Trudeaumania Two is starting to fade - Macleans.ca
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Trudeaumania Two is starting to fade

With polls sagging, the Trudeau Liberals are stumbling badly on a number of key fronts. Enter Jagmeet Singh, stage left.


 
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Trudeau is approving Kinder Morgan's proposal to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. — a $6.8-billion project that has sparked protests by climate change activists from coast to coast. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

On Oct. 1, 1972, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau joined 10,000 fans and greeted Team Canada as its players arrived home from the Soviet Union. The country was wallowing in Cold War pride in the wake of the miracle victory in the Summit Series. After a near-death experience—down 5-3 in the third period of the eighth game—Team Canada’s astonishing three-goal comeback was sealed by Paul Henderson’s iconic shot. What Trudeau didn’t know as he stood at Dorval airport was that, 29 days later, in the election of 1972, he would also have a near-death political experience followed by something of a miracle comeback. More than the Summit Series, this is the 1972 event the current Liberal government ought to remember right now, as the political landscape starts to shift and they look ahead to the next election. It can all slip away so fast.

Obviously none of this is lost on Justin Trudeau. He appreciates how his father’s much mythologized Trudeau-mania of 1968 dissipated in four years, diminished by a weak economy, the strong NDP leadership of David Lewis, and finally by a listless campaign. By election night on Oct. 30, it appeared Pierre Trudeau had lost. He was about to be a one-term wonder. Some speculated that Robert Stanfield’s Progressive Conservatives had actually won, but the counting continued into the next day, Halloween, and it proved to be a cruel trick. Trudeau won by two measly seats, 109 ridings to Stanfield’s 107. Two seats. The Liberals had won 155 in 1968. David Lewis and the NDP became kingmaker, working with Trudeau to sustain a minority government. Trudeau was humbled into philosophical clichés. “Whether or not it is clear to you,” he said at a drained press conference, “the universe is unfolding as it should.”

For Trudeau number two, the once-sunny universe is suddenly not unfolding as it should—or at least, as it has been unfolding for the last two years. The polls are starting to sag as his government mishandles key files like tax reform, Netflix, pot and pipelines in a shockingly sloppy way. After two high-flying years, it’s like watching a world-class golfer get the yips. They can’t steady their hands and make the shot. Especially Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

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Reeling under attacks over his hazily framed proposal to close corporate tax “loopholes”—a word the embattled finance minister will likely never use again after farmers, doctors and small-business groups turned it into a foul expletive—the government is desperate to find a fix. It is not good PR when farmers and doctors believe they are being called tax cheats. Unfortunately, a second tax front opened on Thanksgiving, after a report in The Globe and Mail revealed that the government is planning to count employee discounts enjoyed by people like retail-store workers as a form of taxable benefit. Cue the retail sector outrage.

By Tuesday the government was scrambling to do damage control, announcing they are not “targeting” the retail sector, even though CRA guidance clearly suggests they should. The government’s message got muddier Tuesday night with its suggestion that the laws governing the Income Tax Act have not changed and so must be enforced—which means employee discounts will be hit—yet it also tried to reassure everyone again that nothing will change. Huh? Not sure anyone is reassured after that.

Employees view these discounts, if they are under a certain threshold, as incentives in exchange for low wages, while small-business owners often use them as hiring inducements. Even if raw financial logic and the Income Tax Act on this are sound—and they are—the political optics are brutal. The Liberals still might find a way to discard the employee benefit story as the musings of an overzealous bureaucrat at Canada Revenue Agency—something they are trying actively to do—but they’ve nevertheless handed the opposition another weapon.

Andrew Scheer, the new Conservative leader, is already using the “loophole” issue to introduce himself to Canadians as a low-tax defender of small business—right on the Blue brand. He’s also cleverly deployed the one-man rat pack, Pierre Poilievre, to gnaw at Morneau’s polished leather shoes. It’s perfect casting. Poilievre long ago embraced the role of Parliamentary Pest and he plays it with the self-satisfied glee of Templeton in Charlotte’s Web. All the vaporous characteristics that made him such a maddeningly obstructive member of government are brilliantly useful in opposition. He’s driving the befuddled Liberal finance minister mad and stealing the parliamentary show.

RELATED: Bill Morneau faces a backlash about tax breaks, not hurt feelings

Fundamentally, the Liberals keep failing to frame the tax issue to their advantage, which is surprising because it once worked so well for them. Their most popular promise during the last election campaign was taxing the richest one per cent. It polled through the roof. Progressives saw it as a genuine tack towards fairness and it helped pry voters from the NDP. But in that case there was a real target: the one per cent. The rich. Easy to understand. In this case, there is no clear target, or not one Morneau can easily and simply articulate. Who’s really going to be hit by closing these corporate “loopholes”? What the hell is income sprinkling, anyway? In politics, explaining is losing, and this has become a loser.

Morneau clings to the substance of what the government wants to do—go after people who make more than $150,000, who have already maxed out their RRSP and their Tax Free Savings account, and who are paying their kids dividends from their personal companies. But at town-hall meetings he gets shouted down, and you can see his frustration as his point keeps getting lost. But if he can’t frame the issue, why should he blame the opposition if they want to frame it for him? He keeps blithely repeating his five clumsy talking points about “income sprinkling” and “passive investment” but it does no good. The frame is set. Put those vague phrases up against the well-organized angry faces of farmers, doctors and small business people and they crumble into word dust. Liberals keep telling me that internal polling says Canadians support tax fairness, and they may be right. Just not this reform. They’re trying to play Robin Hood and have no idea who the Sheriff of Nottingham is in the story, and to a lot of Canadians, it is starting to look like Morneau. Morneau is in deep trouble on this and will have to walk it back very quickly, and pass something more symbolic and far less substantive then he wants.

RELATED: Bill Morneau shows a flash of temper in the small-business tax battle

Meanwhile, the pot file is choking on controversy over the speed of the legalization rollout, enforcement and finally, inevitably, cold, hard cash. The Liberals do not want to fight the next election on pot, so there is no way they are going to move the deadline from July 2018, despite the complaints. The government has always been at pains to point out that this is not about making money, but that’s something of a laugher. As has been pointed out a number of times, this government would be the first drug dealer to lose money selling pot. Colorado legalized pot in 2014 and has already pulled in over half a billion dollars in tax revenues, and the entire state has a population of just over five million.

RELATED: Ottawa’s dangerous hustle to legalize weed

No wonder the PM surprised the premiers during their Ottawa meeting by floating the idea of a 10 per cent tax on pot, split fifty-fifty between the feds and the provinces. The provinces balked. They’re paying for regulation and enforcement, so why should the feds get half the cash? Like the loopholes issue, the government has declared this merely a “proposal,” but these trial balloons are starting to look like Lead Zeppelins.

The episode signalled another low point in the declining relations between Ottawa and the provinces. A few days after the pot tax kerfuffle, TransCanada announced the cancellation of their proposed $15-billion Energy East pipeline. The shots keep coming. That left both Alberta and New Brunswick peeved. At the very least, the federal government could have looked like it cared. Instead, the natural resources minister merely shrugged. “Ultimately, it’s not up to me to explain why TransCanada made this decision on the basis of what’s in its interest. I respect that,” Jim Carr said.

The government has been savaged for that answer so the Prime Minister hit back on Facebook, suggesting his critics were “stoking national divisions” by being “intellectually dishonest.” While every company has to function within the government’s regulatory framework and make their own decisions, it’s hard to view the TransCanada decision outside the new regulatory rules that count upstream and downstream GHG emissions as part of the pipelines approval process. It’s even harder to pretend that national divisions are not being stoked when a $15-billion pipeline project dies while the Prime Minister flies to Washington to defend the Quebec-based, government-supported aerospace company Bombardier against massive U.S. duties. The West versus East echoes, which are always dangerous, are inarguably growing louder.

All this might be put down to the growing pains typical of the halfway point in a mandate, but the addition of Jagmeet Singh, the new and flashy NDP leader, is a game changer. Progressives now have someone of their own to embrace. Trudeau’s middle-ground pragmatism—the classic Liberal position—becomes harder to maintain. Progressives in B.C. are losing their Trudeau loyalty over the pipeline debate and democratic reform, westerners are losing their trust in him over natural resources and the price on carbon. Maritimers suddenly feel ignored, again. Meanwhile key ridings around big cities like Toronto and Vancouver, with large immigrant populations, are being explicitly targeted by the new NDP leader. Liberals win when the NDP vote is suppressed and Singh, though unproven and untested on the national stage, has genuine political skills which have re-engaged the NDP base. Trudeau-mania Two is starting to fade.

READ: Jagmeet Singh on his path to the prime minister’s office

Government is a balance of setting the agenda and reacting to events. The number one item on the Trudeau agenda is securing a productive trade agreement, but dealing with Donald Trump is like trying to brush your teeth with a chainsaw, so expectations of anything good happening are low. Just this week Trump again reiterated his desire to dump NAFTA, and U.S. demands are so egregious that some believe they are meant to be a poison pill designed to kill the deal altogether. No one can know how Trump’s universe will unfold.

That makes it doubly important for the government not to make errors on the files they actually control. That’s not happening right now, but there is still lots of time. Two years in is not the time to panic. But 2019 is coming fast and there are two permanent opposition leaders. If the Liberals don’t start to get their files straight, it will start to look a lot like 1972. Or worse.

MORE ABOUT JUSTIN TRUDEAU:


 

Trudeaumania Two is starting to fade

  1. No it’s not.

    Honest to gawd, if Trudeau doesn’t score 10 out of 10 on every question in the govt every week of a 4 year mandate you guys hang crepe all over the headlines.

    I know you need things to write about, but in a world of topics you are being absurd.

    • If Trudeau could score 1/10 every week people would be happier then they are now. His numbers keep falling week after week…….

      Its only a matter of time.

    • are you for real,its head out of butt time,bird brain,turdpants can`t find his ass with both hands.that shithead pm hasn`t done one positive thing for this country you moron

  2. If the employee benefits of minimum wage retail and restaurant workers are going to be taxed, how come Trudeau’s taxpayer funded nanny is not taxed as an employee benefit also.

    • Well they’re not, so stop worrying about it.

  3. If employee benefits of millions of minimum wage retail and restaurant workers are being taxed, how come the moving expenses of all those Liberals who moved to Ottawa to take jobs are not being taxed.

    • Not happening. Clean your ears out.

  4. He has scored 0/10 on every issue expect legalizing pot (5/10)
    Tax reform – 0/10
    NAFTA – 0/10
    Reconciliation – 0/10
    Electoral reform – 0/10

    Need I say more?

    • Eliminate boiled water advisories…0/10. There are more than when he started.
      3 small $10 billion dollar deficits and a balanced budget….0/10 $$20 billion something deficits from now till eternity.

      • Sorry guys, but Trudeau is massively winning in the polls, and has been since the beginning.

        You got stuck with Howdy Doody and are out for the count

        • Any more than one comment per article is enough. Yes, we understand that you like the worst PM in Canadian history.

  5. The Trudeau Liberal’s have succeeded in angering many in Canada including farmers, doctors, retail workers, energy workers and provincial Premiers. They have certainly shown a high level of incompetence. The scary part is that this same bunch of incompetents is in charge of renegotiating Nafta, it will be interesting to see where the chips fall in that one. The fact of the matter is if Jagmeet Singh can appeal to the progressives Justin Trudeau will be a one term Prime Minister. For me, I never liked his father and I like Justin even less.
    One quick thought on corporate tax changes. The real problem is that the difference between the highest personal tax rate and the small business tax rate is too great. Lower the top personal tax rate 3 or 4 points and raise the small business rate 2 or 3 points. Let’s be realistic a new business usually doesn’t make money in the first year or two so income tax isn’t as much of an issue as say wages or regulation.

  6. There was a terrorist attack in Edmonton that the media just won’t cover.

    The open borders and the meaningless slogan: “Canada’s strength comes from our diversity.” is another point that makes Trudeau popular in other countries but not so much at home.

    Every week National News Watch has the Nanos poll as a lead story of how despite of Trudeau’s many obvious failure Canadians still like him. This week National News watch did not provide a link to the Nanos survey.

  7. Trumps carving up NAFTA for thanksgiving and Trudeau gobbling all the way.

  8. The unserious way in which Justin approaches the job has finally caught up to him. Scheer is solid, fiscally responsible, but no charisma. Voters with a conservative bent can accept that.

    Singh is charismatic and all in on social justice. Progressive voters will go for that.

    It’s more likely the Liberals get reduced to third party status than win another majority at this point. Then Justin will head off to the rarefied former heads of state party circuit. Yahoo.

  9. “With polls sagging, the Trudeau Liberals are stumbling badly …” What a headline! The article does not even mention polls. Latest poll on the tax changes show 52% in favour in spite of the awful communications. Much of the opposition is pre Trumpian dalsehoods and ignorance of the facts.

  10. Two topics, Taxation and J. Singh. yet intertwined.
    Example, a senior executive was shocked to learn that the re-reimbursement of his expenses, could be taxable. Airline flights, buying needed office equipment and more on his credit card.And more.
    Jagmeet Singh copies Trudeau, and if you disagree, you are labeled a racist.

  11. Brad Wall wrote this ….
    Today is not a good day for Canada. It is not a good day for the federation. It is a very bad day for the west.
    TransCanada made the decision to cancel Energy East – but make no mistake, the reasons for it fall at the feet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal government. They have been, at best, ambivalent about the project and then moved the goalposts at the last moment by asking the regulator to consider the impact of upstream greenhouse gas emissions.
    Imagine if something like this was considered prior to the construction of auto assembly plants in Ontario or the factories that manufacture heavily subsidized jets in Quebec or the highways and rails that transport those products.
    Former federal Liberal Cabinet Minister, and now Montreal Mayor, Denis Coderre cheers the cancellation of this pipeline. He who leads a city that, just 2 years ago, used a pipeline to dump 4.9 BILLION litres, or nearly 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence Seaway.
    It is a good thing that Mr. Coderre’s hypocrisy needs no pipeline for conveyance, for it would need to be very large and could never get approved for construction.
    When Coderre cheers for the end of this pipeline, he cheers for the imported oil we buy from Saudi Arabia, where women can now drive, but the public beheadings continue.
    He is cheering against an energy sector in our country that employs thousands and has paid on average over the last 3 years $17 billion annually in taxes and royalties to Canadian governments.
    $17 billion is enough to pay for 680 new schools, 1.8 million knee replacements and 4.25 million child care spaces. We have lost an opportunity to strengthen quality of life in Canada.
    Beyond the immediate impact, there are other reasons to be concerned.
    A new Liberal carbon tax, new Liberal tax changes for small business (that will hurt many in the energy sector and farmers), changes to the NEB applied only to this sector and not to others, and methane regulations that will not be mirrored south of the border, with whom we must compete for job creating investment dollars.
    We have a company that committed more than a billion dollars to a project and made earnest efforts to address the concerns of the public and regulators. A company that made 700 changes to its plans as part of that response. Make no mistake, other companies’ decisions to invest in Canada will be informed by this debacle.
    The expectation of course from the federal government, and some powerful central Canadian interests, is that the west will just grin and bear this latest blow to our economy and our people.
    That our taxpayers in Saskatchewan and Alberta will continue to send, without question, about $2.5 billion in equalization payments to help support Quebec that receives $11 billion in equalization per year and $1.4 billion to Ontario. All of this despite the fact that low energy prices have resulted in job losses and lower revenues for the last 4 years.
    Something needs to change. For the west to continue on like this in our federal system is the equivalent of having Stockholm syndrome.
    The decision by TransCanada to cancel the Energy East project was made because of a lack of interest and leadership – or worse, intentional decisions and policies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. He should answer for this. He needs to be held accountable for this.
    His actions and his government’s actions may well have some westerners wondering if this country really values western Canada, the resources we have, and the things we do to contribute to the national economy and to quality of life for all.

    • when we throw that blonde witch under the bus in1 1/2 years the new premier will have the great job of squeezing just-tin nut sac, going to love that,maybe separation`s just around the corner???

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