11.03.2015 01:05 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: what to do, what to do?

What to do, what to do?

Mae West famously said it best: an ounce of performance is worth a pound of promises. So what to make of the many — many — promises Justin Trudeau’s Liberals made during the election campaign?

By any standard, Trudeau proffered plenty of pledges. He did so, perhaps, because of the length of the campaign — it was a marathon, after all, and Trudeau needed announceables to fill up all that empty air. Or he did so because he — like most everyone — expected he would first become leader of the Opposition, not Prime Minister. And therefore not obliged to immediately make good on anything he promised.

Or — qu’elle surprise! — Trudeau said what he said because he believed in what he was saying — his promises were what Brian Mulroney once called “sacred trusts” — and he planned to make good on all of ’em.

Whatever the motivation, Trudeau is mere hours away from becoming Canada’s 23rd prime minister. And stakeholders and interest groups are already forming a line-up outside the Langevin Block, hands extended, expecting the Liberal leader to do what he said he was going to do.

There is a problem, perchance. Team Trudeau gave timelines for many of their promises — and the timelines are tight. Herewith, then, a look at some of the bigger Liberal promises, and the fate they are likely to meet.

Syrian refugees: Mid-campaign, the Liberals — like the New Democrats and the Conservatives — promised to accept Syrian refugees. Trudeau said be would bring 25,000 to Canada before Christmas. Refugee aid groups, however, have said it couldn’t be done — and that no one would fault Trudeau for taking an extra year to do it right. Trudeau, however, is undeterred: he’s giving every indication he intends to press ahead. If he pulls it off, Trudeau will be a candidate for a Nobel Prize — but if he doesn’t, no one will be able to fault him for trying.

Doctor-assisted suicide: Or doctor-assisted dying, as some call it. Whatever the nomenclature, the issue is steeped in emotion and political downside. Even worse, the Supreme Court has given the federal government only until February to craft a new law to permit it. Already, Trudeau’s officials are wisely signalling they need more time. As with the Syrian refugee file, few would be angry at Trudeau for needing more time to craft a response to an issue that, inevitably, displeases one constituency or the other.

Repeal parts of C-51: Very few of us defended Trudeau’s stance on the anti-terror law — but we felt that if Canada has laws criminalizing hate and genocide, we should also have laws criminalizing their bastard sibling, terrorism. To his great credit, Trudeau stuck to his guns on C-51. Making changes to the bill is easily done — and a reference to the aforementioned Supreme Court is both logical and constitutional, as well.

Launch inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women: In opposition, calling for inquiries is de rigueur. But, from the government side of the Commons, enthusiasm for such commissions is usually hard to find — they almost always take too long, cost too much, and satisfy too few. As a father to an aboriginal daughter, I fear the main finding, about the perpetrators, will be used to further stigmatize aboriginal communities. Trudeau may find that calling this inquiry is much easier than receiving its final report.

Reinstate long-form census: Easily done, and with a stroke of a pen, too. The Conservatives took a massive hit on this issue, and Trudeau can only benefit from bringing the long-form census back.

Pull out of Obama’s anti-ISIS force: Trudeau told the U.S. President about his intentions in their very first discussion — and Obama apparently “understood.” In the fullness of time, will the pullout oblige Canada to take on a more militaristic role in a future, less-popular conflict — as Jean Chrétien’s refusal to join the U.S. invasion of Iraq persuaded Paul Martin to later put our troops in harm’s way in Afghanistan? Time will tell.

Restore home mail delivery: I wrote two years ago that the Harper government’s willingness to scrap home mail delivery would greatly hurt them with their key constituency, seniors — and it did. Already, Trudeau’s big win has had a positive effect: Canada Post has halted its no-home-delivery plan.

Legalize marijuana: Another one that is easier to promise than it is to do — will U.S. officials use the change to make it even tougher to cross the border? Already, American officials are signalling as much. Trudeau needs to ensure legalized pot isn’t used as a pretext to create yet more barriers to trade and tourism.

Ratify TPP: During the last two weeks of the campaign, the Liberal leader skillfully avoided echoing Tom Mulcair’s angry anti-TPP rhetoric. He’s therefore preserved breathing room for his government to ratify, with possible strings attached — and particularly to address the legitimate concerns of smaller Canadian auto part suppliers.

The list could go on, but we’ve run out of room.

And that, perhaps, is Justin Trudeau’s biggest challenge of all: he made many promises during the election campaign but, sometimes, not every promise can be kept.

How Trudeau manages expectations, and how he addresses the inevitable disappointments, will ultimately determine the fate of his government.

As no less than Mae West said: what matters most is the performance, not the promise.


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    ottawacon says:

    Also the UNFCCC conference in Paris – it isn’t set up as a photo op, even if Trudeau has a lot of good will, there is a need to reach a deal.

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    gyor says:

    If not every promise can be kept, then it shouldn’t have been made.

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      Kevin T. says:

      Uuuhh… because politics.

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    Matt says:

    Restore home mail delivery:

    Trudeau never promised to RESTORE home mail delivery.

    He promised to stop further switch over to the community mail boxes. If you have already lost home delivery in the recent switch over, you’re not getting it back.

    I think there is a great deal of confusion about this amongst voters and SOME may be pissed at him over it.

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      BillBC says:

      “, Trudeau’s big win has had a positive effect: Canada Post has halted its no-home-delivery plan.”

      Of all his promises, this was the only one I thought was really dumb–why do you think it was positive?…I don’t want to go over the arguments again, but remember that there are “seniors” who haven’t had door to door service since the late 1980s–I’m one of them–and we manage to get our junk mail somehow.

      And Matt is right. He didn’t promise to restore it. So now will we have 70% with, 30% without forever? Dumb.

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    Eddie says:

    What about bill C-24? Stripping of citizenship of Canadians? No changing this? Why do Canadian born terrorists get different treatment?

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      MC says:

      You are right, of course. We should kick them out too.

      Are you sure it does not apply to Canadian born terrorists? I believe it could be used to revoke the Canadian citizenship of any terrorist who has dual citizenship. Accordingly, non-Canadian-born terrorists would not be subject to losing Canadian citizenship if it is their only one.

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        Eddie says:

        While the law is intended to deal with extreme cases, it is subject to minister fiat with no appeal to a judge for stripping citizenship. It can have a chilling expression on general freedom of expression of immigrants who have fled nasty places who do appreciate the power and arbitrariness of government institutions. As well, our institutions of govt don’t have a stellar record when treating all Canadians as equals.

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    doconnor says:

    Doctor-assisted suicide: Trudeau can rightly blame the delay on Conservative foot dragging.

    Legalize marijuana: It’ll probably be 3 years before this is implemented. By that time a bunch more US states will have probably legalized it and it will be old hat. It would make more sense for us to stop and search every car coming in from the US for guns that are legal there but illegal here. They are a lot more dangerous then marijuana.

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    Bill Templeman says:

    Syrian refugees: The world is watching. Trudeau has to take decisive action. Ditto UNFCCC in Paris & C-51 reform. The perception (never mind the reality) is that C51 as it stands will be used not only on ISIS agents but on Greenpeace & Suzuki. This perception has to be fixed

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    MC says:

    I point you again to the Trudeaumeter. https://www.trudeaumetre.ca/

    Now tracking 184 promises.

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    fan590 says:

    You missed fulfilling the promise to change what the Conservatives did to immigrants. This was a major issue in many parts of the GTA for a lot of people. Wanting your kids grandma to come and live with you isn’t a ‘bad thing.’

    If the Liberals don’t act on this in a serious way it’s a huge opening for the NDP in 4 years (same way the Cons said one thing in 2011 and did another and got tossed out the door).

    Senior Liberals strategists reading here… TAKE THIS ISSUE SERIOUSLY. The MPs from GTA ridings know what I’m writing about.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Down the road to quagmire they go: Obama authorizes boots on the ground against ISIL. It starts with Special Operations Forces and then..kaboom.

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      Warren says:

      Why the fuck are people against doing battle with those who are actively engaged in genocide?

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        Ronald O'Dowd says:

        This is your place, so in brief, ISIL gets oxygen because Assad is still there. Russia supports his genocide, even poison gas attacks against civilians. It’s like two sides of the same domino. You can’t effectively deal with one without also dealing with the other — in the same order of magnitude.


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        doconnor says:

        Because of all the problems the Americans caused in the past, they don’t believe they can possibility be doing good this time.

        I don’t know why people don’t more people compare what happened in Syria to the decade long Lebanese civil war and trying to prevent it from following the same path.

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    dean sherratt says:

    On the TPP, the only strings that Justin can attach are those involved in paying off his domestic industries. The deal is done and there is not a comma that he can change in it. There is also the plunge back into deficit spending…in theory it should be deeper since I don’t think he can squeeze much out of current programs and civil service employment that had escaped the notice of the previous government. On ending of door to door, having had our delivery stopped as of October 26, I won’t be too amused to read the fine print…especially having seen quite a number of homes with Liberal lawn signs with “restore” home delivery in my riding of Ottawa South. On refugees, there is some latent hostility that will flame up if a Canadian immigration officer is hurt or killed by being placed in harm’s way to meet the quota. Implementation of every single recommendation of the Truth and Justice Commission…a commitment made without reading it…even more generous than the treatment given the TPP…there are quite a number of dumb recommendations in the report and a lot of money is going to follow them. Bigger than the Inquiry into murdered aboriginal women.

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