In one of last year’s few political highlights, Justin Trudeau led the Liberal Party to victory in Canada’s general election, and one of their manifesto pledges was to change Canada’s electoral system from first past the post.
The Liberals won a majority of the seats in Canada’s Parliament, and reforming the electoral system is also backed by the New Democratic and Green parties, meaning that a substantial majority of the electorate backed parties that want change. So, that’s an electoral majority, a Parliamentary majority and a clear manifesto pledge all backing change.
As you might expect, that’s not enough for the Conservatives, who are now insisting that there needs to be a referendum as well, or they’ll use their strength in the (unelected) Senate to block any change. This fits in with how the Conservatives ran the country in the Harper era, when all controversial decisions went to national referendums… oh no, they didn’t do that, did they?
Just as happened here in Britain a few years ago, the vested interests whose chance of power would be most threatened by electoral reform are getting ready to do whatever it takes to stop it from happening. Those of you who miss reading ill-informed columnists spouting badly-argued talking points about why a country doesn’t need electoral reform will enjoy the Canadian press right now. This article manages to hit almost all the bases of objection from ‘there are more important things to worry about’ through a reference to a misunderstood Arrow’s Theorem and right to ‘it’s all too complicated for people to understand’. (Anyone Danish reading this might be somewhat surprised to learn that they don’t know how their electoral system works) It does a great job of undermining its own arguments with this line:
As flawed as our system is, it has its virtues. The greatest one is clarity. Any party that wins a majority has the chance to fully implement its agenda, for better or for worse.
Which is exactly what the Canadian Liberals are doing. It is a strange situation when a government comes to power with a commitment to change the system that delivered it a majority, but that (amongst other things, which they’re also doing because Governments can multi-task) is what they were elected to do. The Canadian campaign against electoral reform is only just beginning to pick itself up and organise its arguments, so it’s not quite at the ridiculous hyperbole of ‘electoral reform kills babies and soldiers’ yet, but it’s going to come. Even when a Government is elected with an overwhelming argument for change, those that fear it will do all they can to stop it, and I hope Trudeau and his government have the strength to see them off.