If politics is the art of the possible, then Prime Minister Harper’s first few weeks in power have served to show just how much the Liberals could have accomplished for the country during their dozen years in power, had they actually tried. Here are a few of the reforms that, instead of mouldering in Red Books on a shelf somewhere, are actually in the process of being implemented:
Judges nominated for positions on the Supreme Court will now be subject to review and questioning by members of Parliament, as demonstrated by this week’s questioning of Supreme Court nominee Marshall Rothstein by the elected representatives on the hill. While the Prime Minister still has the final decision, this openness and scrutiny of judicial appointments can only serve to help qualified candidates like Rothstein, while ensuring that patronage and ‘payback’ appointments can’t sneak under the radar as they have in the past. Subjecting these judges to scrutiny makes a lot of sense, especially since Canadians will be subjected to the effects of their rulings for decades to come.
Equally encouraging is Harper’s promise to reform the Senate. While he did use the current system to name his good friend and political ally Michael Fortier to the upper house this week, Harper has promised to change the rules governing senate appointments so that each province would vote for their senators before the Prime Minister appoints them. This would be a huge improvement on the current system, in which the Prime Minister is free to reward his political allies with senate seats, ignoring the wishes of the provincial voters whom the senator supposedly represents.
Righting the ‘fiscal imbalance’ is another pressing issue, and Harper appears to be serious about addressing it. The Provinces have been complaining for years that they are being forced to borrow money to pay for the rising costs of health care, education and infrastructure while the Federal government is socking away huge surpluses. This is largely a result of the transfer payment cuts that the Federal government implemented in the early ’90s in order to balance the federal budget. Now the feds are floating on a sea of funds while the provinces are forced to be frugal with essential services. Putting the bucks back where they belong is a no-brainer, and it has the support of provincial and municipal governments. The way our federal-provincial system is set up, huge federal surpluses amount to embezzlement, and it’s high time the scam was stopped.
Along similar lines, the premiers of Canada’s northern territories seem encouraged by the new government’s willingness to discuss their second-class membership in Confederation. Because the Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories aren’t full provinces, they have little control over their natural resources and the federal government collects the revenues from them. The previous government was loathe to share the money generated by the burgeoning Northern diamond industry, among others. Now Harper has heartened the permafrost premiers by agreeing in principle that they should receive a proportional percentage of revenues instead of a paltry fixed payment program.
And finally, Harper is being criticized in all the right places for seeking to implement the far-reaching recommendations of the Gomery report. According to the Ottawa Citizen, a “national group of business and former government leaders” (read: Federal Liberals and their corporate friends) is circulating a petition calling for some of Justice Gomery’s recommendations to be shelved. The ones they disagree with are those that would limit the discretionary power of the Prime Minister’s Office. Considering that the Gomery Commission found that the entire Chretien government was run out of the PMO with little or no oversight from parliament, I think it’s safe to say most Canadians are pretty thrilled with the prospect of reigning in the powers of the Prime Minister.
If all of these measures are implemented within a year or two, Harper’s minority government will have accomplished more than the four preceding Liberal ones, three of which were majorities. All in all, not a bad beginning, eh?