Was the decision not to try harder to bring about electoral reform a political mistake by the Liberals.?

News 100 blueBy Jay Fallis

February 2, 2017



Amidst the commotion outside the House of Commons doors, I couldn’t help but hear one MP say to another

“What’s going on here?” I think many Canadians are asking that very question as they hear the news that the Liberal Government is going to abandon its plans to reform our electoral system.

In a mandate letter to newly minted Minister of Democratic Institutions and Burlington MP Karina Gould, Prime Minister Trudeau was clear that this once touted election promise was not to be pursued.
“Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate” it read.

As opposition MPs lined up in droves to criticize the move, I began to realize what all this would likely mean. Electoral reform, the dull policy area turned Cinderella story, was fast losing its footing.

Real Lavergne Fair vote

President of FairVote Canada Dr. Real Lavergne.

To get a better sense for the situation and the road ahead for electoral reform, I decided to talk to electoral reform advocate and President of FairVote Canada Dr. Real Lavergne.

I opened with the only question I could think of: “Is it over?”

Without hesitation I got the response I had been expecting: “It’s looking over.”

As we talked, it was clear that Dr. Lavergne was disappointed by the Government’s actions.

“I think the NDP bent over backwards and so did Elizabeth May to [bring about] electoral reform… [We all were] looking for a solution that would give us a better system for Canada and this government was simply unable, unwilling, to deliver on its promise. “

Dr. Lavergne’s frustration was no doubt rooted in the all for naught work that had been dedicated to this cause.

For years FairVote Canada and many other actors have been advocating for the country to adopt a proportionally representative electoral system. Trudeau’s election victory had marked the potential turning point, as electoral reform had been outlined by the Liberals as a promise.

Since the electoral reform committee’s first meeting over the summer, politicians, advocates, academics, and ordinary Canadians spent an extensive amount of time and energy to bring about reform. However, despite their best efforts, it seems the government refused to listen.

“[FairVote Canada] wrote a letter to Minister Gould about 10 days ago…. What we were saying was: “look, if you want to reduce the disruption for sitting MPs, there are ways to do that while still bringing in Proportional Representation, here they are… We also said you could have ranked ballot… within the context of a proportional system. If it is within the context of a proportional system and what you are doing is giving voters the opportunity to express themselves in more detail, that’s great! That’s democratic.””

It was clear from what Dr. Lavergne’s was saying that the conditions existed for multiple parties to find consensus. However, despite these efforts, the government was simply not prepared to compromise.
While this announcement certainly marks a setback for electoral reform, Lavergne was confident that the extensive work of the various actors had been worthwhile.

Trudeau electoral reform promise

“I don’t know how many people voted for them strategically in 2015 but I can’t imagine any of those people doing so again… I think it will cost them.” Real Lavergne.

“I think awareness for this issue in Canada is at an all-time high….As time goes on, people have been becoming more and more aware of the need for electoral reform. “

He also suggested that the fight to implement electoral reform was far from over.

“Every time there is an election now, people are outraged…. [They] are starting to understand this doesn’t make any sense, this is not democratic. As more and more people understand that, we’re going to have more situations where there is a possibility [for electoral reform] and people will keep fighting for it…This is unstoppable.”

On conclusion, Dr. Lavergne suggested that this could come back to bite the Liberals.

“I think they are going to pay quite a severe price for this. I don’t know how many people voted for them strategically in 2015 but I can’t imagine any of those people doing so again… I think it will cost them.”

As this chapter in our political history comes to a close, electoral reform seems to be lying dead on the operating table. However, maybe the fruition of reforming Canada’s electoral system to be more proportional is an inevitability that just hasn’t been realized yet. Perhaps, as Dr. Lavergne put it:

“The Liberals lost the opportunity to be on the right side of history.”

Jay Fallis Bio PicJay Fallis writes on politics for several newspapers in Canada.

He covers political events from Ottawa.

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3 comments to Was the decision not to try harder to bring about electoral reform a political mistake by the Liberals.?

  • D.Duck

    The committee’s recommendation of electoral reform would have reduced the Liberal’s sits come next election and his majesty did not like that. End of story. Spin it anyway you want, but it is all about ‘the next election.’

  • Dee Gee

    It seems that Katrina Gould is now a Minister without (a real) Portfolio. Or did the PM just make her the sacrificial lamb for his unfilled promise?

    • C Jester

      Good points Dee Gee. There are real Ministers Without Portfolios in government (sort of like Managers without staff in the private sector). Creates the impression they are doing something important.

      In this case though, you have to wonder if Ms. Gould was given the Minister’s job just so Mr. Trudeau could say he’d created the youngest female Minister of all time, before he yanked her duties away!