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For the record: Justin Trudeau on breaking his electoral reform promise

“Much as I understand what you say about cynicism… I recognize a higher responsibility”


 
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a town hall meeting, in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a town hall meeting, in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Answering a question at a town hall meeting in Yellowknife today, Justin Trudeau gave his most complete answer yet on why he broke his election promise to bring about sweeping electoral reform.

The question put to the Prime Minister wasn’t, in fact, exactly about that controversial about-face by the Liberal government. Trudeau was actually asked about fostering cynicism concerning politics by failing to follow-through on such a clear commitment.

But he used the moment to give his most detailed response to date on the issue. Trudeau took special aim at proportional representation—favoured by the NDP and the Greens—under which a party’s share of seats in the House would more closely reflect its slice of the total vote. He argued this would mean unsavoury fringe parties would gain a place in national politics—a danger proponents of proportional representation argue can be safeguarded against in the design of the system.

MORE: Why Trudeau’s electoral-reform promise-breaking will breed cynicism

He also touted his own preference for a ranked ballot system, even though his government didn’t formally propose a system of this sort before he abandoned his firm commitment to have the 2015 election be the last one waged under Canada’s traditional first-past-the-post system. And he again took aim at the Conservative demand for a referendum on any fundamental change in how Canadians elect their MPs.

This is an edited transcript of Trudeau’s remarks at the Yellowknife town hall:


The commitment I made repeatedly and explicitly on electoral reform, I made because it really mattered to me and it does really matter to me that we improve our democracy. And I know that there are a lot of people out there, actually the vast majority of Canadians, who yes want to see us improve our democracy. I also know that it’s really important that when it comes to changing our democracy we do it right.

Electoral reform, changing the way we vote, is a big change that could have far-reaching consequences for our country and needs to be taken very, very seriously. It’s more than just who might win a few more seats in the next election. It goes to fundamentally how we operate, how we value and how we hear diverse voices within our Parliament.

And for me—and I’ve been arguing this since long before I became leader—I always felt that we could make a clear improvement to our political process by offering people to not ever have to vote strategically again, to give a preference on your ballot. To rank your ballot. A lot of people don’t like it. A lot of people say it favours Liberals.

What it does is it favours parties who are good at reaching out to find common ground with broad groups of Canadians, to say, “How can I be your second choice?” That’s what it does. I think that’s probably a good thing, but I have heard very clearly that people don’t think that’s a good thing, or that they think it would favour Liberals too much. And therefore I’m not going near it, because I am not going to do something that everyone is convinced is going to favour one party over another.

So then we get down to the remaining choices. We’ve seen recently what happens when referendums go, whether it’s Brexit, whether it’s the Italian one. There is a lot of divisiveness, particularly on an issue that is very important to a small number of people, but not nearly as important as jobs and health care and educational opportunities and reconciliation and a whole bunch of other issues too.

And the danger of a division within the country and a campaign that is likely to get a lot of heated rhetoric at a time where we’re looking for stability in the face of a very unpredictable and unstable political context around the world. I don’t think a referendum is the right way to go.

And then there’s proportional representation, which is the one a lot of people like. One of the things that’s great about Canada, and I’ve talked about it a few times, is we’re a country that focuses on common ground. We’re a country that focuses on the things we have in common with each other, even though we’re different… There are more differences within Canada, within Canadians, than within just about any other country in the world, and yet better than any other country in the world, we’ve figured out how to make those differences a source of strength.

We figured out how to remember that the things that unite us are always more important than the things that divide us, that differentiate us from each other. And our political systems have worked because people of every different background, every different corner of the country, come together to form governments of different types we have governments.

We have governments that have got a representation from the West or the East, or better representation amongst Quebeckers, or more Indigenous communities supporting them than others. But, writ large, we have big groupings that include the diversity of Canada that people lean on, and that people draw on, and that people find their voices for.

And if we were to make a change or risk a change that would augment individual voices, that would mean extremist voices, and activist voices that don’t get to sit within a party that figures out the best path for the whole future of the country, like the existing three big parties do, I think we’d be entering an era of instability and uncertainty, and we would be putting at risk the very thing that makes us luckier than anyone else on the planet—the fact that we look at our differences as something to draw on and discover and build on, as opposed to emphasize and highlight.

So for me, as strongly in this as I believe that we could move forward on improving our electoral system, and as much as I understand what you say about cynicism where someone saying they’re going to keep a promise and then not being able to keep that promise, I recognize a higher responsibility even than that. And that is the responsibility every Canadian prime minister has to keep this country together and united and focused on the things that unite us rather than the things that divide us.


 

For the record: Justin Trudeau on breaking his electoral reform promise

  1. Stop apologizing Mr. Trudeau, as John Wayne would say, “Apologizing, is a sign of weakness”. It wasn’t your fault anyway, it was the fault of the NDP and Greens and their persistence of trying to drive their own ideology on the people(tunnel vision)with PR, you could have driven your own favorite, Rank Ballot, and ram it through parliament, but you didn’t, and respect you for not going all ‘Omnibus’ on us, like the last government.

    • And yes, the NDP and Green are ‘Fringe Parties’ just like the Block in Quebec, activist parties. Just take a look on twitter when things don’t go these fringe parties way, they go all out conservative, attack, attack, attack, and the bigger you can drive a wedge, the deeper they will go in. Our country don’t need a crowd of activists and fringe parties running it, it debases our standing in the world.

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      • Haha, so well said. I never even thought of it but yeah, the BQ is a “fringe” party… with 10 seats, I think? in the house of commons. So many things are wrong with Trudeau’s logic here.

        There’s a petition at Parliament to get Trudeau to re-open electoral reform at https://petitions.parl.gc.ca/en/Petition/Details
        if you’re interested. The closing date is March 2.

  2. Ignoring the hackneyed anti–proportional representation arguments and the obnoxious noblesse oblige of “I recognize a higher responsibility,” why in the world didn’t Trudeau say ANY of this 2 years ago when he was running on a platform of ending first-past-the-post? If he was ruling out proportional representation from the outset, he should have said so. He would have saved a lot of time, energy, and money—but I suppose that would have cost him some votes. How misleading and cynical. Absolutely shameful he’s justifying this betrayal with excuses of “unity” and “higher responsibility.”

    • Indeed. There are no new facts that have come to light since the election campaign that could justify reneging on this 100% unambiguous, unconditional commitment.

  3. In the election campaign, he promised all things to all people. Everything from changing the electoral system to bringing in vast numbers of refugees, legalizing marijuana, action on missing and murdered aboriginal women, solutions to aboriginal problems, and big spending for the major cities and running deficits to solve everything. Many went for the couple hundred promises. Now we know, when a politician makes a lot of promises, it is time to be very skeptical and take them with a grain of salt.

  4. Sunny ways to about as cynical as a politician can get. Fool us once shame on you Justin, fool us again and shame on us. I may be a cynical old guy, but Just-in his cynicism is beyond belief.

    He had to know that neither the Liberal nor Conservative power brokers would allow him to follow through on his promise to us that there would be election reform unless he had the internal fortitude to stand up to them. There were no ifs, buts, or maybes when he out promised the NDP on this issue.

    Now he has joined his sycophants with red herrings, smoke and mirrors, and duplicitous explanations. He apparently has no shame as he hasn’t even done a mea culpa.

    Justin’s problem here is, that it isn’t because we don’t understand the issue and his betrayal, but that we do!

  5. Thank you PM Trudeau for mentioning Kellie Leitch. Of course she responded and said according to multiple surveys 60% of Canadians believe immigrants should have a face to face interview and discuss Canadian values and 90% of Conservatives support this. She rejected the allegation that she is a “fringe candidate” since 60% of Canadians support her proposal.

  6. Nice try, Trudeau, but I’m not buying it. Colour me cynical. And much less likely to vote Liberal next time.

  7. Oh please. It doesn’t matter how long you drone on, you can’t turn an excuse into a reason. Nor can you make a lie into anything but a lie. Justin is trying to pretend that he is the big boy in the room who is protecting us from ourselves. The truth is that he is like the spoiled child who didn’t get his way (ranked ballots) so he’s taking his toy and going home.

  8. “Much as I understand what you say about cynicism… I recognize a higher responsibility”

    Trudeau is either ignorant or completely full of s***.

  9. Trudeau’s stumbling response only proves he’s a moron. He should have just kept his mouth shut, now we all know what a peabrained nincompoop he is. How embarrassing, but then this azzclown has no self respect regardless. Trudeau is trying to position himself PM for life.

  10. It’s the other broken promises I’m more concerned about. Deficits no higher than 10 billion. Balanced budget by 2019. Higher tax bracket will pay for the middle class tax cut. (Doesn’t cover even half of it and this was known but completely unmentioned during the campaign.) He’s running out of campaign promises to break. Given that this was his first real job, I guess we can’t be too disappointed.

    Given his privileged life of leisure as a trust fund baby, one wonders if he will not soon tire of the whole PM thing. It’s a demanding schedule, and it’s not like it’s a novelty for him; he was more or less born into it. We could be rid of him faster than anyone thought.

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