Ottawa sent vague signals this week that it is going to stop stalling on its overdue reform of federal election laws. That makes this a good moment to remind Canadians of the government’s lack of credibility on the subject, and to raise worries about its intentions.
As is well known, the Trudeau Liberals promised during the 2015 campaign to end the first-past-the-post voting system for federal elections and then decided, once in power, not to bother.
It was a cynical reversal designed to preserve the Liberals’ chances of winning a second majority. The only thing more cynical was the promise itself, made purely to attract younger voters but never seriously considered.
Voters able to put that betrayal behind them might have found solace in Bill C-33. Introduced by the Liberals in late 2016, it proposed reforms that would undo the worst aspects of the Harper government’s infamous Fair Elections Act.
That includes restoring voter information cards, which are sent to every address before elections, as valid ID at polling stations, and restoring the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to encourage Canadians to vote.
All good. But the government has sat on the bill since introducing it. It still awaits second reading, and time is running out to adopt it in time for its measures to be implemented before the general election next year.
The same goes for other promised reforms, such as new limits on spending by parties in the period before a writ is dropped. The window to introduce them is rapidly closing.
A government spokesman said this week that these reforms are a priority, but that is far from reassuring. The Liberals’ willingness to play politics with electoral reform is too well established to rule out more twists and turns.
If you needed any more proof, the government still hasn’t named a new Chief Electoral Officer, even though the position has been vacant for well over a year.
Naming a new person to the job in a prompt fashion would have sent a strong signal that the proper management of elections is indeed a Liberal priority.
Instead, the Trudeau government, once so hot for electoral reform, is sitting on its hands. Has it lost interest, or is it in fact happy with the way things are? Neither option is acceptable.