Welcome to your post-process years, Justin Trudeau - Macleans.ca

Welcome to your post-process years, Justin Trudeau

Paul Wells: The Liberals’ big initiatives have proved exhausting. It’s no wonder they’re finally turning to the simple payoffs.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives to deliver a statement before the start of a Liberal caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, June 1, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives to deliver a statement before the start of a Liberal caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, June 1, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Colleague John Geddes had an insight about yesterday’s economic statement from Finance Minister Bill Morneau that deserves more attention and some amplification:

Last fall’s version of the annual update [Geddes writes] was all about long-term plans for ensuring Canada’s prosperity decades from now in a fiercely competitive world; this year’s is all about converting today’s unexpectedly strong growth into quick dividends for Canadian families.

There are obvious reasons why this year’s update would feature more short-term thinking. The big one is that Morneau’s hair is on fire and he seems unsure what to do about it. But I strongly suspect we’re also seeing the results of some belated and generalized lesson-learning among the Trudeau Liberals.

Morneau’s fall update and its two signature initiatives—indexing the Canada Child Benefit and boosting the Working Income Tax Benefit—are the work of a chastened government that has worked hard for two years to reinvent many wheels, and is (and here, I’m guessing) not sure all of it was worth the effort.

Indexing the CCB and boosting the WITB are tweaks to existing, established programs. They’ll deliver smoothly and in ways the recipients will notice and, the Liberals hope, appreciate. Morneau wasn’t above a little sleight of hand on timing—the CCB increase doesn’t take effect until next year, the WITB changes a year after that—but on the whole, these new measures will deliver billions of dollars to target sectors with minimum fuss, controversy or administrative overhead.

RELATED: Justin Trudeau’s money pit, and those working hard to join it

Contrast that with… most of everything else this government has done. The big announcements in Morneau’s fall update from a year ago—the Canada Infrastructure Bank and the Invest in Canada Hub—still aren’t up and running. Both are still hiring directors for their oversight bodies. Meanwhile, the country forgot to thank the Liberals for either of these novel ideas. I think the Infrastructure Bank is a really exhilarating long shot, but researchers and the Senate and the opposition have done nothing but kvetch, while the project’s fans have been more reticent.

And it’s not as though only Morneau’s 2016 fall update was cursed with growing pains. Just about every attempt at structural reform has run into organizational hassles, administrative bloat, delay and headaches. From the electoral-reform consultations to the parliamentary-reform consultations to Morneau’s own business-taxation consultations, the Liberals’ big attempts to reach out to Canadians for advice and ideas have been mixed at best, and catastrophic at worst.

Often there isn’t even any discernible fault: this government inherited the Phoenix pay system mess from its predecessor, for instance, and it still can’t make it work. And then there is the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. And the marijuana legalization. And Kirsty Duncan’s fundamental science review. And Navdeep Bains’s supercluster initiative. And the climate-change plan, which seems to have gone away, though it can’t stay gone for long, can it?

One of the best illustrations of how disillusioning these grand reforms can be came just today, in the form of a Radio-Canada story on Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly’s already much-derided digital culture initiative. Rad-Can had the bright idea to go back and interview the members of an experts’ panel that advised Joly on her reforms. Do they think it’s gone well? To be helpful, Rad-Can let them speak off the record. Turns out they think she’s made a hash of everything! “I wonder whether I’ve wasted a part of my life,” one says. I have a sneaking suspicion the minister lately wonders the same thing.

It’s not as though all of these initiatives were bad ideas. I suspect Trudeau would repudiate very few of them. Some may yet pay off big, both in generalized national wellbeing and in political advantage for the Liberals. But taken together they must be simply exhausting. A government that has run only marathons eventually discovers it is not as fond of complexity as it once was. It starts looking for quick simple payoffs.

I suspect this fondness for administrative simplicity, while late-blooming, will prove durable. Advocates for change in just about any field would do well to consider whether there are existing, proven mechanisms for getting results that they could push, as opposed to sweeping two-year reform projects or policy startups of shaky legitimacy and untested workability. In one of the fields I obsess over for no easy-to-explain reason, science policy, the longstanding and lately poorly funded federal granting councils suddenly look pretty good: they’re accepted by researchers, they get money into the intended hands, and what’s suddenly highly valuable, they’re unlikely to be the source of unpleasant surprises if they’re used to deliver more money.

Sturdy policy pipelines like that will be valuable in any number of policy areas, as a government that’s had to battle through nasty controversy begins to realize it is closer to its next rendezvous with voters than to its last.



Welcome to your post-process years, Justin Trudeau

  1. The Liberals did NOT inherit the Phoenix pay system mess. They and they alone made the decision to take it live. The Conservatives may have not made the same decision. Harper and his ministers were far more sceptical of the bureaucracy than Trudeau and his merry gang, and may have not listened to the bonus-seeking bureaucrats urging the government to turn the switch ON.

    Ditto with the Saudi armoured “jeep” deal (tanks that are being used against their own people and in Yemen). Trudeau and Dion had the final say, because one final approval was required.

    The only purpose for an infrastructure bank…really a PRIVATIZATION bank is to guarantee profits for the global 0.1%’er investors (the kind of people Morneau hands out with in his French villa) and transfer the risk of any losses to the Canadian taxpayer.

    • The Phoenix pay system and its mishandled roll out was under the watch of the Harper Government:
      “The report released Thursday said the most senior officials in the public service didn’t fully comprehend the complexity of switching dozens of aging pay systems over to the Phoenix system, a change — first launched by the former Conservative government in 2009 — that was further complicated by cuts to the number of federal pay advisers….”

      And the Saudi Arms deal was zealously pursued by Harper and wrapped about by guarantees made by the Harper government to the Saudis.

      AUGUST 26, 2015
      “Ottawa is contractually obliged to keep secret the details of a controversial $15-billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia – a transaction that Stephen Harper personally assured the country’s monarch will be guaranteed by the Canadian government, documents say.”

      “The contract is under a Canadian government guarantee in terms of fulfilment,” Ms. Mawani wrote in a Jan. 21 exchange with colleagues on why Ottawa couldn’t make the terms public.

      “This was confirmed in writing by our Prime Minister in his letters to the King,” she said, speaking of Mr. Harper and the late Saudi King Abdullah.

      A cloak of secrecy surrounds this agreement, first announced in 2014, with Ottawa refusing to divulge any substantial information on the vehicles Canada is selling to the Saudi regime”

      • The Ottawa Citizen linked article confirms that it was the Liberals that took the Phoenix system live. As such, the Liberals get to wear a good chunk of the blame. Maybe a Conservative government would have done the same thing, but that’s really a moot point. It was the Liberal government that green-lit the roll-out, so it’s the Liberal government that gets to wear (a large chunk of) it.

        Re the Saudi Arms deal, if the Liberal government wanted to terminate the contract it could have; the existence of a confidentiality clause did not preclude that. This does not excuse the Conservative’s handling of the file, but it does mean the Liberal government gets to share in the blame (again).

  2. Our Toronto based national media is still unfailing polite about stating the obvious fact that everything the Liberals has touched has been a disaster. Let’s be honest, they are now in full panic meltdown mode.

    • Keep this kind of thinking going. Rope a dope, cruise the ropes with lots of dodging and weaving and just a few counter punches for the time being. Sorry, he’s got you and the media exactly where he wants you, thinking he’s finished. Do not underestimate Justin Trudeau.
      Scheer and Poilievre are both leaning way to far into the danger zone. Sticking their fragile jaws into knock out range. Media babbling. Great fun!
      Offence starts in about 18 months.

    • Why are you saying that “Liberals are a disaster and now in full panic meltdown mode”?
      Do you have any real examples to support your statements?
      Like this: since Liberals came to power they created 450 K new jobs, youth unemployment is the lowest in the past ten years, Canada is leading G-7 countries in the GDP growth and Liberal Government new child benefits program pulled over 300 thousands Canadian families out from poverty.
      Your words, like: “disaster” and “they are now “in full panic meltdown mode” – without concrete examples to support your statements are empty words only!

      • I’ll give you a few examples:
        -Electoral reform was a really dumb promise that the Liberals went through a deceptive sham to get out of.
        -The inquiry into the missing and dead indigenous women should never have been given life and has turned into a major disaster and embarrassment.
        -The ONLY GDP enhancing policy in Trudeau’s kit is infrastructure spending which hasn’t got off the launch pad after 2 years. The Liberals have nothing to do with the ongoing housing boom or the 40% increase in oil prices which have taken place over the last two years and are driving the economy.
        -Morneau’s embarrassing personal tax haven deceit and conflict of business with his company is a great example of lack of integrity which Trudeau won’t even let Morneau try to defend himself about any longer.
        -The sham about supporting pipelines and then putting in environmental requirements that no other country has because they can’t be attained.
        Does that help?

        • The Ottawa media is with you Jerome.
          Tonight’s At Issue was the most completely one sided, biased, anti Trudeau diatribe from three panelists who sang in unison led on by leading questions from the moderator. It was really quite unbelievable.

    • Yeah, why would we want the best economic metrics in over 10 years. Way overrated. I love disasters like this!

      • The Liberals have done NOTHING to drive the economy. The real estate and construction boom and the doubling of oil prices over the last two years are the two main drivers. Neither was caused by our government. The only GDP stimulus in Trudeau’s kit is infrastructure spending and, after 2 years, it hasn’t yet left the launch pad !!

  3. The Trudeau Liberals claim that having private partners will insulate the government from risk in infrastructure projects. But if these partners go bankrupt or otherwise exit their participation, the public will still demand that any bridges, roads, water systems or electrical utilities continue operations. The federal government will be forced to step in and clean up the mess, whatever the cost.

    The risk transfer claim is just another spurious argument by the Liberals to justify a profiteering Infrastructure Bank that will benefit well-connected elites at the expense of the public, who will end up paying excessive fees, charges and tolls.

    • ” But if these partners go bankrupt or otherwise exit their participation, the public will still demand that any bridges, roads, water systems or electrical utilities continue operations. The federal government will be forced to step in and clean up the mess, whatever the cost.” … Is this a reference to the huge pile of fed money that Lisa Raitt used to clean up the mess that the fossil fuel guys made of Lac Megantic? Even the take away of replacing the old CTC-111 railcars, implementing better braking systems and improving rails and rail crossings is supported by federal funds. Even without PPPs the federal government is coerced/blackmailed into funding supposedly private enterprise.

  4. Say what you will, you can’t make progress by doing what you’ve always done. The fed is a huge organization with thousands upon thousands of individuals heavily invested in the status quo along with a large number of enterprises who’s business cases hinge on government funding, tax concessions, regulatory relief, etc. While it’s easy to conceive of politicians in charge, to a large extent their herding cats.

  5. $40 million and counting now is the tab for victims of Liberal government cooperation in the torture of Canadians.

  6. PW says “I think the Infrastructure Bank is a really exhilarating long shot …”

    It’s only a worthwhile long shot if the downside to taxpayers is limited. If we’re talking about a venture with a high risk-to-reward ratio, then it’s not really something the government should be putting anything other than nominal money into. Is that the case with the Infrastructure Bank?