In Canada: Broken promise -- or unexplained change?

Posted 3.01.17

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | The latest big topic in our region has been the federal Liberals' plan to walk away from their promise to reform the Canadian electoral system.

Everyone loves a rant about principles in politics, but I'd like to side-step this for a moment - - as well as my own hopes for a progressive and modern voting system, for something more subtle and responsive – - and more intelligent - - than winner-take-all and the simple yes/no decision we are given once every four years and which is called democracy. It's time to re-democratize our government.

But is Prime Minister Trudeau showing us that even this modest re-democratization of elections will not take place as long as those in power are elected via the old system? Self-preservation, pure and simple?

It's important to recall the complexity of this question. It isn't as simplistic as so many critics seem to think.

First, there isn't any promise being broken. Trudeau said, "the last election under the first-past-the-post system"; he did not say "with PR." In effect, any change at all would fulfil his promise, as long as it's not the first-past-the-post. Although proportional representation (PR) does seem supported by most of the brainiest people I talk to, Trudeau never promised it.

If he does nothing, as seems to be the case, that will be breaking his promise, and this is big enough an issue that it will tarnish the Trudeau image for much of his political life. It was a big promise. And he's going to surrender reform to the NDP?

In one sense, it might be wisest to support a watered-down version of PR, or any reform, just to get the ball rolling and not to alarm the media and corporate world which both seem allergic to any reform which takes more than one sentence to explain.

One route might be to announce a major electoral reform but within the government's long-term agenda. "Long term" and "important" mean much more study and discussion that a few public consultations. There are foreign systems which demand better study, for one thing.

The most important point in going long-term is to engage the public. Engaging -- not one more yes/no question. If the Liberals were to start explaining the problems with today's system to ordinary people, and exploring options in clear and intelligent form, the public would be much more involved and supportive.

Plus, educating us, the media, is a big part of any long-term reform. We've seen that the corporate media will kill with alarmism anything above the simplest complexity.

My media colleagues are afraid to trust clear ideas to ordinary people. And they have their paycheques written by corporations whose managers seem happy to have a parliament they can fund and control.

But this is another question -- why corporate dinosaurs cling to these old ways (I invite our readers to weigh in on this.).

But if we thought we'd win election reform in one year, who were we fooling?


Copyright © 2017 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/3.17