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Ujjal Dosanjh

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Trudeau should replace the odorous "cash for access" with Chretien's per vote subsidy!

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The world is about to bid goodbye to 2016. Prime Minister Trudeau's honey moon with Canadians has continued, marred only by the constant questions re "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 be relieved.

It seems Santa has delivered a gift to the Prime Minister this Christmas. The NDP, Greens and the Bloc are asking him to reinstate the per vote subsidy initially brought in by Jean Chretien.  Until wrongly done away by the Conservatives, 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. And 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 humungous subsidy.

While both of these issues of "cash for access" and the 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 $1500 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 least10 points; if there is no timely lancing of the "cash for access" boil, one has to agree with the Post Media columnist Michael den Tandt that the slip could turn into a slide in 2017.

 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should embrace the constructive suggestion of the three opposition parties; he should not look this gift horse in the mouth. It is a life line for his government, stuck and sinking in the quicksand of its own talking points, which profoundly contradict his 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. 60% of Canadians are uncomfortable with the "cash for access";  to them it appears to favour 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. Trudeau will do well to remember 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 for helping Canadians with better education, healthcare and other benefits to make Canada a more equitable and a fairer society. Per vote subsidy never fit the Reformer's and now the Conservatives' idea of a lesser, smaller and a less fair government. The current crop of Conservatives aren't in the real old Diefenbaker/Mulroney/Progressive tradition who generally governed from the centre giving us such things as the Canadian Bill of Rights and sanctions against the apartheid South Africa or better environmental regulations.

The Trudeau government can't afford the continuing distraction of the now completely disgraced "cash for access". It will convince no one of its fairness to say it 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 recognise 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 the "cash for access" will have the fortitude to remember Trudeau's guidelines and collectively remind him of the same; and whether he would listen to them and to the inherent logic of his own guidelines. They should be thankful for the unexpected gift of 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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