Dissecting the Prime Minister’s excuses for ditching his promise of fair voting

On Thursday, February 16th, 2017 in Articles by Elizabeth, Island Tides, Publications
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Dissecting the Prime Minister’s excuses for ditching his promise of fair voting
February 16, 2017
Elizabeth May

I t was a massive blow to my faith in Trudeau’s good intentions when he re-wrote the mandate letter to the Minister of Democratic Institutions to remove the responsibility for bringing in a new voting system.

Since then, he has offered up one excuse after another. It has been, as you can imagine, profoundly discouraging to hear Justin Trudeau, having broken faith with his own promise of electoral reform, offer up increasingly desperate excuses.

I have referred to his explanations in townhall meetings as ‘grasping at straws.’ It made me wonder about the origins of the idiom ‘grasping at straws’. Was it like the proverbial ‘straw man’—a rhetorical argument set up to be knocked down? Or like a straw in the wind? The straw poll or straw vote… or in this case, was it really the last straw?

Turns out, the phrase ‘grasping at straws’ comes from a proverb quoted in the 1748 novel, Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson: ‘A drowning man will catch at a straw, the proverb well says.’ So our Prime Minister is a drowning man. No wonder his excuses smack of futile desperation.

At first it was only that he could not see a ‘way forward’. He complained that Canadians had not achieved consensus. Of course, the government had not put in place any mechanism for finding consensus.

The parliamentary committee on which I served was not mandated to test for consensus. We were instructed to look at the evidence and make recommendations for the system to replace First Past the Post. The Liberals ‘mydemocracy.ca’ survey never even asked the key question: ‘Do you want to replace FPTP? If so, what system do you want?’

Even so, 70% of the hundreds of thousands of respondents made it clear they preferred proportional representation. When given a choice between a parliament where many parties have to work together to reach compromise through cooperation, even if it took longer, that approach was preferred over one large party making decisions with accountability.

Since breaking his word with Canadians, the Prime Minister has been increasingly clear that his preferred system was ranked ballots. I was open to ranked ballots. It seemed reasonable that being able to rank your choices on ballots would be an improvement.

But all the evidence before the Parliamentary Committee was that the only system guaranteed to produce more perverse results than our current system was ranked ballots. It would distort the will of the voters even more than First Past the Post.

With no evidence to support this system, and numerous witnesses to the effect that ranked ballots would tend towards giving the Liberals an even greater share of seats without public support, not only did the Conservatives, NDP, Bloc and Greens oppose ranked ballots, so too did the Liberals on the committee.

On his northern swing of townhalls, in Iqaluit and Yellowknife, the prime minister has become even more critical of the recommendation of the vast majority of the witnesses to our committee and to our recommendation for proportional representation.

Here Are His Claims And My Rebuttals:

Trudeau: Proportional representation will increase the risk of extremist parties gaining seats in Parliament:

Rebuttal: The parliamentary committee specifically rejected the system used in Israel and Italy where votes are cast for the party of choice with as little as 2% of the vote. Single Transferable Votes (STV) for local candidates produces proportionality without party lists at all. If Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) is used, the threshold of the vote can be set at 3-5% and exclude extreme parties.

Trudeau claimed that we should fear proportional representation because it would give Kellie Leitch ‘her own party’. But we need no hypotheticals. Kellie Leitch could become leader of the Conservative Party —so too could Kevin O’Leary or libertarian Maxime Bernier. They could lead a mainstream party.

Has Trudeau forgotten that Stephen Harper was an extreme political force—never supported by more than 25% of Canadians—yet prime minister for a decade and leading with a majority for four years of savage destruction of our environmental laws?

FPTP is dangerous. Proportional representation will keep extremism in check.

Trudeau: Proportional representation will be a threat to national unity.

Rebuttal: It is FPTP that gives disproportionate parliamentary power to regional splinter parties. FPTP allows regional parties to gain disproportionate power. The Bloc Quebecois running in only one province gained the seats to form Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition; Reform, outpaced the Progressive Conservative party in seats with only a fraction of the popular vote.

FPTP is a proven threat to national unity.

It is not too late to remind the prime minister of his promise. While he is grasping at straws, let’s throw him a life ring.

Originally published by Island Tides newspaper. See http://www.islandtides.com/ for more breaking West Coast news, views and enterprise.

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  • Ron Turner

    Jonathan Wilkinson – our MP here in North Vancouver – also tried to use the lack of consensus argument as an excuse for why the government was breaking its promise. It seems to me that this government rolls out the consensus aspect of an issue when it suits them (whether pertinent or factual…), e.g. Electoral Reform, but totally ignores consensus when it’s inconvenient for them, e.g. the Trans Mountain Pipeline decision. Trudeau (and Wilkinson…) have shown their true colours early in this government’s mandate and will likely make more self-serving, promise-breaking decisions in the future, thus giving those of us who are fed up with this kind of behaviour more ammunition to use against them in the next election…

  • Ron Turner

    I just received the government’s official response to Nathan Cullen’s petition (421-01221) urging the government to reconsider its stance on electoral reform. Unfortunately, this official response spews the same patronizing, unsubstantiated garbage that Justin Trudeau and Jonathan Wilkinson hope would sustain those of us hungry for electoral reform. It won’t.

    For those living in BC, please attend your local all-candidates meetings and find out where those folks running in your provincial riding stand on electoral reform. If the whole country can’t benefit from ER, then perhaps we in BC can start the ball rolling :)

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