Roundup: Smothering Rosemary’s Baby

In case you missed the news, and all of the howling earlier in the day, Justin Trudeau confirmed in a new mandate letter to Karina Gould that electoral reform is now a dead letter. And thank all of the gods on Olympus that they’ve smothered this Rosemary’s Baby because it was a stupid promise that he never should have made in the first place. I argue that much in a column for Loonie Politics, and it had the very real danger of undermining Trudeau’s ability to get anything else done for the next three years.

While people have wondered why Trudeau didn’t just promise to put this off until the next election, I think that would have been a worse outcome, and the issue would have grown like a cancer that would undermine the perception of that election’s legitimacy, as the demands of each party on that file continued to consume more and more time and oxygen. A swift death was better. Others have wondered how Trudeau could have declared there to be no consensus when he didn’t actually ask which system people preferred, but that misses a few key points. For one, there were some clear messages from the committee and from the MyDemocracy survey, some of which were that people didn’t want MPs elected off of lists (which severely limited the kinds of systems available) and that some of the systems out there would not have been constitutionally valid. Meanwhile, when the government did ask about outcomes (through the MyDemocracy survey), that was more informative than asking which system people preferred because people tend to think of electoral systems like they do wanting a pony, when they also need to be asked if they want to spend their time mucking out the stables. I’m sure you’d find that the answers would change right there. There have been accusations that Trudeau didn’t show leadership by not trying to forge some kind of consensus, but I’m pretty sure that would have been impossible. He had a preferred system that the opposition parties didn’t like and maligned for completely false reasons, and no matter what he did, it would have been viewed from the lens of self-interest and dismissed. In other words, it was a no-win scenario.

And then there’s Nathan Cullen, with his angry words and his big show of pretending that he wasn’t trying to be cynical about the process when Cullen’s whole modus operandi the entire time has been fuelled by cynicism. His manipulation of the formation of the special committee was a cynical con job wrapped up in moral outrage. His selective reading of the committee’s report, as well as the MyDemocracy survey, was self-serving to the extreme. But he presents an earnest face to the media, and people buy it. I get it. That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been cynically playing this whole affair, because rest assured, he has been.

And now the myriad of hot takes. Chantal Hébert calls the promise a cheap electoral prop, which she’s not wrong about. Andrew Coyne goes for the full sarcasm in blaming voters for believing Trudeau’s promise. Tasha Kheiriddin says that Trudeau will wear this failure (though I suspect that only a small percentage of Liberal voters will actually care by 2019). Jonathan Kay takes the correct (in my opinion) take in that reform was never going to happen because our system doesn’t need to be fixed. John Geddes doesn’t think that Trudeau lied – just that the impetus waned as people were no longer discontent with a system that didn’t give them a Harper government (and I suspect he is also right). John Ivison agrees that Trudeau hasn’t demonstrated the level of mendacity for this to have been a lie from the start, but those who sincerely believed him will feel betrayed. Chris Selley goes a bit darker, and pre-emptively counted this as the kind of broken promise that makes people cynical about politics and gives rise to the likes of Rob Ford or Donald Trump. And he’s got a point, but honestly? Politics is what makes people cynical about politics.

Good reads:

  • Chrystia Freeland’s new mandate letter makes it clear that her priorities have shifted to managing relations with the United States.
  • Karina Gould’s new mandate letters also tasks her with securing electoral cyber-security in Canada, which Harjit Sajjan says is needed given the attacks seen lately.
  • The government looks set to shift $30 million in unused infrastructure funds to a gas tax fund top-up for cities to use.
  • In case you missed it during QP, Trudeau said that the government won’t be taxing health and dental benefits as has been mused.
  • CRA’s offshore tax haven tip line has so far netted $1 million in reassessments and penalties, but no rewards have yet been paid out.
  • The federal government is offering to negotiate a settlement in class action suits related to the “Sixties scoop” that removed Indigenous children from their families.
  • Here are some of the donors listed on the latest Conservative leadership list fundraising reporting.
  • Kevin O’Leary says he’ll surprise everyone with his French at the upcoming Montreal debate.
  • Someone hung a banner from Kellie Leitch’s riding office naming the Quebec shooting victims and calling on her to resign.
  • Leitch, meanwhile, continues her “values screening” talking points post-Quebec shooting, because clearly we’ve seen that immigrants are the problem.
  • Erin O’Toole writes about trying to stamp out intolerance and feeling like he’s not doing enough.
  • Terry Glavin wonders why the government isn’t doing more for the current refugee crisis exacerbated by the Trumpocalypse.
  • Paul Wells writes about Stéphane Dion’s departure for Europe.
  • Colby Cosh offers a sobering look at the problems associated with covering tragedies like the one in Quebec City, and declining trust in news media.

8 thoughts on “Roundup: Smothering Rosemary’s Baby

  1. As you point out electoral reform was a not a well thought out promise and I for one am glad it has been sunk.
    I think a big part of the problem we have with politics in this country, and in the US for that matter, is that people are ignorant of way our government works.
    It is high time a mandatory civics course is reintroduced into our high schools nation wide, then perhaps we will see an up tick in engagement.
    As Dennis Edney said, on CBC Ideas, last night. “People have mistaken democracy for entitlement”.

  2. Like you and reader Cawston, I too am glad that electoral reform has been smothered. That Mr. Trudeau’s has so publicly reneged on his unequivocal commitment to replacing FPTP is an added benefit. His resignation, were he a man of honour, would have been icing on the cake.

  3. Trudeau repeated his promise of electoral reform time and again and got votes for it. He mislead the public and lied about his intentions. We needed vision on this question and what we got is Party before Country. This is not a leader but just another hipster laughing at Canadians. I don’t vote for LIARS like him.

  4. According to Liberal voters: It’s okay that it was a lie because the idea was stupid to begin with. Interpretation: It is alright to lie in order to gain power politically if the lies are based on things that you don’t really think are feasibly able to be implemented.

    My two cents: Honestly, I have a tons of friends and family who are Liberal voters. I also have a fair number of friends, acquaintances who are small C Conservatives. Most of the time we are just friends, coworkers, etc. However, I think we all need to be honest and try to aim for a system of governance that does not follow through on their promises. Why even vote then? I think those of us who are educated and actually desire voter reform would have preferred a more comprehensive, open discussion/analysis on voter reform. After all, we are the voters and among us we can crowdsource far more specialists than a government could ever dream of producing. Heck, they are voters too so they can also be involved.

    • I do think it was a stupid promise and I didn’t vote liberal.
      I think most people base there opinion on how the system is now, ie with 3 or 4 recognisable parties.
      In the event we change to some form of prop. rep. you will see the formation of all sorts of ideologically extreme parties and the so called mainstream parties will probably drift towards more extreme views. FPTP forces the parties to be more moderate.
      I think we have to educate our youth on the political system we already have before we start changing it. Also, most advocates for change are disingenuous if they insist on claiming that their only reason for change is not for their own self interest.
      If we are to change our electoral system some people will enivitably not be happy with what ever system is implemented.

  5. Those who say “politics is what makes people cynical about politics” are enablers and apologists for the kind of Canadian democracy in which those who seek election are welcome to say one thing and do another, without apology, and in pursuit of their own interests. Politics and politicians can be better than that, but only if we consistently make clear what we demand of it and them. One of those demands must be that any promises made by our political leaders be thoughtful, costed, and actionable. If elected, those leaders must take active steps to realize their promises, or be held accountable for their failure to do so.

  6. I don’t personally think partisan MPs should be given the task to choose an electoral system. If we really want to be more democratic. It should all be demanding a panel of experts who research, study and make recommendations. That’s the only way I would trust a new voting system.

    Putting MPs in charge of how WE vote for THEM, is like putting the wolf in charge of the hen house.

Comments are closed.