I actually felt injured when Justin Trudeau reneged on his electoral reform promise. I’ve tried to figure out why this particular broken promise felt like a betrayal when other broken promises, lies and stupid mistakes I have seen over the years just annoyed me.
In part it is because, even though I voted for – actually ran for – another party, I had drunk the Koolaid. I was suckered, at least a bit, by the promise of a different kind of politics. I was also taken in by my own optimism about this country of ours.
We have one of the most successful countries in the world. We have a political system that works better than most. On many, many occasions Canadians have acted in way that inspire admiration and even trust in the goodness of other people. I don’t think Canada or Canadians are perfect – I have worked for opposition parties for much of the last 50 years.
But I expected integrity from the members of our new parliament because I see this country of ours as a place where people value honesty, generosity, inclusiveness and fairness and I thought that the revitalized Liberals reflected some of the character of the country.
Mr Trudeau kept his promise to undo Harper’s plan to raise the age of benefits for seniors. That was a a bad decision, I think, and politically motivated, but it was a promise kept.
It certainly appears he is on his way to bringing in a national price on carbon. That is an important and correct decision that took some political courage. Now I wonder if Mr Trudeau has the guts to push that policy ahead. The liberal party ate a previous leader who had similar ideas. Trudeau has shown now that he will cave under party pressure. To genetically engineer a metaphor, the wolves will be gathering in the back rooms.
The promise to end the first-past-the-post system was a good promise. It would have made our system just a bit more democratic. In truth we have a very limited form of democracy with seriously outdated institutions. Electoral reform wouldn’t have fixed those problems. But it would have given us a sense that we can make the system better. The Real Message in the Trudeau turn is that changes that threaten anyone with power are going to be left for the next generation.
Mr Trudeau seemed willing to run the risk of getting a system that wasn’t quite the system he wanted, and I admired that commitment to democracy. When it came to action, however, he put in a genuinely flakey performance and then reneged on his promise.
And then he justified the betrayal with obviously stupid arguments. He began telling Canadians that proportional representation would give us a system in which radical minority parties would hold the balance of power – Kelly Leitch would have a party, and Canadians wouldn’t like that. We would give a platform to morally unacceptable voices and get a dysfunctional government.
Perhaps he didn’t notice that the USA, with a solid two-party system and clearly unproportional voting just got a distasteful and dysfunctional government. I happen to think Canada got a distasteful and dysfunctional government under Harper. I know that the Germans elected Hitler with a system like we have now.
Perhaps he didn’t realize that as the center party, the Liberals would probably control most future governments. As the most politically bisexual party, they would be able to form coalitions with either the Conservatives or the NDP. Furthermore, proportional representation would be most likely to split the Conservatives into several parties. The Kelly Leitch Party would be a godsend for the Liberal Party under proportional representation.
Trudeau’s arguments are nonsense. They are not supported by the data, and not endorsed by the majority of political theorists. They are the kind of self justifying nonsense a little boy might go for when caught in a lie.
I do feel betrayed by Mr Trudeau. It will take quite as while for me to trust anything he says. I won’t be the only one with trust issues going forward, and that is not good for any government. Oddly enough, Conservative governments have set the standard by carrying through on election promises. Mike Harris did a lot that I thought was wrong. So did Mr Harper. But they did earn a reputation for keeping their promises. Mr Trudeau threw away that trust this month.
He also threw away my trust in my local MP, Paul Lefevbre. Paul is now saddled the label of `party hack’ because he has to defend a leader who breaks his promises. The circle of people who will talk honestly to Paul got a bit smaller and Canadian democracy got a bit weaker, all because Mr. Trudeau broke a promise he should have really tried to keep.