An open letter to Justin Trudeau on electoral reform

Dear Justin Trudeau,

It’s been a year and what a difference a year makes. Canadians feel much better about ourselves. A year ago I was thinking of staying in the UK if Harper won. Instead we got you and they got Brexit. It feels good to be a Canadian in the world today.

In those initial days I felt relief. It was nice to be told that my new President was hot (and even nicer when I was told that my new Prime Minster was hot). It was annoying that people fundamentally misunderstood what was a stake in the election. In my opinion it was a turning point in Canadian history. We could go down the conservative road of Stephen Harper or we could chose a left-wing alternative. For a variety of reasons you ended up being that left-wing alternative.

You made some big promises during that campaign. Promises and words matter. Before a party is in power they are all we have to judge you based on. We have to take you at your word and hope that you are as good as you promise. Your words are good. You say the right things especially in dark days of Brexit and Trump. Sometimes saying the right things can be important especially when it means standing up for minorities or giving a speech at the UN.

I care a great deal more about what you do. You have twelve months of actions that you can be judged by. Talk is cheap and easy choices are quickly running out. There were some key promises you made during the election and some of them matter more to certain voters than others. Macleans recently published an excellent review of broken promises on the environment and indigenous issues. These broken promises stack up. You don’t want to become a Prime Minister who says the right thing but ultimately does the convenient thing instead. You are as good as your word and if you break it you will be worth very little to Canadians. You risk betraying those who placed their faith in you and the feeling we had when you won.

For me the most important promise you made was that the last election would be the last first past the post election. This promise did not mention consultation. There were no if ands or buts. It is a very plain and clear statement. iPolitics writes:

The Liberals’ platform, however, was clear: “We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system,” it says.

“We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting. This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament. Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.”

In some ways this promise was made for all democracy loving electoral reformer nerds. The Conservatives have the most to lose from reform followed by the Liberals. In many ways this promise was made to those left-wing swing voters who can chose one of three parties. This was an election about preventing vote splitting and uniting the vote around one of the three left-wing parties. You convinced many Green and NDP supporters to strategically vote for you in exchange for never strategically voting again. We were told it was the last time. We were promised it was the last time. If there is another first past the post election you will have failed and betrayed us. You will have failed and betrayed me and the hope I placed in your government. You are as good as your word and if you can’t keep key promises you start to look really bad.

I have another quote for you. This is one of yours.

Who cares about winning? We should focus on serving.

It seems more and more that you care about winning. Serving is a lot less convenient. It involves being bold, making difficult decisions and finding a way to do what you said you would. I implore you to serve all Canadians and not just the interests of your party and the hope of another majority. Shame on you if you fail us.


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