Justin Trudeau’s democratic reforms

The Liberal leadership candidate promises fewer free votes than the Conservatives did in 2006

by Aaron Wherry

Over the weekend, the Liberal leadership frontrunner released his democratic reform platform, including measures to “loosen the grip of the Prime Minister’s Office on Parliament.”

Members of a Liberal government caucus led by me would be required to vote with the Cabinet on only three categories of bills: those that implement the 2015 Liberal platform; those that enable budget or significant money measures; and those that speak to the shared values embodied in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I further believe that prorogation and omnibus legislation have become means for governments to evade scrutiny and democratic accountability. In the case of prorogation, it should never be used to abet governments in their avoidance of difficult political circumstances. As for omnibus bills, they are a simple affront to Parliament and the people who are represented there, and we will not use them.

We will also strengthen the committee system, both in Cabinet and in Parliament. In Cabinet, we will appoint non-Cabinet MPs to committees to ensure that a wider variety of voices are heard as policy is developed. In Parliament, we will strengthen the role of committee chairs and create a more robust system of oversight and review for members from all parties in the House and Senate. Specifically, Parliamentary committees should be given more resources to acquire independent, expert analysis of proposed legislation.

In terms of free votes, Mr. Trudeau is actually promising less freedom than the Conservatives promised in 2006: the Harper government took office with a promise that it would “make all votes in Parliament, except the budget and main estimates, ‘free votes’ for ordinary Members of Parliament.” Of course, what matters is what actually gets done. In that regard, Mr. Trudeau’s first category—bills to implement the Liberal platform—depends on how specific the platform is and how closely Prime Minister Trudeau would define a platform promise. Once you include budget bills and platform promises, you’re conceivably covering a lot of the legislation a government is going to introduce. That said, at this point, any commitment that transfers power from the leader’s office to the MP is basically a good one.

Saying you won’t abuse prorogation and omnibus legislation is also good. But it’d better if the promise involved codifying restrictions on their use—tricky tasks in both cases, but worth pursuing. Mr. Trudeau also promises open nominations in all riding, but, again, he could go further: amend the Elections Act to remove the requirement of the leader’s endorsement to run for a party. Put the principle into law.

(Also of note: Mr. Trudeau joins Adrian Dix in promising to institute the Ontario model for government advertising.)




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Justin Trudeau’s democratic reforms

  1. At first I was worried that the Dauphin was all hype and no substance, but thought he would surround himself not only with a hype generating machine but also some of the best (even if increasingly rare) minds in the LPC to generate good policy.

    Now that I’ve seen some of his policy pieces, I’m truly worried. Take his recent democratic renewal policies. Pure fluff, mixed with a good dose of hypocrisy.

    On electoral reform, barely a year ago Justin in the Hill Times:
    “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”

    By adopting a preferential ballot voting system, Trudeau abandons a previously held principle, and he does so by going against another deeply held principle: evidence based scrutiny.

    Not only do most experts feel that PR (particularly MMP) is the kind of electoral reform that would bring true democratic renewal to our system, but also in Ontario a citizens jury comprised of 103 jurors deemed near unanimously that MMP should replace the outdated and illegitimate First Past the Post system.

    I am aware that a referendum rejected MMP, but the right and evidence based position, apparently valued by Liberals wishing to do politics differently, would be to advocate for PR. Some much for renewal and a different kind of politics from Liberals.

    The LPC is the same old promise everything to everyone, stand for nothing, do anything for a vote party of self-entitlement – including cynically trying to win the youth vote with nothing but hype.

    But don’t underestimate our young people and their appetite for good policy as well as good hair.

    • Rubbish! There’s an argument to be said for PV being a necessary first step toward PR at some point. Clearly getting PR accepted in the country is iffy at best right now.
      It appears JT has changed his mind and recognized the necessity of getting half a loaf rather than none. Which is an NDP speciality.

      PR has been rejected twice in BC[ i voted for it first time], once or twice in ON and at least once in the maritimes. Baby steps first are called for now. This isn’t a case of abandoning evidence based prescriptives at all – but rather a nod to pragmatism.

      Fluff…Dauphin..hype…all the right catch phrases. And judging by your absolutist rhetoric i’d peg you for a dipper[ not a conbot That would amount to Trudeau sucks but his hair is nice, but no actual argument]
      Nice try. Too shrill in style to be convincing. Try a more subtle attack next time.

      • Sorry, your use of pragmatism simply means do what is necessary to get votes, or code for let’s sound progressive but not really mean it. As I’ve said, given the disaster that befell the LPC when it moved to the right under Ignatieff, the LPC is attempting to return to the tried and true campaign from the left (squeeze out progressives) and govern to the right.

        If Justin feel PR is such an abiding necessity to make our system more democratic (and I agree with him on this) then he should run on MMP like the NDP and the Green Party.

        The evidence is clear. FPTP is deeply flawed, outdated and results in essentially dominant control of parliament with less than 40% of vote. Experts, citizens’ juries all make an overwhelming case for MMP. It’s not a popularity contest when it’s the ethical thing to do.

        • Er…yes that’s what you do when you can’t get those votes more directly. Liberals have always had a better grasp than most how this works in an electorate and country as diverse as this – that is the reason they held power for so long and until recently the NDP preferred sanctimony over power.
          Ignatieff was a disasterous aberration imo. What can happen to a political party that doesn’t even pretend to listen to its members or look for new ones. He wasn’t a bad man – just a bad politician. If he had truly gone to the centre/right and stayed there he might have done better…although i doubt it.Not a natural. In the end no one bought him as a man of the left too. JT will be much more of a threat on that score.
          Every party is free to try to pitch their wares however and wherever they please. The left or the NDP has no more of a lock on virtue than anyone else.

          • Yep, we know what LPC does when it “can’t get those votes more directly”. If the CPC is the party of vote suppression, the LPC is the party of vote enhancement (slush funds, cynical brokerage politics, Sponsorship, and now pure hype from a Dauphin).

            Voting is a terribly powerful weapon, but ideally should be wielded by someone competent to handle it -I believe it is a duty and responsibility of a citizen to learn how to handle this franchise.

            Vote suppression is reprehensible, voting enhancement, no less so. And while I think we have a big problem with voter turnout and participation, there is one thing worse than not voting: and that is, voting irresponsibly.

            Whipping young voters up into a frenzy with hype, hair, social media and empty platitudes may pay off electorally. Pretending to be “progressive” to get the soccer mom and soft progressive urban vote may pay off electorally. But then the LPC may be underestimating the intelligence of voters and overestimating their propensity to vote irresponsibly.

            And yes, the Left and the NDP does have more of a moral of a lock on virtue than the other parties- the NDP is not pure, it is not above political gamesmanship but the CCF/NDP have been and continue to be the ethical voice in politics. It is a party that started as a social movement to actually represent the interests of the people. The LPC and the CPC are political entities created to represent the interests of the wealthy and the powerful.

            Besides, if the NDP were not seen and expected to be a party of higher ethical standing, then why does it get kicked out into the wilderness far longer than other parties when it messes up? For instance, the NDP in Ontario is still paying, long after Bob Rae became a Liberal, for the Bob Rae government. We’ve had Mike Harris and Dalton McGuinty governments since, both of which were disastrous governments . But I constantly hear, NDP, never again after Bob Rae. So Harris gets a pass after a couple of terms. McGuinty may be absolved immediately. But the NDP, even though the public has moved on with Bob Rae, still pays for Bob Rae. Really? Why?

          • You don’t have to preach to me the virtue of the NDP. I’m a long term liberal but only recently a party member – principally because I think it’s important that a centrist party survives in this country. I’m not at all convinced that either CPC or the NDP can adequately play that role.
            I hear similar but converse rhetoric to yours from LPC partisans all the time. Frankly it bores me. Essentially you’re claiming a lock on virtue – that’s ludicrous; we’re all human, we all have our weak points. So stop with the silly rhetoric about Trudeau. You don’t know the guy and you have no more idea than I have how he will work out.
            Agree Rae got a crappy break. IMO he’s the best retail politician in the country still. He’d be a shoo in over JT if the party wasn’t thinking about the future. Rae’s done a marvelous job as interim leader. If only he were a decade younger he’d still have a shot at PM. I’m convinced he’d make a good one.
            I’m a pragmatist. So I can’t share your fervor for the righteous left. The real world doesn’t work that way, it’s complicated – just ask Mr Rae.

          • Wish I had more time because it’s always good to discuss with people who are not pettily partisan. The greatest compliment I can give you as a Liberal is to say you’re no Jason Cherniak. This is the kind of discussion that should be going on across pubs everywhere.

            Some quick points:

            It should be mandatory for all Liberals to gain an understanding of “pragmatism”. I’d be interested to hear what you mean by it.

            Similarly, this “centrism” you keep referring to. What is that? “Centrism is an ideologically relative concept and the most contested ideological space in political realm. To the extent that ALL ideologies furnish a self-evident worldview, a common sense and obviousness about the world, they all create a centre.

            When Liberal ideologues today try to say they have no ideology, what they really mean is that the LPC has decided to evacuate itself of principles and simply claim to be the centre. That is not only ideological, it is the purest form of ideology. Not to mention arrogance and self-entitlement. While each political party surely assumes it is most fit to govern, the LPC has been the most successful at convincing itself that it is the natural governing party, and flowing from this has been tremendous electoral success, as well as often unscrupulous means to that success.

            You’re right, the real world is complicated and that is why we develop internally consistent ideological systems to attempt to make sense of the flux and chaos that is reality- a reality which we can never know purely but only through the mediation of language, ideology, theory, values etc.

            I don’t think the NDP has a complete lock on ethicality within the political realm, but each party’s history and ideological DNA surely are relevant to the discussion.

            And no I don’t know Justin Trudeau, but I believe his changed stance on electoral reform not only weakens him as a person of principle but it reeks of the old Liberal politics which he is promising to do otherwise.

  2. Can Trudeau be more specific about how often he intends to introduce legislation that doesn’t ” … speak to the shared values embodied in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms”, does Trudeau have plans to govern like a dictator and introduce legislation that is against my human rights and freedoms?

    • To give the question probably more seriousness than it warrants (a practice I have regretted in the past), there’s lots of things that aren’t in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that government passes bills on – I assume that’s what he means).

      • It is simple – apparently Trudeau intends to govern using our ‘shared values’ some times and other kinds of values at other times. What values will Trudeau be using when he isn’t using the ones Canadians share?

        • French ones…he has a secret plan to make us all dunk our morning baguette in our coffee…disgusting! I demand the right to dunk my crappy TH’s doughnut in my crappy TH’s coffee as many times as i can afford to w/o let or hindrance or quality controls. Why isn’t that in the charter then, smarty pants?

    • Well, remember the old man!

  3. I think if i had to i’d take a less than perfect but perhaps more realistic JT promise for free votes over Harper’s now clearly empty rhetoric – i would.
    On the question of open nominations, doesn’t the party leader [or someone - riding president?] have to retain some measure of say in case you get a rogue candidate [ as happened to Dion] or special interest monopoly try to gate crash the party? Not sure if this has anything to do with a leader’s signing prerogative or not? Get rid of that too if at all possible. OTW good first steps by Trudeau. But it’ll be fun to hear the other parties attempt to trash them when they are not even as bold or far reaching in some cases as the ones Harper made ,and never kept,in 06. Apparently only Cons/dippers get to propose reform and not get a chance to carry through. That’s politics i suppose.

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