There's nothing wrong with having second thoughts about rash promises. At the Liberal Party convention in Winnipeg last weekend, Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Democratic Institutions, sounded as if she was edging away from her government's sweeping campaign promise of "ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system."
Ms. Monsef has spent the past few weeks defending that promise, and her party's insistence that a referendum on electoral reform is neither necessary nor good, because, you know, it's 2016. This weekend, however, she said the Liberals would not go ahead "without the broad buy-in of the people." She opened the door to the possibility that, unless Canadians clearly express their desire to blow up the current system, perhaps it shouldn't be blown up.
Ms. Monsef's mandate letter from Prime Minister Trudeau ordered her to lead on electoral reform, and to create a special parliamentary committee on that issue. The government's plan did not get off to a good start; the committee is to have 10 members, six of them Liberals.
A sweeping electoral reform will change the form of Canadian government itself. That may be a good thing, depending on the proposal, or it may be a very bad idea. But either way, the Liberal majority on the committee, and in the Commons, will be able to outvote the opposition at will. Where's the national consensus?
Mr. Trudeau's own preference has been to change the electoral system to a preferential or ranked ballot, rather than proportional representation. But the ranked ballot tends to advantage centrist parties – like the Liberal Party.
Dominic LeBlanc, the Government House Leader, as long ago as December showed prudence about pushing ahead on electoral reform without backing from other parties, or Canadians. He also wondered whether it was top-of-mind for many voters. "I get asked about it at the campus of Mount Allison in my riding," he said, but not "at the Tim Hortons in Cap Pelé or Bouctouche."
Ms. Monsef has enough on her hands to help make sense of the Liberals' eccentric reform of the Senate, an arguably democratic institution with 19 vacancies. The rush to simultaneously ram through electoral reform needs to be slowed down.