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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gives a thumbs up during a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gives a thumbs up during a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Globe editorial

Only Trudeau can get big money out of Canadian politics Add to ...

It’s never a bad idea to keep an open mind. Sometimes, the status quo needs a shakeup.

For the past couple of weeks, Prime Minister Trudeau has been defending his party’s fundraising practices. He’s argued that everyone does it; including the party in office until last year. That’s true – though not much of a defence. He said nobody in the Liberal Party broke the law, which is a mighty low threshhold. It’s also beside the point, given that the issue is how the law allows everything short of the most blatant influence-peddling. He said that Ottawa’s rules were already better than most provinces; also true, also beside the point.

Late last week, the PM even argued that his government’s fundraising efforts were less objectionable than those of his predecessor, since he wasn’t appointing bagmen to the Senate.

“Yes, but the other guys were worse” is never much of a defence. But on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau hinted that he’s open to switching from playing defence, to permanently addressing a long-standing, all-party offence.

Asked whether he’d consider reforming fundraising, he said, “I’m always open to discussions about how we can improve our democracy, how we can better earn every day the trust of Canadians that is required for a government to work well... I look forward to continuing these conversations in the years to come.”

Okay, it’s not exactly a call for immediate reform. But it’s a tentative step onto the right track. And Canada’s system of political fundraising, which though still imperfect is already miles ahead of the United States, got here by steps. There are still more to be taken before the journey is over.

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien severely curtailed the era of the bagman by dropping donation limits. Prime minister Stephen Harper banned union and corporate donations, and further lowered donation limits.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Trudeau implied that these reforms were the destination. He suggested that contribution limits of $1,525 to a candidate and another $1,525 to a party, were low enough to make influence peddling impossible, and pay-for-access obsolete. That’s obviously not the case.

It is, however, in Mr. Trudeau’s power to end influence peddling, and the appearance of it. Pick up where Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Harper left off. Lower the donation limits. Elevate democracy. Take big money, once and for all, out of Canadian politics.

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