Justin Trudeau vows to end 1st-past-the-post voting in platform speech
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau sketches out his party's tax policy, accountability plan
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau vowed that the upcoming general election will be the last one using the first-past-the-post voting system.
Speaking about his party's vision for what a future Liberal government would look like, he highlighted transparency and accountability in an election-style speech at the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa Tuesday morning.
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"We'll make sure that Canadians have a stronger voice in Ottawa — a voice that reflects and represents them," Trudeau said.
His speech struck many hopeful notes and tried to draw a stark contrast between the Liberals and the "cynical" Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"Harper has turned Ottawa into a partisan swamp," Trudeau said, accusing the prime minister of "promoting partisan interests at the expense of public trust."
"It wasn't like that before," he said, harkening back to the time when his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was prime minister.
"To use an example from my father's day, ministers didn't attack Supreme Court justices just to raise money and whip up support," he said.
Trudeau's proposal to end first-past-the-post is intended to "make every vote count."
The system badly distorts voters' choices, allowing a party to win the majority of seats in the House of Commons with less than 40 per cent of the vote and delivering wildly different seat counts to parties that win similar shares of the vote.
Gender parity in appointments
In his speech, he committed to introducing electoral reform legislation within 18 months of forming a government. It would be based on the recommendations of a special, all-party parliamentary committee mandated to fully and fairly study alternatives to the first-past-the-post system, including ranked ballots and proportional representation.
The committee would also explore the notions of mandatory voting and online voting.
Among other things, he unveiled proposals to empower backbench MPs and Commons committees, make government more transparent and responsive to citizens and end partisanship in the scandal-plagued Senate.
Trudeau also promised to ensure gender parity in decision-making and government appointments.
"We know that there is no more important symbol than that of the federal cabinet. My Liberal cabinet will have an equal number of women and men," he said.
Many of the elements of the 32-point plan have been announced piecemeal by Trudeau over the past couple of years, such as his proposals to strengthen access to information laws and to return the Senate to its intended role as an independent chamber of sober second thought.
But others are new or build on previous promises, including the 18-month deadline for introducing a new electoral system that produces a House of Commons more reflective of how Canadians vote.
Overhaul Canada Revenue
Other parts of the Liberals' plan will overhaul the way Canada Revenue Agency deals directly with Canadians. But the most politically charged move would be to place a clear definition around what constitutes political work for Canadian charities.
In recent years, the Conservative government has cracked down on what it calls "excessive political advocacy" by some charities. Some 60 charities have been audited since 2012 for their so-called political work, including Environmental Defence and Dying with Dignity. Some have lost their charitable status.
Opponents have slammed the government for trying to stifle criticism of Conservative policies.
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The Liberals would not end the audits per se, but would instead end what the party calls the "political harassment" of charities. Trudeau promised new rules for charities while still maintaining they can "develop and advocate for public policy in Canada."
The Liberals also proposed new changes to help Canadians file their taxes — promising, for instance, that the Canada Revenue Agency would be more "proactive" in helping Canadians take full advantage of the tax credits available to them.
For example, if a parent forgets to claim a particular child tax credit, the revenue agency would actually contact the individual in order to help them make the change to their tax form.
The policy would also suggest the CRA could actually file taxes for Canadians if they have not had a substantial change to their income tax profile since the previous year.
Trudeau also proposed bringing back the long-form census, reducing fees for Access to Information requests to $5, and banning wasteful partisan advertising.
Liberals 'flashing left, then turning right,' NDP says
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair also spoke about his party's policies today, in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada outlining his vision for building the economy and a strong middle class.
During a scrum with reporters, he gave a familiar NDP line in response to an equally familiar question about whether Mulcair was worried that the Liberal and NDP are starting to look similar with their respective platforms.
"Well, imitation is the highest form of flattery," he said. "But Canadians know that they can trust the NDP to actually do these things."
He added in French that Trudeau, for years, had no solid policy ideas and then suddenly introduced a whole raft of them, including ones he voted against over the past several months.
"The third party has a long history of flashing left, then turning right."
The governing Conservatives have introduced a number of new legislation in recent weeks — including a new bill coming Tuesday from Justice Minister Peter MacKay to increase penalties for impaired driving — with little chance of passage before Parliament rises for the summer and the election.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said Monday the bills will form the "framework" for the Conservatives' campaign.
With files from The Canadian Press