Critics accuse Justin Trudeau of electoral reform flip-flop for 'selfish' political gain

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing growing calls to confirm his commitment to overhauling Canada's voting system. After promising electoral reform in last fall's federal election and launching a comprehensive public consultation process, Trudeau muddied the waters this week.

Prime minister insists he is 'deeply committed' to consultation process on changes to voting system

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was dogged by questions about electoral reform during a visit to the new Amazon Fulfillment Centre in Brampton, Ont., on Thursday, October 20, 2016. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing growing calls to confirm his commitment to overhauling Canada's voting system.

After promising electoral reform in last fall's election and launching a comprehensive public consultation process, Trudeau muddied the waters this week in a media interview marking his first year in office.

Asked today if he is backtracking on his promise, Trudeau said he remains "deeply committed" to reforms, but conceded it's a challenge to find consensus among a broad spectrum of public opinion.

He is awaiting recommendations from the special committee of MPs studying electoral reform.

Confusion created

"I'm not going to preclude the arguments that they will be making and the conclusions that will be drawn. I will simply say I look forward to hearing those perspectives and looking at how Canadians wish to move forward," he said.

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But Green Party Leader Elizabeth May urged Trudeau to clarify his commitment to reform the system in time for the next election.

"He has created this level of confusion by suggesting there may not be the same demand for electoral reform. I can assure him there is," she said.

'Crazy argument'

In an interview with Le Devoir this week, Trudeau appeared to be wavering.

Trudeau told the newspaper that Canadians were pushing hard for electoral reform as a way to get rid of a government it did not like — the Conservatives. But now that the Liberals are in office, the "motivation" to change the electoral system is less compelling.

"Fundamentally, it's a crazy argument," said Conservative democratic reform critic Scott Reid. "Stop and think about this: He said one year after the election, I'm super popular so we don't need to have this discussion now."

Reid and fellow members of the special committee studying the issue are now scratching their heads over whether their work is all for nought.

'Selfish' reasons

The NDP's democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen accused Trudeau of changing tack for "selfish" reasons.

"Canadians in part elected this government on promises like this, and to very cynically start breaking them just because you have a lot of Facebook followers is pretty arrogant and misguided," he said.

Katelynn Northam of advocacy group Leadnow said there is also much grassroots concern that Trudeau may be backing off the promise. More than 400 members have already made phone calls to Liberal MPs or the Prime Minister's Office, and another 4,000 have sent emails so far.

"Many members of Leadnow voted Liberal in 2015 because of the party's commitment to voting reform — and tens of thousands of people have since joined our Vote Better campaign for proportional representation in the last year," she told CBC News. "It's clear that people do care about voting reform and they expect this promise to be kept."

Real Change?

The Liberal campaign platform, called Real Change, promised to "make every vote count."

"We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system … Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform," it reads.

Kicking off consultations in May, Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef described the current system as deeply flawed.

"In a multi-party democracy like Canada, first past the post distorts the will of the electorate. It's part of why so many Canadians don't engage in or care about politics," she said at the time. "While there's no such thing as a perfect electoral system, we can do better."