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​Kid Icarus in the PMO: Trudeau Has Broken a Massive Promise, But He’s Still Gonna Fly

It's so transparently arrogant that you have to wonder if J Trudz is deliberately trolling us.
October 20, 2016, 4:07pm

Why is Trudeau so popular? Hmmm. Photo via Justin Trudeau's Facebook.

Take a picture, Canada: they grow up so fast. We elected Justin Trudeau's Liberal government one year ago this week. Hard to believe that 380 days ago we were all writing thinkpieces about how Canada was the most racist country on the planet and now we're all tripping over each other to craft a .gif of Trudeau and Obama krumping as they catapult Donald Trump into the sun. Time flies, man.

Justin and friends have racked up a pretty solid record in the year he's been prime minister. Because it was 2015, we got a decidedly multicultural and gender-balanced cabinet. We got the mandatory long-form census back, a new Child Care benefit, and the government finally launched an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

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There are also some very real challenges on the horizon that the Liberals will need to handle: the Canadian housing market finally appears to be on the verge of melting down, there will be probably be a nuclear war with Russia when the Democrats win the US election, and they still need to end marijuana prohibition without making a total hash of it. It's all rough waters ahead.

But come what may, we're in great hands—or, at least, that's what most Canadians seem to think. According to Abacus' anniversary polling this week, the Liberals are more popular now than they were on election day last year. This may actually be Trudeau's most impressive accomplishment: keeping the romance fresh despite at least six months of op-eds warning that the honeymoon was going to end any day now, we swear.

Unfortunately, the prime minister seems to be fully aware of how popular he is (both at home and abroad) and he's let it go to his head. At this rate we're another three months of good polling away from a commissioned portrait of Justin Trudeau triumphantly crossing the Alps on a moose.

Canada's two favourite politicians. Photo via Facebook.

The dauphin's Napoleon complex is on full display in his recent comments to Le Devoir about electoral reform. Despite promising to banish Canada's First-Past-the-Post voting system to the dustbin of history during the last election, a year in power seems to have dampened Trudeau's resolve. To wit:

"Under Stephen Harper, there were so many people unhappy with the government and their approach that people were saying, 'It will take electoral reform to no longer have a government we don't like'. But under the current system, they now have a government they're more satisfied with and the motivation to change the electoral system is less compelling."

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FPTP the post used to be bad, when it was giving false majorities to Conservatives. But now Liberals are winning false majorities again, so FPTP is good now. Why fix what isn't broken?

I wish I could inject this quote directly into my veins, it's so good. It's an amazing butchery of the discourse around electoral reform. The reform movement has always been more concerned with accurately translating voter intentions into seat totals than with producing "governments we like," which suggests Trudeau either never understood the distinction or never cared. I also can't remember the last time I heard a politician transparently muse about backing down from a major campaign pledge by citing his own popularity as the reason. It's so transparently arrogant that you have to wonder if the prime minister is deliberately trolling us.

To any ordinary politician, in any ordinary parliamentary session, this would likely be the moment their wings melted under their own sunny hubris and they fell into the sea. But this is Justin Trudeau, who somehow remains a preternaturally lovable scamp regardless of anything he does or doesn't do.

This is certainly helped by the fact that both the major opposition parties are drifting rudderless through their respectively tepid leadership contests. The Conservatives won't elect a proper leader for another seven months, and they are unlikely to fight the government much on this point anyway. Meanwhile, the NDP—the one party actually prepared to bring a gun to the Liberals' electoral reform knife fight—won't have a new leader until sometime next year. And given that you can more or less blame Tom Mulcair for passing the reform torch to Trudeau in the last election, it's unlikely there will be much challenge in the House to whatever the government decides to do.

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Here is a likely scenario: the electoral reform committee will come back with its report on December 1st. The Liberals—who clearly do not see any fundamental, principled problem with a single member plurality voting system—will latch on to its more milquetoast recommendations (a mandatory voting law, some kind of online voting system, or maybe preferential ballots) and run with that as its major contribution to reform. Trudeau has indicated that smaller changes require less public input, while major changes (e.g. proportional representation) would require more. So whatever they opt for will be modest enough to avoid giving into Conservative demands for a referendum, while still noticeable enough that the Liberals can credibly say they did something to fix Canadian democracy. Trudeau will lead a new refrain of "promise made, promise kept" at his next over-capacity rally appearance and Ed Broadbent will continue to cry himself to sleep.

Does this hold up? Maybe.

Of course, since substantive reform was a major promise in 2015—and drew a lot of centre-left swing voters to the Liberals—it will piss a lot of people off if the government actually does back off from making #RealChange. But the hyper-engaged wonks who were radicalized for proportional representation at 18 by a sessional instructor and/or Green party campaign volunteer were only ever a small subset of the Liberal demographic anyway.

Which brings us to the other major insight of the anniversary polling. Ipsos reports that most of us know that Trudeau is more style than substance, but we're still pretty cool about it anyway. Canadians are actually as broadly boring and deferential to authority as the stereotype suggests.

Trudeau is likely right in his assessment to Le Devoir. People are broadly satisfied with his government. There is little appetite for change, especially for a change that might force us to become more entangled with the political gongshow instead of further tuning it out of our lives for some peace and quiet and meme-able prime ministers. You can't fix what isn't broken, and this country was never really designed for democracy anyway.

Happy anniversary everybody. Canada is back, in more ways than you know.

Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.