Millennials finally fall out of love with Justin Trudeau after he abandons electoral reform: Robyn Urback

It appears the millennial fantasy of Liberal exceptionalism when it comes to "the same old politics" in Ottawa is, at last, starting to fade. Thanks, electoral reform.

For many young voters, Harper's government was all they had ever known. Trudeau was supposed to be different

Justin Trudeau was the antithesis of everything young voters had known about federal politics in Canada, and he was supposed to overhaul it completely. That hasn't happened. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Sorry, kids: you've been had. I don't mean to be patronizing — to the extent that I can be patronizing of my own contemporaries — but it appears the millennial fantasy of Liberal exceptionalism when it comes to "the same old politics" in Ottawa is, at last, starting to fade. Thanks, electoral reform.

I can only speak anecdotally, of course (the preferred method of data collection among millennials, or didn't you know?!) but it appears young voters are particularly aghast that the prime minister of Canada would break his campaign promise to overhaul the way we hold our elections.

While many older voters yawned and mumbled something about "same old Liberals" following the government's about-face last week, the under-35 cohort found themselves seething over the apparent betrayal, vowing in long screeds on Facebook and Reddit to never vote Liberal again. Some went further, launching and signing petitions, emails and letter-writing campaigns to their MPs, while others organized weekend rallies to demonstrate their fury over the broken promise. 

A new type of politics

Their passion was striking, but not altogether surprising: for many young voters, Stephen Harper led the only federal government they had really ever known. For most of their adult or near-adult lives, the government had been run by a bunch of wooden-looking dudes who were reportedly anti-science, anti-marijuana, anti-infrastructure and anti-change.

Then along came Justin Trudeau, who talked about climate change, feminism, investing in infrastructure and smoking weed. He was the antithesis of everything they had known about federal politics in Canada, and he vowed to overhaul it completely — right down to the very fundamentals of how we form our governments. They trusted him, gave him their votes and arguably handed him his majority.

Trudeau was expected to be the anti-Stephen Harper. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

But now, it's becoming clear that Trudeau's government isn't that different after all. For one, the little entitlements are piling up: the health minister's car service bills, the $200,000 in moving expenses for two Prime Minister's Office staffers, the private dinners with billionaires, the prime minister's luxury island vacation. OK, you vaguely remember some old crotchety family member warning you about Liberal entitlements, but that was supposed to be about the old Liberals. Not these guys.

And then there's the Trudeau government's commitment to "evidence-based policy," which should dictate that, for example, the Liberals would listen to their own economic advisory council when it recommends raising the retirement age — even though it would mean following through on a Harper-era promise.

In 2012, the Harper government said Canada would raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and the guaranteed income supplement from 65 to 67 — a change that many countries such as France, Germany and Australia are all doing to account for the fact people are living longer. The move is incredibly unpopular among boomers.

Trudeau's nugget for those boomers during the campaign was a promise to revert the age of eligibility back to 65, and even though the government's own growth council reported this week that it would be a bad idea, the Trudeau government is sticking with it.

That means you're on the hook for your parents' early retirement, kids. Hope you can find some non-contract work soon. Boomer support trumps evidence, apparently.

Promise that resonated

But electoral reform was the broken promise that resonated, likely because of how steadfast the Liberals were in 2015. "We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system," the Liberals declared back then (awkwardly, at the time of writing, that line is still up on the Liberals' website).

Whether they ever intended to follow through on that pledge is, for some, a matter of debate, but what's clear is they ditched the plan when it became obvious there would be no consensus on implementing their preferred voting system. 

With the benefit of hindsight, it should be clear now — to voters of every age bracket — that the Liberals are doing exactly what every successful party, including their own, has always done to win elections: make vague, popular promises and feign an attempt to follow through.

If some pledges have to be abandoned, better that it happens early. And hope everyone forgets the next time an election rolls around. Especially those hopelessly optimistic millennials.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Robyn Urback


Robyn Urback was an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at: