Mid-Term Report Card

From the Editor / L. Ian MacDonald

Welcome to our special Mid-Term Report Card on the Trudeau government, two years since it assumed office in November 2015.

Looking back at the 2015 election, it’s clear that Justin Trudeau’s remarkable skills as a retail campaigner, and his personal brand name recognition, vaulted the Liberals from a distant third place in the House to a majority government, an unprecedented achievement. The Liberals also came from a distant third place in the campaign—an Angus Reid Institute poll four weeks into the election at the end of August had the NDP leading at 36 per cent, the Conservatives at 32 per cent, with the Liberals in third place at 23 per cent. On October 19, election day, the Liberals swept to power with 39.5 per cent, to 31.9 per cent for the Conservatives and 19.7 per cent for the NDP. Two years on, a Reid poll in mid-October found the Liberals and Conservatives in a 35-35 dead heat, with the NDP at 18 per cent—minority territory.

From the “Sunny Ways” he proclaimed in quoting Sir Wilfrid Laurier on election night, Trudeau has discovered that “to govern is to choose”, which means broken promises on everything from fiscal frameworks to electoral reform, difficult choices between energy and the environment, and a re-branding of Canadian foreign and defence policy, not to mention the reconciliation agenda with Indigenous peoples, the renewal of federal-provincial relations and the swirling controversy over small business tax reform.

We’ve got it covered.

We begin with Colin Robertson’s survey of Trudeau’s promise of a “constructive and compassionate” foreign policy of re-engagement on the world stage. “Canada is back,” Trudeau declared at the outset of his government. Robertson sees “a back to the future evocation of Pearsonian foreign policy,” followed by a re-set in managing Canada-U.S. relations and the NAFTA re-negotiation after the surprise election of Donald Trump to the White House last November.

David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute provides surgical insights into the government’s defence and procurement policies. On the whole, he finds the Liberals are delivering on their campaign promises, with peacekeeping deployments a notable exception.

Robin Sears considers Murray Sinclair’s landmark Truth and Reconciliation Commission report as a first step on the road to reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Geoff Norquay writes that Pierre Trudeau’s approach to managing the federation—first ministers’ meetings—is back, a very different way of running fed-prov relations than the executive federalism preferred by Stephen Harper.

The legalization of marijuana was one prominent campaign promise the Trudeau government is in the process of keeping. Jaime Watt looks at a legislative work in progress. Among broken promises is Trudeau’s campaign vow that the 2015 election would be “the last” under the first-past-the-post system. NDP democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen offers a scathing review of the government’s wrecked electoral reform process.

Kevin Page, the former Parliamentary Budget Officer and now President of the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy, writes that there’s a difference between cutting taxes and tax reform. From the business community, Canadian Chamber of Commerce President Perrin Beatty writes that any tax reform must improve Canada’s competitiveness in the global economy.

Tom Axworthy leads off Canada and the World with an eloquent tribute to Allan J. MacEachen, Master of the House, father of Medicare and mastermind behind the Trudeau restoration in 1980.

NDP strategist Brad Lavigne shares his thoughts on the arrival of Jagmeet Singh as the party’s new national leader, and sees him as a potential game changer.

Foreign Affairs hand Jeremy Kinsman, a former ambassador to Russia, looks at the 100th anniversary of the Soviet revolution and offers a penetrating analysis of its effects to this day—from Lenin to Putin.

Our Associate Editor Lisa Van Dusen considers the Trump effect, and the challenges the mercurial president poses to Justin Trudeau and his government in managing Canada-U.S. relations.

With the holiday season fast approaching, we offer four timely book reviews. Geoff Norquay has high praise for Ed Whitcomb’s Rivals for Power, which examines the contentious relationship between Ottawa and the provinces. Susan Delacourt enjoyed What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s post-mortem on her failed bid for the White House. Anthony Wilson-Smith was impressed with William Taubman’s Gorbachev: His Life and Times, and finally James Baxter’s favourite read of the season was Al Franken: Giant of the Senate.