It’s now clear that electoral reform is not coming to Canada anytime soon. The Prime Minister declared the issue dead when he saw the report of the multi-party committee and its recommendations. The acrimony has been bitter with those supporting proportional representation claiming the PM has reneged on a major election promise.
Well, that’s sort of true. Trudeau did promise that the 2015 election would be the last using the first past the post (FPTP) system but he never once explicitly promised to bring in PR. At most he suggested he was ‘open’ to it. It’s long been known that the Trudeau preferred preferential or ranked ballots – as this was most likely, he thought, to encourage more electoral decorum and centrist parties. Perhaps he should take a look at Australia which uses the system for their lower house – hardly a model of decorum.
All that aside, who did support PR? The Green party obviously – it is probably their only chance to rise above the one seat limit they’ve been stuck at since, well, forever. The NDP has PR as official party policy (but provincial experience has shown that policy books don’t always translate into public policy) but I’ve heard a few in the party privately wonder about that since the 2011 election came within a couple of percentage points of giving them a national government using the FPTP system.
The Bloc Quebecois? Well, actually, the Bloc would do no better than it does now with either PR or ranked ballots as it has consistently won more seats than its percentage of the vote in Quebec. But PR would mean they would likely never disappear entirely so put them down as lukewarm.
As for the Conservatives, they had no love for any change that would diminish the chances of forming government, which PR definitely would. While they occasionally have had surges of support, the Conservatives have almost always been the second choice party with no clear allies in Parliament. Being ensconced as the permanent loyal opposition is hardly the prize they crave. That was one of the reasons they wanted to destroy the Liberal brand – they knew that in a competition with a more left wing party (i.e. the NDP) they would win more governments. That’s been the case in Europe and it would likely be the case here.
As for the Liberals they were okay whatever way the decision went. FPT had delivered them 14 of the 23 election victories since 1945 and either of the alternative systems would have done as well or better – though they would have only been the largest party with few majorities. Still, there was some reluctance – as there always is in centrist parties – to make too radical a change to something that was, from their perspective, not entirely broken.
Still, the momentum for change was there especially after the committee came forward with a somewhat clear set of recommendations. But the devil is in the details and I, for one, knew there would be no change the minute an all-party committee with an opposition majority was struck. And tomorrow I’ll tell you why – because that’s ten minutes.