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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

On electoral reform, the Liberals are laying a beating on the Liberals Add to ...

‎For those joining us late, here are the results of Thursday’s Electoral Reform Cup.

In a shocking third period comeback, the Liberal Party, 2016 edition, came from behind to defeat the 2015 Liberal Party. The outcome was surprising since the game was refereed by Liberals, using rules drawn up by the Liberals, and played on Liberal home ice, in an arena purpose-built by the Liberals.

The game’s three stars, as selected by members of the Ottawa press gallery, were the New Democrats, the Greens and the Conservatives. Each recorded multiple assists. All goals were scored by Liberals, into their own net.

During the post-game Question Period, leading scorer Maryam Monsef, who this fall was quietly moved from Team Liberal 2015 to Team Liberal 2016, said she’d had no choice but to switch squads, after the Commons special committee on electoral reform failed to do its job. She held up a mathematical formula known as the Gallagher Index, while giving the committee the finger next to her index.

Analysis: Trudeau promised electoral reform, but failed to say what kind

Related: Liberals urge Trudeau to break promise on electoral reform

Coach Justin Trudeau was not at Question Period. He remains firmly at the helm of Team Liberal, but it is not yet known whether that’s Team 2015 or Team 2016. In the weeks leading up to the Electoral Reform Cup, he had been seen behind both benches, and neither, sometimes at the same time.

Low audience ratings have consistently shown that few Canadians care about the sport of electoral reform, and Ms. Monsef and Team Liberal repeatedly invoked that fact in their Thursday match again Team Liberal. A recent Angus Reid poll found that fewer than one in ten Canadians describe changing the voting system as a very high priority. The vast majority are far more interested in following the National How’s The Economy Doing League, anticipating the Will My Taxes Go Up Bowl, or catching the latest highlights from the Ministerial Fundraising Open.

Proponents of electoral reform – the New Democrats, the Greens and, allegedly, the Liberal Party (2015) – believe this year’s controversy-packed season will be just the ticket for increasing fan interest. They may be right.

On Thursday, however, Canadians left the arena confused as to the outcome. Who won? What was the score? And remind us again, which team is which?

Last fall, Coach Trudeau led Team Liberal (2015) to electoral victory on a platform that was “committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.” He also promised to introduce legislation bringing in electoral reform “within 18 months of forming government.”

Critics said Mr. Trudeau had only made such an extreme promise in order to boost fan interest; at the time the pledge was made, his team was a long-shot to capture the Election Cup. Critics, including your faithful correspondent, questioned whether promising to immediately ditch something fundamental about our system of government, without knowing what would replace it, might be such a wise idea.

We wondered whether the status quo that had served Canada since Confederation deserved to be immediately consigned to the trash heap, even before considering the pros and cons of the alternatives. We also insisted that Canadians be given the final say on the future of the electoral system – it belongs to them, not the politicians – by means of a referendum.

And we and many others wondered: What’s the rush? After 150 years, Mr. Trudeau was not just proposing to study reforming first-past-the-post. He was promising to kill it, quickly, replacing it with A Player To Be Named Later. And he insisted it had to be done now, and regardless of whether Canadians wanted it. That was Team Liberal 2015’s game plan.

By Thursday, however, Team Liberal 2016 was wearing its critics’ colours. And the opposition NDP, Greens and Conservatives had taken to the ice wearing the sweaters of Team Liberal 2015.

The opposition majority on the electoral reform committee managed to reach a compromise, backing proportional representation, and calling for it to be approved or rejected by referendum before the next election. The Liberals, for their part, came out as shocked – shocked! – by anything so rash or hasty.

Liberal (2016) MP Matt deCourcey, speaking for the five Liberal members, issued a statement dissenting from the committee’s seven-person opposition majority. It described the idea of remaking the electoral system before the next election as “rushed and too radical at this time.”

“The timeline on electoral reform as proposed by the majority report,” otherwise known as the timeline proposed by Team Liberal 2015, “is unnecessarily hasty and runs the risk of undermining the legitimacy of the process by racing toward a predetermined deadline.”

This is complicated, so we’ll spell it out again: A hasty remake of the electoral system, on a predetermined deadline, is what Liberal Party 2015 ran on. Reform, rushed and radical, is what they promised. Reform, rushed and radical, is what they are now decrying. And the electoral reform committee they are now trying to disown is their own creation.

What sport is this? Improv comedy? Absurdist theatre?

We don’t know. All that can be said for certain is that this year’s Liberals are laying a beating on last year’s Liberals. An absolute beating. Yes, we know they’re the same people – hey, it’s just like Fight Club.

And the thing is, a lot of this year’s criticism of last year’s promises is compelling. We share many of the same concerns. But you normally expect Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition to be the one taking the best shots at Her Majesty’s Government.

So yes, on electoral reform, everything’s a bit sideways and upside down. But maybe that’s how it has to be. Why? To paraphrase a Canadian philosopher, because. Because it's 2016. Get used to it. 2015 is so last year.

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