough to appear in advertisements selling Canadian restaurants to American tourists. His wife remains popular enough to require another staff member to help with her bookings. He might as well, while he’s at it, come out from behind the committee and sell Canadians on one of the most critical legislative proposals his party promised in the last election.
Right now, the whole project looks to be in danger of going nowhere fast.