Trudeau abandons promise for electoral reform

Karina Gould’s mandate letter from the PM notes that ‘changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate’

On TV monitor outside House of Commons during Question Period Minister. (Photograph by Peter Bregg)

On TV monitor outside House of Commons during Question Period Minister. (Photograph by Peter Bregg)

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is abandoning his long-held promise to change the way Canadians vote in federal elections.

In a mandate letter for newly appointed Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, Trudeau makes it clear that electoral reform — once top of mind for the Liberal government — is no longer on the agenda.

“Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate,” the prime minister writes in the letter, released Wednesday.

A variety of consultations across the country have shown that Canadians are not clamouring for a change in the way they choose their federal government, the letter continues. It also rules out the possibility of a national referendum.

“A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged,” Trudeau writes. “Furthermore, without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada’s interest.”

Trudeau repeatedly promised — both as a campaigning Liberal leader and as prime minister in a speech from the throne — to get rid of the current first-past-the-post voting system in time for the 2019 federal election.

The Liberals have since given themselves some wiggle room, saying they would not go ahead without the widespread support of Canadians.

Canadians made their views known through the House of Commons special committee on electoral reform, town halls held by MPs from all parties, the travels of former minister Maryam Monsef and a much-maligned online survey called

The mandate letter shows that Trudeau and do not believe those consultations have produced their desired — albeit undefined — level of support for electoral reform, let alone any clarity on a preferred replacement.

The about-face is sure to provoke a passionate response from their political rivals.

The New Democrats, who have long called for a system of proportional representation, went into a meeting with Gould on Tuesday hoping to hear the new minister repeat Trudeau’s original, unequivocal promise: that the 2015 vote would be Canada’s last under first-past-the-post.

“That is why that ministry exists,” MP Nathan Cullen, the NDP’s democratic reform critic, said Tuesday. “That’s why she sits in cabinet, in large part — it’s to fulfill that promise.”

The Conservatives, who had pushed for a referendum, are likely to be pleased with the status quo, but will no doubt excoriate the government for breaking such a prominent campaign commitment.

There are also some big new items in the mandate letter.

Trudeau wants Gould, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to come up with ways to defend the Canadian political system against cyberthreats and hackers — a possible consequence of the “voter fraud” and hacked email controversies emanating from the raucous U.S. election.

“This should include asking the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) to analyze risks to Canada’s political and electoral activities from hackers, and to release this assessment publicly,” he writes.

Trudeau also wants the three ministers to ask the CSE to “offer advice” to Elections Canada and political parties — including opposition parties — on “best practices” regarding cybersecurity.

The letter also asks Gould to take the lead on developing legislation to bring stricter rules — and greater transparency — to political fundraising, a response to months of negative headlines about so-called cash-for-access Liberal fundraisers.

The promised legislation would require cabinet ministers, party leaders and leadership candidates to publicly advertise their fundraisers in advance, and release a report after the fact with details of the event.

The proposed new law, if passed, would also require events to take place in publicly available spaces, a move designed to address concerns about well-heeled donors bending the ears of cabinet ministers in private homes.

“Other measures may follow after discussion with the other political parties,” Trudeau writes.

The letter also repeats earlier commitments, such as repealing some elements of the previous Conservative government’s Fair Elections Act and exploring the idea of an independent commissioner to organize leaders’ debates during federal elections.

It also includes reviewing campaign spending limits and working with Treasury Board President Scott Brison and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to increase the openness of government, including reviewing the Access to Information Act.


Trudeau abandons promise for electoral reform

  1. Good! Notice the conservatives didn’t have much to say about it, Hmm, wonder why? The NDP and other fringe parties have been doing everything they can to find their way to power, to have a slice of power, they want to use the back door, because they cant seem to ever get into the front door. This country was set up for only a two party system, left and right, if the NDP want to gain any power in government, either, they cross the floor and join the liberals or form a coalition just like the PCs did with the fringe right wing out west, Reform. The cons new that to coalesce, was the only route to government. And finally, the liberals wasn’t elected for electoral reform, the liberals were elected because Tom Mulcair wanted ‘Austerity’ and the country didn’t want Harper, nobody elected the liberals for electoral reform, that is a load of dung. How could the NDP ever run the country and have bills passed in the senate to put in legislation, oh, i forgot, the NDP wanted the senate gone. That’s because the NDP are not a part of the main apparatus of the institutions in Ottawa, it was only set up or structured to work for a two party system like the US, DNC and RNC. CBC are going to act like Ezra now, and do an all out assault on the liberal government. Tom Mulcair is a lame duck leader, just like Rona, he and she have no credibility.

  2. Good. Maybe now we can get on with something important.

    I am so tired of hearing about House affairs rather than national affairs.

  3. Well, just as the Libs were starting to earn a drop of my respect…..
    Electoral reform and pot. Are you going to drop legalisation too?

    See what happens in 2 1/2 years time and whose “turn” (Harper) it will be. I knew electoral reform would be a slog and I Knew it couldn’t be implemented in the Lib time frame. Sad to throw it all out.

    I imagine even more people will tune out even if the 2 bits payout comes back, the next government will create a reason for cancelling it.

    Dark day for democracy, but then one of my old school teachers, Mrs. Fox, always did say ‘this is not a democracy’. The old Trudeau farts (lol) know who I’m talking about.

  4. It seems that more and more of the things that made me (reluctantly) vote Liberal rather than NDP last election are being abandoned. This was a big one for me – and now they’ve blown it. While I don’t regret that we tossed Harper out, I’m increasingly thinking one term of Trudeau may be enough.

    Here’s hoping the other parties choose wisely when picking their new leaders; I’m open to a new place to park my vote.

    • I agree 100 percent. I am very disappointed in Trudeau to this point, I even campaigned for his party… I feel betrayed and will be looking for another party to support next election. Green may need my support again.

  5. Still on the Liberal’s website under “Real Change” — point #8 “Electoral Reform”.

    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.