Impolitical: Thoughts on the #LPC electoral reform policy plank

As a party member who has been involved with supporting democratic reform initiatives in the Liberal party, I thought I would add a few thoughts to the discussion today on the Liberal Party of Canada’s electoral reform plank, rolled out earlier today. The pledge to “Make every vote count” is as follows:

We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.
As part of a national engagement process, we will ensure that electoral reform measures – such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting – are fully and fairly studied and considered.
This will be carried out by a special all-party parliamentary committee, which will bring recommendations to Parliament on the way forward, to allow for action before the succeeding federal election. Within 18 months of forming government, we will bring forward legislation to enact electoral reform.

This is member supported LPC policy. The key electoral reform aspects are not new, save for the additions of the extra measures to be studied such as mandatory and online voting. Indeed, it is very similar to the party resolution that was passed at the Liberal Biennial in Montreal in early 2014, which included this element: 

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT immediately after the next election, an all-Party process be instituted, involving expert assistance and citizen participation, to report to Parliament within 12 months with recommendations for electoral reforms including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent Canadians more fairly and serve Canada better.

A “national engagement process” and and all-party parliamentary committee are important aspects to bringing this reform about. Any major reform to our electoral laws, foundational game-changers, should be demonstrably supported and multi-partisan. The multi-partisan aspect in particular has been lacking from Conservative changes to electoral laws over their tenure.

So a newly constituted Parliament will look at this issue in a multi-partisan way after receiving a mandate to do so. That is needed as there is no existing consensus in the electorate for a particular type of electoral reform. It’s difficult to see how this election, just a few months away without that conversation presently taking place, could possibly lead to such a conclusion.

This is why I do not understand the NDP’s position which seems to be to choose one form – mixed member proportional (MMP) – without laying a proper foundation for it. There is no consensus that MMP is the preferred electoral reform option for Canada. The NDP’s December 2014 one-off motion, which they have pointed to today, brought quickly and with little national debate is not a basis for choosing. A 2004 Law Reform Commission report is also not a basis for choosing, today, what electoral reform we might want in 2015, 2016 or 2017. It will help and probably weigh heavily but on its own, it is not determinative.

Simply put, there are differing views on what type of electoral reform is the consensus choice for the country and a consensus choice is where the country needs to get to before one form is chosen.

Fair Vote Canada recognizes this and their Declaration of Voters’ Rights calls for the House of Commons to undertake a public consultation.

Today’s announcement also helpfully expands the conversation beyond the Senate as the dominant focus of a national discussion on democratic reform. While the Senate has clearly become a problem in need of many fixes, it is not the most important aspect of our conversation about improving democracy in Canada and should not be the part that is the driving force of the conversation. Improving the democratic legitimacy of our government, the House of Commons, should be the focus. Enhancing that institution’s capacity to listen and represent Canadians’ concerns well, that should be the focus.

The good news is that there seems to be much support for modernizing our democratic system. And that conversation will be a key part of the 2015 campaign.

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Impolitical: Paul Godfrey’s endorsement of Patrick Brown for PC leader of Ontario

Earlier today, Paul Godfrey, the President and CEO of Postmedia Network Inc., attended at the Ontario legislature where he stood next to Patrick Brown, candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, to announce his endorsement of Brown. This is a moment that warrants some critical observations on the appropriateness of a major media CEO making such a public statement of support of a political candidate.

Here was the scene on the north lawn of Queen’s Park where, facing the legislature, the endorsement was rolled out:

.@brownbarrie announces Postmedia boss Paul Godfrey and PC titan Derek Burney are supporting him. #onpoli
— Robert Benzie (@robertbenzie) April 2, 2015

Godfrey is President and CEO of one of Canada’s largest media operations. Indeed, this announcement occurs on the heels of the federal Competition Bureau having given the green light to Postmedia Network’s acquisition of 175 Sun Media newspapers. There is a public democratic interest that the Competition Bureau took into consideration when granting public approval over this expansion and the recency of that decision and his company’s expanded media footprint in Canada might give some executives cause for extra caution and care when considering such a political endorsement. 

Further, Godfrey’s endorsement of Brown cannot help but be viewed without considering Godfrey’s recent history with the Wynne government. Recall that in the spring of 2013, he was removed from his position as Chair of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. That history informs his announcement today and bolsters a perception of an adversarial political context.

A President and CEO of a company is the chief spokesperson for that entity. A President and CEO doesn’t simply “run the business part of the newspapers,” as Mr. Godfrey stated today, but speaks on behalf of the organization. Herein lies the perceived conflict of interest in a media CEO endorsing a political candidate, and the importance of journalistic objectivity. A CEO speaks on behalf of, represents and embodies that corporation’s public and private dealings with its many stakeholders. It is quite difficult to unpack the chief executive’s persona from that of the corporate entity due to their position and the scope of their authority. This is why, as Postmedia Network’s Business Code of Conduct, provides – “Postmedia Personnel may participate in the political process as private citizens.” – there is a signalling implicit in Mr. Godfrey’s endorsement to his company’s journalists, customers and shareholders. In short, Mr. Godfrey is not speaking as a private citizen. CEOs rarely do.

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Impolitical: Presentation on the Bloor/Durie development in Bloor West Village #parkhp #topoli

Updated (Friday August 14th, 7:30 p.m.) below.

Hello all! It’s been a while here at the blog. Apologies. I hope to get back to posting more regularly in the near future. 

I wanted to post my speaking notes from today on an issue that came before the Etobicoke York Community Council. As you will note from my previous blog entry, I have been involved with residents here in Parkdale-High Park for a few years now on development proposals. It’s a huge issue in the riding. The latest significant challenge is represented by the proposed development at the corner of Bloor & Durie in the heart of Bloor West Village (“BWV”). While my notes will go into a bit of detail on the entire issue, I just wanted to highlight what essentially happened at council today.

This development is of great concern to the residents of BWV, Swansea, Old Mill, South Kingsway and High Park. The development proposal was scheduled to be heard at the Ontario Municipal Board in the near future (date unknown). But Council agreed today – essentially adopting the motion found below – to seek an adjournment of that development hearing until a properly done public study can be undertaken of the Bloor West Village area. That is potentially quite significant should the OMB – as it rightfully should – listen to this message from the City.

This could mean that BWV will be developed coherently, driven by a public study process that will now keep at bay the one-off developer driven proposals such as this one at Bloor & Durie.

Here’s hoping and I know the residents will remain vigilant to ensure it happens in the right way. Notes follow.

Speaking notes for Tues, Aug 12th – Etobicoke York Community Council
2265-2279 Bloor Street West and 116 and 240 Durie Street – Official Plan Amendment, Zoning By-law Amendment, Rental Housing Demolition & Conversion Applications

Councillors, City Staff & members of the community, my name is Nancy Leblanc. I am a resident of Swansea, residing just a few blocks away from the proposed Bloor West Village development that is before the council today for consideration.

I support the position of the neighbourhood resident associations who are opposing this development and am appearing today on their behalf. Those resident associations are: the Bloor West Village Residents Association, the Old Mill Community Association, Swansea Area Ratepayers Association and the South Kingsway Neighbourhood Committee. Many of their members are here today.

I would respectfully ask of this Council that you support the residents of this neighbourhood community in their opposition to this development. Specifically, I would request that the following motion be moved, considered and supported by this Council:

1. Be it resolved that the Staff Report dated August 1st, 2014 be deferred for consideration until a properly done public Area Study can be undertaken by the City in respect of Bloor West Village that will set out detailed guidelines for future development.

2. Be it further resolved that this Council authorize the City Solicitor to request an adjournment of any date obtained before the Ontario Municipal Board in respect of this development until a properly done public Area Study can be undertaken by the City in respect of Bloor West Village that will set out detailed guidelines for future development, and until that study and its conclusions are subject to public review and comment, and until that study is adopted by City Council as set out in the Official Plan.

This staff report should be deferred for many reasons. We have little to lose by doing so, and much to gain.

This application is being supported by a study completed by the proponent which, to no one’s surprise, is basically in support of the proposed development.

But – The basic principle which the residents seek is to ensure that Bloor West Village be developed through a plan driven by the public interest – not private – and in a manner that recognizes its unique historical characteristics and its present day character as a landmark west Toronto village. Study the village as a whole – then decide how it should be intensified and densified.

The character of the Bloor West Village strip is unique. There is a careful balance between the Mixed Use commercial areas along Bloor and the stable Neighbourhoods that abut Bloor. It is a flat stretch that to date has been undisturbed by high developments except to its peripheries on the east and west, in lower grade areas toward the Humber River and High Park where height impact is somewhat lessened. The storefronts date to the 1920s and 30s. Yet the Staff Report before us today maps out a future for the Village that will disrupt this character and historic balance, that will penetrate a stable Neighbourhood street, and that will set a poor precedent for development of the heart of Bloor West Village. It opens the door to a series of negotiated one-off developments, jammed into the heart of Bloor West Village without the proper studies having been done.

For example – There is no Avenue study that has been undertaken of Bloor West Village. According to the Official Plan, development requiring a rezoning – as this proposal does – will not be allowed to proceed prior to completion of an Avenue Study unless a review is undertaken that demonstrates to Council’s satisfaction that subsequent development of the entire Avenue segment will have no adverse impacts within the context and parameters of this review.” (

Further, the Official Plan requires that any development preceding an Avenue study must be shown to “contribute to an attractive, safe and comfortable pedestrian environment that encourages walking and strengthens local retailing” ( (c)).

Yet as one resident has put it, quite well, this proposal will:

“have an adverse impact on the pedestrian environment by inserting a much taller street wall rising straight up from the street 7 stories before the step-back in a block of predominantly two story storefronts. The height and massing will create a large monolithic structure than looms over and oppresses the visual environment within the heart of the district and replaces lively, pedestrian oriented, fine-grained commercial facades with a bland, undifferentiated row of shops with identical materials and design that are less variable, legible and attractive.”

A publicly driven area Study is therefore required before such one-off developments, supported by segmented studies, are inserted on a jarring basis that break up the character of Bloor West Village.

A deferral of this Staff Report is also warranted given that a Heritage Conservation District Nomination has been sought for Bloor West Village. In 2008, City Council identified Bloor West Village as an area warranting analysis as a Heritage Conservation District. Some of the heritage considerations include:

The buildings, dating from the 1920s and 30s;

Bloor West Village was the first Business Improvement Area in the world;

The historical connection to immigration from Eastern Europe, including the location of an annual Ukrainian festival which is the largest in North America

To prematurely consider a development in the heart of the Village without allowing for a Heritage process to be completed would be inappropriate.

Another important factor for this Council to consider is the Swansea Secondary Plan that governs the Durie Street properties sought to be included in this development. The Swansea Secondary Plan specifically provides that

“where the Zoning By-law permits apartment buildings in areas designated as Neighbourhoods, any apartment building will respect the zoned height and density limits.”

This means that any development proposal that penetrates the Durie Neighbourhood, governed by the Swansea Secondary Plan, must respect the zoned height and density limits of the Neighbourhood. That is, 0.6 times the area of the lot. The Staff Report is rightfully concerned that these physically “stable” neighbourhood areas are sought to be used to support a mixed-use development.


In conclusion, we ask this Community Council to support the residents, defer consideration of the Staff report before you today and seek an adjournment of any scheduled OMB hearing in respect of this development. The future development of Bloor West Village deserves a proper public study – after which decisions can be made to intensify and densify the area, in accordance with its unique history and village characteristics.

Thank you.

Update (Friday August 14, 7:30 pm): Please also see the Save Our Village website for more information on the 2265 Bloor hearing and other developments in the Bloor West area.

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Impolitical: Presentation to Etobicoke York Community Council

Update: I am re-posting this entry as some residents of Parkdale-High Park may visit this blog to find these submissions. Development in the riding is an issue for many and for those who are interested in the approach I took, along with the members of the South Kingsway residents, I thought I’d make it a bit easier to find here at the top of the blog.


Here are my speaking notes, below, from this afternoon’s Etobicoke York Community Council hearing on a condominium development at 34-50 Southport Street in my Toronto neighbourhood. Quite unfortunately, the application by the developer passed with the support of my local councillor, Sarah Doucette. I attended with the South Kingsway Neighbourhood Committee and with many other residents who filled the council room to oppose the development.

We didn’t win, and will no doubt carry on to next steps. It is really a psychological barrier that’s been broken with this one. If it ultimately succeeds, there will be two major new towers north of the Queeensway in the west end and a horrible precedent has been set.

This is, in many ways, a snapshot of what is happening throughout Toronto. There are three 80 storey towers just proposed for the King Street neighbourhood, there is a major development proposed for the Humbertown area and signs are all across the lawns in Etobicoke. Stay tuned.

Councillors, City Staff & members of the community, my name is Nancy Leblanc. I am a resident of Swansea, residing on [edited out], minutes away from the proposed Southport condo development that you have before you today for consideration. My house was built in 1929 and I mention that to give you a sense of the well established nature of this area into which this two tower condo development is proposed.

I support the position of the South Kingsway Neighbourhood Committee that has been previously set out today, encapsulated by the slogan, “One less Tower, Tons less traffic.” I would respectfully ask of this Council that you support the residents of this neighbourhood community and adopt that position, for 3 reasons.

1. This development proposal is not the right thing to do for the Swansea community because it totally undermines the Swansea Secondary Plan, which is the foundational planning document for the Swansea neighbourhood.

2. The $1.4 million cash payment to the City cannot compensate the existing local residents for the value of what they are losing should this full development proceed.

3. The City of Toronto’s intensification policies do not apply to the Swansea area and Southport street site.

1. Turning to my first point, the Swansea Secondary Plan. It is a careful, balanced Official Plan policy that touches on all aspects of development in this neighbourhood with provisions on apartment neighbourhoods, employment areas, park spaces, and the specific Southport site. It is the most relevant planning material in front of you.

In each part of the Swansea Secondary plan, the need to retain low density development is paramount. In section 4.2 pertaining to “Employment Areas,” for example, the plan says this:

“In order to ensure the continued compatibility between industrial and adjacent residential and commercial buildings and to maintain the low scale nature of development in this area, it is the policy of Council to pass by-laws limiting the heights of buildings.”

Further, in section 5.3 on Parks and Open Space Areas, for example, the Swansea Plan speaks of the need for any development to maintain and where possible enhance views of Lake Ontario EVEN from the lands at the rear of 2155 Bloor Street West.

And of course – Section 6 of the Swansea Secondary Plan pertaining to the Southport site – is explicit in prohibiting a density greater than 2 times the lot area. It also requires any new development to have a minimum of 2,385 square metres of retail and service use, as my fellow citizens have pointed out today. The developer’s proposal – offering a minimum of 1300 square metres to a maximum of 2,200 square metres – breaches this requirement, and does not even reflect the compromise of 2,205 square metres which the residents and the developer agreed to during good faith community meetings.

What the developer seeks to do, in fact, is to double the density permitted in the Southport site from 2X lot area to 4 X lot area, without any sensitivity to the rest of the Swansea plan.

You will see in the Final Report in front of you that the developer references, on page 44, the surrounding neighbourhood context, speaking of the new towers to the south. But the neighbourhood context for this proposal is Southport, which is north of the Queensway. There is a careful layout of the 4 apartment buildings to the north of the Southport site that don’t obstruct each other’s views or cast shadows on each other. There are purposely low level condominium buildings to the south and in the adjacent low density employment area.

The layout of Swansea and the provisions in the Swansea plan tell us that low density, low height developments are what are explicitly contemplated throughout this well-established neighbourhood.

Let’s keep it that way. What is south of the Queensway should stay south of the Queensway. We have our own well-balanced plan for Southport and the surrounding community which requires low density development. Where change is needed, it is incremental change that is provided for, reflected in building transitions and land uses that are respectful of each other. What the South Kingsway Neighbourhood Committee has proposed allows that balance to be retained in a respectful, one building compromise.

2. My second point is regarding the cash payment of $1.4 million by the developer to the City, as part of this proposal.

Simply, this payment cannot compensate current local residents for the value of what they are losing should this full development proceed.

You have heard some of what residents have said. Whether it is a loss of privacy, loss of their view and therefore loss of tax assessment value on their unit, loss of daylight, or increased traffic congestion…citizens are losing and the City is gaining a cash payment. There are no consultations on where to spend it, no citizen input. There is questionable democratic integrity to this payment process. In a nutshell, as the OMB held in its 2003 decision involving the Southport lands, inappropriate development should not be bought for the price of improvements.

3. Third, this area does not meet the requirements in the City of Toronto’s Official Plan for locations suitable for significant intensification, as set out in section 2.2 of the City’s Official Plan.

It is not an enumerated area designated for intensification growth, such as Downtown, the Central Waterfront, one of the Centres or Avenues.

Further, this development cannot be said to be located in an area that is well served by transit. As my friends have already set out today, this undermines the choice of this site for an intense development such as that proposed. The City’s Official Plan, in section 2.2, does however say that Neighbourhoods and Apartment Neighbourhoods are equivalent when it comes to protection from new development considerations.


In conclusion, we ask this Community Council for your support. Not everything should be up for grabs by developers in our city. We need consistency and balance in our planning. Side with we the residents who have acted in good faith to come up with a reasonable development plan that meets the standards of the well thought out Swansea Secondary Plan that protects our established community. Thank you.

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Impolitical: The long run

No, the blog is not dead. Apologies for the lengthy absences. I’m a little busy at the moment. But I wanted to post this item below that I drafted a while back.

For whatever reason, this blog post by Andrew Sullivan hit a few notes with me and I wanted to link to it here. On the occasion of a surprisingly positive deadline result in sign-ups for eligibility for the Affordable Care Act in the U.S., aka “Obamacare,” Sullivan noted it as one more stage of Obama’s presidential success:

Last fall, I argued that Obama’s presidency, already historic in significant ways, would become as influential as Reagan’s if two things happened: if the ACA stuck and American entered an era of near-universal healthcare; and if the negotiations with Iran led to an end of sanctions and a controlled Iranian nuclear capability. Both would be generational game-changers – one in domestic policy, the other in foreign affairs. I’ve also long argued that Obama’s entire presidency makes no sense if you try and judge it by its ability to spike the polls in any given news cycle.

So where are we? Too soon to tell on Iran. But after a clear, self-inflicted disaster – the website’s debut – we’ve seen a classic Obama pattern. The fail is replaced by a dogged, persistent, relentless attempt at repair. I’d argue that the competence behind the repair of the site and the revival of the ACA’s fortunes has been as striking as the original incompetence. And we do not and should not judge a president by his mistakes; the critical judgment is in how he responds to those mistakes. As Dick Cheney might put it, the results speak for themselves:

In 2017 there will be, according to the CBO, 36 million Americans newly covered by ACA through exchange policies or Medicaid. That’s a huge number of voters. You have to live in Foxland to think that any great number of these will see themselves as victims of coercion rather than beneficiaries of a terrific entitlement. The second reason comes from the ramshackle, Heath Robinson (Am.E: Rube Goldberg) nature of the Act. This makes it so hard to understand what is going on. More important, it means that any remotely feasible replacement will also be hugely complicated. Simple repeal and reversion to the status quo ante will be as as unacceptable to the electorate as single-payer.

Worse, the Republicans are now in the position of nit-picking, cold-water dousing and general negativity that tends not to wear well over time. Once again, it seems to me, they have misjudged this president’s long game.

We’ve been here so many times before with this president – when he seems temporarily becalmed, inert, unable or unwilling to seize every moment. But over the long run, you see the virtues of persistence, relentlessness and pragmatic advance. The opes he once inspired may be dimmed or dashed right now; but in the cold light of day, they shouldn’t be. Like the slow, excruciating accumulation of delegates in the epic 2008 primary campaign, Obama never puts it away until he puts it away. But it’s coming. And more and more people are beginning to see it.

It’s challenging to be dogged and with an eye on the long run in today’s Twitter-driven, 24-7 media cycle/era. Whatever you think of Obama, and how far the Americans should have gone in the first place with their health care reform (say we Canadians, home of a single-payer system), the Affordable Care Act is achieving health care coverage success for those opting in to it despite all the self-inflicted problems involved in trying to get it off the ground.

For the much more conservative America to have finally achieved this progressive victory in health care legislation is inspiring. It marks a measured but solid success given the constraints faced by this President (which seem to grow worse by the day in the U.S.). So I think it says something about how to be successful in getting things done in this modern political era. Be dogged, don’t sweat the mistakes, carry on regardless. Keep navigating the political terrain with an eye on the long run.

It also says something about the character required to persevere. The very human things that are suggested here and are required in order for a leader to push on with an agenda despite mistakes that have to be overcome. Obama has those qualities. Look around the Canadian scene. See any leaders who have it? For better or worse? I do. And I’m hoping for the good ones in the long run.

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Impolitical: Liberal reformers

A few thoughts here on today’s announcement by Justin Trudeau that Liberal Senators will no longer be part of the Liberal caucus and are now to sit independently.

One of Trudeau’s lines that stood out for me was this one: “At our best, Liberals are relentless reformers.” Recently, on the death of Jim Coutts, an opinion piece he wrote in 2004 was circulated, and in it, we found this:

“The current policy markers of the Liberal party have evolved over time and are fairly familiar to many Canadians. The most crucial Liberal markers are these:

  1. Reform, which is so central to Liberal identity that it was the party’s name up to and during the leadership of George Brown. The marker has stood for political reform, ranging from the introduc- tion of responsible government under Baldwin and Lafontaine, to battling ruling-class power and patronage abuse at the time of Brown, Mackenzie and Blake, to entrenching a constitutional Charter of Rights under Trudeau. Since the 1920s, the Liberal reform marker has most importantly sig- nified social reform, or the cre- ation and improvement of a modern welfare state.”

Today we saw a big bout of reform in the form of a Senate that would be independent, in Trudeau’s words:

That is why I have come to believe that the Senate must be non-partisan. Composed merely of thoughtful individuals representing the varied values, perspectives and identities of this great country. Independent from any particular political brand.

Trudeau’s reform will likely come off as reasonable to many Canadians. It is not the radical abolitionist approach of the NDP which would require constitutional reform. It is not the Conservative supposed pro-reform approach that has gone nowhere for their seven years in power and that would also likely require constitutional reform.

Trudeau’s reform looks at the Senate, and proposes an approach that will not tear it down, but make fair use of a second chamber. In the Westminster system, it would be anomalous not to have a second chamber. The direction suggested, a more merit-based approach is a good one that speaks to the times. This reform, as Trudeau is suggesting, could be infused with principles of merit, competency, and transparency, to bolster the credibility of the Liberal proposals. And this Liberal would suggest ensuring that the appointment process be free from an elite-based orientation.

To be sure, there will be wrinkles to iron out. Senator Campbell spoke to some of these today: He also questioned how the Senate will function in terms of their role in scrutinizing government legislation. He questioned, for instance, who will sit on committees and who will be named critics of which bills. 

Ensuring that the elected representatives’ will is carried out and without blockage, is another consideration to be grappled with. And perhaps with that consideration in mind, note Trudeau’s last line in his remarks today:

We want to build public institutions that Canadians can trust, and that serve Canadians. This requires real, positive change. These proposals are the next step in our Open Parliament plan to do just that.

They won’t be the last.

This may be a nod to the democratic reform resolution that the federal Liberal MP caucus has proposed as one of its priority resolutions to be voted upon at the upcoming February biennial policy convention in Montreal, less than a month away now. That resolution, Bolstering Canada’s Democracy, contains this operative proposal:

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT immediately after the next election, the Liberal Party of Canada institute an all-Party process, involving expert assistance and citizen participation, to report to Parliament within 12 months with analysis and recommendations for an electoral system including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent all Canadians more fairly and to allow Parliament to serve Canada better.

Senate reform without reform of our House of Commons would be incongruent. The above proposed resolution would be the beginning of addressing the imbalance that would result if the Senate were reformed without a similar effort being made in respect of the House of Commons. As bad as some of the practices and appointments connected to the Senate have been, the pressing need for reform lies in the House of Commons. Electoral reform to change the system in which we operate is one route. Michael Chong’s reform which accepts the system yet changes the rules is another. The good news is that reform in a big way is on the agenda for Canada.

Liberals are re-embracing reform as a mantle. All in all, a positive development today.

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Impolitical: Liberal reformers

A few thoughts here on today’s announcement by Justin Trudeau that Liberal Senators will no longer be part of the Liberal caucus and are now to sit independently. One of Trudeau’s lines that stood out for me was this one: “At our best, Liberals are relentless reformers.” Recently, on the

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