Justin must now walk the talk of Real Change promises

The dust has begun to settle and Canada is becoming used to the notion that the fellow his opponents dismissed publicly as the man with “nice hair” is now our prime minister and, by the way, presiding over an enormous majority government.

That is the person the country began to call simply “Justin,” in a familiar way, as the campaign wore on.

Clearly, his positive campaign charmed more voters than did the promises made by the other two main national parties, but starting right about now, “Justin” will be put to the test to start making good on those election commitments, at least on enough of them to make a noticeable difference to voters.

He promised to follow through with the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on residential schools. There were a lot of recommendations that came out of Chief Commissioner Murray Sinclair’s findings, so implementing them all would be a tall order.

But the education of Canadians, in our school systems (including those of First Nations ancestry, those descended from European pioneers and those new and relatively new Canadians with their heritage stemming from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Central and South America) in the history of Canada’s First Nations peoples’ relationships with the governors and governments of our country during the past 250 years is something that must be ongoing and Justin is in the perfect place at the perfect time to initiate and to make this renewal of that relationship an important part of both his own and his government’s legacy.

Island artist, playwright and film director Dr. Shirley Cheechoo has just been named Chancellor of Brock University in St. Catharines and, in her inaugural remarks when she was installed in this position, Dr. Cheechoo stated that it was her intent to encourage Brock to develop an important centre for aboriginal studies.

In the first days following the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, M’Chigeeng elder Grace Fox, who sits as a trustee on the Rainbow District School Board, is a former Director of Education with the Wikwemikong Board of Education and is herself a residential school survivor, in an exclusive interview with this newspaper called for a national Aboriginal Education Institute whose role it would be to develop curriculum on aboriginal issues (including the residential school period) that could be used by school boards in the fulfillment of that most important recommendation of the TRC.

No doubt Dr. Cheechoo’s and Ms. Fox’s expectations are being echoed nationally, so this is an important topic in which the new prime minister can involve himself and, in so doing, fulfill the implied expectation that with the TRC and its recommendations there will be tangible outcomes, other than just the TRC exercise in and of itself.

Justin and his new government also campaigned on changing the federal election balloting process to one that is deemed more representative of the popular vote.

It is not unusual for such a proposed change to be fairly quickly forgotten in the event the party promising change wins a majority government, as the Liberals just have done.

The Ontario provincial Liberals, when Dalton McGuinty was premier, promised to investigate alternative balloting systems and indeed convened a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform with delegates from every riding in addition to youth delegates. This group dutifully met for over a year, selected an option called Mixed Member Proportional as their preferred option to the traditional first past the post system of selecting majority (or minority) government and then put the option to a referendum for Ontarians to consider for change. The problem was, the governing Ontario Liberals, in their majority position, did not appear to support the change the Citizens’ Assembly proposed and in consequence, when voters went to the polls in the October 2007 provincial election, and were asked to also select a possible alternative method of balloting for the next election to come along, the government had done virtually nothing to clarify and explain a new and relatively complex alternative and so the vote for change failed largely because people weren’t clear what they would be voting for with the new system and so voted for the status quo.

If Justin and the Liberal government are to be true to their election promise, they definitely should not take a page from former Ontario Premier McGuinty’s playbook.

If we are to consider alternatives to electing governments (and there are several other than the one Ontarians rejected several years ago) then they should make an honest and open undertaking and do their best to explain clearly to Canadians the merits of each of the alternatives.

(In the case of the Ontario referendum by way of example, the person assigned to “explain” the Mixed Member Proportional option in our Algoma-Manitoulin riding was given limited car allowance, minimal equipment and could only make presentations when she was sought out so it became very clear that the government was not invested in change of this kind.)

Justin and the new Liberal government, having promised the possibility of change, even though they now have elected a significant majority government, must be true to their word and sincerely give Canadians options to consider, with full explanations.

These are only two examples, drawn from their campaign, of what the Liberals promised Canadians.

It is a good thing that the prime minister elect will himself be attending next month’s United Nations-sponsored climate change summit and that he has invited the other national party leaders and the provincial and territorial leaders to attend with him. This is an exemplary gesture of how seriously this government sees this issue.

Hopefully, action on the TRC recommendations (at least some of them) and the promise to investigate the electoral process will also soon follow from the Prime Minister’s Office, as we anticipate this new government will be true to its promises.