Surrey MPs respond to Liberals’ broken campaign pledge on electoral reform

Canadian voters will "have to address" abandoned pledge to tackle electoral reform come the 2019 federal election, Tory MP Dianne Watts says

SURREY — Will the federal Liberal party’s broken 2015 election campaign promise to reform Canada’s electoral system come to haunt it next time voters go to the polls?

Canadian voters will “have to address” the Liberals’ abandoned pledge to tackle electoral reform come the 2019 federal election, Dianne Watts says.

“They made that promise and that was part of their platform,” the Conservative MP for South Surrey-White Rock said. “That was a promise they made to the voters that were voting for them. Now they’ve broken that promise.”

Prime Minister Trudeau on Feb. 1 abandoned his campaign pledge to reform Canada’s voting system from the first-past-the-post model, which has been the status quo for nearly 150 years. In June 2015, sitting at third spot in the polls, Trudeau promised the 2015 election would be the last one using first-past-the-post.

“I think there are many constituents in my riding and ridings across the country that are extremely disappointed,” Watts told the Now. “The Conservatives, we were calling for a referendum. The Liberals didn’t want to vote for that either.

“Unfortunately, it’s something the general public will have to address in the next election.”

STORY CONTINUES BELOW

Editorial cartoon by Ingrid Rice.

Ken Hardie, Liberal MP for Fleetwood-Port Kells, said he’s “really disappointed.

“I was hoping that we could arrive at a consensus certainly amongst parliamentarians and then with Canadians as a whole, on a way forward on this,” he said. “We’ve basically said we can’t come to a landing. I don’t think there’s an appetite in the government to push something through with the majority that we have.”

On the opposition’s wrath over this, Hardie advises, “Rather than throw up their hands and say ‘Well, this is terrible,’ come back, you know. Come on, put on your thinking caps. We’ve said we can’t see a way forward, but their opportunity is still there to say, ‘Well, how about this?'”

Hardie did not attempt to put a spin on the Liberals’ broken campaign pledge.

“Well, it’s very obvious that that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “We did make a promise that that would be the last election under the first-past-the-post system. I’d say even if we’re able to come up with, if you like, a palatable option to first-past-the-post, we had probably hit the point on the calendar were it would be nigh on impossible to have it in place in time for 2019.

“The average person could look at that and say ‘Yep, we broke our promise.’ What we would say in response to that is we basically couldn’t come to a consensus and we ran out of time.”

Randeep Sarai, Liberal MP for Surrey Centre, said the issue of electoral reform paled in comparison to other issues, especially crime and affordable housing, when he was door-knocking during the 2015 campaign.

“It was not a strong issue,” he said of electoral reform. The issue, he said “Wasn’t mine so much.”

John Aldag, Liberal MP for Cloverdale-Langley City, said he’s received complaints from his constituents.

“I’ve had some calls and emails about the change in direction,” he said. “There’s definitely amongst some a sense of disappointment that we’re not going to be proceeding.

“Many of my constituents were quite happy with the existing system,” Aldag added. “A lot of the sentiments we hear often was it’s served us well for over a hundred years, why mess with it?”

Aldag also noted some people were “drawn to that element” of the Liberal election platform “and said they’re going to support me for that reason.

“I’d say the vast majority of people, the number-one issue that they constantly flagged was cost of living and housing, and just trying to get financially ahead in the Lower Mainland.

“I think the message that the prime minister and the minister delivered yesterday (Feb. 1) was that in the absence of strong consensus by Canadians that there are a lot of other pressing issues and that’s where we’re going to put our energy.”

Aldag suggested that dealing with electoral reform in a single term is an unwieldy task.

“I’d say, from what I heard when we were out on the road on electoral reform, was that although people were interested in it, the biggest concern I had was the timelines and even during the campaign, I was thinking geez, to change an electoral system in one term seems like a very ambitious target and the more I heard, as we went through the process, I’m not sure we could have done it right in the remaining time and maintain the confidence of Canadians in the integrity of the system,” he said. “I hope it’s a discussion that our government and the minister will continue to have with Canadians and I’m never going to say never.”

Sukh Dhaliwal, Liberal MP for Surrey-Newton, said “there was not much attraction to that particular thing” during an open house in Surrey. “It wasn’t a big issue in my riding,” he said.

“We listened to people from coast to coast to coast and particularly in my riding the direction was people wanted the status quo, which is the system we’re going through right now. I’m happy the prime minister has listened to Canadians.”

tom.zytaruk@thenownewspaper.com

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