The announcement by newly appointed Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, scrapping the Liberal government’s promise to replace the first-past-the-post electoral system (FPTP), at first shocked and then disappointed Saanich-Gulf Island MP Elizabeth May.
The announcement came as a result of a directive by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who abandoned his promise of electoral reform, saying not only that there was no clear consensus on a new voting system but that the issue itself is not a priority for Canadians.
“We are moving forward in a way that will focus on the things that matter to Canadians. That is what Canadians elected us to do,” said Trudeau during question period.
The move came as a complete shock to May who, as a member of the special committee on electoral reform worked alongside other MPs to study alternate voting systems to replace FPTP, and had travelled tens of thousands of kilometres across the country to engage with Canadians of all ages and walks of life to get their ideas and perspectives on electoral reform.
“We [the committee] presented a well thought out, well researched report that did represent a way forward… a system that would work,” said May. The Green Party leader said the announcement has shocked the committee members who had been given no inkling that their efforts would be discarded.
The consensus of the reform committee, reached by all opposition parties in the committee’s majority report, was for the adoption of a proportional voting system with strong local representation, to be decided by a national referendum.
May said that what it came down to was that the prime minister had a personal preference – a ranked preferential ballot – but that the committee’s research had shown that system to be “worse that what we have now.”
“That’s not to say there weren’t other, more effective methods we could adopt. We provided real options within our report … good options.”
One of the possible causes for the sudden about-face by the prime minister might be tied to the suggestion by Conservative members of the committee that a referendum be held to gauge the opinion of the Canadian public on the issue.
“There were very good reasons not to hold a referendum,” said May, adding that she did not believe it was the only factor that killed the initiative.
But it isn’t just the issue of FPTP that has May concerned regarding the actions of the prime minister – it’s the fallout from breaking the bonds of trust.
She recounted the North American indigenous parable about the grandfather who told his grandson that within him (and everyone) a war raged between two wolves.
“One wolf,” said the grandfather, “ is vile. It breeds resentments, greed, envy and violence. The other is pure goodness and it thrives on love and hope, healing and generosity.
When asked which wolf would win, the grandfather replied: “It depends on which wolf you feed.”
“I am deeply afraid that this betrayal will strike much more deeply in the hearts of Canadians than Prime Minister Trudeau recognizes, particularly among young people in a time of dangerous politics,” said May,
“And with [French presidential candidate Marine} Le Pen and [U.S. President Donald] Trump, you look around the world,” she said. “We are in a time of dangerous politics. You must never do anything as a politician that feeds cynicism. Cynicism has enough to feed itself.”
With that in mind, May maintains hope she might yet be able to sway Trudeau’s thinking on the issue.
“I have a long-standing personal relationship with the prime minister – one going back to before he was even the leader of the Liberal Party – and I have to hope I can convince him to revisit his promise and respect the tens of thousands of Canadians who voiced their opinions and desires for reform,” said May.
“Many of those people did an enormous amount of work and committed to a tremendous effort to make their desire for electoral reform known. You just can’t ignore them. There’s a huge price to pay for feeding the wrong wolf.”