Neiman: Reform is impossible in system at war with itself

It is unfortunate that the federal Liberals have broken their promise to change the way we would have elected our next government. Even though few Canadians seem to care that our current system of voting does not produce particularly representative governments, they do seem to care when signature campaign promises are broken.

Especially the unfortunate ones.

I myself was heartened to find a government that was elected to a majority of seats with a minority of voter support saying the right words about how change was needed.

Back in 2015, change for the better seemed so possible. But sunny ways have been darkened since then by clouds of extremist politics drifting in from the south. Doing what you believe is right has become more difficult; doing what is patently wrong has become the way to get attention and support.

I’m not ready to admit that proposing electoral change was a bad idea, but changes in the landscape since the last election show that developing a broad consensus for big changes has become pretty well impossible.

Consider the response of the critics when the decision to drop electoral reform was made by government’s new Minister of Democratic Institutions. Karina Gould read her marching orders to a gathering of the press, and revealed that reforming our voting system was no longer part of her mandate.

NDP critic Nathan Cullen, generally a reasonable debater given to measured words, blew a gasket.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau proved himself a liar, the most cynical variety of politician, said Cullen. He charged that Trudeau would say anything to get elected, and then after the election use any weak excuse to justify all his lies.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May claimed she felt deeply betrayed over Trudeau’s breaking faith with young voters.

The NDP and the Green Party have the most to gain through electoral reform, particularly in its most complicated form, proportional representation.

The Conservatives, not so much. They believe their greatest chances at winning a general election lay in there being no changes at all to our first-past-the-post voting system. So they demanded that any changes be sent to a national referendum where the waters could be sufficiently muddied to ensure no changes would ever be made. So the most invective their leader Rona Ambrose could raise was to warn Canadians against believing anything Justin Trudeau might say.

As May remarked about the dangers of cynicism in politics, it has enough to feed itself. But cynicism in politics does not just feed itself today, it is the total of all three courses of the meal.

This is a government at war with itself. There is no coming together to reach a reasonable agreement on anything.

Just reflect on what’s changed since the last federal election in 2015. Canada has gone from repudiating cynical and divisive politics, to a full-blown adoption of the dark side.

Are we that much different anymore in our views and in our society than the ultra-polarized United States? Is there a comfortable centre still remaining where people can discuss things respectfully, recognize that the greater good stretches beyond personal gain and find rational compromises?

If there is such a place, it’s being well hidden.

It’s too bad that the Liberals didn’t have a fleshed-out program of electoral reform to introduce immediately after the election, while goodwill still existed in this country. It’s too bad all sides worked so immediately for the good for their party, and not the good of the nation.

As events have passed, it’s a relief that Trudeau chose to take the hit for abandoning the idea, rather than trying to push electoral reform through the mud hole our politics have become, to the harm of all.

Trudeau may have broken a promise, but I say all the parties have broken faith with Canadians in this.

Follow Greg Neiman’s blog at

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