October 19, 2016 4:23 pm
Updated: October 20, 2016 6:39 pm

Justin Trudeau wavers on electoral reform promises

WATCH ABOVE: PM Trudeau brushes off electoral reform question by Tom Mulcair


Despite a promise by Justin Trudeau, 2015’s federal election might not have been Canada’s last with the first-past-the-post voting system.

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The prime minister appeared to back away from the electoral reform promise in an interview with French-language newspaper Le Devoir published Wednesday to mark Trudeau’s first year in office.

READ MORE: Majority say Justin Trudeau government is more style than substance: Ipsos poll

In the interview, Trudeau said major reforms would require “substantial” support, and yet the public clamour for change seems to have diminished since he led the Liberals to election victory one year ago.

“If we’re going to change the electoral system, people have to be open to that,” Trudeau told the newspaper. “If we get less support, it might be acceptable to make a small change.”

VIDEO: Will changes to electoral reform impact how Canadians vote? 

Here’s what Liberal party documents said during the election:

“We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.”

In Question Period Wednesday, Trudeau side-stepped questions on the matter, saying he would not use his party’s majority to “ram through” electoral reform.

With the first-past-the-post system, the candidate with the most votes wins — but not necessarily the majority. A candidate can win with as little as 30 per cent of the votes, leaving the 70 per cent of voters who chose a different candidate unrepresented.

READ MORE: Ranked ballots in Canada? Liberals not necessarily advantaged by switch to voting system

Critics of the first-past-the-post system say it silences the voices of millions of voters.

A number of MPs were elected with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote in 2015, leaving the majority of the people in those riding unrepresented, according to Leadnow, an independent advocacy group.

Leadnow’s Vote Better campaign, with nearly 30,000 supporters, advocates for a “fair voting system” and electoral reform by way of proportional representation.

“In the last election, the votes of nine million people were effectively wasted, that’s almost half of the total of people who voted,” said Katelynn Northam, campaign lead on electoral reform for Leadnow.

“Proportional representation is really the only way to address that specific issue.”

The Liberals won votes with their “pretty clear commitment” to replacing first-past-the-post, said Northam, and those voters expect those changes to happen.

“Our community expects the Liberals to keep their word, to make every vote count, and we believe this is an opportunity for them to show leadership and do the right thing for democracy.”

The Liberals have created a special committee on electoral reform, comprised of 12 MPs from all five parties. The committee is mandated to study the viable options for electoral reform, including preferential ballots — also known as ranked ballots — proportional representation and mandatory voting, and to consult extensively with Canadians.

READ MORE: Electoral reform consensus elusive as cross-country consultations continue

The committee is expected to issue a report to the House of Commons with recommendations by Dec. 1.

The Conservatives have pushed for a referendum before any major changes are made, and a Global News poll in May found 73 per cent of Canadians agreed they want a say in overhauling the electoral system.

WATCH: Conservatives continue to insist Liberals hold referendum on electoral reform

With a file from The Canadian Press, Reuters and Global News’ Andrew Russell

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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