Time to start governing

John Ibbitson, a very astute and well connected political commentator, writing in the Globe and Mail, sees five challenges for Prime Minister Trudeau this fall:

  1. The most urgent priority is to produce a concrete plan to fight global warming. On this all-important file, time is running out. The annual gathering of countries to review efforts to fight climate change, known as COP22, begins Nov. 7 in Marrakesh, Morocco. Mr. Trudeau announced at COP21 in Paris last December that “Canada is back” as a leader in the fight against rising carbon dioxide emissions. The world will expect results.
  2. The government has set a deadline of Dec. 19 for deciding whether to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would twin an existing pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., almost tripling the bitumen that could be transported from Alberta to the Pacific coast. The National Energy Board has approved the pipeline, subject to conditions, but the government convened a separate panel to review the plan.
  3. CRI_rS4UAAA9H9WThe special committee on electoral reform must offer recommendations on how to transform the existing system for electing members of Parliament by Dec. 1. At this point, there appears to be no consensus among MPs on whether to move from the existing system, known as first past the post, to some form of proportional representation, or to a ballot in which voters rank their preferences, with second and third added until one candidate has 50 per cent of the vote. The Conservatives prefer the status quo, and are demanding that any proposed changes be put to a referendum.
  4. Former Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan is head of a panel examining how to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The panel has until November to offer recommendations on where and how cannabis should legally be manufactured and sold, how to keep it out of the hands of people who are underage and how to prevent drug-impaired driving.
  5. Sources inside and outside the government report that the Prime Minister intends to launch a broad-based initiative to advance the rights of sexual minorities in Canada, which will include an apology for those who were criminally charged or forced from their government jobs in the past because of their sexuality.

It’s important to remember that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won the 2015 election by promising a whole lot more than just not being Stephen Harper. They made a lot of promises to a lot of constituencies and most of those promises have price tags that many, many Canadians will not be willing to pay. It’s not clear, not to me, anyway, the Prime Minister Trudeau can or, in some cases, should even try to keep all of them.

Climate change promises, pipelines and electoral reform are all problematical because they pit provincial and local interests against both the national agenda and the Liberal re-election strategy.

The pot and “sexual justice” promises will further alienate some communities: the conservative wing of the Liberal party and many suburban, working family and ethnic voters.

Mr Ibbitson and I sum up the challenges and prospects as:

  1. On climate change, which was, pretty much, dog whistle politics for many the three million, mostly young first time voters, who came out to support Justin Trudeau. John Ibbitson reports that: “The Liberals “absolutely have to deliver on [the previous government’s targets],” Erin Flanagan, policy director at the institute, said in an interview. “What we expect to see in the fall is a credible package of carbon pricing and regulatory measures that will demonstrate how we can hit the target, and then to ratchet up ambition over time.” … At the least, Ms. Flanagan believes, the federal government will need to impose more stringent regulatory measures, such as ordering an end to coal-fired power plants by 2030. In addition, Ottawa may have to impose a federal carbon tax or its equivalent … But coercion will meet with strong provincial opposition, not to mention howls from businesses struggling to stay afloat in a weak economy. Mr. Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna have nine weeks to forge a consensus, before Canada must present its plans at Marrakesh.” The economy, especially Ontario’s, which used to account for 40% of Canada’s GDP, is in trouble, fighting climate change will cost big money. Prime Minister Trudeau probably knows that budgets really don’t balance themselves and he probably guesses that Canadians are afraid of an endless string of big deficits. What to do?
  2. Pipelines have put provincial premiers and big city mayors, many of them staunch Liberals, at one another’s throats. Mr Ibbitson, quoting Chris Bloomer, president and
    chief executive of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, says that: ““We will need new pipeline capacity to move the barrels that will be coming online through 2020 … and that new capacity needs new markets.” .. [but]  Kathryn Harrison, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia, can’t see how the Liberals can thread this Slide1political needle … “At a certain point, they’re going to have to make a decision that will make someone mad,” she observes, adding that saying no to Trans Mountain while signalling a willingness to say yes to the proposed Energy East pipeline to New Brunswick would anger opponents of that pipeline in Quebec and Ontario.” Prime Minister Trudeau’s campaign skirted these issues; his government cannot.
  3. Elections Canada has warned it needs two years to implement any new system in time for the next election,” says John Ibbitson and “Polls suggest that most Canadians know little and care less about changing the electoral system. Jane Hilderman, executive director of Samara, a charity that promotes democratic engagement, is urging the government to delay its decision to permit wider consultation with and education of the public … “Most citizens face an uphill battle to understand what this debate is about, why it is important and how they can get involved,” she believes. “Canadians need both more time and more non-partisan information about electoral-reform options.”” I agree with him that it’s “a conundrum.
  4. The legalization of pot issue ought to be simple in process but it is going to split voters, again: many of the young, hip, urban voters will see it as a “Promise Made/Promise Kept” issue but many suburban, working family, often ethnic and somewhat conservative voters will be put off.
  5. The apologies to those who suffered discrimination because of their sexual orientation should also be fairly easy, although, as Mr Ibbitson says, “Some of the report’s recommendations, such as creating a uniform age of consent and changing the laws regarding sex work, will take time to implement,” but it will (further) alienate the socially conservative Liberals ~ which will include many Muslims who supported the Liberals because they thought the CPC was doing dog whistle politics with “barbaric cultural practices.”

And, of course, as John Ibbitson points out, those five priorities discussed above “don’t exhaust this activist government’s agenda by any means. Other items include enabling legislation to increase contributions to and enhance benefits from the Canada Pension Plan, which Finance Minister Bill Morneau is expected to introduce this fall … [and]  … the Liberals must decide whether and when to ratify the free-trade agreement with the 6328921561_7a3c53f106_bEuropean Union and/or the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 other Pacific states … [further] … While the government has launched an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, there has been little action to improve water quality, education, health care and a host of other challenges facing indigenous Canadians on and off reserve … And somebody, some day, really should decide what jet fighter will replace the CF-18.

So, what is a young, rookie prime minister to do?

First, as bridge players suggest, identify and then finesse your “losers.” The big loser, I think, is electoral reform. Polling suggests that between 65% and 75% of Canadians want a question-period-20160512referendum on the issue, plus rookie minister Maryam Monsef has misplayed her hand, to continue the bridge analogy. It’s a loser; she’s a loser. She can be finessed in her current role by sending her into the media lions’ den to say “look, we are listening to Canadians and we are committed to electoral reform but we understand that Canadians want a lot more information and they want an active voice in this decision.” We, parliament, are going to continue to study and consult and we will report to Canadians and then we will hold a national referendum. It means that we will have at least one more FPTP election ~ there simply isn’t time to develop proposals, hold a referendum and give Elections Canada a new mandate by autumn 2017.”

Second: the TPP needs to be ratified, for Canada, even if the US backs away, but it needs to be done quietly.

Third … well, I have no idea at all how Prime Minister Trudeau can “square the circles” on climate change, pipelines, first nations, fighter jets or even social issues. Eventually he must offend someone, he must break some promises, he must, in other words, start governing.

One thought on “Time to start governing”

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