Trudeau’s Actions Often Fall Short of the Rhetoric

One of the attributes that propelled Justin Trudeau to power in the 2015 election was his propensity to be pleasant in his words and demeanour. This was in sharp contrast to Stephen Harper’s dour persona.

On the other hand, Harper was careful to say what he believed, even if the message was unpopular in some quarters. Trudeau wants all of his messages to be popular, whether or not they reflect what his government actually does.

Leaders of the opposition are supposed to point out shortcomings in what the government is doing and saying.

Andrew Scheer, the new Conservative leader, has maintained a rather low profile, leading some to conclude that he is irretrievably bland. Perhaps that will prove to be true, but in recent months, Trudeau has been doing a lot of Scheer’s work for him.

Consider, for example, Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion to the Trans Mountain pipeline. Given that it is simply adding capacity on an existing route that has operated safely for decades, it was not a difficult choice for the federal government to approve it. The added capacity is very important to the Alberta economy.

British Columbia has an ideological problem with any pipeline (unless it is for their own natural gas), and has created various obstacles. A similar confrontation with Quebec on the Energy East pipeline was averted when the proponent withdrew its application.

Pipelines are clearly in the federal government’s jurisdiction. Trudeau keeps saying that Trans Mountain is going to be built, but has done nothing to dismantle BC’s roadblocks.

Kinder Morgan has indicated that they will quit unless they see progress soon. If this project does not proceed, it will tell the world that the federal government allows itself to be overruled by the provinces. It will put a huge dent in Canada’s credibility as a place for resource development, and not just for oil.

Or, consider the government’s efforts with the voluble President of the United States. To their credit, the Liberals actively engaged with his new administration, although the high turnover rate at the White House has meant that some of that relationship building was for naught.

In March, Trump announced import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum. After a flurry of lobbying, most importantly by American firms who use those imported metals to make things like cars or rails, Trump backed off for Canada and many other countries.

Trudeau was quick to take credit for that, telling steel and aluminum workers that “we had your back.” It is questionable whether Canada’s efforts were important to the outcome, but that is not the big problem.

The softwood lumber industry has been paying big tariffs for some time now. Are those workers to conclude that Trudeau doesn’t have their backs? Or if NAFTA negotiations include some compromise on supply managed industries (dairy, eggs, poultry), will those farmers conclude that Trudeau thought they are less important than steel and aluminum workers?

The Liberals have shown a commendable interest in developing trade agreements beyond NAFTA. The Prime Minister has not always been an asset.

The leaders of eleven countries met in Japan in November with the expectation that an agreement on the Trans Pacific Partnership would be signed. When the time came, Trudeau arrived late for the meeting and said he wasn’t ready to sign, thoroughly annoying the other leaders.

In December, Trudeau and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland journeyed to China with the intention of launching talks on a trade agreement. That failed to happen after Trudeau spent several hours with Chinese Premier Li. The sticking points appear to have been Canada’s insistence that labour and gender rights be part of any deal.

Did Trudeau really think a 5,000 year old country with 1.3 billion people was interested in our guidance on rights issues?

And then there was the family trip to India. It wasn’t just Canadian media that were unimpressed. The Washington Post reported that “Trudeau’s eight-day India expedition has been an absolute fiasco.”

Indian media outlets called out the Trudeaus for trying too hard, with Outlook India dubbing their looks “too Indian even for an Indian.”

No wonder Andrew Scheer doesn’t want to distract attention. To paraphrase Napoleon Bonaparte: “Never interrupt your opponent when he is making a mistake.” Perhaps Scheer is using his time to design election posters of the Trudeau family pavilioned in splendour at the Taj Mahal with a caption saying “your tax dollars at work.”

His luck might continue. This month, instead of working to enable the Trans Mountain pipeline, Trudeau is visiting Peru, Paris, and London.

Is the opposition leader’s low profile a good strategy? Bill Davis was premier of Ontario from 1971-1985. When asked what contributed to his success, he succinctly answered: “Bland works.”


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