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Remarks By Dalton McGuinty, Premier Of Ontario At The Dialogue On Democracy Conference

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Remarks By Dalton McGuinty, Premier Of Ontario At The Dialogue On Democracy Conference

Office of the Premier

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

And thank you for being here.

You're not just welcome here.

You're needed here.

I want you to know that, like you, I care a great deal about what we're doing here today.

To me, democracy is precious.

Too precious to take for granted.

Too precious to be left to atrophy.

Too precious to be neglected any longer.

Because our democracy is one of those things that makes us more than just a group of people, more than just a population -- it makes us a society.

And that's why we're here today -- to forge a stronger society by forging a stronger democracy.

We have work to do.

As a citizen, I'm concerned -- like you -- that respect for our democratic institutions has declined.

As a citizen, I am concerned -- like you -- that our young people are less and less interested in engaging with our democracy and our community.

As a citizen, I am concerned -- like you -- that many of us no longer feel our participation matters.

As Premier, I know we have to turn this around.

Because I know that when citizens are engaged, governments make the best choices.

I know that when citizens are engaged, together we build stronger communities.

I know the societies that harness the talents, creativity and commitment of the entire population will thrive in the 21st century.

The democracy I want for Ontario is rich, vital and irresistible in the appeal it holds for our citizens.

It's a democracy where engaged citizens trust their government and where a government trusts its citizens.

It's a democracy where each citizen takes responsibility for building a better society -- and each government assumes responsibility to strengthen the citizens it serves.

Building that kind of democracy will take work -- a lot of work.

That is why we're moving aggressively to deliver on our commitment to make Ontario's democracy stronger.

We have two overarching goals for democratic renewal. First, we will modernize our political institutions so that they are more accountable, more open and more responsive to the people of Ontario.

And second, we will engage citizens with their governments and their communities in meaningful ways so that we can all have an impact on issues that matter.

Democracy belongs to its citizens, not just its elected officials.

We will achieve results by making progress in four key areas: improving the way our elections work, improving the way our legislature works, promoting more transparency and accountability in government, and increasing meaningful opportunities for citizens to have an impact on the issues that matter to them.

We will show Ontarians that their democratic institutions serve the interests of the people, not those of any particular group or party.

That they serve all Ontarians.

This has characterized our first initiatives. After we were elected, I appointed the province's first-ever Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal to lead these efforts. And I want to publicly commend Michael Bryant for his commitment to this work.

In the spring, we introduced legislation to fix election dates in the province. If passed, future elections would be held on the first Thursday in October every four years. It's an incredibly important change.

It's important because never again would premiers be allowed to time an election in their own self-interest. Elections do not belong to the party in power. They belong to all citizens.

Secondly, our Fiscal Accountability and Transparency Act would require the province's finances to be reported on and reviewed by the provincial auditor before an election.

And it would require that the report be made public.

From now on, there will be no more fooling around with the election date, and no more fooling around with the numbers.

Come election time, everyone will be on the same page.

These laws would be the first of their kind for Ontario, making our province a leader in democratic renewal.

We believe that, just as people are entitled to measurable results from their government, they are entitled to reliable information on those results.

That's why we have independent bodies in place that will provide independent information.

The Education Quality and Accountability Office reports on student achievement and the new Ontario Health Council will report on health care waiting times.

It's not their job to do the spin that's desired.

It's their job to deliver the facts our people deserve.

Last fall, we introduced legislation that, if passed, would ban government spending on partisan advertising.

We are saying that public spending, public money, should be used for the public good and not the self-interest of the governing party.

That is the democracy I want for Ontario.

We introduced a bill to require attendance at question period by Cabinet ministers.

We are saying that we respect the legislature and we respect the people's elected officials.

Government business should be done in the house, in a transparent manner, where we can be accountable for decisions.

We have introduced a bill to extend the auditor's powers to conduct value-for-money audits of institutions in the broader public sector such as school boards, universities, colleges, and hospitals.

And we have also introduced amendments that extend the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act to the provincial hydro companies.

We are saying that the government's information is the public's information. When money is spent in the public's name, the public has a right to know how it is being spent.

That's the democracy I want for Ontario.

I am proud of what we've done. It is a good start. But there is more to do.

We have some very clear plans for the next three years. Today, I'd like to announce what some of those are.

This winter, we will take the first steps to create a citizens' jury to consider changes to political finance in Ontario.

It's not enough for our decisions to be beyond the influence of political contributions.

They must be perceived to be beyond the influence of political contributions.

We will propose political finance legislation that will help restore citizens' trust in their parties and institutions.

We will reduce the influence of money in politics.

We will establish a citizens' assembly that will look at how we elect our representatives.

If that assembly recommends an alternative to our first-past-the-post system, we will hold a referendum on that alternative within our mandate.

I believe Ontarians should have the opportunity to re-examine the election system we have inherited and determine whether they are satisfied with it, or wish to exchange it for another.

Some have already expressed opposition to this exercise.

They argue that our first-past-the-post system is clearly the best and, anyway, consideration of an alternative is simply too complex an undertaking for Ontarians who are not expert in the field.

That attitude smacks of a paternalism we should rightfully disdain.

When it comes to how the people elect their representatives, the people of Ontario will have their say.

It may be that Ontarians choose to keep our first-past-the-post system. That's fine.

The very exercise of re-examining our electoral system will reinvigorate and heighten our appreciation of it.

This is a matter for Ontarians to decide.

Our responsibility is to ensure the public's voice is heard loud and clear and has an impact.

Tomorrow, the Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal, Michael Bryant, will announce our efforts to engage young people in particular.

We all know young people who are interested in issues, who are interested in their communities, who have ideas and energy, but who are turned off the political process. Too many young people believe their participation doesn't matter. This must change.

I believe in our young people.

That's why we build schools. It's why we are rebuilding public education.

Because we believe our kids can do great things.

We need to ask them to participate in ways that are consistent with their values, their culture, their lifestyles and their expectations.

For too long, young people have felt shut out of our democratic process. We will invite them in.

For too long, they have been treated as junior partners. We will treat them as full citizens.

And over the months to come, we will announce other initiatives on issues such as parliamentary reform.

By improving conduct in the legislature, increasing the quality of debate and enhancing the roles of Members of Provincial Parliament, we make our democracy stronger.

On issues such as transparency in government, we're making government more open and accountable. We will ensure that citizens have the information they need to participate meaningfully and hold the government to account for the decisions it makes.

And we will move forward on other issues, such as representation of the North, making voting more accessible, and ensuring our democracy embraces our province's diversity - because that diversity is a tremendous source of strength.

Today, with this conference, with your participation, we begin a dialogue on the quality of our democracy, and means by which we can strengthen it.

There have been many great democratic reforms in Ontario's history: responsible government, the secret ballot, universal suffrage.

Today, as we begin a public dialogue on such issues as electoral reform and the funding of the electoral process, we are all heirs to that proud tradition.

You, in this room, today, have a great deal of experience in reaching out to people in your communities. I invite you to share the lessons you've learned over the years.

This work we do together is essential to Ontario's future.

You see, I believe our province's greatest competitive advantage is our people.

Strengthening that advantage is what our government's plan for Ontario is all about.

It's a plan to strengthen the education and skills of our people.

It's a plan to improve the health of our people.

And it's a plan to ensure prosperity for our people.

But our ability to do all of these things depends on the system that serves the people: our democracy.

It needs to be strong, so it can make the best decisions.

It needs to be healthy, so it can overcome our challenges.

And it needs to be open, transparent and inclusive, so it reflects the needs and aspirations of our people.

I've heard it said that some Ontarians are cynical about our political institutions. But I'm reminded of the old expression that every cynic is at heart a disappointed idealist. I believe that.

I believe that at our core we are idealists. We want government to work. We want our province to work, to succeed, to be the place to be, for years to come.

So I don't mind a little skepticism. To me, it means that our citizens have high expectations for their government and for themselves.

That's healthy.

But I do reject cynicism -- that pure brand of cynicism that says there is nothing we can do, that things can never get better, that all we can do is give up.

I reject that.

Ontarians reject that.

Ontarians believe in hope.

It's why they send their kids to school, why they go to work each morning, why they volunteer in their communities -- because they believe in the future.

It's why they want us to strengthen our democracy -- and why they want a say in how we strengthen it.

As we work together today, and in the days to come, I ask you to keep in your hearts and your minds the people who have gone before us -- and those that will follow.

I ask you to remember the simple but profound premise on which our democracy stands.

And it is the belief that none of us is as smart as all of us.

None of us is as important as all of us.

And none of us is as strong as all of us.

Thank you.