Justin Trudeau on electoral reform: Maybe consistency isn't the word - Macleans.ca

Justin Trudeau on electoral reform: Maybe consistency isn’t the word

Paul Wells: Trudeau claims his views on electoral reform have been consistent, but they’re incompatible with what he and his party said on the campaign trail


(The Canadian Press / Adrian Wyld)

“My responsibility as a prime minister,” Justin Trudeau said to the CBC’s Chris Hall, “is to do things that are good for the country. I came to very clearly believe that a form of proportional representation would be harmful to Canada.”

Great. When was that? After his benighted former democratic-reform minister, Maryam Monsef, held consultations in 2016? No, apparently well before:

“And I’ve been consistent about this for a long time,” Trudeau told Hall, “in debates during my leadership race as well.”

So apparently we are talking about convictions Justin Trudeau held in 2013 and continued to hold—consistently, in a consistent fashion, in the manner in which one normally holds convictions when one is being described by others as “consistent,” which is to say, consistently—throughout the span of time connecting 2013 to 2018.

Hall, who is a sucker for punishment as indeed one must be if one is to flog this particular dead horse with this particular prime minister, persisted. “Do you understand why people are still so upset about that?” the host of The House asked his guest. A few members of the show’s audience who had submitted questions about this particular dead horse “went on to ask about trust and whether this is something they can trust you on,” Hall added.

READ: Trudeau’s zeal for electoral reform fell with his own electoral success

The PM was ready for that one. “They can trust me to put the interests of the country ahead of my own partisan interest to tick a box off my campaign platform.”

Here we have a chance to do some checking. What did Trudeau’s platform say? Here is the section on electoral reform, in its entirety:

“We will make every vote count.

“We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system. We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting. This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament. Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.”

And you know, it’s funny, because the Liberal platform of the day was both voluminous—88 pages—and capacious in its margins, in the manner of an undergrad essay formatted to fill as many pages as possible. And yet in all that white space, the Liberals could not, apparently, find room to add “which we very clearly believe would be harmful to Canada” after the words “proportional representation” in the excerpt above. Formatting is such a delicate thing.

It would have been handy if the Liberal leader had specified before people voted, and before his ministers spent a year consulting them, that he had already privately discarded one of the leading systems of electoral reform. The danger was that people would vote Liberal in the mistaken belief that when their election platform listed both “ranked ballots” and “proportional representation” that it was agnostic as between the two.

READ: Why we broke our electoral reform promise. Signed, a Liberal MP

And indeed, for some time after his election, Trudeau continued to claim he had no preferred system. I interviewed the prime minister at the beginning of my brief stint working for the Toronto Star, and I asked him specifically whether he preferred preferential ballots. As I wrote at the time:

“Because I’m the leader of a party that is very much focused on appealing to the broadest possible number of people as opposed to narrowing voices, you could certainly make arguments around one form or another,” he said, backing away from a clear answer in the home stretch of a long sentence.

“But I’m really open. I’m really open to listening to Canadians. And actually, I have moved in my thinking toward a greater degree of openness towards what Canadians actually want.

“I’m very aware that the decision we take on electoral reform — we as a country — will have long-reaching implications over the next generations. Because you don’t change your parliamentary system very quickly or easily. And my long-term focus is getting the right system for Canadians. And it’s not up to any one person, even if it’s the prime minister, to define exactly what that right system is.

“We can all have different opinions and perceptions, but mine are obviously going to be coloured by the fact that I think diversity within a party, broad-based consensus, is the best thing for this country. Liberals would certainly agree. Canadians might not agree. And I think this is an important conversation to have, where we do have to respect Canadians.

Those statements—about openness and how it wasn’t up to one person to define the right system, and how he did have to respect Canadians—are no longer operative. If it’s any consolation, as he approaches his second attempt at explaining his plans to an electorate in 2019, Trudeau is getting better at saying he does not want a real debate. “I will not move towards any form of proportional representation,” he told the CBC’s Hall. “But if people want to talk about a different system that might benefit Canadians, like a preferential ballot, I’d be open to that.” He’s like Henry Ford selling Model Ts: You can get it in any colour so long as it’s black.

READ: Why the electoral reform sham will breed cynicism

Two final things. First, I never put much stock in electoral reform, and I would not be interested in belabouring Justin Trudeau’s obvious flagrant disingenuousness on the question if he would simply stop being obviously flagrantly disingenuous. His putative “consistency” in standing up for the “interests of Canada” is incompatible with the plain language of his campaign platform and his campaign speeches. He tried to pull a fast one. It worked for a while and then he had to drop the charade. Congratulating himself for any part of this contemptible farce is a bad fit.

Second, it would help if more voters had some self-respect. What Trudeau did on electoral reform is so easy to do that very few political leaders can resist it: Deliver half a promise and let hope fill in the blanks. It’s what Jean Chrétien did when he promised a magical replacement for the GST that would raise the same revenues while annoying nobody. Do yourself a favour: Next time a politician promises “change,” and you find yourself filling in all the details of the change in your heart, demand details. You’re probably being played for a sucker.



Justin Trudeau on electoral reform: Maybe consistency isn’t the word

  1. I have maintained all along that PM Trudeau never had the remotest intention of doing any electoral reform. Everything he said subsequently, and his nonsensical reasons for his dismissal of the data gathered by the committee, indicated this was the case. And now he has frankly admitted it. When he made the promise, the Liberals were down to third place, and he obviously realized that to get ahead he would need to pull some rabbits out of the hat, so he promised electoral reform, true reform of parliament, honest cabinet…all broken promises because he had no intention in the first place. But perhaps more critical, is his attitude that improving our democracy by moving to a proportional system would be “bad” for Canada. He now admits that true democracy is bad. What next.

    • IMO, he did intend electoral reform, but only if it was to be the preferential ballot.
      Too bad for the NDP supporters that voted Liberal in hopes of seeing PR and, after the next election, NDP cabinet ministers.

      • NDP are gone in the tank, they will soon need life jackets to swim, and you know why, it’s because of these stupid ideas PR, that its OK to introduce parties who hang on the outer fringe of our society to have a bullhorn to sit in our HOCs and spew their hate and vile agenda, under the freedom of speech act in our Charter of Rights. How about the ‘Pro-Life Party of Canada’ or the ‘Rebel News Party of Canada’, with just one agenda, to create gridlock in our HOCs because a minority government can’t rely on their vote to help get legislation passed, because of some ideological belief that they harbor.

      • Get Ideology out of our politics, it’s like religion, it suppresses peoples thinking, and brain washes peoples mind. you want to practice religion, build in your own back garden, and not in my democratic institutions, where my rights are my rights, and not my beliefs.

        • “Get ideology out of politics”? Ideology is politics. Ideology is just making decisions based on a coherent set of principles. Communism, capitalism, theocracy, secularism, democracy, fascism, even the idea of “your rights are your rights” are all ideologies. I think what you meant to say was “Get every ideology (that I disagree with) out of politics (so that I can impose mine on everyone else without opposition)”.

  2. Like other promises (such as the dumb one to restore door to door postal service), the electoral reform one was very poorly thought out before campaigning on it. Then some light bulb came on after his party was elected and he realized any alternative would result in fewer seats for his party. Then he went through an elaborate charade before he trashed it. So not just very bright but also slimy!!

    • After the Liberals won, they firmly believed that their majority was safe for years to come. They are not doing what’s best for Canada and will be kicking themselves when Canadians vote in another party to lead the country. I voted for electoral reform last election, and will do so again in the next.

      • Well you are a fool to waste your vote on ER, because no party, once in power, will ever introduce it. Its been batted around for years, and i will bet the NDP will never introduce it in BC, they will, like every other politician, rag the puck, until the party is on life support of loosing government. Its pie in the sky, if you or anyone else thinks different. I doubt it would even stand the test in the senate for stamp of approval, oh, i forgot, the NDP wants the senate abolished, like the cons, and the NDP wants the ‘Charter of Rights’, like the Conservative, ripped in shreds.

        • Why did Mr. Fashion socks make the promise of electoral reform as the major plank of his campaign. Just another poorly thought plug to get votes.

  3. Trudeau’s comment about ‘what’s good for Canada’ reminds me of that infamous comment by the then CEO of General Motors who said ‘what’s good for GM is good for America’. I don’t think Trudeau can make the distinction between what’s good for Canada and what’s good for the Liberal Party of Canada. The dis ingenuousness of his statements in my mind is overshadowed by the sheer arrogance of the bald-faced BS responses he makes to legitimate concerns by Canadians over political integrity. All given with that fresh-faced eager-beaver eyes-wide butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth look of his. That drives my wilder than all the lies. We aren’t going to get rid of First-Past-The-Post until we first get rid of a majority government. So, it’s back to strategic voting in the next election. If the NDP held the balance of power in a minority government between the Liberals/Conservatives, we might get a proper chance at PR, not because the NDP is so righteous, but because they would have the most to gain initially from PR. So cynical, so Canadian.

  4. “Thank You” for writing this article, Mr. Wells. Justin Trudeau lied, time and again, to the Canadian people, on the issue of electoral reform. His promise to bring about reform is the single greatest reason why he won this past election. He must be held accountable for this shameless behavior. Canadians must not allow themselves to be side-tracked by other issues, and , in 2019, vote on one basis : “Fool me once – shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”. Justin Trudeau is a liar.

    • I am ashamed that I campaigned for this party and this man in the last election. I was duped by his promise of change and reform… even his legalisation of Marijuane is a sham as it will criminalize it just in a different way. I am lost as to where to park my vote in 2019 as the NDP is not inspiring me and I do not care for Harper 2.0, The Greens are not a great choice as Me May is floundering as well. God help our democracy…

    • Fool me once???? Liberals steal NDP policies every single election only to abandon them when in power. Fool me 100 times and keep fooling me because I never learn, is more like it.

  5. That’s OK, Federal Liberals.
    We knew in 2015 that we were voting strategically for you, to get rid of the racist, xenophobic, evangelical, Tea Party North, Harper–Reform Party.
    Next election we will vote strategically for the NDP to get rid of the lying, China-kowtowing, pay-to-play, fat-cat-friendly, Federal Liberals.
    Perhaps the NDP will seize the opportunity for the electoral reform that hard-working Canadian families (aka not your constituency) so urgently need.
    And the NDP are ardent feminists too.
    We have nothing to lose.

    • Working Class . . . .keep working. You have a long row to hoe. NDP will not have a chance – not even a smidgen of a chance – in the next election.

  6. My biggest complaint after years of watching that evangelical ****head Harper kowtowing to that racist, apartheid regime in the Middle East, only to have that ****head in the Ottawa office now doing the same thing is what drives me nuts. Selling weapons of mass destruction to that racist regime, offering Canada’s eternal support until the rapture, allowing Canadians with deep pockets who also support that apartheid regime to contribute tax-free money to that same apartheid government really, really drives me nuts. I will never, ever, vote for the Liberal Party again.

  7. I think there should be enough criticism to go around.
    As I recall the Parliamentary debate, the Conservatives entered with an agenda which did not include finding a compromise solution either. Their number one priority was to score political points and embarrass the Government.
    This is a pretty one sided review Paul.

    • In the Parliamentary debate, the Conservatives found a compromise position with the NDP and Green.

      • Let me explain.
        The Conservatives had a veto.
        The Liberals had a veto.
        Nothing could happen without the support of both major parties.
        Paul must understand that.

        • And the only one not to provide that support to the non partisan proposal was The Liberals!!

  8. First of all, I think Justin Trudeau is generally doing a great job as Prime Minister, even though I am social democrat who believes that proportional representation is hugely more democratic than first past the post. He was the right person for the job at the time, but no, I did not vote for him. Election campaigns are amazing fiascos where every party tries to convince people who voted for a different party before to vote for their party instead, and to convince new voters to vote for their party. Stealing another party’s platform is a way of stealing their votes. Liberals, at least many of them, are progressive thinkers, while the NDP holds the true progressive mantle. It’s well known by most who have been voting and paying attention for decades, that the Liberals consistently steal NDP policies and rhetoric during election campaigns only to abandon them once elected. There is little else they can do to convince people to switch their votes. Conservatives move closer to full bore fascism every day so not too fertile there. Stealing voters who would otherwise choose the NDP is a long established Liberal tactic that always works. This also says a lot about NDP voters, particularly how short their memories are.

  9. @Working class… & Man o man: Please. Suggesting that NDP is manna from heaven and Conservatives are fascists :) it’s shameless PR/propaganda. Did you try sites like Pravda? Or maybe MarxistsRus (if exists)?

  10. The media must take its share of responsibility, as must everyone, in their degree, for the distinction between preferential voting and proportional representation ignores the single transferable vote: preferential vote of a proportional count, actually recommended by the BC Citizens Assembly, and actually used in Canada cities Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg, during provincial elections, for over 30 years.
    STV gives electoral power to the electors — who cares about them? It’s always the blooming parties, this and parties that! Yes, as you say, article writer, get some self respect, people.
    Richard Lung. “Democracy Science.”

  11. I’ve read all of the comments above and something is missing here. First some facts:
    1) We have limited financial resources and they must be used wisely and efficiently. The wealthy are paying more than their fair share of taxes. The top 1% of earners in Canada pay 25% of all income tax collected; the top 10% pay 54% of all income taxes collected. Looks like more than a fair share to me and is not a valid source for more government revenue.
    2) Businesses of all sizes, but particularly small businesses, are the entity that create jobs and economic growth. Through their tax payment and the tax payments of their employees, our governments get their funding. Governments do not generate income, they spend it.
    -The Liberal party as they exist today is the closest thing to Socialism Canada has ever seen. Tax more and spend more because they believe they know better than you how to spend your money. And they are spending far more than they take in. They don’t seem to understand point 1)
    -The NDP have been anti-business since they came into being. They don’t seem to understand point 2).
    -The only party that understands both points are the Progressive Conservatives. They ran the country very well for 8 years and we desperately need them back. Looks what the Liberals in Ontario have done to destroy Ontario over it’s tenure. Everyone talks about what a basket case California is. We have 1/3 of its population in Ontario but 3 times its debt!!

  12. Not the first time or first party to propose electoral reform. It’s not too difficult to find journalists of the day questioning another PM’s idea of adding women to the electorate and grinding on whether he did or did not adequately mention this previously. More recently we’ve heard a few pitches for an elected senate and even some campaigning at the opposite pole, an abolished senate. The Liberals touchy-feely notion that a productive discussion involving all parties was possible was obviously unrealistic and as it proved, impractical. Mr. Wells take is that Mr. Trudeau should have instead merely drawn up and rammed through whatever change he thought fit – enough of this consultation and consensus nonsense: Mr Wells will accept nothing less than dictation. Unfortunately many Canadian journalists want to distill all politics down to a one-fall wrestling match.

    • For goodness sake. Let’s not make Junior any more of a dictator than he already is. But, I don’t think that was the point Mr. Wells was making at all. His point was that we have a P.M. you can’t trust. Junior’s stories shift to fit whatever he thinks might work.

      • Did you miss the town halls?
        Honesty, courage, eloquence, empathy, respectful and respected.
        Standing O at the end.

        • I went to the one in Hamilton. These are VERY rehearsed affairs. If his handlers don’t know what likely questions will be asked, they should be replaced! Even so, for his most eloquent responses (read that to be stilted Shakespearean) it was obvious that the “tough” questions were asked by Liberal plants.

  13. While I usually vote other than liberal I was misled by Trudeau’s promise of electoral reform. That will never happen again. I did not care for Mr. Harper but he is starting to look really good when compared to the current so called leader. More time spent flitting around campaigning that being present in “the house” doing what he is supposed to do.

  14. me, me, me, me
    I, I, I, I.
    So much inconsitant and misdirected double talk!
    Could someone have this nut job committed, as he has been so polluted for so long, his thinking makes no logical sense, except to profess how great he is!
    What a clown!

    • Trudeau Jr. has his father’s swagger and arrogance and his mother’s IQ and flightiness. What a dangerous combo!!.

  15. I think Trudeau is doing quite a bit for Canada.If he has come to realize that this the best he can do for now, that is O.K. with me.

  16. Trudeau has done quite a bit for CanadaI already.If he has come to realize that this is all he can do for the moment concerning electoral reform,this is O.K. with me.I don’t see many problems with the electoral process.
    Michel Cyr