Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his decision to scrap the government’s promised changes to Canada’s electoral system, saying proceeding on the matter now was not in the best interest of the country.
Trudeau made the comments in response to a pointed question from a participant at a town hall meeting in Yellowknife on Friday.
“My question to you is what do you say to people who don’t vote, to those who did vote for you, based on what you said you were going to do, only to have you turn around and not do what you said you were going to do?” asked Eli Purchase, a former Green Party candidate.
Trudeau said that he had struggled with the decision, partly because he had always felt that electoral reform mattered to him.
He said he felt it would be a clear improvement to the political process for people to “not ever have to vote strategically again.”
“Then do it!” shouted a member of the crowd.
Trudeau said that he liked the idea of a ranked ballot, a form of voting where people select their first choice, but also indicate their second-favourite party and so on down the line.
“A lot of people don’t like it. A lot of people say it favours Liberals. What it does is it favours parties who are good at reaching out to find common ground with broad groups of Canadians, to say, can I be your second choice?”
“I think that’s probably a good thing but I’ve heard very clearly that people don’t think that’s a good thing or that they think it would favour Liberals too much and therefore, I’m not going near it.”
Trudeau also said that a referendum would be too divisive at this time, given the “very unpredictable and unstable political context around the world.”
Then he discussed proportional representation, the mention of which got some cheers from the crowd.
He said that Canada’s strength is that its political system allows people of different backgrounds and beliefs to work together.
“If we were to make a change or risk a change that would augment individual voices, that would augment extremist voices and activist voices,” he said. To do so would create “an era of instability and uncertainty.”
So, he concluded, even though he understands the cynicism that comes from having a politician break a promise, he decided not to proceed with electoral reform at this time. A prime minister has a responsibility “to keep this country together and united,” he said.