Next to “the dog ate my homework,” the prime minister’s explanation for un-committing to his commitment has to go down as one of the lamest excuses on record from any Canadian leader. Trudeau told the country that there was no “national consensus” on how to change the voting system. He even made a stab at the oldest political alchemy of all — turning his political bad faith into a virtue. The Liberals would not change the voting system, he ￼claimed, because it would be “irresponsible” to do something that would harm Canada’s “stability.”
Interestingly, Trudeau waited until his cross-country selfie-orgy was over before making that announcement. If he had made it publicly in Vancouver when he dropped in for a Chinese New Year’s photo-op (carefully avoiding a town hall), they would have pelted him with wet noodles.
I have yet to talk to anyone who heard the prime minister say on the hustings that he would not enact electoral reform without a “national consensus” on which way to go. Nor is it a serious argument to say that polls now show Canadians are foggy on which way to take the electoral system. The biggest poll of them all — the 2015 election — saw enough Canadians vote for a changed electoral system, trusting Trudeau to deliver it.
But Canadians are not going to get ranked ballots, proportional representation, preferential ballots, online or mandatory voting — or any other new system. They are going to get what they voted to get rid of — a first-past-the-post election in 2019.
The likeliest reason, of course, is that the Liberals now feel that the status quo will do just fine since they’re in power, the contributions are rolling in and the PM is as photogenic as ever. That kind of toxic cynicism can’t hide the truth. Trudeau goes away from this broken commitment ￼seriously diminished. Canadians may not see Trudeau as the “liar” NDP MP Nathan Cullen called him, but neither do they see him as the poster-child of “sunny ways.”
Power often insulates those who wield it from reality — but the Liberals should be worried. True, they are three years away from a reckoning with voters. True, under the provisions of Bill C-33, they did not entirely walk away from electoral reform, as tepid as that legislation was. But their party is, in its own way, as much of a one-man show as the CPC was under its former leader. As Justin goes, so go the Grits — and that is bad news for the Liberals. His political trajectory lately has been decidedly downward.
Instead of change, Trudeau has all too frequently offered a disturbing remix version of Harper politics — a farrago of oily public relations covering the the same old, same old: secrecy over the fighter jet replacement program, including lifetime oaths of silence from those who work on it; a fatally delayed reaction to the cash-for-access scheme; and a free trip to the Aga Khan’s private island in the Caribbean, despite the fact that his host’s foundation lobbies the federal government.
And now, a personal about-face on electoral reform that can’t be papered over with a fresh mandate letter to the new minister, Karina Gould. That’s why one of Trudeau’s own MPs, Nathaniel Erskine Smith, apologized to his constituents for his leader’s betrayal.
￼Trudeau’s best card used to be his aura of honesty. Now, it’s the pathetic cast of characters Conservatives have to choose from as they pick his next opponent. If he thinks that will guarantee him a second term, he would be well advised to give Hillary Clinton a call.
In politics these days, if you don’t do what you say you’ll do, any blathering fascist with dough can send you packing.Justin Trudeau is not just playing with fire. He is in flames.
Here’s the match that set the blaze: “As Prime Minister I’ll make sure that the 2015 election will be the last under first-past-the-post.”
In politics, there are gestures, expressions of good intention and promises. Usually, these are about as reliable as a handshake deal with Donald Trump. The public expectation is that they will be broken or seriously mangled. Sadly, the public is seldom disappointed.
But what Trudeau did in walking away from electoral reform is something very different. What he gave voters during the 2015 election — in which Canadians moved him from third-party to majority government status — was a personal commitment.
This is how it works in private life: When someone gives a personal commitment, they either keep it or they don’t. If they keep it, their stature is confirmed with the people who believed them; if they don’t, they end up somewhere on the continuum between ‘untrustworthy’ and ‘fraudulent’.
In public life, especially when a political leader is involved, the stakes are much higher. When Trudeau committed to changing the electoral system, Canadians had a choice between endorsing him at the polls, or looking elsewhere for a prime minister.
￼They chose him, and for a profoundly important reason: In the wake of the robocalls scandal, in which still-unknown actors tried to steal the 2011 federal election, Stephen Harper’s answer was the Fair Elections Act. Like most of the things this undemocratic autocrat did, the Fair Elections Act was all about hobbling Canadian democracy in the political interests of the Conservative Party of Canada. Harper’s legislation actually made it easier to cheat and harder to vote — but Canadians got it.
They got it to such a degree that they booted Harper out and turned to Trudeau. To be sure, there were issues that accounted for that decision other than electoral reform. But electoral reform was at the heart of the discontent with Harper. Between the In-and-Out scandal, Dean Del Mastro’s fraudulent campaigning and robocalls, a dark cloud had fallen under the Cons over the most basic democratic right of all: the right of citizens to choose their governments. The guy who crooned Beatles songs ended up looking like a vote crook.
Trudeau presented as the perfect antidote to Harper’s creeping authoritarianism. It was Trudeau who said he would make every vote count. It was Trudeau who appointed an electoral reform committee to come up with the best alternative to first-past-the post. Nor did he lose an opportunity to express his personal choice of preferential voting over the status quo.
The Liberal pledge to end the electoral system that has already been dropped by Germany, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa did not come with any caveats. Trudeau said he would consult widely, assess the alternatives and make the change to a more representative voting system. He repeated that commitment in the Speech from the Throne and in mandate letters to his minister.
Author: Michael Harris