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opinion

Andrew Cohen is a journalist, author and professor at Carleton University.

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On Nov. 4, the new government of Justin Trudeau will take office. It arrives with a solid mandate, a fractured, leaderless opposition, an ambitious agenda and the country's goodwill. Eventually, much of this will fade like a summer mist. Inevitably, the poetry of opposition yields to the prose of power.

All the more reason, then, for Mr. Trudeau and his ministry to act decisively in their first 100 days. It's critical that this government differentiate itself early and intelligently (not reflexively) from its predecessor.

Abroad, with a full calendar of international meetings, Mr. Trudeau will have an opportunity to signal the return of an activist Canada. At home, beyond legislating tax changes, he can establish a distinct style and substance.

While there is nothing magical about the first 100 days, it is a benchmark of performance. In the campaign of 1963, Lester Pearson was urged to promise "100 days of decision" from the moment his Liberals took office. He thought it sounded like Napoleon's march to Waterloo and settled instead on "60 days of decision." It led it to a Waterloo of its own, beginning with a disastrous budget.

A new budget is unlikely until winter, so let's begin with tone. On his first day, Mr. Trudeau should summon senior bureaucrats and tell them the government values their advice. He should tell the news media he will meet them regularly, and tell ministers and ambassadors they can talk publicly again, without retribution.

Immediately, the government should reinstate the long-form census and lift the prohibition on federal scientists discussing research. It should cancel the Memorial to the Victims of Communism. As Canada's 150th birthday is near, the government should form a committee of eminent Canadians to drive a serious national celebration. Time is short; Mr. Trudeau will want to do this as well as Mr. Pearson did in 1967.

In Parliament, there will be a Throne Speech and a financial update before the budget. The government should move briskly to amend C-51, the anti-terrorism law, and revoke C-24, the citizenship law. It should build on the institutional reforms proposed by Conservative MP Michael Chong, the principled progressive who will help to shape the post-Harper Tories. If not now, when?

Beyond giving private members more authority and parliamentary committees more responsibility, the government should find a new Speaker of the House. It should be Mauril Bélanger, the veteran Liberal member for Ottawa-Vanier. He is bilingual, respected and tactful.

Then there is the Senate, which has 22 vacancies. Another chance to think big. How about Joe Clark, Preston Manning, Phil Fontaine, Robert Ghiz, Jack Harris and other thoughtful Canadians, to elevate this sullied institution?

Of course, Mr. Trudeau will convene the first ministers. When they resume their statutory role as petitioners and whiners, he will feel as cool toward them as Stephen Harper did.

Foreign affairs can, with drama, reflect the government's commitment to change. Here, too, Canada needs new appointments. Mr. Trudeau should name Bob Rae as ambassador to the United Nations and Irwin Cotler to Israel. When the respected Gary Doer returns from Washington, the government might consider sending Peter Boehm, senior associate deputy minister of foreign affairs, one of the ablest public servants of his generation.

The Liberals need not review foreign policy, an old reflex for new governments, but they can recast Canada's image. They can set a new course (the fire sale of diplomatic properties, for example, should be frozen, and our embassy in Tehran reopened). Climate change, UN reform, relations with the United States all await big ideas from Canada. Mr. Trudeau should make an early, lightning visit to Washington (as Mr. Pearson in his first month met John Kennedy on Cape Cod).

And one small thing: Mr. Trudeau should not move into 24 Sussex Dr., the PM's official residence. Stay instead at Stornoway, the residence of the leader of the opposition, while essential renovations to 24 Sussex take place.

A new government is only new once. And while a majority ensures that this one will have more than 1,000 days in office, its first 100 are a singular chance to strike a reformist note. Some modest advice from Lester Pearson to Justin Trudeau: Seize the day – while you can.