ORLEANS, Ont. - Liberal leadership front-runner Justin Trudeau says there's nothing wrong with Canada's scandal-plagued Senate that couldn't be fixed by appointing higher calibre senators.
The Montreal MP favours limiting senators to 12-year terms but, other than that, sees no need to overhaul the much-maligned chamber.
He rules out the election of senators as a "terrible idea" that would lead to parliamentary gridlock and exacerbate the under-representation of western provinces.
Rather, Trudeau says the obvious fix is to "demand better" of those appointed to the Senate.
He says the recent series of controversies that have befallen the upper chamber are largely the result of bad choices by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in appointing senators.
The Senate's already tarnished reputation has been sullied by allegations of senators abusing their taxpayer-funded housing allowances and by the arrest last week of Conservative Sen. Patrick Brazeau, who was charged with sexual assault and assault.
Brazeau and fellow Harper appointee Mike Duffy are among three senators whose expense claims are being examined by an outside auditor amid allegations that they improperly claimed an allowance meant to compensate senators who keep a secondary residence in Ottawa. The third under investigation is Liberal Mac Harb, who was appointed by former prime minister Jean Chretien.
Trudeau, who won an upset victory over Brazeau in a charity boxing match last year, declined to comment specifically on the controversies swirling around his one-time pugilistic adversary.
But in general, he said recent scandals "are a reflection of an institution that we haven't taken proper care of and that the prime minister has gone out of his way to fill with people who, perhaps, aren't focused on serving Canadians with the best of their ability the way they should be."
"It needs to be fixed by demanding better of the people that we choose to appoint to the Senate. That's the answer for me," he said after a pep talk late Monday to several hundred Liberal supporters at a pub near Ottawa.
Trudeau defended the Senate as a necessary "counterpoint" to the elected House of Commons and praised most senators for doing "extraordinary work."
Harper's government has repeatedly introduced bills to impose a nine-year term limit and promote the creation of provincial processes for electing nominees who would then be appointed to the Senate. After numerous false starts, the government has finally asked the Supreme Court to advise whether such reforms can be implemented by Parliament alone, as the government maintains, or would require a constitutional amendment approved by at least seven provinces with 50 per cent of the population.
The court has also been asked to clarify which constitutional amending formula — seven/50 or unanimity — would be required to abolish the chamber altogether.
Trudeau turned thumbs down on electing senators, without first changing the gross under-representation of western provinces or establishing a deadlock breaking mechanism between two elected parliamentary chambers.
"I think an elected Senate is a terrible idea," he said.
"If you all of sudden have a legitimate Senate that exercises the full extent of its powers — as opposed to one that understands that it's less legitimate than the House of Commons because it's not elected — you're transforming our system in very, very negative ways.
"Not to mention that all of sudden Alberta with only six senators who are elected is much weaker than Quebec, that has 24 senators that would be elected. It would unbalance so many things that we just have to focus on making it a better quality Senate rather than trying to change the Senate."
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<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/11/21/canada-marijuana-laws-decriminalization_n_2170399.html" target="_hplink">Canadians already want it</a>, and all signs point to Generation Y being the cohort to make legal pot happen. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/15/liberal-vote-legalize-marijuana_n_1207388.html" target="_hplink">Liberals are already (tentatively) backing such a plan</a>, after the youth wing of the party brought the matter to a vote last year. And now that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/06/amendment-64-passes-in-co_n_2079899.html" target="_hplink">several U.S. states have either decriminalized or legalized possession</a>, the spectre of U.S. retaliation over legalization is growing less daunting by the day. Young people have long been vocal about ending pot prohibition, but millennials may be the first generation in 100 years to face conditions favourable to ending it once and for all.
Climate Change And The Environment
Past generations have faced environmental challenges of their own (anyone remember acid rain?), but the problems facing Generation Y are greater in scale. First among them is climate change. As long as oil, natural gas and coal remain the least expensive energy options, Canada and the world will continue to dig them up and burn them. While the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/12/21/conservative-talking-points-canada-2012_n_2348261.html" target="_hplink">Conservative government has relentlessly hammered the NDP for its alleged plan to institute "a job-killing carbon tax,"</a> a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/01/22/peter-kent-reporter-environmental-activist_n_2526768.html" target="_hplink">cap-and-trade scheme was actually part of the Tory platform in 2008</a>. Creating a price disincentive to burn carbon is probably the only way we're going to start down the road to finding affordable replacements for fossil fuels. It seems that even the Tories knew that once upon a time. As Generation Y begins to have children and extreme weather events increase, the sense of urgency about climate change will only grow. Look for millennials to make something happen on the climate front at last.
From the Prime Minister's Office’s iron grip on government MPs to the questionably democratic results of first-past-the-post elections, the rules of Canada's political system are ripe for change. Justin Trudeau, who has been aggressively courting the vote of millennials during his campaign for the Liberal leadership, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/01/trudeau-backbenchers-justin-pierre-mps_n_2601990.html" target="_hplink">proposed changes on both fronts just last week</a>. Angry as some young people may be about perceived abuses of power by recent prime ministers (prorogations and squelching backbench dissent come to mind), once Gen Y takes the reins of power, they too may find it difficult to let the horses run free. Power, as the saying goes, has a tendency to corrupt. But on the question of first-past-the-post, there is growing consensus among young people that something has to give. Take the results of the 2008 federal election, in which the Green party won nearly 7 per cent of the vote and no seats. The Bloc Québécois won roughly 10 per cent of the vote and ended up with 47 seats. Canadian elections are rife with such examples. Stephen Harper and the Tories have now won three consecutive elections without cracking 40 per cent in the popular vote. Proportional representation would seem like a logical alternative, but given Canada's many diverse regions, it might lead to resentment in smaller provinces (not to mention constitutional impediments). A ranked voting system, similar to the one proposed by Trudeau and others, presents a happy medium that would result in a Parliament that more accurately represents the will of all Canadians while still respecting the choices of the country's many regions.
When millennials were young, their parents often entertained them with horror stories about the processed foods they were fed as children. Cans of soup often figured prominently. Today, Gen Y tells their children similar horror stories. Only the spectrum has shifted. Brought up in a fast-food culture, millennials have witnessed the obesity epidemic first hand and have grown suspicious about where our calories really come from. From the horrific conditions in which our meat is raised, to the stunning content of sugar in our foods, to the prospect of a world where food is designed at the genetic level, Gen Y wants change. But that doesn't mean young people today don't understand the challenge of feeding a growing world. Genetically modified foods may very well be a silver-bullet for ending the world's hunger problems, but strict regulation and inspection must be enacted to keep our food system from spiralling into a nightmarish future. Gen Y, like their parents before them, is up to the task.
While millennials did not create the Internet, they have revolutionized it. And Gen Y isn't interested in the counter-revolution. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/lawful-access/" target="_hplink">Just ask Vic Toews</a>. When the Conservative government tried to pass online surveillance legislation, Canada's young people were among the loudest voices to speak up in opposition. That battle was won. In the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/pipa" target="_hplink">United States, the story was much the same</a>. But the <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/can-conservatives-resurrect-the-internet-surveillance-bill/article8243769/" target="_hplink">war is far from over</a>. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/18/internet-freedom-day-internet-rights-at-risk_n_2505397.html?utm_hp_ref=pipa#slide=2000787" target="_hplink">Governments around the world are cracking down on the freedom and openness</a> that made the Internet great. But Gen Y isn't about to let the state kill the web. Look for millennials to put digital freedom on the same pedestal as freedom of speech, assembly and religion.
Health Care And Pension Reform
As the massive Baby Boom generation retires, it will be <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/12/05/canadian-baby-boomers-politics-generation-y_n_2238478.html" target="_hplink">left to their children (and let's not forget Gen X) to pay for their latter years</a>. Health care, the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security are all expected to come under strain. While Gen Y will need to tweak these systems to ensure the Boomers don't leave them bankrupt, they will also need to look to the future. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/09/20/canadas-aging-population-birthrate-economy_n_1901867.html" target="_hplink">Canadian couples are having fewer children than in the past, on average 1.7 kids per family,</a> and that number seems unlikely to head in the other direction any time soon. In other words, we’re not replacing our dead fast enough to sustain population growth. Immigration must make up the difference, but reforming the health care system will also need to be on the table for the sake of the nation’s finances. Canadians are rightfully proud of our universal health care, but that fierce pride has often led to an unwillingness to adapt to changing times. Gen Y, tested by the experience of paying for their parents' latter years, will hopefully be up to the challenge of adapting our system. We must find a way to pay for services and safeguards we have come to take for granted, but which are becoming less affordable in a negative birth rate world. While the universal spirit of the system should remain untouched, all options should be on the table for lowering costs and improving care.
Post-secondary tuition was pushed to the forefront of the public consciousness in 2012 as <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/quebec-student-protests/" target="_hplink">Quebec students took to the streets en masse</a> to protest a proposed tuition hike. Those <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/09/20/tuition-quebec-hike-cancelled-pq_n_1901318.html?utm_hp_ref=quebec-student-protests" target="_hplink">students won their battle</a>, but the reality is that young people in the rest of Canada already face much higher fees for post-secondary education. Meanwhile, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/09/11/tuition-canada_n_1872695.html" target="_hplink">cost of tuition is rising faster than incomes and inflation</a>, according to a recent report from the Centre for Policy Alternatives. Education is the great equalizer in a democratic society, allowing those who were born further down the ladder to climb a few rungs. As tuition fees rise, social mobility can fall. Just look at the United States, where sky-high college costs are saddling a generation with decades of debt and contributing to income inequality. One province, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/03/student-loan-interest-prince-edward-island-pei_n_1739864.html" target="_hplink">P.E.I, recently took action on the issue by eliminating interest on all student loans</a>. Gen Y, educated by their own experiences with student loans, may expand such a program. But when millennials obtain power, they must also be cognizant of costs and quality. Freezing tuition can lead to two unfavourable outcomes: 1. A decrease in the quality of education and 2. Government debt. We're looking at you, Quebec. Gen Y will need to get creative, which, luckily, they're pretty good at.