Toronto Star's View: Justin Trudeau’s bold call...
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Jun 17, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: Justin Trudeau’s bold call for change will help the Liberals

Justin Trudeau has a feel for what irks Canadians after nearly a decade of Conservative government

OurWindsor.Ca

For Canadians seeking generational change in the coming federal election, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has always been an attractive candidate. Now, with the rollout of his sweeping agenda for political change in Ottawa, he has boldly positioned himself as a reformist one as well.

Trudeau’s call for transforming the way government operates is the heart of his pledge to breathe some life into a political system suffocated by a decade of hyper-partisan, hyper-controlling Conservative rule. There’s truth to his claim that Harper “has broken Ottawa” and turned it into “a partisan swamp.” There’s plenty that needs fixing to restore public trust.

Trudeau’s centrepiece pledge — to do away with the Westminster-style first-past-the-post voting system — is the most problematic part of his reform package. Voters in both Ontario and British Columbia have rejected change in referendums, underlining how difficult it is to achieve consensus on reform.

But, to his credit, Trudeau is prepared to risk reopening the issue to address the alienation of a younger generation that feels “every vote should count.” Many feel the current system is unfair because it can distort voter intentions by letting parties chalk up majorities with less than 40 per cent of the popular vote. Under Trudeau a Liberal government would be committed to studying and considering ranked ballots (Trudeau’s personal preference), proportional representation, mandatory voting and online voting, and to bringing forward legislation within 18 months of taking office.

Certainly, Trudeau has a steep hill to climb to get the majority he needs to put his plans for “fair and open” government into action. His Liberals are running third in the polls, behind Thomas Mulcair’s New Democrats and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, and are battling with the NDP to be the best bet for change. Even as Trudeau rolled out his agenda on Tuesday, Mulcair was in Toronto wooing small business and the Conservatives were announcing tougher penalties for drunk drivers who kill.

But Trudeau is showing he has a feel for what irks Canadians after nearly a decade of increasingly rigid Conservative rule. His agenda sets the stage for an unusually robust election campaign.

His promise to make the Prime Minister more answerable to ordinary MPs’ questions in Parliament is a demonstrably good one. So is creating a non-partisan, merit-based process for advising the Prime Minister on Senate appointments, which could help restore the credibility of a badly discredited institution. His pledge to reserve half of cabinet posts for women is also welcome; gender parity is long overdue.

He promises to give Parliament stronger, better resourced committees to vet government bills, and end an era of obnoxious Tory omnibus legislation designed to escape public scrutiny. Importantly, he would create an all-party panel to oversee Canada’s powerful security services as a much-needed check against abuse.

And he would give the Parliamentary Budget Officer the independence and support needed to keep the government honest, while increasing the Auditor General’s oversight of spending in both the Commons and Senate.

All this speaks to the mechanics of better governance. But voters are also concerned with the lack of transparency and accountability on Harper’s watch.

Trudeau promises to reverse an era of “closed off … intolerant … secretive” government by making government data readily accessible to the public, in searchable format. By allowing the public to request information held by the Prime Minister’s Office and other ministers’ offices. By allowing federal scientists to speak freely, and by bringing back the detailed long-form census. These are all commendable moves.

Harper himself famously campaigned for more open and accountable government while in opposition. Once in power, he ended up doing exactly the opposite.

With that recent experience in mind, there will be an understandable tendency among many voters to take Trudeau’s promises with a large grain of salt. But the Liberal leader deserves credit for setting out an ambitious and strongly reformist agenda that will make his party more competitive. Canadians want better than they have been getting.

Toronto Star

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