Justin Trudeau is walking away from a promise to change the way Canadians vote, admitting on Wednesday that the first past the post voting system will continue into the next election.
In a new mandate letter for Democratic Reform Minister Karina Gould, issued by the prime minister on Wednesday, the government concludes that a “clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged” and that “changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.”
That is a huge reversal of the Liberal Party platform, which vowed: “We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.”
After winning a majority government on the promise to overhaul Canada’s voting system, the Trudeau government launched a series of cross-country town halls, committee hearings, and online surveys on switching to a new voting system. In the process, the Liberals faced intense criticism that they were trying to force through their preferred system, despite public support for a different voting method.
Gould announced the decision to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, telling a gaggle of incredulous journalists that “changes of this magnitude should not be made if they lack the broad public support of Canadians.”
In response, New Democratic Party Democratic Reform Critic Nathan Cullen said that the prime minister had chosen to “spit in the face” of the public, calling the prime minister a “liar” and calling the announcement: “One of the most cynical display of self-serving politics that this government has displayed.” He dropped the words “stupidity,” “entitlement,” and “arrogance” during his response to the minister’s announcement.
Cullen sat on an all-party committee that had concluded that there was public support for a form of proportional representation — not a ranked ballot system, as many Liberals voiced support for — and there was general consensus that a referendum on any new system should be used. Various town halls reported also reported that a majority of the public supported proportional representation.
The Bloc Quebecois and Green parties also came out on Wednesday to slam the government’s broken promise.
“I’m deeply afraid that this betrayal will strike much more deeply into the hearts of Canadians that Prime Minister Trudeau realizes,” Green Party Elizabeth May told reporters, saying that “in a time of dangerous politics…you must never do anything to feed cynicism, cynicism does enough to feed itself.”
Within minutes of the announcement, ‘PMJT’ and ‘#ERRE’ — the hashtag for the electoral reform committee — were trending, as hundreds angrily fired missives at the prime minister over their decision to scrap the reform plans.
The all-party committee recommended “the Government hold a referendum, in which the current system is on the ballot” and that “the referendum propose a proportional electoral system.” The government largely rejected that report, to much derision, instead opting for an online survey which it, along with a private company, had devised on its own without cross-party support or input.
Despite that, Gould’s new mandate letter said the public couldn’t decide, and concluded “without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada’s interest.”
On Wednesday, Gould also announced new measures to increase transparency — but not end — for cash-for-access fundraisers, where political donors can pay to gain access to government ministers and the prime minister themself.