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Pierre Poilievre, Minister of State for Democratic Reform, speaks about election reform at a news conference in Ottawa on Feb. 4, 2014. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
Pierre Poilievre, Minister of State for Democratic Reform, speaks about election reform at a news conference in Ottawa on Feb. 4, 2014. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

THE CONVERSATION

This week’s Talking Point – democratic reform – and other letters to the editor Add to ...

What role for Elections Canada? Where to cap donations? Can the Senate be changed on the fly? Democratic reform was the issue and readers, print and digital, were voting with their keyboards

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Add another bureaucratic layer at the top of Elections Canada to create more distance between fact and fiction (Tories Plan Raft Of Electoral Changes – Feb. 6). Allow individuals to donate even more to political campaigns – campaigns that do more to disengage us from our democracy than develop it. Increase contribution limits every year at the rate of inflation, as though our democracy were a business transaction. Give candidates the right to use even more of their own money. And do it all in the name of fairness.

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What if the parties had empty pockets? What would our democracy look like without dollars attached? Is that not the fairest way forward?

Christopher Pettit, Baysville, Ont.

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Change the Election Act to the end that at each ballot shall be a square to mark where it says: “Non of the above” (meaning, none of the people tallied in the ballot).

If 50 per cent plus 1 of voters who cast their vote click on this square, the election shall be declared null and void.

Peter Van Hoffman, Peace River North, B.C.

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Elections Canada does its job. Too bad it had complaints about robocalls. Too bad they appeared to originate from the Conservative Party.

Sylvia Bews-Wright, Victoria

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Two sentences in Gordon Gibson’s Feb. 5 column (Rash Constitutional Adventurism) on Justin Trudeau stand out in the array of negatives that describe the flaws and pitfalls of the Senate: “Without opening up the Constitution, real reform there is impossible. The Senate does little harm and some good.” At nearly $100-million a year!

The Constitution was created to accommodate the disparate facts of Upper and Lower Canada. As the vast majority of the country was added to the whole, and as those founding parties developed, those accommodations have proved inappropriate or insufficient.

When a law outlives its usefulness, its purpose and its value it should be repealed or changed. That is, or should be, common sense.

David Owen, Canmore, Alta.

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Recent debates on how to reform the Senate have focused on its role in providing sober second thought to the partisan and frequently misguided legislative proposals of the House. This focus is apt – it’s one of the chamber’s most important and powerful functions.

The Senate is not merely a chamber of sober second though, however – it was equally designed as the forum for regional representation at the federal level. Years of cronyism and crass partisanship (not to mention a wallop of populism) reduced its credibility as a venue for the defence of regional interests, however, and the provinces delightedly overreached to fill that void.

A properly functioning Senate can help to restore to balance both regional and central interests and the powers of our various levels of government. The present, skewed dynamic hurts us all through inefficiencies in our markets and fatuous bickering in our politics. Let us hope that our politicians seize this moment to right two wrongs instead of one.

Scott Bedard, Toronto

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Lawrence Martin ignores the price we will pay for Mr. Trudeau’s Big Bang (A Big Bang For Our Politics – Feb. 4).

As seen in the United States, the price of giving the Senate greater independence from a government with a majority in the House of Commons is legislative gridlock and blame-shifting. We need to preserve a majority government’s ability to get things done and to be accountable for its actions – actions which, in the absence of confusion as to who is responsible, the people can review in the ensuing election.

Shaul Ezer, Vancouver

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Mr. Martin’s column proffers praise and raises legitimate questions about Mr. Trudeau’s Senate gambit. It mentions the Harper government, but is remarkably silent on the position of the New Democratic Party, the Official Opposition. Will he write a subsequent piece about the NDP’s proposal for abolition of the Senate? One that might find some favour over Mr. Trudeau’s proposal to continue an undemocratic practice of appointments further into the 21st century?

James Cullingham, Toronto

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It would certainly be seen as a Big Bang moment if Justin Trudeau expanded his reform ideas to the area of democracy the public engages in. The current first-past-the-post electoral system is outdated and inappropriate when there are four or five major parties. No secret decisions – get together with like-minded members of the other parties and find a way to ensure a mandate for national democratic reform within five years.

Tony Burt, Vancouver

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Mr. Trudeau wants a Senate that will be unequal, unelected, ineffective and now unaccountable. How does this help democracy?

Jack Wilkinson, Winnipeg

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Surely Mr. Martin appreciates that our governments have continuously reduced their own powers and subjected themselves to ever greater scrutiny.

The Civil Service Act (1868), the Auditor General Act (1878), the Dominion Elections Act (1920), the Canadian Bill of Rights (1960) and the Access to Information Act (1985) are but a few examples. More recently, the Federal Accountability Act increased the powers of the Ethics Commissioner and the Auditor-General, created a Parliamentary Budget Officer and provided whistler-blower protection, among other measures.

Our democratic regime is far more robust than any time in the past and, unlike this Senate initiative, all of the above reforms were subjected to the will of Parliament and legislated. It merely breeds cynicism to talk of power-mongers and a system that makes a “mockery of democracy.”

Larry Pardy, Amherst, N.S.

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Niccolo Machiavelli was correct: Constitutional change in a polity is a stuff of nightmare and almost impossible without upheaval.

Mr. Trudeau may not have read The Prince, but he has instinctively realized that in political terms, being active is a virtue while laziness is a vice. Rolling the dice is what he did. Come hell or high water, he entered the Senate reform debate without losing any political capital. That is success.

Elie Mikhael Nasrallah, Ottawa

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ON REFLECTION Letters to the editor

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Please comply

Re Super Bugged (letters, Feb. 7): My husband spent a lot of time in hospital last year, had a number of infections, and died of lymphoma in the fall. I have two suggestions I’d like to highlight:

Stop shaking hands with patients: This is done regularly by medical staff, even newly trained physicians.

Glove up: This practice is not consistent. When we spoke up and requested this, reactions were frequently a mix of surprise and displeasure.

Practical, low-cost solutions. Please comply.

Gaye Wishart, Halifax

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Business as usual

The new Pope is evidently more tolerant, and certainly better at photo ops, than his predecessor (Vatican Accuses UN Of Distorting Facts In Rape Report – online, Feb. 6). But within the Vatican bureaucracy, it looks like business as usual when it comes to denial.

The Vatican wants it both ways: to be the supreme authority that dictates canon law down to the parish level, but also to wash its hands of any responsibility for its priesthood when another thorough investigation reveals widespread abuse of the most innocent.

Bill Roberts, Picton, Ont.

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Mr. Human Rights

I was saddened to read that Irwin Cotler is retiring (Feb. 6). If there is a Canadian politician who has earned the title “Mr. Human Rights,” it’s him.

Mr. Irwin has championed many causes with firm commitment and action. In 2004, on a private member’s bill to recognize the Armenian genocide, prime minister Paul Martin gave Liberal MPs a free vote but ordered cabinet ministers to vote against it. Just before the vote, Mr. Cotler left the chambers to avoid voting against it. The bill was adopted.

Art Hagopian, Aurora, Ont.

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Living with the IRS

Your story Ottawa To Share Financial Data With U.S. (Business – Feb. 6) states that Ottawa “will share financial information regarding Americans living in Canada with the IRS.”

Wouldn’t it save Canadians a lot of trouble if the Americans living with the IRS simply turned over their tax forms to their housemates?

Selby Martin, Toronto

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