A Liberal agenda for parliamentary reform?

A to-do list for fixing this place
Federal Liberal Party leadership candidate Justin Trudeau takes part in the final leadership debate in Montreal, Quebec, March 23, 2013. The Liberals will vote for a new leader in April. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi (CANADA - Tags: POLITICS) - RTXXURG
Adrian Wyld/CP
Adrian Wyld/CP

Earlier this week, I rhymed off a bunch of questions about what sort of prime minister Thomas Mulcair or Justin Trudeau would be. Last night, in the midst of debate on the Reform Act, new Liberal MP Arnold Chan used his maiden speech in the House of Commons to rhyme off a rather long to-do list for parliamentary reform. To wit:

I should also state that the Liberal Party has a different approach. I recognize that my friend from Wellington-Halton Hills may have some cause for concern about the practices within his own party, or by the approach taken by the Prime Minister and the executive council, but, here in the Liberal Party, we have decided that restoring trust in Canada’s democracy will encompass the following reforms that have been passed, by a party resolution, by our own party. These include free and open democratic nomination of our candidates; fewer whipped votes and more free votes, requiring individual MPs to assume full responsibility for their decisions; stronger parliamentary control of public finances, including an annual deadline in the budget; accounting consistency among estimates and public accounts; more clarity in voting on estimates; a cost analysis of all government bills; and a requirement that government borrowing plans obtain Parliament’s pre-approval.

We would seek an independent and properly resourced parliamentary budget officer. We would move to a more effective access-to-information system, with safeguards against political interference and meaningful whistle-blower protection; an impartial system to identify and eliminate wasteful partisan government advertising, like we actually have in the government of Ontario; limitations on secret committee proceedings; a limitation on omnibus bills; and limitations on the use of prorogation for the short-term convenience of the government.

We would move to adequate funding, investigative powers, and enforcement authority to ensure that Elections Canada could root out electoral fraud.

We would move to proactive disclosure of parliamentarians’ expenses and a more transparent Board of Internal Economy that has proper audit rules.

Finally, we would move toward a truly independent Senate.

That last item no doubt includes Justin Trudeau’s announcement in January that he was removing senators from the Liberal caucus and would, as prime minister, establish an independent advisory body for Senate appointments. A year earlier, during the Liberal leadership contest, Trudeau released a statement on reform that suggested some of these ideas. And Chan’s speech seems to borrow heavily from a resolution that was passed by Liberal delegates at the party’s policy convention in February. (In June, an adviser to Trudeau authored a paper on various ideas for reform, although there was no reference in Chan’s speech to mandatory voting.)

At the same time, I’m told this was not a statement of official party policy, but that these are ideas the party is considering. Were the party to seriously commit to this stuff, the details of how would obviously be important; it is always down to details and, of course, follow-through.

But Chan has at least put on the official record a decent agenda for debate on this topic. All those items should be up for debate and every complaint of the last eight years should be up for discussion.