After campaigning on a promise to change the electoral system, the federal Liberal Party back-pedalled a week ago as the government announced it will not reform the way Canadians vote.
The curious announcement follows months of consultation by an all-party committee, which toured the country gathering feedback from experts and the public.
While the committee never came to the Southern Interior, Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski toured the riding for feedback and submitted it to the committee.
Stetski called the government’s announcement a betrayal of Canadians’ trust.
“Initial reaction was extreme disappointment,” Stetski said. “I think one of the best descriptions was via Twitter where an individual said they felt like they’d been betrayed by a friend, and of course, there’s no worse betrayal.
“So I think a lot of Canadians are feeling that way about our Prime Minister currently.”
Stetski, a member of the NDP, also took issue with the way the announcement was rolled out, following a federal cabinet shuffle where former Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef was replaced by Karina Gould.
Gould was sent out alone to face the press gallery with a letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outlining her mandate, said Stetski.
“She was sent out there alone to make that announcement and I think that could have been done much better,” Stetski said. “I think the Prime Minister should have at least been standing beside her as a new minister.”
Stetski also questioned that if the Liberals move to keep a Minister of Democratic Institutions in cabinet if they don’t have any intention in pursuing electoral reform.
“Basically, the excuse that they’re using is that there was not a consensus across Canada,” Stetski added, “however, up until this fall and right through December, the work of the all-party committee that went across the country…
“Almost 90 per cent of the experts that testified at the committee hearings and 80 per cent of the public testimony called for government to adopt a proportional voting system.”
While opposition parties have been calling for a national referendum over any changes to the voting system, that is now moot with the Liberals’ announcement.
Stetski said the all-party committee settled on a mixed member proportional representation system rather than a preferential ballot method, which was a system favoured by the Liberals.
“They weren’t getting the results that would, in essence, help ensure that the Liberals would form government for decades to come so they picked up their ball and went home,” he said.
While Stetski is disappointed in the Liberals’ decision, he also worries that it could have a further-reaching effect on young voters who are disenfranchised with politicians who don’t follow through on election promises.
“For me, I really hope that voters — and particularly younger voters who may have voted Liberal because of their interest in democratic reform — won’t throw out the whole process as a result of this and become more cynical about politicians and voting in general because we need people to continue to care about Canada and where it’s going,” Stetski said.
“One of my concerns is that this was a fundamental election promise by the Liberals and for them to then walk away from it in the way that they did, I hope does not leave people cynical about voting.
“At this point I’m okay if they’re cynical about the Liberal Party, and rightfully so, but I sure hope they don’t become cynical in general about voting in the future.”