Trudeau wants to empower backbenchers

OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau wants to reverse his father’s famous assessment of backbenchers as “just nobodies.”

The Liberal leadership front-runner is proposing a series of democratic reforms aimed at turning MPs into somebodies — more independent, more powerful and more in tune with the constituents who elected them.

Should he become prime minister, Trudeau told The Canadian Press he’d relax party discipline in Parliament, giving government backbenchers the freedom to vote as they see fit on all but three categories of bills.

They would be required to support the government only on budget or money bills, legislation to implement the 2015 election platform on which they’d have been elected, and bills involving fundamental charter rights.

Trudeau would also appoint backbenchers to cabinet committees, giving them more influence on policy development. And he’d give MPs on Commons committees more resources to conduct independent, expert analysis of proposed legislation.

While he’d empower MPs once they make it to Parliament Hill, he’d force them to fight open nominations for the right to carry the Liberal banner in elections. There’d be no more nomination protection for incumbents or appointment of candidates in unheld ridings.

Trudeau’s proposals are not fully detailed yet. Early next week, he intends to ask Canadians through his Facebook page to participate in improving and/or adding to his reform agenda.

The objective, however, is clear: to force politicians and parties to “start trusting Canadians again.”

“It’s been too long that it’s all about the backroom structures, it’s all about top-down governance,” Trudeau said in an interview Friday.

“We don’t govern like we actually trust Canadians to be able to make intelligent, informed decisions … and since we treat people with such low expectations and disdain, they respond with cynicism and disengagement.”

Trudeau’s late father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, once derided MPs as “just nobodies” once they got 50 yards off Parliament Hill.

His eldest son said the put down was actually aimed at the “self-importance” of some MPs, rather than dismissing them all as irrelevant.

Still, Trudeau acknowledged his proposals are “moving in the opposite direction” of his father’s assessment, aimed at reversing the perception of MPs as little more than parrots of government talking points.

The need to empower MPs became evident, he said, during a recent swing through western Canada. He repeatedly heard people yearning for MPs who are “spokespeople for their ridings in Ottawa, as opposed to what they’ve become now, which is spokespeople for the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) in their ridings.”

His own experience in the Montreal riding of Papineau convinced him of the need to end the Liberal practice, instituted in 1992, of allowing the leader to appoint candidates in some ridings and to protect incumbents from nomination challenges.

“I had to fight a really tough nomination (in 2008), where I wasn’t the candidate that the party wanted to win,” Trudeau said.

“And everything I achieved in the rest of my career, including this leadership run, I owe directly to that nomination race because it taught me about working on the ground, it taught me about organizing, it taught me how to win over people step by step.”

He said those lessons paid off in the subsequent election, in which he defeated a Bloc Quebecois incumbent, and again in the 2011 election, in which he managed to increase his margin of victory in the teeth of an NDP tidal wave that swept much of the rest of the province.

Forcing open nominations across the board would similarly help “every single riding” in the country to develop ground organizations and support bases, he maintained — a crucial first step for a party trying to find its way out of the political wilderness.

Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin also tried to empower backbenchers but his efforts often resulted in the appearance of division in Liberal ranks, much to the delight of rival parties.

“It could be terribly frustrating,” Trudeau acknowledged.

“Of course, there are going to be kinks in this. This is a whole new way of … using Parliament in a way that’s more transparent, more accountable, more connected with Canadians, with constituents.”

Trudeau’s democratic reform plan also includes:

— Ending the practice of jamming all manner of unrelated measures into massive omnibus bills, insisting on more bite-sized legislation that can be scrutinized more effectively by parliamentarians.

— Limiting the power of the prime minister to prorogue Parliament.

— Creating a watchdog to ensure government advertising is not used for partisan purposes.

— Making the parliamentary budget officer a truly independent officer of Parliament.

— Support for replacing Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system with a preferential ballot system that would more accurately reflect the voting choices of Canadians.




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Trudeau wants to empower backbenchers

    • Actually, this platform looks very substantial and full of much-needed democratic reforms.

      People should just ignore Conservative partisans. They have nothing of substance to offer. All they do is spew muck and filth at their political opponents.

      • Actually Trudeau is symptomatic of the Liberal crisis itself. In its haste and desperation for votes it rushes into “pragmatic” positions that lack thought and principle. For example, Justin wanting to style himself as a proponent of electoral reform says favours a PR voting system and that he supports Preferential Ballot, or Alternative Vote. From Fair Vote Canada:

        Depite the confusion in the minds of many politicians and apparently even some journalists, the Alternative Vote is emphatically not proportional representation. It is also not “modified proportional representation” or “a form of proportional representation”, or even “a move towards proportional representation”. It is just another winner-take-all voting system like the one we have now.

        The Alternative Vote is phony reform.

        Although voters get to vote sincerely without losing their ‘strategic’ vote, pretty much the same people get elected. We would still have single-party governments without the support of a true majority of voters. The Alternative Vote is just a distraction on the road to proportional representation, and a barrier to real reform.”

        This is typical Liberal policy. Liberals want to appear progressive but leave things unchanged- for historically the Liberal Partyvare great beneficiaries of the status quo.

        • Fair Vote Canada is grossly misinformed on the benefits that Preferential Ballot Voting would bring to Canada. This is because they are mostly comprised of Green and NDP partisans who would benefit the most from PR. (For example, 73% of Liberal delegates voted to support PBV in their 2012 convention. Obviously they are not represented at FVC.)

          But the fact is PBV would make our existing system democratic by simply requiring that MPs *earn* their seats with a majority of the vote. This is the same system all federal parties use to elect their leaders. This would put an end to vote splitting and stop voters from getting saddled with politicians and governments they don’t want and didn’t vote for.

          It is far from being “phony reform” or “winner-take-all” (which implies the leading candidate or party wins all the power; PBV puts a stop to that.)

          • “We should seize this historic opportunity for us to formally embrace the principle of proportional representation as an absolute necessity for the future of Canada,” says Justin Trudeau (Hill Times, Jan 14).

            My point was that PBV is not proportional representation. It is actually a majoritarian system. So does Justin just not know what he’s talking about or is he trying to be “pragmatic”, which for Liberals means “have it both ways”? Typical falsely campaign from left and govern to the right Liberalism.

            PR would be real electoral reform, but would probably be quite unpopular with Liberals (which deludedly see themselves as entitled to govern and thus still hope one day to benefit from the distortions Single party governments) and certainly with Conservatives (although Harper used to favour until he reaped the gross benefits of FPTP).

          • Although PBV is not fully proportional, it makes our existing system fully democratic (which certainly makes it real electoral reform.)

            Democracy is a blend of individual and party representation. PR puts the emphasis on party representation, which is not something everyone agrees is best.

            In the end, Canadians should decide which fully-democratic system they want: PBV or some form of PR (like MMP or STV.)

            The best approach, in my opinion, is to fix our existing system with preferential ballots. Then build support for a full, fair PR/PBV referendum.

          • PBV is not proportional at all.
            “Democracy is a blend of individual and party representation”
            This is exactly what MMP is.

            The best way to fix our existing system is MMP.

            We might be able to hold a full and fair referendum but if the choices are between MMP and PBV, you’d be asking Canadians whether they prefer a truly fair and more democratic voting system, or one that pretends to be such.

            If Trudeau is really committed to evidence based scrutiny and some newfound pragmatism, he’ll have to convince me why he abandoned a deep commitment to PR, a view which he publicly expressed as recently as last January.

            It’s arrogance, it’s an endorsement of a two party system- thinking the Liberals will reclaim their big tent status and thus be full beneficiaries of the electoral system (where under 40% of popular vote is enough to win a majority mandate with executive dominance).

            There is no question, if the issue is democratic reform, a fairer voting system that more accurately captures the will of the people, the evidence based (Ontario had citizen’s jury unanimously recommend a shift to PR) and pragmatic position is MMP.

            Trudeau and all Liberal ideologues are full of it, when they pretend to be “pragmatic”. Their only concern is winning at all costs.

            I hope Justin Trudeau gets called out for such hypocrisy.

  1. It’s interesting to note that Harper, who recently boasted of 7 years of “kept promises”, ran on bringing in “open, transparent and accountable” government. Of course, in reality, he brought in a Soviet-style information-control bureaucracy, aka “Ministry of Truth.”

    Canada languishes in world rankings for government openness
    “Canada finds itself tied for 51st in the world on a list of freedom-of-information rankings, languishing behind Angola, Colombia and Niger.”
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/06/23/pol-government-openness.html

  2. Takes a backbencher to know a backbencher. Regrettably, even at that Trudeau has what 4/5 years experience. Interesting to look up what his attendance record has been. Can already see a zinger lining up for leaders debate. Someone with so little experience, and such poor attendance shouldn’t be asking for a raise and promotion from Canadian people.

    Takes a special kind of gall or is it desperation to go to the polls with Trudeau when the LPC has some very strong leadership candidates. Hold no illusions, this is a coronation masquerading as a contest.

  3. I think the back bench is where he wants to put the women. That’s why he needs to empower them.

    • Trudeau should be careful about empowering backbenchers. Ours is quite chubby but seems invisible. Have no idea what they guy does for our constuency!!

  4. “Trudeau’s proposals are not fully detailed yet. Early next week, he intends to ask Canadians through his Facebook page to participate in improving and/or adding to his reform agenda.”

    So basically more empty platitudes, cliches and bromides from Junior. Surprise surprise.

    • So basically, just another con crank parroting something he heard somewhere else without knowing what it really refers to…

      • I don’t know what Trudeau is referring to, because he doesn’t know what he’s referring to…. which was kind of my point. He just says whatever he thinks people want to hear, with no plan, no details. Is it really so much to ask for details when Junior wants to become PM of Canada? I guess to people like you, having really swell hair is all it requires to be PM.

        • If you want to hear “empty platitudes, cliches and bromides” just listen to Harper’s little trained seals reading scripted propaganda about “job creation” and other such nonsense.

          Asking Canadians to contribute to the development of one’s platform is not a platitude/cliche/bromide.

          BTW, it’s redundant to use multiple words that have the same definition in a sentence.

  5. Troo – duh!! An opportunistic dirt bag

  6. Heard this all before, didn’t work when Manning tried, wont work now. What short memories people have.

  7. Looks like a lot of details backing up his ideas, there Rick. Maybe you need to do another read.

  8. Mr. Trudeau’s democratic reform plan is laughable. He proposes nothing he, nor any member of his party actually came up with – his suggestions are completely reactionary. He has essentially looked at the behaviour of the current prime minister and created punishment for his actions. A Prime Minister, whom, although gains much negative attention in the media, has consistently increased his mandate over the past three elections. I ask Mr. Trudeau, for the sake of his own legitimacy, to demand proper, thought out, and effective parliamentary change. Please remove yourself from reactionary and irrational politics.

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