TRUDEAU’S FIRST CHAPTER: TWO LIBERALS WEIGH IN

Jonathan Kates & Ali Nasser Virji

Well, Canada. We have a new Prime Minister. Following the longest campaign in modern history, Canadian voters endowed the Liberal Party of Canada with a majority of parliament’s seats. For the greater part of this calendar year, Canadian political parties inundated voters with lofty promises. Now that he has emerged victorious, Justin Trudeau will be expected to deliver. Some promises will be prioritized over others: we will take a close look at some of the priorities our new government should address during their first 100 days.

In an effort at full disclosure, we are both staunch Liberals. Ali campaigned for Terry Beech, the newly elected Liberal MP from Burnaby North-Seymour. Jonathan, meanwhile, overrepresented Justin Trudeau in nearly every election-related conversation he had prior to October 19th. He’s incredibly embarrassed that his GTA riding went blue (we’ll let you guess which one).

Some may argue that our partisan activity may colour our ability to conduct a critical evaluation of Prime Minister-designate Trudeau’s first chapter. We disagree. If anything, we expect more. We attended debates, we poured over party platforms, and we engaged with voters. As such, we have big expectations.

Given these expectations, in our first instalment, we’ve mapped out some priorities for Trudeau and his team during their first 100 days in power. In the second instalment, we will address priorities for his first year.

So far, Trudeau’s tenure looks promising: in his first 24 hours as Prime Minister-designate, Trudeau spoke to President Obama to both inform him of an intention to strengthen our bilateral relationship and to signal our desire to end Canadian participation in the air strike mission in Syria and Iraq. He has also initiated the process of an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. Credit’s due where it’s deserved, but these are still small steps towards implementing large and relatively complex campaign promises.

Justin Trudeau may not be the economic messiah we require and his plan may not save the Canadian economy, at least not yet. After all, Stephen Harper, a tactical and shrewd economist, had to run eight straight deficits and begin this most recent election campaign under the spectre of a technical recession. Nonetheless, we believe the Liberal promise to diverge from the Harper Government’s Draconian social agenda and to re-establish essential Canadian institutions – respect for data, anyone? – will be enough to set Canada on a new course for the better.

His priorities for the crucial first 100 days should be as follows:

(1) Meet the Premiers
Stephen Harper only met with the Premiers twice in his nine years in power. Trudeau has said one of his first priorities will be meeting with the Premiers, which in the short-term will allow Trudeau to properly represent Canada at the upcoming COP21 climate change conference in Paris. He has committed to “[establishing] a framework for combatting climate change [and] introducing a national standard to reduce GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions.”

Note: Since we began writing this article, Trudeau teleconferenced the premiers to invite them to Paris with him, an invitation they accepted. We hope this points to a renewed federal desire to engage with representatives at all levels of government.

In the long-term, re-energizing all 13 provinces and territories will allow each of their distinct voices to be a part of the conversation regarding a) how to develop the Oil Sands sustainably, and b) how to transport our oil across the country for export. Ideally this ongoing conversation will also provide some insight on how to diversify Canada’s economy, since we have seen the great risks associated with anchoring our economy to only one commodity.

(2) Income tax reform
Income tax reform was a central pillar of the Liberal platform. First, they plan to reduce the tax bracket for middle-income households (those earning between $44,700 and $89,401) from 22 percent to 20.5 per cent. Second, they will create a new 33 percent income tax bracket for those who earn over $200,000/year. Those in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia will now face a 50 percent clip between federal and provincial income taxes.

The Liberals say that those who qualify in the middle class income range will benefit from $670 per year paid by the rich. If Trudeau is serious about bridging the income gap, he will need to ensure his Robin Hood scheme is feasible, while cracking down on anyone who wants to add to Canada’s $170 billion stashed in tax havens.

This reform promises to fund the Canada Child Benefit, a tax-free income-based program designed to provide greater monetary resources to single-parent and low-income families to “lift 315,000 Canadian children out of poverty.”

(3) Implement the long-form census to make sure it’s ready for Summer 2016
The Harper government’s aversion to data-based analysis is well-documented. This reached a peak in 2010 when Munir Sheikh, the then head of Statistics Canada, resigned and then testified in front of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology over the Harper government’s unilateral decision to kill the long-form census.

As the last census cost $675-million, this won’t be cheap. However, former MP Ted Hsu has argued that re-introducing the long form census may actually save taxpayers money. Regardless, its reintroduction will be essential in recovering some of “vanished Canada”.

(4) Call Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to re-establish a working relationship
Unbeknownst to most, Stephen Harper strained Canada’s relationship with Mexico. In 2009, five thousand Mexican refugees entered Canada and claimed refugee status. The Conservatives responded by imposing visa requirements on anyone entering from Mexico, in an effort to stem an influx of “bogus refugee claims”. The subsequent 84 percent drop in asylum visa applications was billed as a success; then in 2013, the Conservatives relaxed the laws for Mexicans who had a U.S. visa or had been to Canada in the past. However, the chilly relationship continued when Harper refused to relax the laws ahead of a state visit to Mexico in 2014. Needless to say, our relationship has deteriorated. With the likelihood of a TPP ratification , the Canada-Mexico relationship could be extremely important in the coming years. Trudeau has already promised to remove the visa requirements for Mexican citizens. If Mr. Nieto is among Trudeau’s first international phone calls, that would be a great start on the road to repair.

(5) Make a decision on the Trans-Pacific Partnership – either way
Former Prime Minister Harper took the unusual step of amending the caretaker convention to grant his government the power to continue negotiations during an election period. For those unfamiliar, the convention prevents the government from making “significant decisions related to policy, spending or appointments” during an election campaign. While Thomas Mulcair took a clear stance in opposition of the TPP, Trudeau claimed he wanted to see the final text before making a decision. If we can hold Trudeau to his platform promise, the Liberal government will hold an “open” debate in parliament to discuss the merits of any deal.

If our new government does ratify the deal, Trudeau will likely find himself operationally bound by the generous compensation package that Harper promised Canadian dairy and poultry farmers to compensate them for increased international competition. However, once details of the deal begin to emerge, public support for ratification could erode.

Justin Trudeau must make a decision, either way. Though Japan is certainly hoping for a quick decision, perhaps our nascent Prime Minister is waiting for the Republican and Democratic candidates to select new leadership. As we’re seeing now, a change in leadership can drastically shift the mood of a nation.

(6) Decriminalize marijuana
Given that he has a majority, Trudeau should decriminalize marijuana at the first opportunity (1 and 2). According to a 2002 Senate report, enforcing Canada’s marijuana prohibition costs the justice system and law enforcement between 300 and 500 million dollars annually. Immediate decriminalization would alleviate these costs. In addition, it would end the legal limbo for Canada’s 37,000 medical marijuana users who were harmed under Harper’s unconstitutional law that banned patients from growing their own plants. This law was set to force users to buy plants from Health Canada facilities at prices that far exceeded their own. Supply management access issues have also loomed large in the decision to strike down the ban. Decriminalization will begin the long march towards full legalization.

(7) Amend or Repeal Controversial Conservative Legislation

REPEAL – C-24: Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act
“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.” We heard it incite passionate applause during the Munk Debate and we heard it during the Trudeau’s victory speech. Trudeau has long criticized the legislation for devaluing and diluting Canadian citizenship. Repealing this bill should prove fairly straightforward. The bill allows the federal government to strip Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorist offences – either at home or abroad – something the Harper government publicized during the campaign period. Given that Stephen Harper mused over the possibility of expanding the legislation to strip citizenship for other offences, Trudeau’s criticism was warranted.

REPEAL – C-23: Fair Elections Act
Sometimes referred to as the Unfair Elections Act, the Liberal Party has committed to repealing “anti-democratic elements” they argue were designed to “make it more difficult to vote.” (p. 8) Indeed, the legislation ended an individual’s ability to have someone vouch for his or her identity, while eliminating Election Canada’s ability to run advertising campaigns.More pointedly, the legislation strips the Commissioner of Election Canada of the necessary powers to adequately address perceived electoral infractions. Instead, the party has promised to restore the independence of the Commissioner, and embolden Elections Canada to protect the integrity of our democratic process.

Although the party committed to reinstating Elections Canada voter information cards as an acceptable form of identification, they have divulged little else. Presumably, increased limits on donations to electoral candidates are unlikely to change.

AMEND – C-51: Anti Terrorism Act
First tabled in late January, the Anti-Terrorism Act was arguably the most divisive issue during the first half of the campaign. Observers grew concerned over the potential for the bill to “create a secret police force with little oversight, facilitate government spying and information sharing on Canadians, and violate freedom of speech.”

We must remember that the Liberal Party never promised to repeal the legislation. Instead, it pledged to implement the 10 amendments they originally proposed “to narrow the legislation’s overly broad definitions, ensure parliamentary oversight, and institute mandatory legislative reviews.”

As the government has already begun drafting legislation to fix C-51, it is clearly high on the agenda, and rightly so. The creation of a multi-party, joint House of Commons-Senate committee will provide popularly demanded oversight functions for Canadian security organizations.

Notably, the party will honour its vow to include an automatic “sunset clause” to the legislation, which will require parliamentary review every three years, something the Conservatives had shown no intention of doing.

The first 100 days of a new administration’s mandate are said to be its most important. Clearly, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have a huge task ahead. They must attempt to reverse some of the mal-effects of the Harper era, while simultaneously crafting their own identity. Once we pass the 100-day mark, our government will need to concentrate on their remaining, unaddressed election promises.

Check back in the coming days for our second instalment where we’ll analyze some of the main files that Prime Minister-designate Trudeau and his government must prioritize during their first year.

Ali Nasser Virji is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the School of Public Policy & Governance. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and Canadian Studies from McGill University and hails from Tsawwassen, a town whose name is arguably the most difficult to spell in British Columbia. If you bump into him on the street, he is probably clutching a cup of coffee, walking unnecessarily fast, and attempting to read up on broadcast and telecommunications regulatory policy on his oversized phone.

 Jonathan Kates is a is a 2017 Master of Public Policy candidate at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy & Governance. He holds a bilingual Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Sociology from Glendon, and his areas of interests are education, social policy, cities, and government accountability. His favourite food group is pizza.

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4 responses to “TRUDEAU’S FIRST CHAPTER: TWO LIBERALS WEIGH IN

    • No, we understand fully. At present, Justin Trudeau is the Prime Minister-designate. Stephen Harper will be Prime Minister until he steps down on November 4th. We should have acknowledged this technicality in our piece.

  1. Pingback: TRUDEAU’S FIRST CHAPTER: TWO LIBERALS WEIGH IN AGAIN | The Public Policy & Governance Review·

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