Politics read more

The 2017 test

From marijuana legalization to overhauling anti-terror legislation, the Canadian prime minister is facing a big year

After a slow year, here’s what Justin Trudeau needs to get done in 2017

Justin Trudeau’s come-from-behind victory in 2015 heralded the onset of some pretty drastic changes.

Marijuana would be legal. A new voting system would be in place within five years. Canada’s anti-terrorism legislation would get a renovation. Mandatory minimum sentences would be cut down. Government information would be open by default. Veterans would get a better deal. Infrastructure spending would boost the economy. Canada would win a seat on the UN Security Council. Pipelines would revive Alberta’s oil economy.

None of that was supposed to have happened immediately. But, more than a year later, a healthy skepticism is now growing around whether Trudeau and his nascent government can really deliver on his more ambitious policy plans — and whether he can, as he promised repeatedly, change politics as we know it.

A year in review

If you judge by the TrudeauMeter, a non-partisan project to track the prime minister’s promises, the last year was a mixed bag for the Liberal leader.

With 424 days behind him, and 1024 days to go, Trudeau has not even gotten started on some 40 percent of his 223 campaign promises.

Of the promises made or benchmarks set out by Trudeau himself, he’s accomplished just 17 percent — and broken another 13 percent of those promises. According to the TrudeauMeter, 30 percent of his campaign pledges are in progress.

Some of his promises, both broken and kept, were high-profile. A pledge to form a gender-balanced cabinet was accomplished immediately upon being sworn in, while a pan-Canadian plan to tackle climate change and price carbon was finally hammered out — albeit with Saskatchewan’s objections — in recent weeks. On the other side, he promised to craft a new pipeline review process before approving the Trans Mountain line and to immediately lift the two-percent funding cap for First Nations reserves, neither of which was done.

Some of the promises were more low-key. A commitment to end the discriminatory blood donation ban for men-who-have-sex-with-men has gone unfulfilled. A promise to phase out fossil fuel subsidies has largely been forgotten and ignored by the government. A plan to dump money into infrastructure and give the Canadian economy a shot in the arm has, up to now, failed, with the Canadian economy performing even worse than expected in the last quarter.

Even on other metrics, the Trudeau government has thus far been an underperformer.

Since Parliament reconvened last December, after Trudeau’s victory, the government itself has introduced just 37 pieces of legislation — only 16 of those bills have actually become law.

By comparison, the previous legislative session — under the previous Harper government — ran one year and nine months, and the government managed to get 55 pieces of government legislation passed into law.

Pressed by the Hill Times on the slow pace, House Leader Bardish Chagger contended “it’s not just numbers,” as her and her government “are engaging with Canadians in unprecedented levels.”

Consultation, consultation, consultation

If 2016 was Trudeau’s honeymoon, then 2017 will be the year of reckoning for his effort to reach out to Canadians and move forward on some of the more contentious campaign pledges.

Trudeau and his government have launched public consultations on a host of areas: defense procurement, national security overhaul, democratic reform, housing finance, overhauling access to information, providing affordable food to the north, protecting endangered species, regulating digital media, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and many others.

All-told, the government ran 431 public consultations in 2016, according to a government site dedicated just to consultations.

But critics are already slamming Trudeau’s government, railing that those consultations are more of a public relations stunt than an actual attempt to take the pulse of the general public.

On democratic reform, Trudeau’s government has largely put aside the results of an all-party committee that ran a series of cross-country town halls, where members of the public came out heavily in favour of a proportional representation system — most indicators suggested Trudeau’s team preferred a ranked ballot system, which would have a fairly minor effect. Monsef, in dismissing the committee’s work, announced the MyDemocracy.ca project, which does not actually ask Canadians’ their opinions on the possible new systems. Trudeau and Monsef have, meanwhile, rejected calls for an open referendum on the changes.

On national security, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has already signalled that he’s not just looking to trim the wings of the controversial anti-terrorism legislation, C-51, brought in by the previous government — he’s clearly said he’s looking to modernize the criminal code to allow police to more readily access Canadians’ data. VICE News has already broken down those possible changes.

On military procurement, Defense Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan has vowed that his changes will better-equip the Canadian Armed Forces, yet he’s already scaled-down the amount of defense spending he intends to commit between now and 2020. His party’s promise to kill the F-35 procurement project, and launch a new open contest to decide Canada’s next fighter jet, has already been torn to shreds. His government will buy or lease a fleet of F-18 Super Hornets instead, for the medium term, until they choose a new fighter, in an open tendering that will likely involve the F-35. And while he’s said that he’s waiting for the results of the review before making any large decisions, his government has already made initial moves to launch a procurement of armed drones.

On the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, Trudeau’s government has demurred publicly but privately pushed for an agreement to get signed. America’s newfound sense of isolationism, however, might render that a moot point, as the deal teeters on collapse.

Undercutting the government’s whole messaging around the consultations have been the revelations that Trudeau and his team have frequently attended $1,500-a-ticket fundraisers with well-to-do Liberal donors, leading to the charge that they’ve traded access to their government for cash.

2017 in brief

Overall, Trudeau faces rocky shores this year.

Economic growth — and with it, the Canadian dollar — remains flat, and Trudeau’s deficit-racking will likely not go over well if Canadians aren’t seeing a return on that investment.

The endless public consultations are also starting to draw ire, as government-watchers wonder if the temperature-taking is taking the place of actual action.

Opinion polls show his decision to approve two pipeline projects have undercut his popularity in British Columbia. And making nice with the incoming American president could prove tricky. A fresh face at the helm of the New Democratic Party, whoever that is, could give voice to those concerns.

Meanwhile, a Conservative Party leadership race is currently favouring a handful of candidates that could challenge Trudeau — media personality Kevin O’Leary, who says he wants to challenge Trudeau’s economic mettle; centrist Lisa Raitt, who is hoping to entice pocketbook conservatives back into the fold; and Kellie Leitch, who is leaning into a brand of hard-right Trump-inspired bombast to galvanize votes.

But Trudeau can count himself optimistic on one very important metric: the price of oil.
Thanks to production cuts from the cartel that represents the world’s largest oil producers, Canada’s oilsands might start to see some rebound as oil prices inch back towards $100 per barrel.

Cover: Photo via Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

M-F 7:30PM HBO