Trudeau's reforms, three 'ifs' and a set of Ginsu steak knives -

Trudeau’s reforms, three ‘ifs’ and a set of Ginsu steak knives

Justin Trudeau has proposed a giant list of reforms. Will voters care as much as they say they do?

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

Do fans of democratic reform have a single itch that Justin Trudeau didn’t promise to scratch this week? I can’t think of any. In a 20-minute speech at the Château Laurier on Tuesday, and especially in a policy paper his Liberal party released simultaneously, Trudeau promised to change just about every facet of the way Canada’s governments, elections and Parliament function.

I’m going to list many—but not all—of Trudeau’s proposals now. If you believe Prime Minister Stephen Harper has essentially been a force for the comprehensive subversion of our democracy, go ahead and roll in this stuff like clover. It’ll be better than a vacation. If the Parliamentary Budget Office’s chain of command hadn’t really seemed a problem to you before, skip down a few paragraphs and we’ll continue to the analysis portion of our evening’s entertainment.

Okay. Deep breath. Trudeau promised to “amend the Access to Information Act” and entrench a “legislative review of the Access to Information system every five years;” he said he’d ensure single-wicket service for any Canadian who wants access to whatever records the government has about him- or herself.

Trudeau promised to reinstitute secret-ballot elections to the chairmanship of parliamentary committees, something Jean Chrétien instituted under duress in a doomed attempt to stave off Paul Martin’s reformist hordes almost 15 years ago. He’ll create an “inclusive, representative, transparent, and accountable process to advise on appointments to the Supreme Court”—in case you were worried that any process might be accountable and representative, but not inclusive; or transparent and inclusive, but not accountable. He’ll “introduce a prime minister’s question period,” a reform I’ve advocated that amounts to telling future PMs they needn’t show up to QP the other four days of the week. He’ll “allow more time for questions and answers,” blowing up the 35-second shot clock that ensures nobody spends too much time saying anything thoughtful.
He’ll encourage “the use of online technologies to engage Canadians,” meaning, I suppose, email.

Related reading: In praise of the parliamentary committees

But, in case the server crashes, he’s also borrowed the NDP’s promise to “stop the Harper Conservatives’ plan to end door-to-door mail delivery in Canada.” (Note that this is not a promise to restore door-to-door delivery where it has been cut again and again since 1980, merely to cancel further cuts. As Chris Selley has written, this amounts to a pledge to enshrine 2013 as the summit of perfection for Canadian home mail delivery.)

A Trudeau government would: ensure the estimates and public accounts are written using the same accounting methods; allow all-party parliamentary oversight of “every government department and agency with national security responsibilities”; make the aforementioned parliamentary budget officer “answerable only, and directly, to Parliament”; and never again “use prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances.”

The Liberals, in office, would: “end Stephen Harper’s practice of using inappropriate omnibus bills”; ban “partisan government ads”; and put an end to the foul and nefarious practice of allowing private businesses and members of the public to organize debates among federal party leaders. While we wait for that happy day, make sure to tune into City, Omni and CPAC for the Maclean’s national leaders’ debate on Aug. 6!

But there’s more. (I feel like I’m peddling Ginsu knives here.) A chief science officer! Equal numbers of men and women in the federal cabinet! The return of the mandatory long-form census! A “prime minister’s youth advisory council” to ensure . . .  to ensure . . .  to ensure whatever a prime minister’s youth advisory council would ensure!

Oh, and under Trudeau, 2015 would be “the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.  That’s the system whereby the candidate in your riding with the largest number of votes becomes your MP. What would replace it? Something. An all-party committee of MPs would consider the possibilities—Proportional representation? The Australian system, which I’m sure somebody is just waiting to explain?—and report back so quickly, a Trudeau government could “bring forward legislation to enact electoral reform” within its first 18 months.

So what’s it all mean? Well, for starters, the Liberal party should have sent this project to Preston Manning, the Reform party’s founding leader, and asked for an endorsement. I have a hard time believing Manning wouldn’t love most of this. I like a lot of it. It makes no sense to write estimates and public accounts in different geek code, and question period would be less awful if everyone had more time to make their points. Canada’s information laws are obsolete. Harper used to say so. Harper used to call for much of what Trudeau now proposes. Part of Trudeau’s challenge is to persuade people he means it more than Harper did.

There is a Lucy’s-football element to democratic reform, forever pulled away at the crucial moment, that makes each generation’s promises harder to believe. Brian Mulroney ran as a reformer, too, after all, and Chrétien, and Harper. Maybe Trudeau’s reforms will seem so sweeping, they’ll be more persuasive. He is essentially running on 20 years of Andrew Coyne columns. It’s so earnest, you could cry.

I keep seeing polls that suggest people believe the health of our democratic system is a pressing national concern. If those polls are right, and if people believe Trudeau’s proposals would make a difference, and if they believe giving him a chance to fix our institutions outweighs any misgivings they have about him, then he can only gain. That sentence has three “ifs” in it.


Trudeau’s reforms, three ‘ifs’ and a set of Ginsu steak knives

  1. Every party should immediately adopt this list of democratic reforms to their own platforms.

    • Turdeau and democratic reforms?

      Like the Justin Lieberals open riding association nominations process?

      What a joke the LPoC has become.

      • Well, we sure won’t be seeing any from Harper. He’s already well down the road to ending democracy in Canada.

      • Please, BB. Enlighten us with the name of the party you entrust with democratic reform.

  2. I suspect addressing the cynicism of people who do not believe a politician will reform politics because no one else has is partly what Trudeau is going for.

    Will people buy into this? Who knows, but I for one prefer a leader who actually does things differently over Harper and Mulcair, both who are old time political animals.

    • See above

  3. So. Be wary of Trudeau. Take comfort in Selley and Coyne. Got it.

  4. Much of this falls into the “Yeah. Whatever.” file. The chief concern many of us on the “right” have about so-called electoral reform” is that it really will have only one lasting effect, namely the entrenchment and empowerment of a faction of the hard left. The net result of that is even more erosion of basic liberty, and by extension, democracy.
    There never has been, nor will there ever be, anything democratic about the left.
    Trudeau is either wholly aware of this; not out of the question given his upbringing, or he’s simply just as dumb as he comes across.

    • Um… “erosion of basic liberty, and by extension, democracy”? You have been paying attention to what Harper is up to, right?

      * The “Fair” Elections Act [disenfranchising thousands of voters; making it easier to cheat at elections and much harder to get caught];
      * The test run of fixing things by fiat if you do get caught breaking the law [the C-59 amendment that overrode the trial and OPP investigation re the RCMP’s (formerly) illegal deletion of LGR data];
      * C-51, which basically makes anyone opposing the sitting government in any way a terrorist – and then suspends their Charter rights;
      * C-24, which creates two distinct classes of Canadian ciizenship;

      – I had another one when I started typing, but it has slipped my mind for the moment. But you get the idea. Most anti-democratic sociopath ever to hold the title of PM in the history of our nation.

      • Right; using the CRA to persecute anyone whose views are in opposition to what he government is doing. That’s the one I missed…

        • Keith,

          It is not the Government who tells the CRA who to audit. I know your Harper Derangement syndrome runs deep, but if an audit reveals a “charity” has not been found following the policy that deems an organization a charity…then of course it shoudl be stripped of its status. by the way…this was the law well before harper was ever heard of.

          As for your other mistaken comments…I’ll help you out.

          Fair Elections Act – meant to ensure that people who vote are actually legally allowed to vote, ie. REAL CANADIAN CITIZENS. Also to ensure that people only vote ONCE. Not sure why you don’t like it…but there you go.

          LGR data: The Government was pretty clear they wanted the registry data gone. And this was again, well before the amendment you describe above. Making it retro-active was just a sensible means to ensure the deletion which was delayed by activist courts and special interests.

          C-51. Long overdue, but I’m sure that it this was a law enacted by any party OTHER than the Conservatives, you would have been just fine with it.

  5. Let the national debates begin. I can hardly wait to see this brain dead schmuck annihilated in public.

    • I worry that you may be talking about the moderator.

      • Moderator?
        I hear Patrick Brazeau is looking for work

  6. When the only thing conservatives can come up with are baseless smears, name calling and, remarkably, the assertion that changing the electoral system in a way to prevent a majority government elected by less than 40% of the electorate is undemocratic because it will result in the election of a left wing government, it’s pretty clear this is a good idea.

  7. And to make matters worse, the Conservatives will crack down on impaired driving.

  8. Gayle1- Here’s the problem with Trudeau. He lacks general knowledge. He has little or no grasp of how anything actually works.
    Here’s a middle-aged man who has never had to actually figure anything out. He’s never had to match the productivity of his co-workers in order to keep a job, nor improve his economic out put in order to improve his situation in life. He’s never had to look at his paycheque, and figure out how to feed, house, and clothe his family on the scraps left over after the government mauls his gross earnings. He’s never had to produce anything of value to others in order to earn a living. He’s never had to to simply reach or strive or struggle in any fashion. Not once. I seriously doubt that Justin Trudeau has ever engaged in any real challenge in his entire life.
    Listen to the man. Were his intellect a body of water, you could cross it in a few strides without wetting your shoelaces. He continuously promotes the idea of more government when, for any Canadian who actually pays taxes, government IS the problem. The reason he doesn’t understand this is because he has never in his entire life had to adjust his life to accommodate the pernicious and unyielding screw-ups that government continually foists upon us. From birth, big, incompetent, wasteful, greedy, and corrupt government has been the sole source of every nickle that will pass through the hands of the dauphin.
    I say give him a canoe, and a paddle and turn him loose on Lake Superior.
    In November.

    • OK – so you don’t like Trudeau. Do you agree that Harper is bad for the country and must go?

      I actually like a lot of Trudeau’s policies. But backing C-51 makes me distrust his judgment. Harper HAS to go. So the NDP are getting my vote.

      • Keith,
        My thinking matches yours exactly.
        The pundits missed it, and the Liberals totally misread progressives who in the thousands turned on a dime when they heard what Trudeau had done re the secret police bill.
        And Mulcair with 90 percent against him or, whatever it was at that time, says no. Very courageous.
        I’m calling it: a political blunder for the ages by Trudeau team.
        But don’t say,Greenwood,that Harper’s little economic degree qualified him for anything. Give me a decent honest human with a moderate IQ over a cruel manipulative unfeeling creep with a bit of what some think is strategic genius.

        • Yes and no. I agree Trudeau made a huge mistake by voting for the bill, but argue he had a whole lot more at risk by voting against it than Mulcair did. For one thing, he’s the one the Cons are targeting with negative ads. Mulcair came out unscathed, but Trudeau would have faced a slew if “soft on terror ads”. He’s facing that now, while Mulcair has yet to be subjected to that.

      • Keith, there is a difference between NOT LIKING justin Trudea, and not trusting him to be qualified to take the job as Prime Minister. By all accounts, Justin trudeau is a pretty nice guy, but equally, as was mentioned, the guy has never had to work hard in his life. His life has been one long party…and he’s never had to work for anything until now. He has never been poor, he has never struggled (unless it is the struggle with coming up with words of his own) and he’s never known what it takes to raise a family on a fixed income. The guy is wealthy as hell…and the promises he makes to help the poor and middle class are almost as grand as the fences and gates he’s used around his homes to keep these same folks off his property.

        As for the NDP getting your vote…colour me surprised. (not)
        Frankly, if you watch Tom Mulcair, you can see that he is NOT a nice person, and every time he smiles, it looks like he’s beset by a terrible case of rickus. It is not a natural state for him. taht being said, Mulcair is not a pie-eyed dreamboat as unserious as Trudeau, so believe it or not, if the conservatives do go down the next election (they won’t) I would rather see PM Mulcair vice PM Trudeau.

        At least Mulcair is on par with Harper in intellect and seriousness. He wouldn’t look at being PM as just another tick in the box for his social status as Trudea will no doubt see it.

    • ” for any Canadian who actually pays taxes, government IS the problem”

      Last I checked, every Canadian pays taxes and the vast majority of them vote for parties that reject that philosophy.

      • Math are hard. The only people who actually pay taxes are those employed in for profit, private sector enterprise. A government employee who receives $85,000 in tax revenue annually, and rebates $30,000 back to various governments is most definitely not a taxpayer. They don’t pay taxes. Taxes pay them.
        Unfortunately, Trudeau and Mulcair subscribe to a philosophy that believes that prosperity can be achieved by increasing the number of tax spenders carried on the backs of a shrinking number of tax payers. Do ya really think that might actually work?
        The tax base is already overburdened. There is not enough money out there to pay for the government’s we have now, even leaving off the debts and unfounded pension liabilities. The money for all that will only come from the earnings of those who work in private enterprise, and the debts that governments have piled up are merely very clear signs that the tax payers are either unwilling or unable to pay for the kind of governments that the Trudeau’s and Mulcair’s would like us to have.
        The hardest rule of economics for anyone to grasp is that everything- EVERYTHING- has a finite market value, and government is not immune to that rule in spite of having the confiscatory power to to stretch that rule to the limit of it’s elasticity. Deficits, debts, and unfounded liabilities are signs of the limits of that price elasticity.
        What Trudeau knows about economics, I know about particle physics.

        • ” A government employee who receives $85,000 in tax revenue annually, and rebates $30,000 back to various governments is most definitely not a taxpayer. They don’t pay taxes. ”

          Uh, no. That is complete and utter nonsense.

          You might enjoy Somalia if you believe ‘government is the problem’.

          • I love how you people always use Somalia as an example. You seem to forget that even with a big government, Somalia would be a big mess due to the lack of property rights, contract law, access to courts, etc. Venezuela has a great big government, and is missing those things too. Last time I checked, wholesale economic and social collapse is imminent. It’s interesting to note that both the ND and Librano parties are chock-a-block full of admirers of the architect of Venezuela’s disaster- Hugo Chavez.
            What I’m more interested in, however, is how you arrive mathematically at your conclusion that someone who is paid by taxes gets to be a net tax payer when they only pay a portion of those taxes back in to the tax pool?
            It is no different than if I was a member of a water co-op. My well produces 100,000 gals per week, but my irrigation and livestock only consume 75,000 gals per week. I am a net contributor in the same fashion that I am a taxpayer. If my neighbor only pumps in 40,000 gals per week, but irrigates and waters to the tune of 65,000 gals, he is not a net water contributor, in the same fashion that a government employee is not a net contributor of taxes.
            Now, in a business arrangement such as a water co-op, the rights of the net contributors have to be protected. There can be no mechanism by which the non-contributors, should they become a majority of the co-op, can allocate to themselves water which is mine without compensation to me, or even at all if I choose to withdraw from the co-op and only pump what water I need for my own uses.
            Where I’m going with this is that the non-net contributors to our tax system have increasingly shunted aside and discounted the rights and needs of those who are net contributors. The system is being increasingly rigged in favor of those who draw more from the pool than they put in.
            Frankly, I’m all for some of Trudeau’s reforms, with a few added. Remove the right of government employees to vote,and of public sector unions to engage in ANY electoral activity, even as third parties. The interests of the public unions are diametrically opposite those of the public. Their participation in elections is a direct conflict of interest. I would also like to see the removal of automatic check-off of union dues in the public sector. Union’s would be required to approach their membership monthly or annually for dues payments. Why should I, as a tax payer, be required to absorb the accounting costs associated with dues collection, when those unions are actively working at polar opposites to my own economic interests?
            Ball is most assuredly back in your court.

          • I’m just guessing here, Bill, but property rights, contract law and access to courts might be things you don’t have if you don’t have a government.

            I’ll make this simple for you, Bill. Unless you’re absolutely nuts, you understand that nobody ceases to be a taxpayer by virtue of moving from a job at a private school, to a job at a public school.

      • Tresus,

        I believe the comment should have read for everyone who works, and pays income taxes……..

        There are a lot of folks who don’t pay income taxes (they don’t make enough) but I agree everyone pays tax of some sort. The difference you fail to note however, is that some people pay taxes only because they have been provided an income from the Government, who in turn has taken it from someone who has honestly earned it.

        I pay more in income taxes than many people make, but as long as the money is being spent wisely, I don’t begrudge most folks. What gets my goat however, is when I pay a huge chunk of taxes and see it pissed away on crap by various levels of government; whether it is Conservatives and the “fake lake” or paying the child care for people who live in another province.

        I think that is how most people feel about taxes. We don’t resent paying them; until we see Governments wasting it.

    • The mind of people who believe that are the same people who think name calling, baseless slurs and making stuff up makes a good argument.

      • Errr, “kind” of people…

      • Gayle,
        Clearly you are on the public teat.

        I doubt you could support yourself if you actually had to produce anything of value.

  9. “I keep seeing polls that suggest people believe the health of our democratic system is a pressing national concern.”

    Who are they polling? Isn’t really even on the radar screen among me and the hoi polloi of my acquaintance. Even for those for whom this issue resonates, is it top of list? First page even?

    What perplexes me even more is that this is the sort of inside-baseball, highly nuanced stuff that Trudeau should be avoiding like the plague, given his path to electoral success does not lie in demonstrating to the country how deep a thinker he is. If he and his brain trust think this will be a mass vote-shifting issue that he will handle adeptly in the heat of an election, they will deserve their fate.

    • Greatwalls of fire:

      they are polling folks who they know will respond in the manner required to meet the narrative that Conservatives are evil. Non-business University profs, left wing groups, student unions, labour unions, extremist environmental groups, aboriginal groups……etc..etc…etc..frankly, anyone who would criticize or condemn harper no matter what.

      the average person on the street, doesn’t really give a damn because they don’t pay attention, or they know that the argument / accusation is false.

  10. Seriously folks when ever did the Libranos Honour an election pledge??

    • At least as frequently as did the CPC.

      • Actually, Keith…

        If you were paying attention you would realize that most of the usual suspects hate harper because HE DID KEEP HIS ELECTION promises.

        but you already knew that didn’t you?

  11. Ok,

    The more interesting part of the story though, is the fact Trudeau was simply reading something someone else thought up. The fun part would have been after the speech when Trudeau spoke with Gerald butts to have him explain what he had just read.

    • The most interesting part of jameshalifax’s comment is that the word ‘fact’ means ‘drawn entirely from jameshalifax’s imagination without the fainest shred of evidence’.

  12. tresus capax- The single most pressing problem we face as a nation is that of unchecked government spending. Government spending at all levels has grown faster than the ability of the tax paying citizenry to keep up, not from customer demand but by dint of legislative command. Ergo, government IS the problem and the only sustainable solution is to shrink government by shedding departments, reducing payrolls via pay cuts or layoffs, limiting spending powers, and mandatory debt buydowns.
    You can extract all the taxes you want from public employees, but it won’t reduce the overall tax burden if you are increasing the number of tax-receivers at a rate that is greater than the rate at which tax revenue can increase. Adding government employees does not increase the tax base.
    If you have a teacher working at a private school that is funded by annual fees paid for by the parents, and that teacher quits and moves over to a public institution, that teacher most certainly does cease to be a taxpayer. Again, this is simple math. But something else, something more pernicious also happens.
    At the private school, that teacher is paid via a consensual transaction. The parents willingly pay “x” amount of dollars to the school, based upon their perceived value of the education that teacher can provide. If they perceive that value to be less than what the teacher is asking for, they are free to negotiate a wage or salary, and both parties are free to walk away from the transaction.
    When that teacher goes to the public side, that right of the customer to walk away from the transaction is eliminated. There are few, if any, school districts in Canada where a parent can transfer their tax dollars wholly to a private school. They lose the right of consent, yet the teacher does not. Routinely, the teacher can withdraw services in order to negotiate a higher salary, even though the parent is still obligated to pay, even if services are not being rendered. On top of that, even though the parents may have elected a legislative body with a mandate to hold the line on tax increases, the legislative body will face pressure to settle at a wage that necessitates a tax increase from which the tax payers have no recourse. The tax payers are obligated to pay, lest armed men are dispatched to deprive them of liberty and property.
    Increasingly, those who spend taxes are making demands upon those who pay taxes, with little regard for the wishes, desires, or needs of those who are actually funding the system. We are increasingly told we must pay but not be heard. Why, for example, should I be obligated to fund a tax increase here in Alberta to bail out pension programs that a modestly bright high school student could see were doomed to fail, when I have long been one of the ones saying that the scheme would not work? Why should I be forced to reduce my own retirement income and plans so that people who have never paid a lick of taxes in their lives won’t have to?
    Worse, this is a pattern that is going to repeat ad infinitum over the next few years, as every public employee pension plan in the country has been based upon lousy math.
    If the government and it’s employees wouldn’t listen to us 15, 20, or 30 years ago about their pension plans, why should I be forced to pay now without some form of recourse, such as limiting the public workforce’s ability to influence the political process?

    • “If you have a teacher working at a private school that is funded by annual fees paid for by the parents, and that teacher quits and moves over to a public institution, that teacher most certainly does cease to be a taxpayer.”

      Uhhh….let me think about it…
      But then I’m not insane.

      • Tresus…you really are daft.

        If you cannot grasp the basic truth of what Bill is trying to explain to you…….do the world a favour. Please don’t procreate.

        Fortunately for you…..evolution stopped when modernity began. The dumb ones no longer die off.

        they just rename themselves TRESUS, and collect a cheque provided by folks like me and Bill. Just say thanks, and move along.

    • Got a great idea how we can make lots of money with your ‘math’. If we can convince everyone to put their children in private school, we will add more than 40,000 taxpayers to BC alone! We can even give all those parents the money that we used to spend on the public education system and we’ll still be ahead by 40,000 taxpayers and the hundreds of millions they pay in taxes!

      • We would be ahead by the difference between what the teachers currently think they should be paid, and what the parents think their services are worth under a consensual transaction system. Plus, the parents would not have the spectre of the state threatening their liberty, should they choose to refuse to enter in to a transaction with said teachers.
        My point is that without any control over costs, such as is granted to the consumers of private services, there is no incentive for governments, their agencies, and their employees to enact such controls. What has happened instead is that government employee groups who are not answerable to the tax paying public, have been granted ever more control over the budgetary process via job action, coziness with the left-leaning parties, and unrestricted influence over electoral politics.
        In order for their to be fairness in the system, taxpayers should be free to withhold tax dollars at will, just as tax spenders are free to withhold services. Then governments would be forced to only spend what is made available to them via voluntary contributions. It is entirely possible that people are happy to pay what they currently pay, but probably not. But, why should tax spenders have complete freedom to invoke free-market principles such as labor action in order to create artificial shortages of services in order to drive up the price without those paying for said services not having the same freedom to withhold payment for services that they feel are too costly?
        Going back to your post, if it becomes apparent that the tax payers feel that the teachers are actually only worth $10,000 per year less than what the state is willing to pay, and the teachers accept this price against the prospect of no money at all, then the tax payers would be collectively $400 million ahead.
        The only real savings are the spread between what tax payers are willing to spend, and the price that government is attempting to extract. Unfortunately, the total of structural debt, plus the total of the unfunded pension liabilities is the cumulative difference between what Canadians are willing to pay (under duress already) and the artificially inflated cost of government.
        The reason that government is then THE problem, is because if they don’t reign in their spending, they will go bankrupt, and then we face the very real prospect of economic and social collapse. The biggest threat to the rule of law and all the securities and freedoms that provides is none other than government and leftist enablers of unchecked government.
        This is far, far from rocket science.

        • I’m sorry, you don’t expect me to read all that, do you?
          A simple, “yes, let’s get to work on this amazing money-making scheme!” will do.

          • But that’s why you people on the left amuse me so. You lack the intellectual heft to read and respond to cogent arguments against your ideologically based assumptions. The left always boils debate down to “you’re a doody pants. and I’m not.”

          • Bill,

            I have tried to reason with Tresus in the past…..and it is not going to work. When someone’s head is that thick… takes more than reason to get through.

            he really is that stupid. And as the saying goes…”you can’t fix stupid”

          • No doubt it takes significant ‘intellectual heft’ to convince yourself that the teacher moving from a private to public school ceases to be a taxpayer.
            But, I’m pretty sure ‘boiled it down’ to the math above.

          • Bill….

            See what I mean?

            He will never understand it….even if he bothered to try.