OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau laid out an ambitious plan Tuesday to shake up the way Canadians vote while accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of throwing a cloak of secrecy over the federal government and undermining the integrity of Canada’s democracy.
“Mr. Harper has broken Ottawa and we need a real plan to fix it,” he declared in a speech with nearly 200 Liberal MPs and election candidates lined up behind him.
If Liberals take power in October, this will be the last federal election held under the first-past-the-post electoral system, he said.
This winner-take-all system is blamed by many for supposedly distorting the result of national votes, making it possible for a party to win a majority of seats in the Commons with only 40 per cent support.
Under a Liberal government, a special, all-party parliamentary committee would be given 18 months to examine proportional representation, ranked ballots and other possible replacements for the first-past-the-post voting system. Trudeau would introduce legislation to overhaul Canada’s federal electoral routine based on the committee’s recommendations.
Trudeau also said he would encourage better voting turnout by young people by working with provinces and Elections Canada to register students to vote as part of their high school curriculum. The Liberals would also move to expand parties’ electoral spending limits to the period before an actual election campaign starts.
But the bulk of Trudeau’s speech hammered away at what he called Harper’s obsession with conducting government in secret.
“The Harper Conservatives have been in power for a decade,” he said. “And year after year, they have grown more closed-off from Canadians.
More intolerant of debate and dissent, more self-serving, more secretive, he said.
“Stephen Harper promised us principled government. But he has delivered partisanship and petty politics,” Trudeau remarked.
The Conservatives have muzzled scientists, forced government institutions to toe the Tory line and challenged the integrity of the courts, he said: “Harper has turned Ottawa into a partisan swamp. He has used the tools of state to attack anyone who isn’t on his side.”
In his speech, Trudeau unveiled a package of initiatives that touched on everything from electoral reform, open government and overhauling federal institutions. The promised reforms include:
• broadening Access to Information rules to include requests for information held by the prime minister’s office and other minister’s offices.
• the creation of a non-partisan, merit-based process to advise the prime minister on Senate appointments.
• an all-party oversight committee to oversee the activities of Canada’s national security agencies.
• allowing government scientists to speak freely about their work and create the position of chief science officer.
• restoring door-to-door mail delivery by Canada Post.
• giving youth a greater voice in government, ensuring gender-based analysis of federal policies and a pledge that a Liberal cabinet would have an equal number of men and women.
• considering a mandatory voting system.