Trudeau says national unity more important than electoral reform

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explained his decision to abandon his promise on electoral reform when asked about voter cynicism at a town hall in Yellowknife.

Prime minister was asked whether his broken promise will foster cynicism among voters

Trudeau says stability of Canada outweighs electoral reform

5 years ago
Duration 1:12
Trudeau spoke during a town hall in Yellowknife today

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau  gave his longest explanation yet for his decision to abandon his promise on electoral reform when asked about voter cynicism at a town hall Friday in Yellowknife.

"I know people will be disappointed," Trudeau said over boos from the crowd. "This was my choice to make and I chose to make it with full consequence of the cost that is possibly going to come to it. But I will not compromise on what is in the best interest of Canada."

In his 7½-minute answer, Trudeau outlined his own preference for ranked ballots and said either a referendum or proportional voting would be too divisive for Canada. 

Former N.W.T. Green candidate Eli Purchase asked the question about whether Trudeau thought voters would be more cynical because of the broken promise, referring to his own experience knocking on doors.

"I spoke to a gentleman who said he does not vote because politicians are all the same. They say exactly what you want to hear during the election campaign and then they turn things around and do whatever is convenient for them," Purchase said.

"It does really matter to me that we improve our democracy," Trudeau said as he began his answer. Someone yelled "then do it" from the crowd.

Ranked ballot: 'I'm not going near it'

Trudeau said he preferred a rank ballot system for electoral reform, but decided to back away once he faced accusations it would have a disproportionate benefit for the Liberal Party.

"I always felt we could make a clear improvement to our political process by offering people to not ever have to vote strategically again — to give a preference on your ballot, to rank your ballot," he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about his decision to break a campaign promise to reform Canada's electoral system at a town hall in Yellowknife. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Under that kind of ballot, voters would rank candidates in terms of preference. Candidates with the fewest votes would be eliminated and voters who supported them would have their vote transferred to their number 2, and so on until one candidate has more than 50 per cent support.

Critics said that system favoured the Liberals too much, and Trudeau agreed, saying, it "favours parties who are good at reaching out to find common ground with broad groups of Canadians" and get second-choice votes.

"I'm not going near it," he said to a smattering of applause. "I'm not going to do something that everyone is convinced is going to favour one party over another."

Referendum 'divisiveness'

Trudeau was quick to put aside the idea of a referendum to determine an electoral system, citing recent votes over Brexit and an Italian constitutional reform package — both of which led to prime ministers resigning.

"There is a lot of divisiveness," he said. He added those divisions would be amplified in a vote that was very important to some but not as broadly supported as priorities such as jobs, health care, educational opportunities and reconciliation.

Iqaluit resident Bethany Scott wanted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to know how disappointed she was in his government's decision to abandon its electoral reform initiative. (Nick Murray/CBC News)

The Conservative Party has been insisting on a referendum, which was included in the final report of the special committee on electoral reform in December.

Trudeau said it is more important that Canada remain stable, alluding to the "unstable and unpredictable political context around the world."

Proportional representation 'risk'

Trudeau said proportional representation would undermine Canada's political tradition of compromise between diverse groups, brokered through the big three political parties that compete in first-past-the-post.

Proportional representation, preferred by the NDP and Greens, could manifest in several systems. The goal is to tie percentage of the national popular vote more closely to representation in Parliament.

"If we were to make a change or risk a change that would augment individual voices — that would augment extremist voices and activist voices that don't get to sit within a party that figures out what's best for the whole future of the country, like the three existing parties do — I think we would be entering a period of instability and uncertainty," he said.

"And we'd be putting at risk the very thing that makes us luckier than anyone on the planet."

Trudeau spreading 'baseless myths,' NDP says

NDP democratic institutions critic Nathan Cullen said Trudeau is "using fear to distract from his broken promise," in a statement Friday afternoon.

Cullen said Trudeau is blaming other parties and spreading "baseless myths of an alt-right takeover" instead of apologizing.

"In reality, it is the current winner-take-all voting system that offers the best hope for extremist fringe elements, as it did in the U.S., because parties don't need a majority of votes to win," Cullen said.

The American electoral college system is a form of the first-past-the-post and contributed to President Donald Trump's election win, despite having lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

Murray Rankin says Justin Trudeau is fostering cynicism with electoral reform blame game

5 years ago
Duration 1:14
NDP MP Murray Rankin acusses Trudeau of spreading 'alternative facts' about electoral reform, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould responds.

On Thursday, Trudeau had said someone like Kellie Leitch could have her own party and hold the balance of power in a proportional system.

The Ontario MP has sparked debate across the country by arguing in her leadership platform that new immigrants and visitors should be screened for "Canadian values" at the border.

Cullen said, in the current system, the Conservative leadership hopeful could form a government by winning the Conservative leadership but she'd be restrained in a proportional system.

"A proportional system doesn't stop fringe elements but, unlike the current system, it ensures they stay on the fringe," Cullen said.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?