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Justin Trudeau's Senate Move Shows He's Ready To Be PM

02/06/2014 09:38 EST | Updated 04/08/2014 05:59 EDT

With Justin Trudeau's recent move to render now former Liberal senators independent, the newly minted Liberal leader has now done more to produce meaningful Senate reform than Stephen Harper has achieved over the course of his eight-year premiership.

Rendering the Senate independent from the reach of the prime minister's office -- both through making it non-partisan and establishing a procedure to ensure that the most deserving Canadians get appointed -- is a tremendous accomplishment in and of itself. But still, there's an even more important take away from Mr. Trudeau's proposal.

Mr. Trudeau's Senate plan demonstrates that he understands the fundamental parameters that govern Canada's present existence. Put differently, he has his priorities straight. He knows where Canada's current policy focus must be. He's ready to be prime minister.

For four decades -- from the dawn of the Quiet Revolution until the passing of the Clarity Act -- the debate over national unity was central to this country's political discourse. Since then, the country has enjoyed a relative lull on this front, a period of time free of referenda and constitutional negotiations.

This break in the action has come at an opportune time. On both the international and the domestic front, Canada is about to deal with unprecedented challenges.

Globally, the economic rise of new powers such as China and India is leading to a long-term trend toward geopolitical multipolarity, which implies a relative decline in the power of the United States. This means that we'll have to attempt to reorient our economy toward Asian markets at the same time as we prepare to carry more of the load ourselves when it comes to defense.

At the same time, the thaw caused by climate change of the Northwest Passage in the Arctic threatens Canadian sovereignty. Canada, for all intents and purposes, is going to share a border with Russia in future decades. This requires a geopolitical rapprochement with Moscow and it forces Canada to get serious about securing its rights in the North.

And while the world changes before our eyes, our country's demographic situation also prepares to enter a massive flux. Over the next 20 years, the share of Canada's population above the age of 65 will increase to 25 per cent from 12 per cent. The ratio of available workers to retirees is set to change over that time span from five to one to two to one. This will put tremendous strain on public expenditures and services like health care, all while our country's taxation pool becomes relatively smaller.

The priority of our governments right now and over the decades to come must be to focus on geostrategic pivots, protecting fiscal solvency and ensuring the sustainability of our services. Despite the lucidity of Canada's present situation, both the Conservatives and the NDP propose radical plans to reform or abolish the Canadian Senate that will require opening up the Constitution.

Abolishing the Senate will likely require unanimity of the provinces. More tepid reforms will still require the support of seven provinces, which is unlikely seeing as Quebec and the Atlantic provinces benefit from the current alignment in the Upper Chamber.

The only way to earn the backing of Canada's eastern provinces for Senate reform would be to rip open Canada's fundamental law once more, putting everything back on the table and possibly plunging the country into yet another national unity crisis. This could set Canada back by years, if not decades.

Canada's Fathers of Confederation envisaged a Senate that could balance the needs of the regions with the necessity of having sober second thought on the country's legislation. Justin Trudeau's plan is the most sensible and responsible way of realizing the vision of our country's founders, without returning us to an era in which the future of our very national fabric was uncertain.

The Conservatives and the NDP have resorted to little more than populism when addressing the topic of Senate reform. In contrast, over the past several days, Justin Trudeau has proven that he's ready for the top job.

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