Roses are red, violets are blue, these protesters say that Trudeau lied to you.
On an unseasonably warm Valentine’s Day, dozens of disheartened Yukoners gathered outside Yukon MP Larry Bagnell’s office on Black Street to voice
their displeasure over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to abandon electoral reform.
Tuesday’s demonstration, organized by Lead Now Yukon, followed similar protests across the country last Saturday.
Protesters charged Trudeau with breaking the hearts of Canadians by going against his word.
Speakers, including Gerald Haase, the federal Green Party’s Yukon riding president, called for a system of proportional representation – “one that fosters
inclusion and greater consensus.”
Trudeau campaigned on the promise that 2015 would be the last year an election would be decided using first-past-the-post.
Months of consultations followed with experts and the public through government-led town halls, community gatherings and an online survey. After that, Trudeau concluded that no particular voting system had emerged as the popular choice, and that a referendum “would not be in Canada’s best interest.”
In his mandate to Karina Gould, the new minister of Democratic Institutions who was appointed last month, Trudeau wrote, “Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.”
Lead Now Yukon member Julia Duchesne said she felt “extreme disappointment” to learn Trudeau is scrapping electoral reform.
Though she wasn’t shocked by his apparent change of heart, she said the prime minister can’t expect to get away with breaking this key campaign pledge.
In Iqualuit last week, Trudeau suggested that a system of proportional representation would allow “fringe voices” to “hold the balance of power” in the
House of Commons.
In Duchesne’s view, Trudeau was playing on Canadians’ unease over “extremist” and “alt-politics” – the kind of rhetoric that has come to define the U.S. Trump administration, that permeated Brexit, and inspired far-right movements in France and Germany.
“It’s fear mongering,” she said.
“From a centrist, moderate party like the Liberals, we’re always going to hear that fringe parties are dangerous, but I don’t consider the Green Party to be a dangerous fringe party.”
Duchesne believes Canada is low-risk for the ascendancy of extremism.
“I don’t think it’s a danger in Canada and it’s worth it to balance out the power in parliament a little bit more,” she said.
Erik Miller, another protester, said he wants fringe voices in Parliament.
“Far-right voices are already in the House of Commons,” he said.
“We need to see Green voices beyond just Elizabeth (May). We need to see more orange voices, we need to see people voicing dissent, raising issues that aren’t being raised.”
He predicted Trudeau would abandon electoral reform the moment a Liberal majority was called on election night in October 2015.
A lot of Canadians voted Liberal because the party echoed the NDP’s promise to reform the voting system, said Miller, and they were afraid of another Stephen Harper mandate.
He is in favour of a referendum on how voting happens in Canada.
One argument against a referendum is that not enough Canadians are engaged in the issue of electoral reform to draw significant voter turnout.
Prince Edward Island’s non-binding plebiscite on changing the province’s first-past-the-post voting system yielded a low turnout – 36 per cent.
By contrast, 85.9 per cent of registered voters cast ballots in the province’s 2015 general election.
While more than 52 per cent of the plebiscite votes were in favour of a mixed-member proportional representation system, P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan said there was not a strong enough showing of support at the polls to commit to a voting system change.
Rejecting a referendum on the presumption that Canadian’s won’t get out and vote, “doesn’t give enough credit to Canadians,” said Miller.
“With the way this year is going, people are reading a lot, people are willing to learn, we’ve got more access to media than we’ve had ever in history and I think Canadians can make an informed decision.”
Maintaining the status quo is a “betrayal and an insult” to the experts and citizens who participated in consultations on electoral reform, said Jason
LaChappelle, who helped organize Tuesday’s demonstration.
LaChappelle is not in favour of a referendum.
“It’s a fairly divisive thing,” he said.
Canadians elected the Liberals based, in part, on the promise of electoral reform, he said. Couple that with the cross-Canada consultations and there
should be a sufficient indication of what citizens want.
Bagnell, who apologized in the press to Yukoners hoping for electoral reform, was out of town during Tuesday’s demonstration.
However Susan Moorhead Mooney, his constituency office manager, was outside, handing out donuts on his behalf.
“He’s sorry he’s not here,” she said.