Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Restoring Faith in Canadian Politics

While I have the most FUN doing posts like my last one (thanks to all for the links! Over 2000 hits for that post and counting!) and teasing the CPC for their never ending failings, I've been meaning for awhile to get to some posts about what I'd like to see in the near future from my own party.

Canadians today are not impressed with what they've seen in Ottawa. They don't expect their governments to be perfect, they know governments make mistakes, they know not EVERY promise can be kept - it is politics after all. But at the same time, they expect a certain level of honesty, integrity and accountability. I'm very proud of many Liberal accomplishments from our time in government and believe we left behind a great legacy, but many Canadians came to believe (rightly or wrongly) that in 13 years of Liberal rule that we became too arrogant and out of touch. Yet in just 3 years, Conservatives have become worse than what they claimed to hate. Their only defenses today are "the Liberals did it too!" or "it's not much worse than what the Liberals did!".

Well in many cases it has been MUCH worse, I don't recall outright lies in the House of Commons from a sitting Prime Minister, and I don't recall the level of character assassination that was launched against St├ęphane Dion (and soon I expect Michael Ignatieff) by a PM either. And I don't recall a party running on platform of being "holier than thou" and going and doing the exact opposite (and yet somehow seem proud of this complete reversal).

It's because of this negative trend that Canadians more and more are seeing politics as a dirty profession, where self-interest and dishonesty are necessary traits for getting ahead. They have little faith that politicians will do as they say or that they really have their interests at heart. But Canadians deserve better, especially in these tough times.

Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals must demonstrate (and once in government ultimately prove) that we've learned lessons from both past Liberal and Conservative governments and that we want to restore honesty and dignity to public service again.

That we want Canadians to have a government they can be proud of, instead of one Canadians see as being more interested in helping their own than helping them.

The last budget wasn't really a popular one, but the best Canadians could expect from this tired government, and whether we liked or not, they didn't really believe a coalition would do any better (in fact out West they thought a coalition would be much worse). Canadians have become accustomed to mediocrity from Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty and are just waiting for a better alternative to truly present itself. And it will, but Canadians aren't convinced yet.

In the next election and when we ultimately get back to power we will have a tremendous opportunity to restore Canadians faith in our party and our federal government. Conservatives have completely squandered their opportunity. We can seize ours.

So I hope Michael and his team will be putting together some proposals to "change the culture in Ottawa", because not only is it the right thing to do, it will resonate with Canadians just like it did with Americans last year.

Why not promise to set up an independent commission (perhaps similar to that used for deciding who receives the Order of Canada) to appoint Senators and make other public appointments (e.g., heads of Crown Corporations, boards, etc...) to get rid of the patronage the public thinks is synonymous with holding government? The Conservative promised it for non-Senate public appointments (and the Liberals I believe supported the process) but obviously Harper was never serious about it or he wouldn't have thrown away the idea just because he couldn't get first choice to lead it (someone I'm sure he knew was unacceptable to the opposition in the first place). We can get it done.

Why not promise to enshrine a code of conduct for MPs in the House of Commons? The Speaker could be greatly empowered to boot out MPs who made false statements, heckled or other types of behaviour that the public just shakes their head at.

Why not promise to eliminate the right of a PM to prorogue the House of Commons when he/she faces a confidence vote? What Stephen Harper did in December should be banned through legislation that would be very difficult to vote against or overturn later.

Why not promise to enhance Access to Information laws as opposed to trampling on them as Harper has done? Canadians shouldn't have to find out what their government is doing, or what knowledge it has at its disposal, through anonymous sources, trying to make sense of 50% blacked out reports or paying large fees up front.

Why not promise weekly (or bi-weekly) press conferences by the PM at the National Press Gallery so the press can finally do their job on the Hill?

Why not promise more transparency in how government dollars are spent? Quarterly reports shouldn't just be this year, but every year and perhaps it should even be more frequent than that.

Those are just a few suggestions, but there's much more that could be done and none of these cost much money (some cost none).

The biggest challenge will be convincing a cynical public that we'd actually carry out these promises, but it can be done. If we succeed, the country will be better for it and in fact I think it's the best ticket to boosting our popularity out West and in some rural areas where the term LIEberals is thrown around and actually taken seriously.

It's time for a government all Canadians can be proud of and that can be a model to the world. I'm hopeful Michael Ignatieff will give it to them this year.

UPDATE: Not sure how much press the initiative will get, but I would say this (www.recovery.gov) is a pretty good example of one of my suggestions in action (increasing transparency and accountability in government spending) that could be easily imported by the Liberals here.

UPDATE 2: I have to say that this Liberal website (onprobation.ca) is an EXCELLENT first step towards achieving what I was talking about in this post. Kudos to Michael Ignatieff and his team for putting this effort together!

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Cari said...

I am not so sure about this government living too long. I just read where they may want to sell, if they need the money , Crown Corporations: VIA rail The Canadain Mint, and the Post Office, and more.
If that isn't enought, Don Drummond said now is the worst time..they will never get the money. It literally makes me sick.