(photo credit: John McCallum/CC)
A letter to Justin Trudeau
Back in October when we were beginning to see indications that Justin Trudeau may be back-pedaling on his promise of electoral reform, I sent the following email to the Prime Minister’s Office:
Hello Right Honourable Mr. Trudeau,
I am writing, as I’m sure many others are, to express my support for the electoral reform that you promised during the last election. This is an important issue to many Canadians and, in particular, voters like myself who live in a riding like Provencher which, in recent years, has been dominated by one political party.
For me, and many others in my riding, it is an incredibly disheartening and frustrating experience to go to the polls. Many of us think, “why bother?” For thousands of area residents, voting, quite literally, is seen as a waste of time. Even supporters of the winning party sometimes view their vote as meaningless as it helps to elect nobody; in other words, it’s an excess vote. Clearly, this is not an ideal attitude, but one that is inevitable given the current first-past-the-post system.
I want my vote to mean something, and the only way it can is for you to make the changes you promised. There are many issues, but to me, this is of utmost importance as it strikes at the very essence of our democracy. Your government, like all others before you, was elected using a flawed system. This is not your fault, of course, but it is within your power to change this as you promised. I think it would demonstrate incredible political courage and integrity on your part to in some way reconfigure the flawed system that got you elected in the first place.
I was optimistic when your government was elected. I was optimistic for this reason above all others – that our electoral process might become more democratic and fair and that my vote might finally mean something. This is the first time in Canadian history, as far as I know, where the governing party was elected on a promise of electoral reform. This is our first (and maybe only) opportunity to make votes like mine, and thousands of others, matter. I truly hope that you will make it a priority to fulfill your commitment to make last year’s election the very last under the first-past-the-post system.
Thank you for your time and your service to our country…
And, yet, here we are. A broken promise.
Are there more important issues than electoral reform? In one sense, yes. On a practical level the day to day decisions of government on issues of justice, foreign affairs, and the economy seem to be of greater concern. However, it is precisely because electoral reform is purely a matter of ideology that it is the perfect test of Trudeau’s integrity and leadership.
There are plenty of reasons why someone might break a promise on, say, financial spending or foreign policy. Circumstances change, economic realities change. I can understand that and don’t expect every election promise to be kept and, in fact, I defended Mr. Trudeau on his broken promises about some of these other issues. However, there are no legitimate external circumstances that might cause a change of position on electoral reform. Either you are in favour of a better democracy or you are not. Nothing has changed in the last year or so since the election that might make one change their view on this issue. The only thing that changed was that the broken system now worked in the Liberal’s own favour.
As I pointed out in the letter, it’s easy to advocate electoral reform when you’re in opposition and much harder when the flawed system gets you elected. That is why this issue, more than any other, offers a glimpse into the values and priorities of the current Prime Minister. The only possible reason (and it’s not a good one) to break a promise of electoral reform is because a change to the system might hurt your own party.
Trudeau promised electoral reform. In fact, his promise was unequivocal. It wasn’t a “maybe” or “if we get consensus” or “if the circumstances are right”. It was clear.
I have screen-captured the page on the Liberal website where you can read it for yourself.
The promise is quite clear. Yes, there’s room to interpret the precise nature of this electoral reform, but there is no room to suggest that electoral reform, of some sort, was not actually promised. There’s no mention of a referendum. There’s not even a mention of a public consultation process. According to the official Liberal platform, the only thing to be determined after the election was what type of electoral reform to have…but certainly not whether it should happen at all.
So, what did the Liberals do instead?
After winning the election, I suppose they realized the system worked pretty good after all…for them. There was just this inconvenient problem of their election promise. So, what to do about it? Well, the only way they saw of getting around this is if they could suggest that the people had changed their minds. Then they could say that it wasn’t a broken promise after all, but, in fact, they were just reflecting the new will of the people.
Noam Chomsky discusses how democratic governments “manufacture consent” for certain policies. In other words, they manipulate the public through misinformation and other tactics to artificially create the impression that their policies are supported.
In this case, the Liberals have manufactured disagreement. They have artificially created the idea that there is “no clear consensus” on this matter, thus giving them an excuse to justify their broken promise. The public consultation process was an act of propaganda, deliberately designed to provide the outcome they wanted, while at the same time leaving the impression that the “public has spoken.”
But, of course, we already had spoken. We spoke in favour of electoral reform when we voted for the Liberals or the NDP or the Green Party, who were all in favour of change. I assume a significant number of Conservatives support electoral reform as well. The issue is not that the people didn’t want it, but that Trudeau no longer wanted the people to want it. And so he created a bogus consultation process to provide these results. With a “public consultation process,” you can create any result you want…and the Liberals did.
And that is what is most disheartening about all this. Not only did the Prime Minister break his promise, but he passed the buck. He blamed the people. According to his logic, it wasn’t he who broke the promise, but us.
And that is why, in theory, I may support Mr. Trudeau on a case by case basis in the future, but I cannot support him as a leader. He has utterly lost my trust.
The very nature of electoral reform means that those who advocate for it must first win an election using the very system they hope to dismantle. This means that it’s going to take a person of integrity to make such a change.
Unfortunately, that person is not Justin Trudeau. I hope someone else out there has a bit more integrity than our current Prime Minister.