The newly appointed Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould rises to the pulpit. Intoning, with what one can only imagine to be a feigned sincerity, she begins her rather shameful speech. With a solemn declaration surrounding the importance of the decision her party has just made, she begins: “Our electoral system is foundational to our democracy. At its core is a question of how we, as Canadians, govern ourselves”.
How grave an issue, yet upon such shaky ground the Liberal Party have abandoned their commitment to electoral reform.
With an air of condescension and paternalism – perhaps even contempt – Gould informs the public of the reasons behind the decision of the Liberal Party. A referendum, Gould states, will not be held because it was found that Canadians have “a range of views” on the issue. “The broad support needed for a change of this magnitude does not exist”. Of course, one might reasonably ask: Wasn’t the point of the referendum to discover just whether there was indeed enough support to bring about electoral reform? How has an online survey contracted out for a few hundred thousand dollars taken the place of a state-wide referendum? Trudeau’s later response in parliament echoed that of Gould’s, where he told the opposition that the Liberal government had “consulted[!] with hundreds of thousands of Canadians” on the issue.
Looking at the online survey through mydemocracy.ca, the justifications of the Liberal party are all the more affronting. Firstly: Where would this kind of data hold up? Where could these results be considered valid? It is as if, without warning, or after the fact, an online survey has taken the place of the referendum itself, and now serves the purpose the referendum was designed to serve. Some abstained from taking the survey – which to many I’m sure presented itself as more of a novelty, rather than an opportunity to exercise one’s democratic rights – because they feared being tracked at a later date. There were no guarantees of anonymity. The liberal government had outsourced the construction of the site to Vox Pop Labs for a price of around $330,000. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada had himself raised concerns about the safety and possible misuse of the data that users would be inputting. In the same breath where the Prime minister talks of the necessity to “strengthen our resilience to cyber attacks” and guarantee the safety of online information, he holds up the validity of a test where citizens were asked to input detailed personal information.
The main thrust of the Liberal’s justification to halt the project of electoral reform continues to revolve around the supposed lack of consensus among Canadians. It would be “irresponsible to do something that harms Canada’s stability” Trudeau said. Even if the claim itself wasn’t simply half-baked prognostication, the gravity of the issue, the “question of how we… govern ourselves” is at least worth the risk of taking up a contentious issue. Trudeau later trailed off with some perfunctory trope surrounding the greater urgency of focusing on “growth for the middle class”. With an apparent air of satisfaction, but perhaps with a particular bite of conscience, Trudeau sat down to the jeers of the opposition. I don’t know if he believed his own words.
It’s hard not to see the self-serving interests behind this move by the Liberals. That it was made in such a cavalier way is likely surprising even to those who would consider themselves firmly with the Liberal camp. Whether the Liberals will truly be held to account and answer for what can only be called crass deception, will soon be borne out.