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Trudeau Must Heed Opposition Call To Reinstate Per-Vote Subsidy

12/29/2016 01:12 EST | Updated 12/29/2016 01:12 EST

justin trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Dec. 7, 2016. (Photo: REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

The world is about to bid goodbye to 2016.

Prime Minister Just Trudeau's honeymoon with Canadians has continued, marred only by the constant questions regarding "cash for access" and electoral reform. The House of Commons is on a long Xmas and New Year's break. The government benches no longer have to answer questions in the House of Commons on the electoral reform and "cash for access" quagmires. The prime minister and his crew must feel relieved.

It seems Santa has delivered a gift to the prime minister this Christmas. The NDP, Greens and the Bloc are asking Trudeau to reinstate the per-vote subsidy, initially brought in by Jean Chretien. Until wrongly done away by the Conservatives, the per-vote subsidy -- with all the other changes that were brought in -- had done an effective job of reducing the influence of big money in Canadian politics.

Both the issues of "cash for access" and electoral reform will continue to dog the government in 2017.

We are fooling ourselves if we buy the Conservative argument that they outlawed the per-vote subsidy to eliminate public financing of political parties. The tax credits for political contributions -- running into millions of dollars every year -- are one humongous subsidy.

While both the issues of "cash for access" and electoral reform will continue to dog the government in 2017, it is the drip-drip of the former that could prove fatal to the credibility of the government. The criticism of "cash for access" -- the practice of charging people $1,500 for fundraisers where they have exclusive access to the prime minister or his ministers -- is bound to continue, in and out of the House.

In the last several weeks, the government's popularity slipped by at least 10 points; if there is no timely lancing of the "cash for access" boil, one has to agree with Postmedia columnist Michael den Tandt that the slip could turn into a slide in 2017.

thomas mulcair NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair put his support behind reinstating the per-vote subsidy as a way to guard against pay-for-access political fundraisers. (Photo: Justin Tang/CP)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should embrace the constructive suggestion of the three opposition parties -- and he should not look this gift horse in the mouth. It is a lifeline for his government, one stuck and sinking in the quicksand of talking points which profoundly contradict Trudeau's own guidelines to his ministers to avoid even the appearance of "preferential access" for the donors to the Liberal Party, and to do so above and beyond the existing law.

Sixty per cent of Canadians are uncomfortable with the Liberals' cash-for-access fundraisers -- to them it appears to give favourable access to government for people with money who donate to the Liberals -- exactly something the PM himself prohibited.

The Conservatives will continue to oppose the per-vote subsidy, but Trudeau will do well to remember that the Harper (and the more recent Harper-less) Conservatives are the political descendants of the Reformers who first went to Ottawa to wreck government as an institution. They believed in decreasing the capacity of government to help Canadians with better education, health care and other benefits that make Canada a more equitable and fair society.

The Trudeau government can't afford the continuing distraction of the now completely disgraceful practice of cash for access.

A per-vote subsidy never fit the Reformer's or the Conservatives' idea of a lesser, smaller and a less fair government. The current crop of Conservatives aren't in the real, old tradition of the Diefenbaker/Mulroney/Progressive eras, generally governing from the centre and giving us such things as the Canadian Bill of Rights and sanctions against Apartheid South Africa or better environmental regulations.

The Trudeau government can't afford the continuing distraction of the now completely disgraceful practice of cash for access. It will convince no one of its fairness to say that the practice used to be alright. Times do change, and in this instance they clearly have. People expect more and better from their politicians.

Trudeau appeared to know and recognize that in his very robust guidelines. It remains to be seen whether a bout of healthy reflection in the holidays persuades him of their propriety once again; and whether the cabinet smarting from the Canadians' disapproval of cash for access will have the fortitude to remember Trudeau's guidelines and collectively remind him of the same.

They should be thankful for the unexpected gift of the per-vote subsidy from the opposition -- one of a religious bent of mind might even call it God-sent, particularly around Christmas and Hanukkah.

Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year, Canada. Hope all had a wonderful snowy Christmas.

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