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Paul Martin's democratic deficit - Saturday, April 03, 2004 at 12:17

PUBLICATION:  National Post
DATE:  2004.04.03
EDITION:  National
SECTION:  Editorials
PAGE:  A19


Paul Martin's democratic deficit


While campaigning for the Liberal leadership, Paul Martin spoke passionately about curing Canada's "democratic deficit." But with nearly four months having passed since he took office, and a Spring election widely expected, the deficit is as big as ever.

In a few areas, Mr. Martin deserves credit. His handling of Adscam, while far from perfect, was at least a far cry from the stonewalling technique Jean Chretien would have favoured. And a new policy that makes the travel and hospitality expenses of ministers, their senior staff and other officials available online helps add accountability.

But in other areas, Mr. Martin has betrayed his early rhetoric. Within the Liberal party, for instance, Mr. Martin has been even more autocratic than his predecessor. Nomination fights have needlessly been picked with MPs and prospective candidates who didn't support his leadership bid, leading to numerous complaints that the PM's organizers are manipulating the process to benefit their friends. And this week, Mr. Martin unilaterally appointed candidates in three British Columbia ridings, denying local riding associations the opportunity to have their say.

Mr. Martin's promises to revitalize parliamentary democracy have fallen equally flat. Despite pledges to empower MPs, he has been as zealous as Mr. Chretien when it comes to stacking committees -- including enough meddling to drive the all-important public accounts committee off the rails. He refused to allow a free vote on additional funding for the widely detested federal gun registry. He has invoked closure and used other all-too-familiar procedural tactics to limit debate. He has yet to utter a meaningful peep about Senate reform. And with the government having promised this week to fill two Supreme Court vacancies within three months, his earlier pledge to allow MPs to vet appointees appears to be an afterthought at best.

It would be unfair to suggest that Mr. Martin is not an improvement on Mr. Chretien, who didn't even pretend to care about accountability. But so far, the Prime Minister has given us little reason to believe his advertised pre-election claim that he's set to "change the way things work in Ottawa."