Our usually hard bitten media pundits are predicting that Justin Trudeau’s political honeymoon may continue for many months, but I believe that it’s time to begin holding the Liberals to account.
Admittedly there has been a significant shift in tone for which Trudeau deserves credit. He is far more open than was Stephen Harper and he has, for example, met with the premiers, Indigenous leaders, the labour movement and many others who mostly received a back of the hand from the Harper government.
Still, the Liberals made 195 election promises which succeeded in setting them apart from the Conservative government, and also from the NDP, as the preferred agent of change. For example, the Liberals promised to resettle 25,000 Syrians as government-sponsored refugees in Canada by the end of 2015. Immigration Minister John McCallum kept insisting against all logic that the target would be met – that is until he moved the December 31 deadline to the end of February 2016, and deftly included private sponsorships by church and other groups in the revised timetable.
McCallum admitted on CBC Radio’s The House on January 9 that a total of 6,400 Syrian refugees have arrived — 3,700 of them privately-sponsored and 2,700 sponsored by the government. In other words, the Liberals have fulfilled about 11 per cent of their promise. McCallum is now pledging that the government will have sponsored 25,000 Syrians by the end of 2016, doing in 15 months what it had promised to do in three.
Fighter jets in Syria
Justin Trudeau also promised that Canada would remove its CF-18 fighter jets from their bombing runs as part of a Western-led campaign in Syrian and Iraq. Yet three months after the election, the Department of National Defence continues to report that the bombing continues. Minister Harjit Sajjan, who was so accessible to media immediately following the election, has recently become more elusive.
Domestically, the Liberals promised a middle class tax cut to be financed by raising taxes on the rich. The numbers do not add up but no one took much notice during the election campaign. Finance Minister Bill Morneau now admits that the proceeds of the new tax on high income earners won’t pay for the other tax cuts. In any event most of the tax benefits will flow to those in the “middle class” whose incomes approach $200,000 per year.
Ditching enhanced CPP
Morneau has also ditched the Liberals’ election promise to enhance benefits of the Canada Pension Plan by phasing in an increase in contributions made by workers and their employers. Groups representing labour, seniors, pension experts and most provincial governments have for years been advocating an improved CPP because employer pension plans have been shredded since the Great Recession of 2008-09. Morneau abandoned the Liberal promise based on the opposition of just two provinces, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
Justin Trudeau has also promised to enact all 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated Canada’s sorry history of Indian residential schools. Given the complexity of those recommendations that is another promise that is almost certain to be only partially fulfilled.
Photo ops and selfies
The Liberals promised too much and are delivering too little. They are buying time and good will based mainly upon the Trudeau’s popularity, responding to partially kept or broken promises with clever communications, photos ops and selfies.
This piece was published in a somewhat edited form by the United Church Observer on January 14, 2016.