A real job for the democratic institutions minister
This editorial appeared in the Toronto Star (excerpted):
The government’s retreat from its oft-repeated vow that the 2015 federal election would be the last under our current first-past-the-post system of voting was made official this week in the prime minister’s mandate letter to Karina Gould, the new minister of democratic institutions. Gould’s ministry was ostensibly created by the Liberal government to do one thing above all: deliver electoral reform. Now that that’s off the table, what should she do to fill the time and improve our democracy?
Trudeau’s mandate letter suggests a number of steps, from the modest and modish (ensure our voting system is safe from cyberthreats), to the modest and inadequate (make cash-for-access fundraisers more transparent), to the vast and vague (work to enhance the openness of government, “including supporting a review of the Access to Information Act”). Here, humbly, we offer three more steps that Gould and her cabinet colleagues should take now to reassert the government’s commitment to strengthening our democracy.
Don’t just make cash-for-access fundraisers more transparent; end them altogether. Every time Justin Trudeau or one of his ministers hobnobs with the rich and powerful in exchange for a $1,500 contribution to the Liberal Party, the government gives the troubling impression that access is for sale. More transparency will do little to change that.
Beyond changing the rules, Gould and the government can ensure that parliamentary watchdogs are better placed to enforce them. The ethics commissioner’s ongoing investigation of the prime minister, at whose pleasure she serves, is a reminder of the awkwardness of that role. Watchdogs should not be fireable by those they’re meant to hold to account.
Fix our access-to-information laws — now. Canada’s version, designed for a predigital world and largely unchanged for three decades, is profoundly broken. Trudeau already has Parliament’s advice, at least some of which is consistent with specific Liberal campaign commitments. The government should immediately come forward with concrete legislative proposals and let Parliament do its work.
Gould and the government have much work to do to reassure the many Canadians who participated in the consultations on electoral reform that they were not used as a mere smokescreen.