Today, the new Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, announced that the Liberal government has officially abandoning the objective of electoral reform. Thus, notwithstanding the promise that 2015 would be the “last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post system” made during the 2015 electoral campaign, Canada will be faced with more elections which permit very small percentages of the voting public to put in place electoral majorities.
The announcement followed the release of the Minister’s mandate letter in which Prime Minister Trudeau stated:
There has been tremendous work by the House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform, outreach by Members of Parliament by all parties, and engagement of 360,000 individuals in Canada through mydemocracy.ca. A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged. Furthermore, without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada’s interest. Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.
An important opportunity has been lost. First-past-the-post electoral systems have been criticized for distorting the electoral process. I will not repeat those criticisms here. Suffice it to say that it is obviously different to make a bold election promise than to keep such a promise. And this is not a situation where the new government opens the financial cupboard to find it bare and thus, cannot keep its word. This is one where the courage to lead has waned, largely because the first-past-the-post system worked well enough to elect this government in the first place.
This would have been one of the most important small “c” constitutional developments that this country has seen since its inception. It would have led to a more democratic, likely more consensus-based governance model. The chance to make that change will now have to wait for likely decades.