Thursday, March 31, 2016

(No.298) Justin Trudeau & electoral reform

"Justin Trudeau and Canadian electoral reform:

   spare us the 'sunny ways' "

by Alastair Rickard

I have written columns about the need for reform of Canada's 'first past the post' (FPTP) electoral system -- for example RickardsRead column no. 267.

During the Oct. 15, 2015 federal election campaign all of the parties except the Conservatives espoused the need for electoral reform. Liberal leader and now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised that if a Liberal government was elected electoral reform would be in place within 18 months.

The Liberal winning of a majority of the seats in the House of Commons was widely greeted in the media, especially among the usual cable news talking heads and newspaper columnists as a 'great victory', even as a 'landslide'.

So anxious were certain media voices to welcome the arrival of Justin Trudeau's "sunny ways" government and the departure of the unfriendly (to the press) Harper government that hyperbole -- occasionally merely ghost milk -- was the journalistic order of the day.

Indeed the increase in the proportion of Canadian voters who turned out last October ( 68.3% in 2015 vs 61.1% in 2011) was widely characterized as evidence of the overwhelming desire of the electorate to replace the Harper government with Trudeau's Liberals.

Since taking office Prime Minsister Justin "sunny ways" Trudeau has habitually explained and defended his changes and policy initiatives, especially the reversal of Harper government legislation and policy, by declaring that 'Canadians' voted for Liberal change in the election.

A majority of Canadian voters did nothing of the sort. The Liberal majority of seats in the Commons was a result not reflective of the votes of a majority of Canadians -- thanks to FPTP. In terms of the Liberals' share of voter popularity being the voice of Canadians, that is Prime Minister Trudeau's self-constructed and self-serving political spin. It was the same spin the Tories also found politically useful.

A bit more than a third of Canadian voters supported the Trudeau Liberals. Indeed -- and I have seen this fact noted nowhere in the effusions of the media's chattering classes -- the Trudeau Liberals actually received a lower share (39.5%) of Canadians' votes in 2015 than the Harper government did in 2011 (39.6%). This rather less than impressive popular result was achieved notwithstanding the tsunami of 2.9 million more voters (supposedly pro-change) who came out in the last election.

Post-Oct 15 election analyses indicated that, had the Trudeau Liberals' preferred type of electoral reform been in place (i.e., ranked/preferred ballot), their 39.5% share of the actual votes cast in 2015 would have provided them with an even larger majority of the seats in the Commons. Another excellent illustration of the need for genuine proportional representation.

Many if not most of those (including me) who have supported meaningful electoral reform of the FPTP system advocate some form of proportional representation.

"Sunny ways" Trudeau has decided that the type of reform of Canada's FPTP electoral system will be considered and chosen by a House of Commons committee, a majority of the members of which will be Liberals. Moreover such a de facto change to Canada's constitution will apparently not be submitted to Canadians for approval in a referendum.

If this Trudeau government approach to democracy is supposed to be an improvement on that of the Harper Tories, please spare me such sunny ways.




previous columns & blog archive:
to access previous columns and this blog's archive, the links to which
are listed chronologically in the margin of each column
as it appears on the, go to
any column and follow the links

to set a "Google alert"for RickardsRead columns 
in order to receive notice automatically of new columns
as they are posted to, go to