A real job for the demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions min­is­ter

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

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.

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