The Trudeau Report Card: A look at the bumpy road ahead

A year after a stunning majority win, the hard work of delivering more than 200 campaign promises has just begun

Prime Minister Trudeau is briefed prior to interviews with Buzzfeed and CNN in New York. September 19, 2016. (Adam Scotti/PMO)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in New York, September 19, 2016. (Adam Scotti/PMO)

A year after a stunning majority win, Maclean’s adds up the stumbles and successes of Justin Trudeau’s government in our Trudeau Report Card. The hard work of delivering on more than 200 campaign promises—and breaking some along the way—has only just begun. Read our analysis of how the Liberals are handling security, immigration, the economy and more in our full Report Card coverage here.

Looking hard at the workload of Justin Trudeau’s government can be like peering into a dense thicket of promises. He made about 200 of them in last fall’s Liberal election platform. Some he’s kept and a few he’s broken, but of course most of those policy pledges remain, after only about a year in power, works in progress.

Still, the first anniversary of the Oct. 19, 2015, election is a good moment to take stock. It’s not just a matter of sorting out what’s unfolding promise by promise, although we do a good deal of that in our Trudeau report card. It’s also possible to discern a two-part theme emerging that goes a long way to defining the Trudeau government so far: the interplay between “inclusive prosperity” and “diversity.”

    From his earliest days as Liberal leader in 2013, Trudeau began honing, with his inner circle, a message about boosting middle-class prosperity. He argued that economic growth had for decades mainly benefited those at the top of the income scale, and must be made to better the lives of those around the middle. That’s the inclusive part. But to generate enough new wealth to spread around, the economy must be rebooted to expand faster. That’s the growth part.

    The title of the Liberals’ 2015 platform—A New Plan for a Strong Middle Class—left no doubt it was this economic promise that Trudeau & Co. most wanted voters to hear. But news has a way of intruding on the communications plans of political strategists, and two stories that broke during the 2015 campaign forced the contenders to react.

    First, the heartbreaking photo of a drowned Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, on a Greek beach instantly turned the Middle Eastern refugee crisis into an urgent election issue. Next, federal judges rejected the Conservative government’s bid to stop a few Muslim women from wearing face veils while taking their citizenship oaths. On the campaign trail, Trudeau’s stand for diversity played far better than Stephen Harper’s appeal to a narrower sense of identity.

    Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau is accompanied by his wife Sophie Gregoire as he arrives to give his victory speech after Canada's federal election in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

    Justin Trudeau arrives to give his victory speech after Canada’s federal election in Montreal, Quebec on October 19, 2015. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

    After the Liberals won their majority, government strategists expected inclusive prosperity to settle in as their core line of business. Indeed, last spring, Trudeau himself listed three middle-class pocketbook moves—creating a new child benefit, reforming the Canada Pension Plan and cutting the middle-income tax rate—as his government’s biggest early achievements. However, just as events outside his control had made diversity such a hot campaign theme, more news kept feeding that fire throughout his first year in power.

    South of the border, who could have predicted the rise of Donald Trump? Across the Atlantic, who expected the Brits to vote to exit the European Union? At home, who foresaw Ontario Tory MP Kellie Leitch, in her long-shot bid to succeed Harper, proposing a values test for would-be immigrants, throwing into sharp relief—again—that telling contrast between some Conservatives’ identity anxieties and most Liberals’ diversity values.

    And so, at the one-year mark, top Liberals are still thinking as much about diversity as they are about growth. Can they successfully marry the two themes? They’re trying. For instance, Liberal strategists say Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland’s recent bid to salvage the Canada-EU trade deal with a mission to Germany and Austria will succeed—if it succeeds—thanks to Trudeau’s popularity in Europe. And his admired image is founded on goodwill and great media images generated by Canada accepting about 30,000 Syrian refugees.

    Canada's Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Canada November 24, 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

    Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on November 24, 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

    Immigration Minister John McCallum, who spearheaded the refugees project, now talks of moving on to the task of attracting more highly skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants here faster. He says policy must rest on more than feel-good moments—a reality that extends beyond his portfolio to the entire government. “We are now coming into the phase where it’s not just selfies,” McCallum says. “It’s also real decision-making, where not everybody in the population will be happy with every decision.”

    Conservatives will never be happy with Trudeau. But welding “diversity” and “growth” together as Liberal values in the popular imagination might solidify his standing among centre and centre-left voters long beyond a honeymoon period. For that to happen, though, growth will have to feel meaningful. Unfortunately, most economists view the slow economy of recent years, for which Liberals tried to pin the blame on Harper, as a deep-seated phenomenon. Craig Alexander, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, points to familiar culprits, including a shrinking, aging workforce and stubbornly low business investment in productivity-enhancing equipment. “Realistically, even with smart policy, you might move the rate of growth from 1.5 per cent [of gross domestic product a year] to, say, 1.8 per cent,” Alexander says. “You’re not going to create policies that will return us to growth rates of, say, the 1990s, which were close to three per cent.”

    That doesn’t mean the Liberals won’t try. Watch for the fulfilling of key promises on stepped-up infrastructure spending and some sort of innovation policy—along with whatever Dominic Barton, the global business consultant Trudeau has named as his growth guru, recommends later this fall.

    So the economy looms as the biggest challenge. But a raft of hugely ambitious promises—improving the lives of Indigenous people, changing how elections are held, stepping up support for UN peacekeeping abroad—also vie for attention. Can the government maintain momentum behind so many challenging files at once?

    Much depends on the public appetite for the sort of change Trudeau promises. Some experts see the revived craving for more activist government as a powerful phenomenon. Pollster Frank Graves, president of Ekos Research Associates, says strong polling numbers for the Liberals after a year in office reflect widely held, deeply rooted progressive views—not a transient response to Trudeau’s likeable persona. “This is not a blip, it’s a transformation,” he says.

    If Graves is right, then Trudeau’s sustained popularity as he enters year two as PM represents a public willingness to give his government a chance to get a lot done. The policies we examine in this package of stories might be hard to crowd into a single frame, but they all belong to a singular moment in Canadian politics—a point when growth and diversity are the big ideas in the air, as Trudeau turns from creating a political image to, just maybe, building a policy legacy.

    Maclean’s complete Trudeau Report Card:

    OVERVIEW: A bumpy road ahead

    ECONOMY: A sluggish start to delivering on promises

    ELECTORAL REFORM: A long way from a breakthrough

    CLIMATE CHANGE: After flexing muscle, year two will tell

    SECURITY AND MILITARY: Lowering expectations

    INDIGENOUS PEOPLE: A relationship sours

    TOUGHEST TASKS: Immigration, marijuana, home care

    LEADERS: The six change influencers to watch in year two


    The Trudeau Report Card: A look at the bumpy road ahead

    1. Canada is not a primary school

      …and it doesn’t get ‘graded’ by the media.

      The job here is running a nation….not playing games.

      • When do you think he might start running the country?

        • Canadians love the job he’s doing…..not my problem you’re choking on your partisanship.

          • See article on Montrealers take dim view of Jacques Cartier Bridge’s $40-million lights.The federal government is covering $30 million of the bill.Some Canadians may love the Job he is doing but if their was a re-election tomorrow he should be worried. His betrayal of the vets, his betrayal of First Nations, his candy coating vulnerable Canadians while he strips health care, land and water protection for the benefit of International consortium’s and his home province. I am not surprised some Montrealers are frustrated if not angry, but how do they think the rest of Canada sees this. Most Canadians can not be bought off from a few trinkets in one hand while he sets up to take it plus more back from the other hand.

            • He’s doing fine. Put your grocery list away and relax.

          • “Choking on partisanship.” Wow…take a look in the mirror Emilywon……pot meet kettle. You are so partisan, you can’t admit the PM has no clothes on.

            • That’s why he so popular, he has no clothes on. Its the only reason 75% of the chicks voted for him and probably 20% of the blokes. Who cares about policies, as long as he’s shagable in there eyes, nothing else matter. My guess is they wont get shagged by him directly but they will indirectly when he ends up shagging the country

      • What in your little mind is the job description of an investigative political journalist in a democratic nation with free speech? If you just want to read the positive PR about the Libs and JT, go to their website and bask in his glory.

    2. Honestly… do the authors of these articles actually read their own words. Why is there such a bland interpretation of an obvious struggling government strategy. I realize there is a report card associated to this opinion piece, but trying to sugar coat a failing economy is not going to help Canadians see the trend before or during. Trudeau is surely flailing about behind the scenes desperately trying to find the silver bullet to right the economy. Obvious to anyone he, and his cabinet are either hiding the truth or they are inept to see the the continuous monthly descent of the economy. The budget presented last spring , wasn’t even close to accurate. The refugees are struggling to adapt. The real estate market will or has burst dependent on the markers used. The unfortunate reality is Trudeau with his limited understanding and little experience can not see the trends or the results that are surely to come. It is distressing to see such a litany of negative markers add up against his first year. Honesty being the best reality, I think it will be worse in the following years to come. Maybe someone should tell the Liberals just how much money has left the country, and is planning to be deployed elsewhere. It is staggering.

    3. Justin Trudeau is the global elites (oligarchs, banksters, and 1%’ers) Trojan Horse for the looting of Canada.

      Trudeau’s economic plan basically is to generate rentier streams of income from Canada for these global elites…i.e. effectively taxes for the global elites on the Canadian economy and Canadians. The global elites intend to position themselves between the money printer and creator and spender, the Bank of Canada and the federal government, and Canadians and Canadian companies, and skimming tithe-like “cake-crumbs” from the massive flows of newly minted money for themselves.

      • I wish I could not agree more… unfortunately I agree completely. Canada was set up from the beginning to exploit the West – not only the aboriginals but the three million poor brought in to farm, log and mine the land. Now our judges and politicians are trying to pay off clause 35 of the Constitution through clause 36 of the Constitution, which means basically playing off one group against the other – the more things change the more they stay the same. The foundation to understand Canadian history is simple: look at the provincial boundaries. Look how Upper Canada drew a line around the Great Lakes to keep the North West Territories from having a port (ya, ya, Hudson’s Bay whoo) look how Laurier chopped the NWT into pieces before it could get a large enough population to protest. Look at a railway built (after some delay when the Prime Bootlicker of the day tried to give the contract to Americans) in order to bring troop in and prevent any more this talk of independence. Oh, it’s all very genteel these days, hushed courtrooms and gushing propaganda campaigns. Nothing has changed.

        • You two never went to school, didja….

          • “Didja…”. There is a word for an educated, articulate individual with two or was three degrees….

        • I totally agree with what you said that certain people in a position of power and elitism have since the beginning set up overseers so they can milk the rest for their own gain and control water, land, trade for the benefit of the few. The masses were so desperate for change they jumped in to elect this person and all the promises and lies of equality and fairness for all. Hushed, secretive, white washing, closed doors and scratching each others backs.

    4. Give me a break, and give me a call in about 4 years, it may be a bumpy road for politics in general, after all, we have 2 other parties lost in the political wilderness. Trudeau’s biggest challenge in the coming months or year or so ahead, is going to be the legalization of pot, and if that comes to fruition in a timely and well thought out manner, your going to have a lot of happy and hungry Canadians, and you know what happens when Canadians become happy hungry, they spend more money on food and movies(good for the economy) to eat from having the munchies(the junk food market is going to go through the roof). That pot legalization is going to spring the grits into a second term, just roll it out incrementally(pardon the pun), and all of this report card business, will only be reported in a school classroom. Just stay in the middle Trudeau, and keep chipping away at the other 2 parties ideas, well not ideas, maybe policy, every government does it. Trudeau can keep a boot to the throats of the other 2 parties, by just keeping the tone and tenor, and stay away from scandals, because scandals are the cancer that eats away at political party, unless your Trump.

      • Do you care in the least bit that First Nations students are getting funded to the tune of $1,300 per year versus $2,700 for a white kid? Do you care that Justin Trudeau promised to change that but has not done so? Which platform made you vote for him Carpet Bomber? It obviously wasn’t his promises to make things right with the First Nations people because he has broken those promises and you don’t care. It wasn’t his promise to make things right with vets because he has broken those promises and you don’t care. It wasn’t his promise to fix the economy because he hasn’t done that and you don’t care. It wasn’t his promise to legalize cannabis because he hasn’t even decriminalized it and you don’t care. It wasn’t his promise not to go to war because we are headed to 3 wars and you don’t care so really, what promise will he break that will make you care? He has even broken promises on the environment by okaying LNG and the damm in BC. Yet you can’t make yourself do anything but defend him. Constructive criticism makes a government better. It makes it accountable.

    5. When the dust settles, we’ll have a bunch of selfies , broken promises, an economy going nowhere and massive debt. The ex bouncer/snow boarder/ drama teacher will have exceeded my expectations.

    6. Trudeau and his minions have been a major disappointment to many voters on the West Coast including those who believed his green infrastructure and “leveling the playing field” on fossil fuel subsidies versus renewable energies. No action on either front so far, other than the announcement on his carbon tax plans. Will be interesting to see if he sticks to his guns on that one.
      But he has certainly been good to the LNG and oil industry – both the Woodfibre LNG and Pacific Northwest LNG plants and pipeline have been approved. Chances are that he will also approve the diluted bitumen heavy oil Kinder Morgan pipeline that will see oil tanker traffic off the coast of BC increase 800%. This is a direct breach of his promised to stop oil tankers off the BC coast!

      In my book as someone who voted for his promise of change, he gets an F. He and his government have maintained the Harper pro fossil fuel steady as she goes course.

      • Matt, I didn’t like Trudeau as I thought he was too similar to Zoolander- all style and no substance. But you talk him up well and make me want to vote for him. If he can get LNG and oil to tidewater I may have to vote for him.

      • Matt

        I seem to remember that this was Clarkes platform in the last election so you only have yourselves to blame. Although I am sure that if the federal government blocked the projects then we would be hearing all about the interference by the east to the west.

    7. Boy King needs new advisors from economy tanking to supporting foolish wars – he continues like a colder version of Barry O – lots of sizzle – no steak.

    8. All your titles btw are negative…this is not how to write political stories.

      • Are you Justin’s mother or his wife? Aaron Wherry in his entire tenure at Macleans NEVER wrote a positive story about the sitting PM of the day. Hahahaha….get used to it. I thought you were a First Nations advocate. Justin failed to keep his promise to protect their land rights. He failed to keep his promise to increase their education funding. He didn’t make their mental health issues a priority. They no longer trust him despite his Haida tattoo. Get over your blind partisanship and open your eyes to the reality of his leadership. He is Harper junior.