Liberals will show practical policy can trump partisan pettiness

Can anyone really be surprised by the news that the Conservative Party war room is consumed with developing a detailed plan to disrupt this month’s federal Liberal policy convention in Montreal? This is simply the latest act of partisan pettiness from a government that more and more Canadians consider to be past its best-before date. A government that spends more time and energy pandering to a shrinking party base than governing in the national interest for all Canadians.

The Conservatives are frightened, and so they should be. An end-of-year Nanos poll indicates clearly that Canadians are extremely concerned with the Harper Conservatives’ governance in all significant areas – the performance of the government, the direction of the country, federal-provincial relations, and Canada’s reputation abroad.

In Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Party has a leader who connects with Canadians and is increasingly successful in dispelling the widespread cynicism with politics that has led to a debilitating degree of citizen disengagement.  His recent decision to cut all formal partisan ties with members of the much-discredited Senate and commit to implementing a non-partisan advisory process to guide future appointments was a bold initiative that has been well-received by the public. Overnight, the Liberal Party became the party of reform, and the Conservatives, the defenders of an indefensible status quo.

There is nothing wrong with leaving the details of the Liberal proposal to be worked out in the next Parliament. In a perfect world, we would have the luxury of spending substantial political energy making the Senate a respectable democratic body with a new distribution of seats and carefully revamped powers.  But in the real world, we need to move beyond the Senate, and focus on bigger challenges.

The first challenge is restoring confidence in our representative democracy and a parliamentary system seriously damaged by eight years of centralized Conservative rule out of a bloated Prime Minister’s Office. Secondly, we must restore confidence in the ability of the national government – the one government elected by all of us – to manage the economy in an effective equitable way that unifies us rather than divides us, and strengthens One Canada.

The Liberal Party policy convention is now set to address much more pressing issues of democratic reform. One priority resolution, if passed, will cement the Liberal Party’s commitment, when in government, to consult with Canadians on legislating a new electoral process with a system of proportional representation or preferential balloting. The resolution also includes a number of proposals, such as allowing more free votes and stronger Commons committees, that will restore power to Parliament and the people, and ensure more transparency and accountability to citizens.

The policy convention will also address how to move beyond the dictatorial governing style of the Conservative government, especially on the economy. Canadians are no longer willing to accept uncritically the Conservative formula of annual budgets set out in messy everything-but-the-kitchen-sink omnibus bills, forced though Parliament with minimal debate, and then sold to Canadians through endlessly repetitive, costly, and in some cases fictional advertising about a pretend “economic action plan.”

Nor are Canadians content with the depressing cycle of unilateral change in Ottawa, perfected by the Conservatives, that tinkers with our economic fundamentals only to serve shortsighted partisan goals without collaborating with other levels of government.  From science to the environment, from Employment Insurance to immigration reforms, from healthcare and education standards to infrastructure, Conservative actions have all too often provoked counter-productive responses at other levels of government, or expensive, wasteful court challenges.

Conservatives do not have a monopoly on fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets.  Canadians now expect this of any government. For Liberals, good economic management in a federation like Canada means the federal government bringing Canadians and their governments together – whether provincial, municipal or Aboriginal – to undertake wide-ranging changes in a collaborative way to strengthen the fundamentals of a productive innovative economy.  Ottawa’s active and constructive leadership is needed to bring about the change we need in a fiscally responsible way, and convince our incredibly diverse and dynamic citizenry that we can accomplish great things together.

The Liberal policy convention will bring together a wide range of dedicated Canadians determined to address constructively Canada’s long-term potential and challenges.  I am looking forward to many refreshing debates and discussions, with or without any childish and petty Conservative shenanigans. I am confident in the ability of Mr. Trudeau to establish clear standards for civility, openness and accountability that will convince Canadians that the Liberal Party is genuinely committed to restoring our representative democracy and providing the sound, effective economic management essential to building the long-term foundations for strong and sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

Many of the convention resolutions mirror my own thoughts on how to build the essential pillars of a strong economy and promote specific, measurable, collective goals that are glaringly absent in the Conservatives’ short-term partisan playbook:

• Cleaning up our exemption-riddled tax system and our convoluted unaccountable system of federal-provincial fiscal transfers including equalization.

• Ending the mess of barriers to productive economic activity across provincial borders and guaranteeing complete portability of educational and training certifications and credentials across Canada.

• Establishing clear, workable national standards for everything from healthcare to business regulations, including the most advanced national environmental standards to guide natural resource development, so that competition for investment and jobs is won by a race to the top, not the bottom.

• Ensuring robust infrastructure funding coordinated across governments for everything from transit to bridges to social housing to broadband access, and providing stable long-term support for basic and applied science.

• Overhauling Employment Insurance to implement a system of extensive apprenticeship and training opportunities so that all Canadians get the transitional support and training needed to find work.

• Transforming our existing mechanisms for establishing minimum income levels  – the floor below which no Canadian should fall – through synchronizing/harmonizing the jumble of federal and provincial tax, transfer and other measures like the minimum wage.

All of these goals require constructive collaboration across all governments, led by a national government that is looking over the horizon – committed to securing our long-term future, not just the next election.  With the Senate now definitively sidelined as an ineffective vehicle for addressing regional concerns or good national governance, I continue to promote the creation of a Council of Canadian Governments to be an effective supplement to Canada’s optional First Ministers’ Conferences – which are currently held only on the whim of the prime minister.

There should be no doubt that, in 2015, when Canadians consider which political party is best positioned to bring about this critical leadership and collaboration, the answer is increasingly clear: Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada.

  1. Heather Walker Reply

    Thank you, Debbie, for preparing me well for the Convention next week.

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