I am not at all surprised by the announcement today that the government is abandoning its promise to reform the electoral system. I never believed they would.
Many progressive voters were lured to the Liberals in the last election on a powerful premise: first, the only we could defeat Harper was not to split votes between the NDP, Greens and the Liberal Party. The Liberals took on policy planks from the other parties, including a promise to reform the electoral process in an effort to court voters away from the NDP and Greens. Many people I knew threw their support to the Liberal party on this basis. I chose to vote locally for a candidate I respect – Ken Melamed from the Green Party – and for a party whose policies I supported more than the others. I often waver between voting Green and NDP. In the past I have voted strategically, against my values, in order to try to get a “better than nothing” result, but in this election I was weary of the toll of regret that took. I hoped fervently that the democratic reform effort would pan out, and even leant help and support to it. But from the start I had no faith that the Liberals would do it. The weight of history and entrenched interests was always too much to move.
And so today comes the new mandate to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, which in part says the following:
“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.”
The stark irony here is that democratic and electoral reform is needed specifically because a consensus is no way to run a country. Having strong representation of alternative and opposing views with in governing institutions is essential to a health democracy. The first past the post system enforces a false consensus on decision making, by whipping votes and having party politics run the country. The opportunity for a broader agreement that might represent consensus decisions containg dissent is lost. Decisions that do make room to wrestle with, appreciate and sometimes resolve differences make for more robust decisions and more resilient institutions. For the moment, we have lost a chance that we never had to reform the electoral system.
More importantly, we haven’t really yet replaced Harper. Several of the problematic bills that were championed under the Conservative government including C-51 (The Anti-Terrorism Act 2015) and S-7 (Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act) are still on the books. Pipelines that Harper could not get built have been approved under Trudeau. And reconciliation moves at a glacial pace and with no major shift in sight.
To be fair to Trudeau, the Fair Elections Act has thankfully been gutted, and scientists are now allowed to publish again and share their findings publicly. But the number one lure for progressives during the last election has today been shown to be a mere honey trap. Irresistable at the time, but empty calories and regret at the end.