More than a Broken Promise: Why Abandoning Electoral Reform Hurts People Who Don't Care About Politics the Most

  • National Newswatch

The debate surrounding electoral reform should belong to all Canadians.The Government's broken promise has only made the topic of electoral reform less accessible for Canadians – especially those who are already disinterested in politics. Over the past 15 months, the Government wrestled the debate about electoral reform away from academic circles and dangled it at the outstretched hands of every-day Canadians. Yesterday, they abruptly hit the eject button. They locked the debate back up in the ivory towers and in so doing, barred millions of Canadians from shaping the future of their own democracy.When the Government promised to reform the electoral system, it also took on an obligation to give Canadians the tools to engage in a meaningful debate on the topic. For decades, the idea of electoral reform was seldom discussed outside of select academic and media circles. The justification that politicians used for keeping the public uninformed on the important details of how they select their representatives were simple – nobody cares. “People care about jobs. People care about putting food on the table. People care about security”, we were told.By assuming that nobody cared about electoral reform, politicians created a self-fulfilling prophecy that ultimately kept the debate far away from the conscience of the masses. Far away from people who had the power to alter the status quo, but who were structurally prevented from possessing the requisite amount of knowledge to even consider doing so.When the politics of “Real Change” swept across Canada in 2015, many Canadians were galvanized by the Liberal Party's message of openness, transparency, and renewal. I was one of them. For the first time in my life - and indeed for the first time in Canadian memory – a political party was brave enough to bring the debate about electoral reform into dinner table conversations of every-day Canadians. The Liberals showed us that they were legitimately interested in creating a better informed electorate – even if it could negatively impact their future prospects of electoral success.For a couple of months, the Government was a model of brave and altruistic leadership. They created an all-party committee to study alternative electoral systems; many MPs held electoral reform town halls. During these months, I actually came to believe that the Liberal Party's project of engaging the disengaged was working. I had several conversations about electoral reform with people who were otherwise completely disinterested in politics. Electoral reform was finally on real peoples' radar!Then winter came.The Government had a difficult decision to make. It spent months selflessly clawing the debate about electoral reform down from elite circles and placed it in the hands of all Canadians where it rightfully belonged. Unfortunately, its efforts to engage people did not yield the clear result that the Government sought.The Government could have interpreted the ambiguity of survey results and town hall meetings as a sign that more work needed to be done. They could have doubled down on finding innovative ways to galvanize people around the importance of reforming our electoral system, or at least made a commitment to help educate people on the benefits and pitfalls of reform. They could have done many things. Instead, they hit the eject button and launched the debate about electoral reform back into the ivory towers.For one reason or another, the Government decided that a methodologically-flawed and downright biased survey would be the best indicator of how to proceed on a fundamental aspect of our democracy. At the same time, they rudely dismissed a well-reasoned report from the all-party committee that spent months rigorously studying electoral reform. Evidence-based decision making, eh?I do not know why the Government used a warped and uniformed endorsement of the status quo from a limited subset of Canadians to justify the abandonment of electoral reform. What I do know is that the Government has now missed an opportunity to reach across party lines and show Canadians that they are capable of transcending self-interest – that they possess the capacity to work for the common good and create “Real Change”. Even worse, they prevented people who are not interested in politics from meaningfully participating in a debate that cuts to the core of what it means to participate in Canadian democracy. A debate that ought to belong to all Canadians, regardless of how badly those in power want to pretend that we no longer care.Jeremy Ryant is a Juris Doctor student at Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law. He is also an Editor for PoliPerspective - a student-run, interactive political Newsletter. Jeremy was a Jaimie Anderson Parliamentary Intern in the summer of 2016.