What Trudeau says his government has achieved in 2017 so far, annotated
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What Trudeau says his government has achieved in 2017 so far, annotated

From the politics of marijuana, to moving beyond talk on First Nations, big policy challenges remain

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Let’s take a look at what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his Liberal majority government got done in the first half of 2017. The quotes here are from Trudeau’s statement, released this afternoon as MPs headed home for Parliament’s summer break, and the brief comments provide links to stories, columns and expert analysis:

“Between February and June, I signed agreements with the leaders of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Assembly of First Nations, and the Métis National Council, establishing a process to advance shared priorities for Inuit, First Nations, and the Métis Nation.”

Agreements are  fine, but measurable progress is another matter. Critics like University of Victoria professors Rob Gillezeau and Jeffrey Ansloos point, for example, to the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s analysis that shows the federal government may not have allocated enough money to fulfill the Liberals’ key 2015 election promise to eliminate the gap between federal spending on First Nations students and kids attending provincially funded schools.

“In February, I welcomed the European Parliament’s approval of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union.”

The deal with Europe is an accomplishment, but hardly one the Liberals can claim as all their own. After all, the deal was mainly hammered out by the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper, who finalized an agreement in principal in 2013 and finished negotiations in 2014. What was left last year for then-trade minister Chrystia Freeland (before Trudeau promoted her to foreign minister) was coaxing the Europeans over the final, odd, obstacle of Wallonian resistance.

“In March, Minister [Bill] Morneau tabled one of the most forward-looking budgets in Canada’s history. With its strong focus on innovation and skills, Budget 2017 prepares Canadians for the changing economy and secures Canada’s place as a hub of innovation.”

It’s hard to guess how much Morneau’s second budget might fuel future Canadian prosperity. His long-term funding for innovative “superclusters,” his controversial Canada Infrastructure Bank plan—these and more Budget ’17 measures are decidedly long-term. No wonder Trudeau tends to highlight far more prominently the 2016 budget’s modest middle-bracket tax cut and big parental benefits boost. But can those measures resonate all the way to the 2019 election?

“In April, we introduced a bill to legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to cannabis no later than July 2018.”

The legal and social importance of Trudeau’s marijuana policy is huge. But what about the politics of this landmark legislation? Trudeau’s approach is to highlight the get-tough parts, especially making it a separate crime to sell weed to kids. How will Canadian voters compute the Liberal stance? Is it possible to somehow cast legalizing marijuana as a pillar of a stern, law-and-order campaign message?

“On June 6, Minister Freeland outlined a new foreign policy for Canada, and underscored our commitment to a rules-based international order, progressive trade policies, gender equality, and fighting climate change.”

It’s perhaps a stretch to characterize Freeland’s speech to the House, although important, as a whole new foreign policy. In effect, she framed familiar Canadian policies in a dramatic new light: the sudden decline in U.S. leadership on the world stage under President Donald Trump—not that she mentioned his name. Still, Freeland’s rhetoric counterbalanced the Trudeau government’s assiduous courting of Trump’s inner circle.

“Minister [Harjit] Sajjan unveiled Canada’s new defence policy, which establishes a credible, realistic, and funded strategy for our military and, most importantly, will deliver the standard of service and care our women and men in uniform deserve.”

After laying out the plan to buy many new fighter jets, lots of new naval ships, and even drones, the defence minister’s policy can’t be faulted for lacking ambition. It extends to a whole whole new approach to countering threats from space and bolstering cyber security. But the question is about money. Sajjan’s plan calls for an additional $615 million to be spent in 2017-18, ramping up to $2.3 billion more in 2021-23. In other words, the big money will all come after the 2019 election. And politics, played against the state of the economy, has a way of deferring defence priorities.

“Earlier this week, Minister [Ralph] Goodale tabled legislation to create a new National Security and Intelligence Review Agency and introduce changes to Bill C-51, which will strengthen security and better protect Canadians’ rights.”

Writing for Maclean’s, law professors Craig Forcese and Kent Roach called Goodale’s Bill C-59 “the biggest overhaul in Canadian national security since the creation of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) in 1984.” Forcese and Roach were prominent critics of the Harper-era anti-terrorism law Goodale set out to reform, and they said he “gets a lot of things right.” In other words, Trudeau most seasoned minister let Liberals MPs head out for the summer break on a positive note.

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