Canada’s Federal Election: Accountability and Broken Promises

Back in late 2005, Stephen Harper promised Canadians a bunch of stuff if they elected him and got rid of Paul Martin. Harper indeed became prime minister, despite winning only 36% of the 65% voter turnout. In other words, 64% of those who turned out to vote did not vote for him. That latter curiosity is though not what this is about.

This is about the promises he made, upon which basis millions of people voted him in, and then broke. Take for instance his failure to follow through on the key recommendation of Justice Gomery’s inquiry into the sponsorship scandal, upon which Harper happily surfed. Instead of reducing the centralization of the prime minister’s power, as the Justice recommended, Harper did the opposite.

Harper also promised to make access to information easier but Democracy Watch pointed out that he did the opposite. I could have a field day – 125,000 childcare spaces not provided for, making fuel efficient cars more affordable and protecting citizens from high bank ATM fees – all broken promises. Lest you’re wondering, Harper was re-elected in 2011 - says a lot about political accountability.

In 2015, Justin Trudeau promised his own portfolio of goodies to help unseat Harper. Trudeau promised to normalize relations with Iran, end door-to-door mail delivery and have a balanced federal budget before voters go to the polls in 2019. Canadians are going to the polls next month and the budget deficit is expected to hit C$20bn. The other two promises haven’t been kept either …. amongst many others.

Here’s a pattern – politicians make promises to us to get elected. We vote accordingly. And if they are elected, those politicians are not bound to keep their promises. We know this pattern only too well, which is part of the reason we don’t trust politicians.

But here’s another dimension to this which we know but don’t surface often enough, and it comes in two questions ….

  1. Is there an ethical reason why voters should not be allowed to change our vote as soon as the promise is broken? After all, we voted on the basis of promises which, in part, have been broken.

  2. If the prime minister breaks his promises, and given he is the chief executive of the government (which is managing the country), should we not be entitled to also break our promises to the country – such as paying large taxes on time?

It’s about time we think about what accountability really means. It’s about time we treated the ordinary citizen as the nucleus of our democracy.

saqib qureshi