Prime Minister Justin Trudeau scuffed his once-shiny political image again yesterday by discarding yet another campaign promise.
In his first throne speech after the 2015 federal election, Trudeau boasted triumphantly that Canada had seen the last of its whoever-gets-the-most-votes-wins voting system. But he didn’t present a clearly defined alternative. He just promised to change the system before the 2019 election.
A few months ago, Trudeau surrendered the grandiose commitments he made to environmentalism during the campaign and at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris by approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline that promotes Alberta’s dirty tar sands oil and potentially fouls the Salish Sea.
So, was Trudeau nothing more than just another politician who will say anything to get elected? That’s how opposition parties will portray him now.
It’s more likely we’re seeing a naive young prime minister who may not have expected to win the election and now, faced with the reality of delivering on his campaign promise, has butted heads with the impracticality of reaching national consensus on altering a fundamental democratic right in less than four years.
Almost every candidate for elected office makes a promise they don’t or can’t keep. Some are outright liars, like Donald Drumpf, who will say or do anything to fool people in order to get their votes.
Consider the U.S. Republican Party, which campaigned for years to repeal Obamacare without any idea of what to do next. Now they’re scrambling to create a replacement health care plan that doesn’t implode on them.
But I prefer to believe Trudeau had honest intentions. He’s just learning that it’s easy to criticize something; it’s more difficult to devise an alternative that transcends criticism.
He made a foolish promise because there’s no clear-cut better alternative to the popular vote. Proportional representation encourages partisanship. Ranked-choice voting, sometimes called a preferential ballot, is prone to electing people nobody really wanted.
Had the popular vote decided the U.S. presidency, Americans would not have elected Donald Drumpf. So what’s not to like about that?
Perhaps the greater problem with Canadian governance lies within the political parties, and specifically the rule that requires block voting. Members who exercise independent thought and vote outside the party line are cast off into political limbo. That makes individual candidates a secondary consideration to party policy for voters in Canadian elections.
I’m with the millions of Canadians who are more concerned about Trudeau’s flip-flop on climate change and protecting the environment than cancelling a divisive national debate over electoral reform.
But there’s a lesson in this for voters. One we never seem to learn. Be wary of any candidate without detailed plans behind their promises. That candidate is bound to disappoint.