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Editorial: Federal Liberals soften reform stance

Justin Trudeau was joined by Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil during a campaign stop in Halifax.
Justin Trudeau was joined by Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil during a campaign stop in Halifax.

“We will make every vote count.” It was a bold promise made by the Liberals last year during the federal election campaign. Electoral reform caught the attention of many Canadians wanting an improved political process.

Justin Trudeau speaks with supporters during a event in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Wednesday.

The Liberals vowed that 2015 would be the last federal election conducted using the first-past-the-post voting system. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeated that pledge at every opportunity. His government convened an all-party committee to review reform options and is expected to deliver recommendations to Parliament by Dec. 1.

Now comes the hard part. The Liberals also promised that within 18 months of forming government, they would introduce legislation to enact electoral reform. It seems increasingly unlikely, especially after the PM’s comments during a recent Quebec newspaper interview.

Trudeau argues now that there were so many people unhappy with the Stephen Harper regime that electoral reform looked attractive as a way to get rid of an unpopular government. Now that Canadians have a government they’re happier with, the motivation to change the electoral system is less compelling. It’s a smug attitude for a government that has only held power for a year.

A little clarification might be in order. It’s the PM who has lost his appetite for electoral reform. The Liberals took power and the urgency to change the system quickly waned.

The Conservatives are making a strong argument for a national referendum. They argue that changing how we elect politicians must be supported by a majority of Canadians and not depend on MPs who — let’s face it — are in a conflict of interest position. But the odds are that only Parliament will vote on the reform question.

The government has other preoccupations and so electoral reform is being pushed off the agenda. The federal flip-flop comes just as Prince Edward Island prepares to launch its own plebiscite on electoral reform. The P.E.I. results might influence how Ottawa proceeds. If there is support for change from Islanders, then Trudeau might warm up to the idea again. If Islanders opt for the status quo, then the PM can point to those results as another argument to slow down the federal process.

Trudeau is obliged to follow through on his electoral reform promises and the parliamentary committee’s recommendations must be acted upon. Canadians already voted in a referendum last year — it was called a federal election, and it called for change. Canadians should demand action on electoral reform, as promised.

Does Trudeau believe he’s such a good choice as PM that the system doesn’t have to be changed until the Liberals lose power?

Perhaps it’s time for a refresher course. The PM should go back and read through his platform from last fall. It might clarify things.

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