The man behind an online petition calling for the Liberal government to recommit to its electoral reform pledge says early signs of a flip-flop from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prompted him to launch the initiative months before last Wednesday's announcement.
Inspiring the petition was Justin Trudeau's interview in Le Devoir on Oct. 19. "In that interview, he signalled electoral reform might not happen because, he said, support for it had waned," petitioner Jonathan Cassels told CBC News.
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Cassels, who works in banking, said he often engages in political discussions via social media. But when he expressed concern over the prime minister's words online, Cassels said he received dozens of responses.
Trudeau's 2015 campaign promise of electoral reform was a major incentive to vote Liberal in the last election, Cassels said.
'I'm not an activist, just an informed citizen who felt gut-punched when they came out and said this.' - Jonathan Cassels
"I was immediately on social media, saying 'What do we do about this? Online petition? Letter writing campaign? Protest? We need something.'"
With sponsorship from member of Parliament and NDP critic of democratic reform Nathan Cullen, Cassels officially submitted the e-petition on Nov. 6, 2016.
Signature count jumps
Following last week's announcement that the Liberals were abandoning electoral reform, the petition's signature count has soared to more than 55,000.
Cassels said the growing support discredits Trudeau's initial claim that public interest in electoral reform had dropped.
"The fact that people are looking at it … and saying we're going to add our voice, shows there's enthusiasm. The excuse that Canadians don't care doesn't have a leg to stand on," he said.
The original petition's goal was to "force the government to clearly state they would still do it, or make it clear they were abandoning an election promise," though last week's announcement changed the focus. But Cassels said he still wants action from the government once the petition closes on March 2.
"I'd like to hear, 'Look, we misjudged, because we see this enthusiasm. We are going to pursue this. Here's the timeline. Here's what a new system should look like.'"
Petitions that receive 500 signatures or more over a 120-day period are sent to the House of Commons for response. The Liberal government will then have 45 days to respond.
Cullen calls petition 'encouraging'
The NDP's Cullen told CBC News he originally signed on as a means of holding the government accountable.
"I'm happy to sponsor petitions that propose the government keep its promises," he said.
Cullen said the petition's increased traffic is a testament to people "wanting better."
"It's very encouraging to me that Canadians aren't so cynical that they think Trudeau can get away with this."
Once the petition is submitted to Parliament, Cullen said, he hopes the electoral reform decision will be reversed.
"For those who say this is over, they're wrong. It encourages me not to give up on this struggle. We have Canadians on our side. The prime minister's word should mean something, and it should mean something for all Canadians."
For a new voting model to replace the first-past-the-post system, Cassels suggests looking back at the initial recommendations made by the electoral reform committee.
"Move to a single transferable vote system. Multiple representatives in ridings, merge ridings. It's not perfect, but it's one I can get behind," he said. Under Canada's current system, he said, "more than half of Canadians have representatives they didn't vote for. No one who has an incentive to listen to them."
"This is why Canadians are disenfranchised with democracy even before they can vote."
Cassels said he's simply an engaged Canadian shocked by the Liberal's broken promise on electoral reform.
"I'm not an activist, just an informed citizen who felt gut-punched when they came out and said this."