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Canada’s Government Ditches Electoral Reform Promise

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons. Credit: Reuters/Chris Wattie

Ottawa: The Canadian government on Wednesday abandoned plans to change the country’s electoral system, breaking a major campaign promise in a move that prompted one opposition politician to call Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “a liar.”

The reversal of the election pledge adds to pressure Trudeau is already facing for controversies surrounding cash-for-access fundraisers, as well as an ethics probe into a vacation at a private island over the New Year’s holiday.

Trudeau had promised during his successful 2015 election campaign that Canada would have a new voting system in place by the 2019 election, an overhaul that was expected to benefit smaller parties, such as the left-leaning Green Party which holds only one seat in parliament.

But momentum for reform waned last December after the minister in charge dismissed an official report that recommended having a referendum before changes were made, something the Liberals had said was not necessary.

The government‘s decision to abandon the plan came in a new mandate letter from Trudeau to recently appointed minister of democratic institutions Karina Gould that said changing the electoral system will not be in her mandate.

After a series of townhalls and online consultations, there was a range of views from Canadians on whether the first-past-the-post system should continue to be used, Gould told reporters.

“It has become evident that the broad support needed among Canadians for change of this magnitude does not exist,” she said.

Critics have said Trudeau is less enthusiastic about reform now that he has won a majority under the current system, which allows a party to win a majority government with less than 40% of the popular vote.

The Liberals received 39.5% of the vote in 2015 but 184 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons.

New Democratic Party member of parliament Nathan Cullen, who had been vice-chair of the all-party committee examining electoral reform, called the reversal a “cynical (display) of self-serving politics”.

“What Mr. Trudeau proved himself today was to be a liar,” Cullen said in unusually blunt remarks.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who was also on the committee, tweeted that she was “so shocked” by the announcement.

A report released by the committee last December was criticised by then minister of democratic institutions Maryam Monsef for not recommending a specific alternative system. Monsef was replaced by Gould in a wider cabinet shuffle in January.