Promises, Promises: Chapter 2

It was noted in this space a year ago that the Trudeau government was walking back from some of its ill-considered promises. The trend continues.

Some promises are being kept. Google “TrudeauMeter” and you will find a website that self-identifies as “a non-partisan collaborative citizen initiative that tracks his performance with regards to his electoral platform.”

Its scorecard on the 225 promises, after 595 days in office, shows 49 achieved, 62 in progress, 83 not started, and 31 broken.

The list of those broken includes many of those that most clearly distinguished the Liberal policy from the Conservatives, and outflanked the NDP on the left.

Thus the promise to bring in 25,000 government supported Syrian refugees by the end of 2015 contrasted with a security conscious approach by the Conservatives, which came across as ambivalence.

It actually took twelve more months to reach 25,000. That is not a big problem. It is a shame that since then the pace has reduced to a crawl.

Promising wholesale adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was foolish. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, a former regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, has had to say as much: “Simplistic approaches such as adopting the United Nations declaration as being Canadian law are unworkable…”

“We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.” After an incoherent process, this one has been dropped entirely.

A different approach to resource projects was promised with a lot of talk about social license: “While governments grant permits for resource development, only communities can grant permission.”

That characterization certainly does not fit with the Liberals’ decision to approve the Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion, to which Vancouver’s mayor, among others, is sturdily opposed. So the Liberals have invented a new definition, that would be unrecognizable to those who invented the expression: “‘social licence’ is about ensuring public confidence in the decision-making for major resource projects.”

Two promises on defense spending have gone up in smoke this month.

“We will maintain current National Defence spending levels, including current planned increases.” Now we are told that spending will go up 70% over the next decade. This is attributed to Donald Trump’s diffidence by the government. But many observers have concluded that it is more due to Trump’s chiding of NATO members for not meeting the 2% of GDP spending goal.

“We will not buy the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber. We will immediately launch an open and transparent competition to replace the CF-18 fighter aircraft.” This never made sense. Why not include all bidders, if only to keep pressure on the others?

It has been left to Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance to announce that he is keeping the F-35 on the table as a suitable option to bolster the air force’s fleet.

“We will ensure that Access to Information applies to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.”

As reported in the National Post, “Instead of being open to ATI requests, in future those offices will proactively disclose travel and hospitality expenses, Question Period binders and ministerial briefing notes.”

In other words, the government will choose what it wants to disclose and that will be the end of it. No need to dodge around awkward enquiries from reporters and opposition members.

It must be emphasized that, in each of these instances, the policy adopted is better than the one that was promised. It nevertheless raises two questions.

Did the Liberals really believe in these promises when they made them, or were they crafted purely for political appeal?

What has actually happened is only marginally different from what would have happened under the Conservatives. There would not have been a lot of political mileage in promising that.

What will Trudeau’s credibility be in the next campaign?

Voters who might otherwise have supported the NDP may be feeling that they have been had.

If, on the other side, new Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer can match Trudeau’s pleasant disposition but come across as being more thoughtful, knowledgeable, and fiscally responsible, the Liberals may find themselves in a bind.


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