Liberal Party Response to Voices-Voix Letter

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April 4, 2011

Dear Voices-Voix Coalition,

On behalf of our Leader, Michael Ignatieff, and the entire Liberal team, thank you for writing to identify the major concerns of your membership. We appreciate your interest in the Liberal Party’s policies as they relate to the issues which affect you. Enclosed, please find the Liberal Party response to your questionnaire.


 

Will you pledge to:

 

1. Launch a process of reforming Canada's Access to Information Act, with an eye to significantly improving transparency in government?

While other countries have been deploying digital age technology to make government and information more transparent, Canada has been held back by the most secretive government in its history. Liberals believe that openness and transparency of government information fuel innovation and a better democratic system. 
Liberals will launch the single largest effort of openness and transparency in Canadian history. A Liberal government will adopt a new approach to information, starting with a government-wide directive that the default position for all departments and agencies will be to release information to the public, both proactively and responsively, after privacy and other legal requirements are met.

Liberals will:

  • Post all Access to Information requests, responses, and response times online at accesstoinformation.gc.ca;
  • Immediately restore the long-form census;
  • Make as many government datasets as possible available to the public online free of charge at opendata.gc.ca in an open and searchable format, starting with Statistics Canada data, including data from the long-form census; and
  • Make information on government grants, contributions and contracts available through a searchable, online database at accountablespending.gc.ca.

The Liberal Party has also committed to following up on all of the Information Commissioner’s recommendations to improve the Access to Information regime once in government.

 

2. Restore the mandatory long-form census?

Yes. Furthermore, aggregate data gathered from the long-form census will be made available to the public online free of charge at opendata.gc.ca as part of our reinvigorated approach to Open Government.

 

3. Restore funding for research and advocacy related to women's equality rights?

The Liberal Party strongly supports women’s rights and will restore funding for research and advocacy on these issues. We will work to advance the well-being of women at home and around the world. The National Liberal Women’s Caucus has long fought for— and Liberal governments have delivered—improvements in the lives of women and their families. Conservatives’ ideologically based funding cuts to faith-based groups, women’s groups and others have had a chilling effect on Canada’s international development community.

A Liberal government will restore funding to these essential organizations, and ensure transparency in the government’s dealings with aid groups and the delivery of our foreign aid. On February 14, 2011, on Parliament Hill, Liberal MPs stood alongside the families of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls for the Sisters in Spirit’s First Annual Day of Justice rally. A Liberal government will mandate a national task force to examine the systemic causes of this problem, with an emphasis on preventing its continuation in the future.

A Liberal government would ensure that Canada continues its long-standing tradition of recognizing women’s reproductive rights and access to contraception as part of his maternal health initiative.

A Liberal government will ensure Canadian aid is guided by an overarching emphasis on the massive untapped potential of women in the developing world. Empowering women is often the key factor in small-holder farming, health initiatives and education that leads to economic development.

The Liberal Party also believes that pay equity is a fundamental human right and that every working Canadian woman should be compensated in an equitable manner. A Liberal government will introduce a new pay equity regime that is truly proactive, and that prioritizes pay equity as a human right.

 

4. Launch a comprehensive public inquiry, jointly with the government of Ontario, into all aspects of security at the G8/G20 Summits and its impact on freedom of expression?

The Prime Minister’s decision to hold the G20 summit in Toronto put the police in an impossible situation, resulted in massive property damage for which business owners have yet to be compensated and led to the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. Liberals support a review of the government’s mismanagement of security preparations and the decisions that led the G20 to be held in downtown Toronto. We have repeatedly demanded that the government answer specific questions on the G20 security fiasco. We also called Public Security Minister Vic Toews before the summits, which he continued to avoid answering:

  • What security advice the government considered before moving the summit to Toronto?
  • Why they ignored advice to hold it at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds?
  • Who designed and approved the G20 security plan and its astronomical price tag?
  • Who was ultimately giving security commands?
  • Whether anyone on the political side got involved – directly or through PCO – in operational decisions during the summit?

The security was such a mess that Ontario’s premier said that Torontonians are ‘psychologically scarred’ by the summit protests, and vowed that another G20 summit will never be held there again. The Mayor of Toronto at the time, David Miller, lashed out at the Conservatives for choosing to hold the summit in downtown Toronto, saying the billion-dollar cost could have been spent on desperately needed transit, which would serve the city for a century.

The Auditor General has conducted a broad review of all $1.3 billion in G8/G20 spending – much of which was indefensible waste, and we look forward to her report.

 

5. Put in place a system that will ensure that decisions about funding civil society organizations in Canada are done transparently and without discrimination; and reflect a variety of policy perspectives?

NGOs in Canada live in fear of losing funding if they express a viewpoint that is contrary to the government. A new relationship is required between a Liberal government and civil society and NGOs, one that is based on a commitment to transparent practices and to standards of openness and accountability. It is critical that such a relationship is predicated on open dialogue between the government and NGOs. Conversation must be frank, criticism must be sincere, and respect must run both ways. This will allow for more effective cooperation and better results.

The Conservatives have muzzled and cut the funding of a long list of Canadian civil society groups and NGOs, women’s groups, faith-based groups and others that are essential partners in carrying out the wide range of essential civil society work in this country. Whether domestically or in our overseas work, there is no room for ideological cuts and no justification for imposing a chill on policy dialogue through intimidation, threats and politically motivated withdrawal of funding.

A Liberal government will also ensure a significant role going forward for Canadian civil society in Canada’s aid spending and development work. CIDA’s reputation has suffered from its heavy-handed approach to NGOs under the Conservative government. Civil society must be engaged for CIDA and Canada’s aid contribution to realize their full potential. We will seek to repair the damage to key Canadian international NGOs by the decimating funding cuts of the Conservatives. This transparent relationship should be based on standards informed by the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act as well as the newly agreed “Istanbul Principles” and possibly the International Aid Transparency Initiative.

Liberals are committed to re-establishing Canada’s reputation as a proud provider of foreign aid to the world’s most impoverished nations, as well as re-engaging in Africa. A Liberal government will unfreeze Official Development Assistance and restore a focus on Africa, which has been inexplicably abandoned by the Conservative government. As the combat mission in Afghanistan ends this year, we will re-allocate the incremental cost of that mission across the full spectrum of development, defence, and diplomacy.

 

6. Launch a credible, independent and public process that will examine and make recommendations regarding the state of democracy and human rights in Canada?

The Harper Conservatives are the most secretive government in Canadian history and have systematically attacked our democratic institutions that hold them in check. 

A Liberal government will lead a democratic renewal with a wide-ranging, three- part plan designed to:

  • Create an “Open Government”;
  • Work with all parties to fix our hyper-partisan Parliament; and
  • Modernize our voting system with internet voting.

Under a Liberal government, new restrictions will be placed on prime ministerial power, particularly by placing procedural limitations on the prime minister’s power to prorogue. In addition, under a Liberal government, all Canadians will be able to participate in People’s Question Period, where the Prime Minister and Ministers will respond directly to unscripted, user-generated questions online. Ministers’ participation in the weekly online question and answer session will be rotated and as Prime Minister, Michael Ignatieff would participate at least monthly in the online People’s Question Period to answer citizens’ questions unfiltered by political parties or the media. For more information about the Liberal plan to renewal our democracy, please see our platform at www.liberal.ca.

In terms of human rights, in December, we celebrated the 62nd anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sixty-two years ago, humanity took a step forward when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Canada is a signatory. The Declaration was the first global confirmation of the rights to which all human beings are entitled. 

The Liberal Party also believes that pay equity, or equal pay for work of equal value, is a fundamental human right and that every working Canadian woman should be compensated in an equitable manner. As Canada’s largest employer, the federal government has an obligation to lead by example. In Budget 2009 the Conservatives weakened federal pay equity rules showing their true colours on equality. A Liberal government would introduce a new pay equity regime that is truly proactive, and that prioritizes pay equity as a human right.

The Liberal party is committed to defending the human rights we enjoy as Canadians and express our support for those fighting for rights around the world.

 

7. Review and strengthen the measures that are in place to protect watchdogs, civil servants and other bodies and individuals with similar responsibilities from recriminations when they criticize government policies?

Canada’s public service is the best in the world. We support the public service in their constitutionally-guaranteed non-partisan role. We support the courageous public servants who speak out against abuses and we will do everything to protect whistleblowers.

Conservatives have publicly attacked, fired or forced into resignation officials who acted responsibly, or offered expert advice, well-informed opinion and sound technical analysis they found inconvenient. The poisoned relationship between public servants and their political leadership must be repaired as a first step toward broad-based renewal.

The first step in this approach is to review all of the cases of alleged wrongdoing discarded by Christiane Ouimet, the disgraced Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. A Liberal government will ensure that each case gets reconsidered and all allegations treated fairly and with respect. We will not interfere in this process, unlike the Conservatives who have apparently had senior level meetings with Ouimet during her tenure.

There have also been calls to review and reform the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, the legislation governing the actions of the Integrity Commissioner. A Liberal government will work with stakeholders to identify areas for improvement.

 

8. Implement the recommendations laid out in the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs' report, "Rights & Democracy: Moving towards a Stronger Future"?

The Liberal Party provided the leadership for the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on Rights and Democracy, and we strongly urged the government to implement its recommendations. The recommendations are essential to the organization’s future, from more transparency and disclosure, to mechanisms to ensure the non-partisan nature of the organization’s president and board. A Liberal government will strive to restore the reputation of this once proud organization as an independent, non- partisan voice for progress on human rights and democratic development.

After decades of work promoting human and democratic rights around the world, Rights and Democracy has been undermined by the Conservatives’ partisan appointments and now the organization’s credibility and ability to function are in serious doubt. The Conservatives nominated a president and members of the Board of Rights and Democracy with obvious ties to the Conservative Party.

We must end all attempts to politicize this organization and restore it to its proud tradition of transcending partisanship.

 

Note: This letter was sent by the Liberal Party of Canada to the Voices-Voix coalition in response to our Letter to Party Leaders asking for 8 pledges to defend democracy and human rights in Canada. That letter can be read here.

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