Trudeau should use majority to fix democratic imbalance

(Chris Young/Canadian Press)
(Chris Young/Canadian Press)

After Trudeau took office with a healthy majority, there are a few bits of policy that are guaranteed to quickly become a reality. Just a day after the election, we have already heard that fighter jets will be withdrawn from Syria. Outside of Parliament, we have also seen the de facto legalization of marijuana as law enforcement anticipates policy change in the very near future.

These policies are all the simple flipping of switches. We are either in Syria, or not in Syria; marijuana is either legalized, or not legalized. But Trudeau’s success will rely on his ability to solve a nuanced puzzle: electoral reform.

The Liberals are in the perfect position to find a reasonable solution on this. As a majority government that earned less than half (39.5 per cent) of the popular vote with the promise of reform, their interests are perfectly balanced. Maintaining a majority in future elections requires the Liberals to act as moderates on this issue.

On one side, the Liberal Party is inclined not to alienate those who voted for them on their dedication to electoral reform. For Canadians, failure to follow through on reform would demonstrate that the party has lost its way as “Canada’s Natural Governing Party.”

Failure to introduce electoral reform would compromise the Liberals’ already weak footing as the progressive choice. But, more urgently, it would diminish their chances at recapturing a majority next election.

The Liberals must also avoid overhauling the system too radically. Transition to a completely proportional system would make their shot at keeping their majority very unlikely.

Under a proportional system, even if the party had the exact same unexpected success at the polls, they would only hold a minority in the House of Commons. However, ranked ballots may benefit the party, as NDP and Conservative voters are more likely to support the centrist Liberals than their left and right-winged counterparts. 

The pressures on Trudeau match the diversity in public opinion. The success of his leadership will be measured on his ability to balance an overwhelming demand for fairness with equal concern over condemning Canada to a future of ineffective minority governance.

If the Liberals want to make themselves re-electable—as any party should—it needs to make meaningful, but not radical, reform. With this recipe, and with their current majority, the Liberals are fully equipped to tackle electoral reform.

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