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Lawrence Martin (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Lawrence Martin

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

LAWRENCE MARTIN

Trudeau seeks high ground with double-dipping policy Add to ...

Have we reached a new nadir? On Monday, the mayor of Montreal was scooped up by an anti-corruption police unit. The mayor of Toronto is facing allegations of drug use. That’s our two biggest cities. How about our two biggest governments? The Conservatives in Ottawa and the Liberals in Toronto both face police probes, one in respect to the Senate scandal, another relating to the Ontario gas-plant scandal.

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The public’s opinion of politicians, so low to begin with, is no doubt in further descent. The upshot is that Canadians will be looking for a national leader who can bring in the broom, find the moral high ground and reintroduce integrity.

That was likely part of Justin Trudeau’s thinking in his Sunday offer to compensate, if necessary, organizations that he billed for speeches over the past four years. This was a change of tune from a few days earlier, when his officials said he did not have to reimburse the New Brunswick-based Grace Foundation, which was asking for a payback of his $20,000 fee. It appeared that Mr. Trudeau’s team quickly assessed the public reaction and made the change.

But that’s not the way it happened, they say. First off, they say they wanted to make it clear that the Liberal leader had fulfilled his contractual obligations and was under no requirement to repay the foundation.

But for some time, they claim, they have been working on an overall policy to significantly limit supplemental income made by MPs who do work on the side in law, real estate, public speaking or other endeavours.

Within a few months, the Liberals will announce the double-dipping policy, one they think will embarrass Conservatives. Team Trudeau team estimates there are as many as 65 Tory MPs, many more than in other parties, who make supplemental incomes and who are likely nervous the issue has arisen.

Given the Senate spending follies, one can imagine the can of worms this might open for all parties.

The New Brunswick group came forward well after the fact to announce it wanted the Trudeau speaking fee returned. Liberals say the group has Conservative ties. They feel the payback demand was orchestrated to put Mr. Trudeau on the defensive and switch the dial from the Senate scandal. It’s interesting, they add, that in calling on the Liberal leader to pay back the money, the Tories were applying a standard to him they do not apply to themselves. They may come to rue the day, said one Trudeauite.

Although not as wealthy as some believe, Mr. Trudeau is in a better financial position to reimburse supplemental income than other MPs.

With the ethics issue dominating headlines, the Liberals and New Democrats both sense they are in a position to make gains on the governing party. But both Mr. Trudeau and NDP boss Tom Mulcair ran into ethical difficulties last week. Conservatives laced into Mr. Mulcair for acting as if he was above the law when he blew past security men on Parliament Hill, dismissing them with the suggestion that they should know who he is.

Mr. Trudeau, who disclosed his income and assets in February, has put forward some plans aimed at reforming the system. They include a requirement that all MPs’ expenses be published every quarter, regular House of Commons performance audits by the Auditor-General, limits on the use of omnibus bills, closure and prorogation, more independence for agencies like the Parliamentary Budget Office, less whipping of votes along party lines, a system to replace the current first-past-the-post electoral process and many other reforms.

The package is a work in progress. There is a lot of bold talk, but it has a long way to go if it is to address the vast concentration of power in the government’s executive branch, a trend that has accelerated over recent decades.

Through those times, many Liberal promises of reform have fallen well short of realization.

 

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