Solomon: Wobbles aside, the Trudeau honeymoon continues

Wobbles aside, Justin Trudeau’s honeymoon continues

The Trudeau Liberals can still look at their record and, despite the screw ups, happily match it against any government’s first year in office

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a town hall with high school students in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a town hall with high school students in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Apologies. Protests. Gaffes. It’s been a bad few weeks for the Liberals and the “Honeymoon is Over” song is once again playing for Justin Trudeau. Are they really losing the plot after a year in power? The short answer is no. The polls remain nose bleed high even as they blunder around on a wide variety of issues. The long answer is … no. Just over a year into their mandate, the Liberals are still looking at their record and, despite the screw ups, would happily match it against any government’s first year in office, even any government’s entire mandate.

That’s not to dismiss the recent spate of mistakes as meaningless. The Liberals’ political Teflon is being chipped by clunkers like the Prime Minister’s laudatory statement about Fidel Castro, in which he brushed off decades of human rights abuse in Cuba as merely “controversial.” That led to mocking #TrudeauEulogies on social media that were savagely hilarious. The viral PM suddenly went viral in all the wrong ways. It’s one thing for a politician to be criticized—they all expect that—but when you become a national punch line it really hurts.

MORE: Trudeau’s turn from cool to laughing stock

Meanwhile, the allegations about so-called cash-for-access fundraising dog the party. This week interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose asked the ethics commissioner to investigate the possibility that the fundraisers breach the Conflict of Interest Act. The Liberals have deployed a parsing, talking-pointy defence, focusing on the legalities of fundraising and it’s hard not to think of Bill Clinton’s famous 1998 reply to questions about his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky—“it depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is?” This “unsavoury” issue–the ethics commissioner’s word—will keep inflicting damage until the government lives up to its own standards of open and accountable government regarding the “appearance of preferential access” and changes its practices.

There are other signs of wobbling, especially the patronizing performance of Maryam Monsef, the minister of Democratic Reform, who insulted and misrepresented the work of the very committee she struck. She was forced to apologize—four times—for her behaviour, but even then, her sincerity slipped. In the House, Conservative MP Blake Richards accepted her apology and asked if, as a sign of good faith, the Liberals would now hold a referendum. “Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for accepting my apology,” Minister Monsef began, before adding what is quickly becoming her unfortunate trademark: snark. “I certainly feel better.”

RELATED: Maryam Monsef’s change in parliamentary tone

She didn’t feel better for long. A few days later, Monsef launched, an online survey about electoral reform that was quickly mocked as vague and biased. “Feels like being on a dating website designed by Fidel Castro,” said Conservative MP Scott Reid. While the social scientists behind the survey defended the questions as academically useful, the optics were terrible. After all, Monsef had criticized the committee for not coming up with concrete proposals and then her own survey contained no direct questions about first past the post, proportional representation or a referendum. Instead, the whole thing read like something a group of stoned poli-sci majors came up with as they looked for answers about life in a Magic 8 ball. If the survey was ambiguous, the message was clear: The promise to make 2015 the last first-past-the-post election is dead. At best, the minister will table legislation in the spring that will incorporate some parts of the committee’s recommendations on accessibility, education and maybe online voting, but everything else will fade away. Monsef has to worry that her credibility might fade away with it.

The government’s Phoenix pay system screw up is also on the Liberal indefensible list. Over 15,000 federal workers have not been paid in full, while others have been overpaid to the tune of $56 million. There are stories of federal government workers whose lives have been almost ruined by the pay system mess. The minister in charge, Judy Foote, repeats ad nauseum that this is “unacceptable”, but refuses to give a date as to when the problems will be fixed. The union representing the workers is taking the government to court.

By the way, this same minister is overseeing the decision to sole-source the purchase of 18 Super Hornet fighter jets from Boeing—a direct contradiction of the election promise to hold an open, fair and transparent process to purchase new fighter jets. How can the public trust a minister who can’t figure out how to pay federal employees with buying the Air Force new jets? There is still no good explanation as to why the government needs five years to write a statement of requirements and hold a competition to buy the entire fleet. The “capability gap” that is now used as the rationale for the sudden purchase is becoming, as ever, a credibility gap on military procurement.

RELATED: Will the Liberals still consider the F-35?

While we are loading up the naughty list, let’s add Natural Resource Minister Jim Carr’s remarks about bringing in “defence forces” to stop unlawful pipeline protesters, which almost caused chiefs meeting with the PM in Ottawa this week to walk out on him in protest. Carr apologized at the last minute to alleviate the situation, but the Liberals know they are in for a massive, organized and difficult fight over the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline—and Carr’s words were carelessly provocative. When the protests start, that comment will haunt the government.

Of course, the mother of all broken promises hasn’t gone away: the $10 billion annual deficit that is now close to $30 billion and growing. That might be acceptable if the economy was picking up steam, but it’s not. Promises on tax cuts that were supposed to be revenue neutral have proven to be expensive, which is why the next budget will be the definitive document of the entire Liberal mandate. Big deficits and a gloomy economic forecast are not part of the party plan, and let’s face it, the party is still in full swing and no one has yet called for the cheque. It is going to be shockingly large.

That’s a long list of embarrassments, mishaps and full-on political back flips, but don’t get swayed by it. The list of accomplishments is longer. During the campaign the Liberals made more than 200 promises, but already some signature policies stand out as defining and have some long-term impact. This is not a measure of their merit—some folks like them, some don’t—but a measure of the pace of execution.

RELATED: The Trudeau report card: A look a the bumpy road ahead

The kick off was the first gender-balanced cabinet, followed by the means-tested child benefit plan and the tax cut for the middle class. The launch of the massive, $70-billion infrastructure stimulus plan is defining. Taking in Syrian refugees at a greater number made international headlines and remains a key shorthand for the Trudeau worldview. The appointment of independent senators through an advisory board has been the closest any government has come to Senate reform in generations. The national price on carbon is another signature file, and the new plan to introduce green infrastructure keeps that at the forefront of the government brand. Closing the deal with the provinces to expand CPP is something any government would parade around for years. The inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls was started. The natural resource file has been huge, including green lighting the massive LNG facility in B.C., and, of course, the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. On trade, the Conservatives did the long leg work on the European free trade deal, but the Liberals closed it. They passed legislation making physician-assisted death legal and rolled back the age of eligibility for Old Age Security to 65, from 67. Foreign policy has been just as busy, with the tripling of the number of boots on the ground in Iraq to train—and fight with?—the Kurdish Peshmerga, putting 450 soldiers in Latvia to face off against the Russians and soon, some peace keepers in Africa for the UN. Just this week the Liberals announced a $2.3-billion purchase of 16 Airbus C-295 search and rescue planes, something Canadians have been waiting for since the Martin government!

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, announcing that his government would approve two pipeline projects. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, announcing that his government would approve two pipeline projects. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Take a breath. Those are just the highlights. The re-establishment of the long-form census or reopening veterans affairs offices hardly bear mention as they are simply rollbacks of Harper policies. Promises that have yet to be fulfilled include a new health accord, legalizing pot and, yes, electoral reform.

Has there ever been a more ambitious government in the first year? I can’t think of one. It’s like being a football fan watching teams defend the safe, old running game, grinding out three yards and clouds of dust—and suddenly the San Francisco 49ers arrive with the passing revolution of the West Coast offence under the coaching of Bill Walsh. His team moved down the field and racked up points faster than anyone had ever seen. Trudeau has brought the passing game to politics.

MORE: Why Justin Trudeau is the Steph Curry of Canadian politics

“Right now, 50 per cent of the Trudeau agenda is original, but the other 50 per cent is essentially the completion of the Harper agenda while pretending it’s not,” says John Ibbitson, author of a recent biography on Stephen Harper. “Whether it is accepting the Conservative targets on greenhouse gas emissions, closing the free trade deal with Europe or putting soldiers in Latvia, the first chunk of the Trudeau mandate has, essentially, been part of the completion of the Harper legacy. That is not a bad thing. Consensus between the left and right on key files like free trade makes Canada stable and fortunate.”

Ibbitson has a point. Think of the childcare debate. The Liberal plan under Paul Martin was a fully funded, national child program while Harper proposed cutting families a cheque. Trudeau landed on the Harper side of that debate, but tweaked the idea to make the cheques means-tested. Both governments believe in infrastructure spending to stimulate growth, the benefits of free trade and the need to build pipelines.

Harper’s government was just as ambitious in its own Conservative goals, but clearly more incremental in its actions. It took years to define a Harper doctrine in foreign policy, and the former PM moved so slowly on things like Senate reform that it never happened. His apology to First Nations and the deal he struck with the provinces over health care led to reasonably peaceful federal-provincial relations, but Harper had to deal with the 2008 economic collapse—the handling of the stimulus was, by any measure, done with real efficiency—and maybe that delayed some of his more sweeping reforms. In any case, he had the chance in the last election to offer a new vision and instead he offered a re-tread of his economic plan, a dash of security paranoia and more of his crab walk towards the right. Small ball.

The next year for Trudeau will inevitably slow down, but not much. Electoral reform, health care and possibly renegotiating NAFTA with the Trump administration are massive files, and economic growth will become urgent. Still, in one historic blur of a year, the big items on the Trudeau check list have been checked off. Wobbles aside, the political honeymoon continues into year two.


Wobbles aside, Justin Trudeau’s honeymoon continues

  1. So the media and the Cons can stop yapping and snapping anytime.

    • Took Justin over 11 months was it to create his first Canadian jobs?? Sent more money overseas than spent on Canadian Citizens in need for first year of government – this is insanity (remember he elbowed a woman and told people to “$%@ off.. He wasn’t ready)..

      • Hogwash…’re just making stuff up

      • Trudeau made history before he was even elected, by changing the shape of the senate, whether you agree with the senate or not. It also took 11 months just to get the smell of the Harper government out of the office, and that is still a work in progress. Then he changed the direction of the wealth in the country by taxing the rich by giving more money to families, and especially single parents who need it more, more money to get by with, it completely sideswiped the conservatives and the NDP. You should ask some single parents how they feel about this new change, and they are real voters, not mouthpieces. Trudeau has done and made more impact on this country in the first year of of office, than Harper did in the 10 years.

    • Great news. Bring on the pipelines and lets sell some oil and get out of debt.

  2. Ahahaha Trudeau – The worst PM in Canadian History. His stats are horrid so far.. Combine with other Liberal governments (provincial) the numbers are horrific!!

    Justin is leaving the country in a situation where we will not be economically viable a year from now.. NOBODY will invest here.. We will be in a recession.. It’ll be the worst in 50 years! Far worse than 08 as we will be ACTUALLY suffering unlike with Harper..

    Trump is moving quick and the Liberals are barely responding.. I’m embarassed by this governments’ lack of common sense.. Vaping (did Justin even go see “A Billion Lives”)? Taxes/Benefits/Credits – Promises not fulfilled.. Sure he achieved lowering our TFSAs (raising govt revenue).. Finally approved pipelines you can say this is his only thing positive so far.. POT? Yea keep dreaming.. Millenials are getting their first taste of “say anything to get elected” the left wing media in this country needs to stop the BS and play by the rules. Report the facts – Don’t fabricate them!!

    • The sky is falling.

      It’s the end of the world.


    • Let me tell you a little secret, Harper blew a 150 billion dollars of Taxpayers money before his second term in office, and it took a liberal party to tell him he was going into a recession, instead of taking action, Harper went into denial until someone had drill it in his head. He scraped the cupboards bare in order to balance a budget knowing the risk it put the country at, he starved institutions and sold off of Canadian government assets like Flea market. Harper just burned through money like a Wall Street Banker, and what did he leave before he lost, a mess for the liberal government to come in a clean up, like federal liberals always end up doing after a conservative government.

      • Hey, we love Justin now that he has turned Con and decided to pipe dilbit to tide water. Who made him change his mind? The Chinese?

      • Actually, Harper had a surplus of $24.4 billion in his first term. He did have $94.8 billion deficit in his second term and a $48 billion deficit in his third term.

        He never did run $150 billion worth of deficits. Even if you ignore his surplus years he only had about $145 billion of deficits during his entire 10 years in office. This was offset by over $25 billion in surpluses for a net deficit of $120 billion; a figure that Trudeau is on pace to match in his first term.

        • But he had nothing when he left. Harper blew the bank account the Liberals left, sorry 145 billion, potato, patato, he raped and pillaged cupboards so he could get re-elected, he sold off the furniture to stay in power. He starved institutions just to stay in power, he was nasty with a tinge of racism, you know, the old stock. Harper’s ideology was 1 step short of dictatorship, telling women how they should dress, how they should look, lock people up, and throw away the key attitude, no one deserves a second chance, i could go on and on, it’s not just the money he pillaged, it’s the attitude, the tone, the tempo, the guy was a curmudgeon, he figured he could run a government by fear.

  3. They have done very well especially considering that the press in Canada is strongly pro Conservative and hostile to the government.

    It can’t be easy trying to govern with a spiteful Greek chorus dogging their steps not to mention the swarms of trolls who fetch up on every comment board or tweet.

    Perhaps by now they have developed a thick skin and also see that the polls are holding up well..

  4. Trudeau on a honeymoon… are you serious? Another Liberal media not grasping the the reality. Trudeau has not accomplished anything that will make people lives better. he has helped a few at the expense of many. I expect the USA Fed will raise rates and it will spell the huge trouble for the dollar as well as the real estate bubbled economy. Junior will be luck to last the end of his term.

    • The media are not Liberal, or Conservative, or NDP, or Green, the media are completely independent, but they tend to create news stories that are torqued up at times, not good for a democratic society when FAKE NEWS is put out there. Now, if you want to talk about this so called Rebel Propaganda News, the conservative Bullhorn, i agree, the voice of the angry man. I don’t want to recognize it as a news organization, just another online mouth piece. Ezra is like a prostitute for the Conservative Party of Canada, don’t let this guy(Ezra) loose at the UN please Mr. Trudeau, he will make a holy disgrace of the country. ‘This Hour’ has better media credentials the Ezra.

  5. Here’s the difference between Harper and Trudeau when it comes to connecting with people, every time Harper’s numbers went up a little or even stayed stable when he was PM, he would turn into a ‘Wallflower’, hid away from the people until he was ready to come out of his cave, took voters for granted(complacency). Trudeau, does the opposite, every time his numbers go up, or even stay stable, he still goes out to meet the people(good,bad or ugly), and the media. Trudeau rarely works in the shadows like Harper did, we get to see our PM in action with Trudeau. Whether you like what Trudeau has to say or not, whenever he does have something to say, he doesn’t hide from his voters or the press, in that fact, this is one of the most accessible governments i have ever seen(media are now complaining about that). Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star was so slighted this week by the Nanos poll numbers, because she predicted the honeymoon was over Trudeau too, but Nik had beg to differ, so Miss MacCharles had to use the Toronto stars polling numbers again today, that didn’t get any attention this week, to try and make a headline that Trudeau’s numbers are plummeting. Well, i will wait for Nanos before i believe any other poll, it is the only poll that i gauge from, Nik has the pulse of the people. I honestly believe some pollsters torque or fudge numbers, or even fudge questions just to get the Headline on the front pages of news papers because no one is paying attention to them. Nik Nanos numbers are like the legal tender of polling, you can take it to the bank. Some of the media find it hard to come to terms with the truth, so they have to create news, and when the media has to create news, it’s almost as bad as publishing ‘FAKE NEWS’.

  6. Electoral reform (FAIL with incompetent Iranian spy Monsef) health care (it will be another study) and possibly renegotiating NAFTA (FAIL Crystia Freeland and a box of tissues) Peacekeepers? (In Africa, again? FAIL ) Carbon Tax? (no plan FAIL)

  7. Here is a brief rationale for the Trudeau’s popularity, and why it is centered in Toronto.

    Torontonians have a deep seated insecurity. We live in a big prosperous city with all the trimmings – culture, transit, nightlife, a huge film festival.

    But there’s the problem – Toronto is not a city that has ever captured the world’s imagination. While people lose their hearts in San Francisco, never sleep in New York and flock to Paris in the spring, (almost) no one writes books or songs or movies about Toronto. Amsterdam, Chicago, Sydney, Hong Kong, all show up on the world’s radar screen. They have Olympics and Expos, but not Toronto. I’m not sure why this is the case, and it’s not really fair, but there you have it.

    As a result, Toronto is insecure. Here you hear the expression “world class” so many times a day it seems we cannot exist without non-stop reassurance that we are a world player. Nothing, and I mean nothing, fills Torontonians with more joy than when someone outside of Canada notices us or says something about positive about Toronto, or Canada (which we consider equivalent to Toronto, being Torontonians).

    Enter Justin Trudeau. Our handsome new PM jets around the world generating non-stop international press and headlines. Hallelujah! Suddenly the world notices us! We count after all! Canada is back! So desperate is our psychological craving for international validation that … we overlook all of Trudeau’s faults. Gerrymandering our electoral system to turn Canada into a one party state? No problem. Handing out billions of borrowed tax money for his Nobel Peace Prize application? Why not! Spends more time hanging out with celebrities than in the House of Commons! What’s the problem? Look at the headlines! The world loves us!

    We are the unpopular kid, ecstatic just this once to be invited along with the “cool kids.”

    Eventually we will realize that the “cool kids” are broke, and just invited us along to pick up the tab. We will eventually grow up enough to realize that Toronto is a amazing global city second to none, and we don’t need the New York Times or The Economist to tell us that. And at that point, perhaps Mr. Trudeau’s cult following will dissipate and we can get back to accepting competent, boring leaders who don’t pose for Vogue, and worry about unglamorous things like jobs and health care.

  8. They still love him at the mosques.

  9. Article gives me the warm and fuzzies. Perhaps it’s the buzzing??

  10. For another perspective on PM Justin Trudeau’s popularity among Canadians, let’s occasionally refer to him by the name which our Native Peoples have bestowed upon him: Chief Nofukenclew.

  11. This article is so off base I thought I was reading a satire until I saw it was written by Evan Solomon who is an avowed Trudeau fan.
    How he can suggest that a few tiny “pluses” like a the symbolism of a gender based cabinet offsets major “minuses” like falling incomes, a failure to create decent jobs, and soaring deficits is beyond me.

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