OTTAWA â Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is backtracking on his promise to change the electoral system, his opponents charged Wednesday.
After campaigning last year on assurances that â2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system,â Trudeau appears to backpedal in an interview with Quebec newspaper Le Devoir.
âIf we are going to change the electoral system, people must be open to it,â Trudeau is quoted telling the newspaper in an interview to mark the one-year anniversary of his Liberal partyâs election victory.
The prime minister said he plans to look at how consultations have unfolded, then gauge the public's reactions.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canadians would need be open to electoral reform before any changes would be made. (Photo: Getty)
âWe are not going to prejudge what would be necessary [to change the electoral system]. But when we say, [we want] substantial support, that means something,â he said.
Trudeau goes on to suggest that now that the Conservatives are no longer in power, there is less need for electoral change.
âUnder Mr. [Stephen] Harper, there were so many people who were upset with the government and his approach that people were saying âit takes electoral reform to no longer have a government we dislike,ââ Trudeau is quoted saying. âBut under the current system, they now have a government with which they are more satisfied. And the motivation to want to change the system is less compelling.â
âWe are not going to prejudge what would be necessary."
â Prime Minister Trudeau
In Parliament, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair accused the prime minister of breaking his electoral pledge.
âIt's quite obvious that Mr. Trudeau no longer believes that the 2015 election should be the last election under the unfair first-past-the-post system,â Mulcair said.
âCanadians do want changeâŠMr. Trudeau even got a little bit less percentage of vote than Mr. Harper did, so the unfair system is still there.
âThe only thing that's changed is that Mr. Trudeau believes that he's such a good choice that the system doesn't have to be changed anymore,â Mulcair said.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks at Parliament Hill on Oct. 19, 2016. He says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has broke his election pledge on electoral reform. (Photo: Justin Tang/CP)
Under the current first-past-the-post electoral system, the Liberals last year won 184 seats â 54 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons â with only 39.5 per cent of the votes.
Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose said Trudeauâs comments represent âa real shiftâ in his viewpoint.
âYou know, much before any election was held, the prime minister was so clear that there needed to be electoral reform.â But now, Ambrose, whose party doesnât support a change, said: âI think what Mr. Trudeau is doing is listening to Canadians.â
Ninety per cent of the people the Tories consulted across the country said they want a referendum before any reforms, she said. âMr. Trudeau is on the wrong side of this issue, so maybe heâs backing down.â
âThe only thing that's changed is that Mr. Trudeau believes that he's such a good choice that the system doesn't have to be changed anymore."
â NDP Leader Tom Mulcair
Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, a man who has been championing electoral reform for more than five decades, expressed his extreme disappointment with the prime minister.
âItâs a complete betrayal of what many Canadians believed was a genuine promise, to get rid of what he and his minister have described as an âantiquatedâ electoral system,â Broadbent told The Huffington Post Canada.
âI deeply regret it, because he is the first leader in my lifetime of another party that has promised electoral reform.This is just very cynical betrayal that a lot of people thought would happen,â Broadbent added.
âItâs perhaps the most significant backing down of any promise he has made since he got elected â ironically on his own anniversary of his election.â
Liberals need 'broad support': Monsef
Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef has said the Liberals are seeking the âbroad support of Canadiansâ to change the electoral system but she hasnât defined what that means.
The Liberal government hasnât ruled out holding a referendum â something the Tories have repeatedly demanded â but Trudeau told students at the University of Ottawa in April that referendums are a good way of ensuring that nothing changes.
âMany of the people âŠ who propose that absolutely we need a referendum, well, they know that the fact is that referendums are a pretty good way of not getting any electoral reform,â he said.
In recent weeks, the NDP has emerged from their consultations saying that Canadians want some form of proportional representation, that a partyâs seat count in the Commons should reflect the percentage of votes obtained.
Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef says she hasn't ruled a referendum out. (Photo: CP)
Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand has also said the broadest possible consensus is needed before any changes are made to the way MPs are elected.
âNot a single government, whatever the majority is, should be able to unilaterally change the rules of election," he told reporters last month.
Trudeau is quoted telling Le Devoir that there are âdifferent levelsâ of changes.
Smaller changes may require a lower level of support, and larger changes may need broader approval, the prime minister suggested.
âWhatâs a big change? Whatâs a small change? All those reflections, that is why we need to have rigorous and intelligent conversations with Canadians.â
Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
This spring, the government convened an all-party parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, including online voting. The committee, which recently returned from cross-country consultations, has until Dec. 1 to issue a report. Monsef, who has also concluded her own consultations, is expected to table legislation next spring.
Trudeau told Le Devoir he wonât commit to abiding by the committeeâs recommendations, saying only that it will be a useful tool to frame the governmentâs decision-making.
âUnfortunately, whether you want to or not, the great preoccupation for political parties is their immediate survival and their capacity to finance themselves,â Trudeau told the newspaper. âSo, yes, Iâm going to listen attentively to their concerns. Iâm going to keep them in mind, absolutely. It is important work [that the committee] is trying to do. But it is not the only work that is being done in this larger reflection.â
'Clear desire' for change: Trudeau in April
Last April, when speaking to the university students, Trudeau took a much firmer stance. He said there was a âfairly clear desire out there to improve our electoral system.â
While the current first-past-the-post electoral system worked âpretty good for me this time,â and it would be tempting to claim it is too complicated to change it now, the prime minister said it still remains âa priority to me.â
âQuite frankly, political parties shouldnât be able to appeal to narrow constituencies and suddenly wield enough power to run the entire country,â he added.