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Liberals win three by-elections, but broken electoral reform promise remains a concern

Liberal candidate Mona Fortier won the by-election in Ottawa-Vanier last night despite refusing to be an advocate for electoral reform in the Liberal caucus.

Liberal candidates won as expected in the by-elections held yesterday in the ridings of Ottawa-Vanier, Markham-Thornhill (Toronto) and Saint-Laurent (Montreal).

Reuters comments, “Still, the votes could be the last easy victory for the Liberals, who have enjoyed a long honeymoon with voters in part because both opposition parties are in the process of replacing their leaders ahead of a 2019 general election, when both [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau and members of the House of Commons face the electorate.”

The Conservatives will hold their leadership convention on May 26-28, while the NDP will choose their leader through a largely online voting process that begins on September 18, with first round voting results to be announced on October 1, subsequent rounds if needed each subsequent week, and a possible fifth round by October 29.

Reuters also reports, “A December poll showed Trudeau’s approval rating remained high but was dropping amid rising dissatisfaction with the economy, and voter anger over a broken promise to reform the electoral process could eat into the government’s popularity.”

During the October 2015 federal election, the Liberals promised: “We will 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. We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting. This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament. Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.”

By February 2017, Trudeau wrote in his mandate letter to the incoming Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould: “A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged. Furthermore, without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada’s interest. Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.”

The Canadian Press notes, “Upstart Conservative and New Democrat candidates gave their heavily favoured Liberal rivals a bit of a scare Monday in a pair of byelections in Ontario where some of Trudeau’s policies and promises played a central role.”

That article highlights, “New Democrats campaigned aggressively against the Liberals for breaking a promise to abandon the oft-maligned first-past-the-post electoral system, [and while Fortier won], the NDP’s Emilie Taman gathered nearly 30 per cent of the vote. …Greg MacEachern, a former Liberal strategist now at lobby firm Environics Communications, said significant inroads in Ottawa-Vanier for the NDP suggest a surprising degree of anger over the abandonment of electoral reform.”

That said, The Hill Times has reported, “Toronto-based Forum Research asked 1,340 Canadian voters across the country if they ‘support the federal government’s decision to keep Canadian voting procedures the same’ between Feb. 24 and 26. A plurality, 45 per cent, said that they do, while 38 per cent said they do not, and 17 per cent said they weren’t sure. Voters who want Canada’s electoral system changed are more likely to be well educated, highly paid, and support the smallest parties in the House, the results of the automated phone survey indicated.”

The Council of Canadians had called on voters in the three long-held Liberal ridings to demand that the Liberal candidates pledge to be a new voice for electoral reform in the Liberal caucus given the urgency of the matter.

Next month is the deadline for the Trudeau government to introduce electoral reform legislation in time for the October 21, 2019 federal election.