By Dan Oldfield
For The Chronicle-Journal
When you buy a product based on assurances of the producer that it will perform a specific function, you are within your rights to return that product and get your money back if the product fails to meet its promised commitment. So, it seems more than a little odd that what you can do with a can of household cleaner you can’t do with politicians who fail to honour specific commitments made during an election campaign.
The Trudeau government promised real change to win the support of voters in the last election. But the change that’s happening isn’t the change that was promised. In some cases, just the opposite.
For example, Trudeau promised pension protection. Instead, Canadians now face Bill C27, a piece of legislation so repugnant that even the Harper Conservatives abandoned it. Bill C27, if passed, will allow employers to implement inferior pension benefits and potentially undermine existing plans than thousands of seniors rely on.
But perhaps even more egregious is the broken promise of electoral reform. Here’s what the Liberals told voters in the fall of 2015:
“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.”
That was a clear commitment designed to gain popular support and ultimately governing power. It should be noted that the more than 18,000 people who took the time to rate this promise on the Liberal election site gave it an average 4.68 rating out of five. Clearly, some people thought the Liberals would actually deliver.
Prime Minister Trudeau justifies his about-face by saying, “a clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged.” That is a cop-out. That is not leadership.
There is consensus on the core issue that the current system gives disproportionate power to a minority of voters and needs to be changed. In an Ekos poll taken last October, more than 60 per cent of participants deemed the current system to be unfair.
The parliamentary committee has now made very specific recommendations. It has proposed a national referendum offering three choices including the current system. Only after such a referendum will consensus be realized. If by consensus Trudeau means unanimity, that will never happen.
So why break the promise?
Perhaps the government simply isn’t smart enough to come up with a process to create a system of proportional representative democracy. This is in no way a novel idea though. Several jurisdictions, including 21 out of 28 countries in western Europe, have devised systems to ensure that voter preference is fairly represented in their legislative structures.
At the risk of being cynical, isn’t it possible that taking electoral reform off the table is because the government has seen the benefit of first-past-the-post? The Liberals, after all, swept the Maritime seats with just 40 per cent of the vote. Why would it be in their interest to change the system? However you explain it, it is a clear and obvious broken promise.
Perhaps there is one type of electoral reform that can be agreed upon: the right to recall parliamentarians.
Recall legislation is also not a new idea and is already in place in many jurisdictions including British Columbia. All it takes is one citizen to start a petition. Once a specific number of petitioners have signed on, a referendum is held to determine if the voting public has lost faith in the government or specific members within it.
Such legislation would encourage political parties to make responsible promises and to keep them. Canadians shouldn’t have to wait another four years to hold their government accountable.
Dan Oldfield is a former CBC reporter and lead negotiator for the Canadian Media Guild and currently a partner in Syzygy Learning and Facilitation. He has a home in the Thunder Bay area.