The House of Commons is in summer recess. Political machinations have yielded to a yen for margaritas and merry-making. Who would you rather party with — Justin Trudeau or Andrew Scheer, that smiling reboot of Stephen Harper who wants to put flags on gas pumps?
Halfway through his first term (and notwithstanding partisan rants) Trudeau’s government may be less than people hoped for — but still better than they feared.
While the United States elected a serial liar who has pimped out the White House for personal gain (it’s only a matter of time before Trump opens a gift shop in the West Wing), the worst that can be said here is that Canadians have empowered a typical politician, albeit one with a rock star’s charisma.
When Trudeau walks into a room, (especially if you’ve paid to be there) the temperature still rises. When Harper showed up, it was like someone turned down the thermostat and turned off the lights.
Part of Trudeau’s continuing popularity rests on his bulletproof “likeability” factor among people who don’t pore over every detail of his governent’s actions. It will take a lot of boo-boos to bruise this image among the under-informed and marginally-interested. This isn’t the Age of Reason, after all — it’s the Age of Selfies, and for now, Trudeau is its king.
Don’t get me wrong. Trudeau’s greatest asset doesn’t look back at him from the mirror while he shaves. It’s a lame-duck opposition. The Conservatives not only reached back to the past to select a ‘new’ leader, they continue to embrace policies rejected by voters in 2015.
It is hard to imagine a more foolish reaction to Bill C-59, the Liberals’ do-over of the Harper anti-terror law, than Erin O’Toole’s claim that the Grits don’t care about the safety of Canadians. O’Toole is living proof that the CPC still doesn’t care about any known concept of privacy or civil rights. In the Tory world, the police will never have enough power. The CPC remains a one-trick fear pony.
The NDP has an excellent leader — kneecapped by New Democrats. It’s hard for the public to stand up and cheer for Tom Mulcair (however brilliant he is on his feet in both languages) when everyone knows he’s headed for the showers. No one of Mulcair’s stature has yet emerged from the group of people vying to be Top Dipper this autumn. For now, the NDP is in neither Heaven nor Hell, but political Purgatory.
The result? Trudeau is now the only federal leader firmly in charge of his party, while his adversaries cope with the pain of life without limos, leaders and legislative clout.
His government has enjoyed a number of unqualified political successes, endured some momentous face-plants and is presiding over a growing list of wait-and-see files of huge importance to the country.
The Liberals quickly brought back the long-form census — an essential planning tool for any elected body with legislative responsibilities. Team Harper dumped it because they didn’t want facts getting in the way of their agenda.
Trudeau has restored it; now he must show us he will use it. He didn’t keep his promise on the approval of Kinder Morgan — working as he did on the basis of dubious, Harper-era National Energy Board assessments.
Trudeau has been an undisputed champion of women’s rights. In the one powerful arena where his control is paramount, he ushered in gender equality in his cabinet. He has been resolute about enforcing zero tolerance for alleged sexual harrassment in his caucus. And he has been all-in when it comes to a woman’s right to make decisions about her body.
Trudeau got an assisted dying bill through the House of Commons, and did it with a wide-open debate in which his government took a lot of body blows before the legislation became law. He also stared down the objections of the unelected Senate and rejected its meddlesome amendment. Two women in his cabinet were instrumental in pulling off this major feat: Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Health Minister Jane Philpott.
If symbolism turns your crank, Trudeau also has made an enormous impact on the international scene. Canada’s rhetorical role at the Paris climate talks was outstanding. Instead of being a dead cert for another Fossil Award, as we were in the Harper days, that prize will now go to Donald Trump and the troglodytes who run his Environmental Protection Agency.
The one bona fide skeleton in Trudeau’s closet remains his failure to honour his promise to end Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system. This was an example of bad faith — a place in Trudeau’s record where he has far less wiggle room than with your usual broken pledge. It’s all on video, with Justin looking more than usually sincere as he hoodwinked Canadians: 2015 would be the last election under first-past-the-post. Or not.
Despite all the fine words spoken over the Paris accord, the Trudeau government’s actions on pipelines have also been problematical. Why didn’t Trudeau review all resource projects based on sound environmental assessments, as he promised to do during the 2015 campaign? First Nations peoples in particular took him at his word on this matter — trusted him when he said that the environment would be priority one. Some of their leaders now view him as a liar.
And why would Trudeau promise an access-to-information law that would include his own office and the offices of his ministers, and then renege so egregiously on that pledge? Mulcair called it a “con job.” He was right.
Did the Liberals really think that they would win points for giving Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault the power to order the release of government documents — when she can still be taken to federal court under the new legislation if she tries?
Did Trudeau really think Canadians would applaud him for transparency when a government department can still dodge a access-to-information request by claiming it is in “bad faith” or “vexatious”? What the hell does that even mean?
There are still lots of ways for bureaucrats to not answer questions within 30 days.
The new pony is still shiny. It’s just that being taken for a ride is getting to be a lot less fun.
Author: Michael Harris