OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced a series of sweeping changes Tuesday to improve government services, change the way Canadians vote, and increase government transparency if the Grits win October’s election.
Trudeau’s 32-point plan, dubbed “real change,” includes several major initiatives and reversals of Conservative government decisions, such as saving home mail delivery, reinstating the mandatory long-form census, reopening nine veterans’ service centres that were closed recently, ending the “political harassment” of charities, and unmuzzling government scientists.
Speaking in front of some 160 Liberal candidates and MPs, Trudeau said his plan would fix what Harper has broken.
“Stephen Harper rode into town promising to slay dragons,” Trudeau said. “And 10 years later, he’s walled up in his office cynically controlling his message and his caucus.”
Trudeau said he would modernize government and make transparency a fundamental principle. He pledged to give Canadians easier access to their own personal information, allow more free votes in Parliament, create a non-partisan Senate, establish an all-party committee to oversee Canada’s national security agencies, ban partisan government advertising, place limits on political party spending between elections, appoint bilingual Supreme Court justices, and make question period more relevant.
He also pledged that the 2015 election will be the last federal election using the first-past-the-post voting system if his party is elected.
The Liberals would form an all-party committee to study different electoral measures, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, online voting, and mandatory voting. Within 18 months of forming a government, Trudeau promised, his government would introduce legislation to change the current method of voting.
“I agree democracy can be messy,” Trudeau said. “But...democracy doesn’t exist to make leaders look good. It exists to do good for the people.”
After a decade in power, the Conservatives have grown secretive and self-serving, the Liberal leader said.
Harper had promised to appoint not a single senator, Trudeau added. Since taking office, however, he has appointed 57.
The Liberal leader said his plan for reforming the Senate removes partisanship and, unlike the NDP’s idea of abolition, he suggested it is achievable without bogging the country down in years of divisive constitutional wrangling with the provinces.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has pledged, by contrast, to appoint no senators and to abolish the upper chamber, which would require unanimous provincial consent.
“I will not make a cynical promise to enact reforms that everyone knows are impossible,” Trudeau said in a background document shared with the media.
Canadians think all politicians are the same, he told the crowd. “But I know it’s not true…. We need to show Canadians that real change is possible.”
Speaking in Toronto, Mulcair told reporters Trudeau is late to the game when it comes to parliamentary reform.
“For a couple years, he hasn’t stood for anything. Now, he stands for everything, including things he voted against just a couple of months ago,” Mulcair said. “We have been clear, for a long time, on the importance of bringing in proportional representation in our country.
“The third party [the Liberals] has a long history of flashing left and turning right. We can be trusted to deliver on what we have been promising.”
In December, Trudeau voted against an NDP motion to make the 2015 the last first-past-the-post election, recommending instead mixed-member proportional representation. Trudeau said Tuesday he did not want to suggest a preferred voting method because political parties usually suggest methods that benefit them.
The Prime Minister’s Office also cast doubt on Trudeau’s sincerity.
“It is a bit rich to hear Justin Trudeau talk about fair and open government while he continues to fight against greater transparency and accountability for First Nations and unions in Canada,” Harper spokesman Stephen Lecce told HuffPost.
Trudeau voted against the controversial Bill C-377, which places onerous requirements on unions and which has been criticized as a union-bashing measure. The Liberal leader has also promised to repeal the First Nations Transparency Act — rules outlining that the salaries and expenses of band chiefs and councillors must be published online.
“It was our Conservative government that cleaned up the mess left by the Liberals in their sponsorship scandal,” Lecce wrote in an email.
Toronto MP and former Liberal cabinet minister Judy Sgro told HuffPost that the changes announced Tuesday are “not going to be easy.” But, she said, it will help make it easier for “Canadians to trust” the Liberals in the future.
Trudeau told reporters after his speech that he is from a new generation of leaders who understand that co-operation and transparency help governments make better decisions.
Here’s a breakdown of some of Trudeau’s promises:
– End “political harassment” of charities and make the Canada Revenue Agency more open: The Liberals would end “political harassment of charities” and clarify rules to allow charities to develop and advocate for public policy. They would also change the way the Canada Revenue Agency communicates with Canadians, by proactively contacting Canadians when they are entitled to but are not receiving tax benefits.
– Reform access-to-information laws: The Liberals promised to make to all government data open by default in machine-readable, digital formats, to scrap access to information fees beyond the initial $5 charge, to give written explanations within 30 days when information cannot be disclosed, empower the Information Commissioner — the access-to-information watchdog — with the ability to order disclosures, review the Access to Information Act through Parliament every five years and, as HuffPost first reported, expand the access laws to cover the prime minister’s and ministers’ offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts. The Liberal plan would also make it easier for Canadians to get access to personal information the government has about them.
– Money-back guarantee for federal public services: The Liberals would create performance standards for services to reduce waiting times, streamline applications and give money-back guarantees in areas such as employment insurance processing, veterans’ services, immigration processing, Canada Pension Plan and EI appeals at the Social Security Tribunal.
– Stop the plan to end door-to-door mail delivery: The Liberals say they will begin a new review of Canada Post to ensure that the Crown corporation fulfills its mandate and is not charging more for reduced services to Canadians in urban, suburban and rural areas.
– Bring more transparency to Parliament: The Liberals would ensure quarterly and detailed expense reports by MPs, make the Board of Internal Economy — the all-party committee that administers the Commons — open by default, ask the auditor general to do mandatory performance audits of the House and Senate.
– More free votes: Liberal caucus members in a Trudeau government would be required to vote with the cabinet only on measures that implement the Liberals’ electoral platform; confidence matters such as the speech from the throne and budget bills; and matters related to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — this would include supporting a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.
– Enable better oversight of government: The Liberals would change the way the government’s books are reported to Parliament so MPs can track the money more easily. They would provide a cost analysis for each government bill. They would strengthen the role of parliamentary committee chairs by electing them by secret ballot, and give committees more resources to acquire independent analysis of proposed legislation. They promised to make the parliamentary budget officer more independent and ensure that it and other government watchdog are fully funded. The Liberals would also create an all-party national security oversight committee to monitor and oversee the operations of every government department with national security responsibilities. This was one of the major criticisms of C-51.
– End “abuse” of prorogation and omnibus bills: Trudeau promised that he will not use prorogation to “avoid difficult political circumstances.” Harper used prorogation to avoid a confidence vote in 2008 that would have brought down his government. The Liberals also pledged not use omnibus bills to reduce scrutiny of new policies.
– Senate reform: The Liberals would create a non-partisan, merit-based, broad process to advise the prime minister on Senate appointments and make the chamber more transparent in ways the auditor general recently suggested.
– Reform Supreme Court appointments: The Liberals would ensure that all Supreme Court justices are functionally bilingual and create a more representative and transparent process to advise on appointments to the country’s top court.
– Government appointments: Trudeau pledged to have an equal number of women and men in his cabinet and to adopt an appointment process that would ensure gender parity and more representation from indigenous peoples and minority groups.
– Involve Canadians in policy-making: The Liberals would use technology to engage more Canadians in the development and evaluation of public policy. Trudeau would also create a Prime Minister’s Youth Advisory Council to get input from 16- to 24-year-olds.
– Make it easier to vote: The Liberals say they will work with the provinces to register high school students so Elections Canada can stay in touch with them. They would also support Elections Canada proactively registering Canadians from groups with historically lower voter turnout, such as students. They would also repeal certain aspects of the Fair Elections Act, scrap the Citizen Voting Act, and allow voter identification cards to be used as an acceptable form of identification. The Liberals would also increase penalties for violation of election laws.
– Strengthen Elections Canada: The Liberals would provide more resources to the election agency so it can investigate voter fraud, voter suppression and illegal financing.
– Ban partisan government ads: The Liberals would appoint an advertising commissioner to oversee government advertising and ensure they are non-partisan.
– Crack down on pre-writ party spending: The Liberals say they would place limits on party spending between elections.
– Independent party leaders’ debates: The Liberals said they would create an independent commission to organize leaders’ debates during election campaigns, so that a prime minister cannot skip out on televised debates as Harper has chosen to do this year.
– Allow government scientists to speak: The Liberals say they would unmuzzle scientists and allow them to speak freely about their work. They would also create a chief science officer to ensure that government science is available to the public and that scientific analyses are considered in government decisions.
– Bring back the long-form census: The Liberals say they would make Statistics Canada fully independent and expand its data collection to include more detailed labour market information, child development data and information on “natural capital.” They would immediately restore the mandatory long-form census.
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