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Electoral reform and the Quebec massacre: What's the link?

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau drafts his statement following the terrorist attac

Whether or not it was intentional that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided to announce his decision to drop electoral reform while the country was mourning the Quebec mosque massacre, the two issues are very much linked.

When the Liberals, the NDP, the BQ and the Greens included electoral reform in their platforms for the 2015 federal election, it was with the premise to make every vote count. A premise that is especially important and significant to minorities, whose votes are generally insignificant within their ridings under our current flawed first-past-the-post (FPP) system.

Under an FPP system, minority representation is at the mercy of parties' decisions to choose their candidates in winnable ridings from minority groups. If and when this happens, and if they win, those MPs are usually indebted to the party and thus limited in the power they have or their ability to speak in defence of their community when it is in contradiction to the party line. Thus, such MPs from minority groups are more loyal to the party than to their community; the presence of minorities in the Parliament or government is more superficial than real.

The picture would be very different under a proportional representation (PR) electoral system where the collective voices of minorities across the country are given real weight. Additionally, the influence of minorities within different parties would be stronger since their votes would result in more parliamentary seats.

In addition to this, a PR system would strengthen progressive parties who win a much smaller number of seats than their popular support under FPP. Such parties are traditionally more supportive of minority rights than the larger parties who traditionally hold power in Canada. Another gain for minorities and their usually forgotten rights.

By reneging on his promise to make every vote count, Trudeau not only turned his back on the promise he made in 2015 but also contradicted the spirit of all that was said this week in support of the Muslim community, a group which would surely benefit from greater representation and/or support in Parliament under a PR system.

What the Muslim community, or any threatened minority, needs is not kind words of condolence from politicians. Good will alone is not enough. What is needed are actions and decisions that would strengthen the rights of vulnerable groups -- laws that criminalize hate and incitement of hate against them, for example. A fair and representative electoral system would allow them to represent themselves with more strength and confidence.

Trudeau may have thought that this was the best time to announce his decision abandoning electoral reform, but his choice of timing could not have been more telling of his insincerity and hypocrisy.

I hope that Trudeau will reverse his decision to abandon electoral reform, a policy that would help protect Canada's vulnerable minorities.

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Image: PMO/Adam Scotti

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