While deciding how I might enlighten my readers this month, I didn’t need to look far; our newly minted Prime Minister (well maybe not so new any more) breaking one of his key election promises. I can recall almost verbatim him saying during the campaign, “We are committed to ensuring that the 2015 election will be the last federal election using first-past-the-post.” Fast forward to a few weeks ago: “Changing the electoral system will not be in [our] mandate,” justifying his decision by saying, that after a long consultation process, “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.”
Much has been made of politicians breaking promises and it is perhaps one of the main reasons voters become disillusioned and cynical and drop out of the electoral process. Calling someone a “liar” in politics anymore is like water off a duck’s back. It usually plays little into future electoral fortunes since the practice has become normalized over time.
But something Trudeau said, after facing angry crowds at town halls, caught my attention. In explaining his reversal on the electoral reform issue, he implied that Canada, now, more than ever, needs stability to withstand the forces of the extreme right, on the rise in Europe, and notably becoming emboldened with the election of Donald Trump. “If we were to make a change or risk a change that would augment extremist voices and activist voices ... I think we’d be entering an era of instability and uncertainty,” he said. He continued, referencing people like Kelly Leitch, one of the Trump like candidates running in the Federal Conservative leadership race and her “Canadian values,” test for new immigrants, “‘We’d be putting at risk the very thing that makes us luckier than anyone else on the planet’ — the fact that as a diverse and multicultural country, Canadians are still able to come together and consistently elect stable, productive governments.”
Most would probably deduce the only reason Trudeau dropped electoral reform was that he feared that a more just electoral system would put the liberals’ hold on power in jeopardy in future elections, but as far as an “official,” as opposed to a “real” reason why he had this change of heart is arguably a very good one, and I’m willing to give him and the liberals a pass for the time being.
One cannot argue that with the election of Trump the conversation about stability and world order has certainly taken on a new meaning and Trudeau, to his credit, has shown statesmanlike aplomb when visiting with Trump and European leaders. When addressing the European Parliament recently (the first ever Canadian Prime Minister to do so) after ratifying the CEDA trade deal, he was hailed as a bridge builder between the US and Europe.
After his recent, successful, visit to Washington Trudeau pulled out all the diplomatic stops saying, “What I saw from the American president was a focus on getting things done for the people who supported him and who believe in him, while demonstrating that good relations with one’s neighbours is a great way of getting things done.” Trudeau called that “a positive example that everyone is going to benefit from around the world.”
With the uncertainty engendered by the Trump presidency Trudeau seems to be playing the hand he was dealt close to his chest. In a world where our better angels are being trampled upon by a wave of protectionist, nationalist, xenophobia, where truth has become hostage to fake news and “alternative facts,” Canada stands as a beacon of a welcoming, inclusive country who sees a better future in cooperation and inclusivity, where building walls is antithetical to a better world.