Liberals abandon commitment to electoral reform

The Trudeau government has abandoned its commitment to reform the federal “first past the post” electoral system. A mandate letter issued to newly appointed Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould, released on Wednesday, says that  “changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.”

In his letter to Gould, Trudeau said that “a clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged. … without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada’s interest. Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.”

Gould commented at a news conference, “Our view has always been clear. Major reforms to the electoral system, changes of this magnitude should not be made if they lack the broad support of Canadians. It has become evident that the broad support needed among Canadians for a change of this magnitude does not exist.”

Trudeau committed to replace the current electoral system in June 2015, shortly before the federal election campaign. He reiterated the promise in the first throne speech, in which he promised that the Liberals would “take action to ensure that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first past the past voting system.”

A special committee of the House of Commons was struck last June. MPs held town hall meetings on electoral reform. Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Democratic Institutions at that time, conducted her own national tour and launched an online survey about the Canadian political system.

The committee returned its final report to the House in December, in which a majority of members recommended calling a referendum on some form of proportional representation.

NDP critic Nathan Cullen, in a bitter and incisive statement, commented that “I was a bit surprised that it wasn’t Mr. Trudeau out here, somehow lacking the courage and fortitude to make this announcement himself. He certainly had no problems making the promise, but not the courage to break that promise in front of all of you here today,” and called the Trudeau decision “one of the most cynical displays of self-serving politics this government has yet to engage in.”  Cullen also called Trudeau a liar and predicted that Trudeau would pay a “political price” for abandoning his promise.

Elizabeth May said, “”I am deeply afraid that this betrayal will strike much more deeply in the hearts of Canadians than Prime Minister Trudeau realizes, particularly among young people. We are in a time of dangerous politics. You must never do anything as a politician who understands what is at stake that feeds cynicism. Cynicism has enough to feed itself. It is work to feed hope. It is work to feed faith. And when you break faith you will reap what you sow.”

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called Trudeau’s actions a “massive political deception.”

Trudeau responded that there is no consensus and that it would be irresponsible to harm Canada’s stability.

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