This week, Justin Trudeau backed away from his promise to reform Canada's electoral system by the next election. There was -- rightly -- an explosion of criticism. By the end of the week, Trudeau was saying that his government is "deeply committed" to electoral reform. Alan Freeman writes:
Trudeau was rightly attacked from all sides for appearing to duck out of his election promise to reform the first-past-the-post system in time for the next election — and for the arrogance of the claim that his election alone was enough to deal with the issue once and for all.
Dropping an election pledge is nothing new. Freeman writes that lots of leaders have backed away from promises if they thought they could get away with it. George W. Bush, for instance, tried to privatize Social Security:
Bush launched a campaign to promote a dramatic reform that would allow Americans to set aside a portion of their Social Security and invest it themselves in private accounts. The ideological right and the investment industry, which had been pushing the idea for years, were thrilled. But voters, particularly older ones, were horrified when they realized that the change would simply impoverish the already-stretched Social Security system and risk the guaranteed benefits they depended on in return for the crapshoot of the stock market.
And Stephen Harper, with the support of Jim Flaherty, tried to harmonize the GST:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was initially a big proponent of GST harmonization, throwing billions of dollars at Ontario and British Columbia when they decided to come on board with a harmonized sales tax. He embraced the view of leading economists and his own Finance Department — that a harmonized GST would lead to tax efficiency and remove the burden of provincial sales taxes from business.
But the moment grassroots opposition to harmonization started to build in British Columbia, Flaherty ran for cover. He never spoke about harmonization again. At the Finance Department, where I was working at the time, the order came down that the department was not to answer any questions about the issue — to act as if it didn’t exist. In the end, B.C.’s harmonization effort died and the province refunded the big grant it had been given to go ahead with harmonization. Flaherty and Harper had dodged a bullet and spent not a cent of political capital doing it — but an opportunity to change tax policy for the better was lost.
Electoral reform is a bullet Trudeau can't dodge. If he takes that tack, he will not make it through the next election -- even if it occurs under the First Past The Post system.