No one is surprised when I, a self described ‘fiscal hawk‘ who wants a strong, effective and efficient military to give force to a principled foreign policy ~ partially by “growing” the defence budget without raising taxes (which means cutting elsewhere), but who does not advocate the wholesale “gutting” of social programmes, assert that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s fledgling government has, already, betrayed Canada on foreign and defence policy issues by breaking with traditional, reliable, trusted allies and cozying up to thugs and murderers (think about the shooting down of MH-17 in 2014, I think the word is appropriate) like Vladimir Putin. But what do we make of Tom Parkin, a former NDP staffer, who says, in the Toronto Sun, that “Trudeau is betraying progressives.“
(There is, by the way, a very similar piece, by Thomas Walkom, in the Toronto Star. Mr Walkom notes that “in key areas, Harperism — albeit without Harper — remains … [and] … The country got a taste of that last week when Ottawa approved a liquefied natural gas plant on British Columbia’s Pacific coast, as well as a pipeline to that plant … It was the same decision Harper would have made. And it angered the same critics … [and] … It was a reminder that Trudeau, like Harper, sees energy exports as crucial for the Canadian economy.” He concludes that “None of this is to suggest that Trudeau’s Liberal government is identical to that of Conservative Harper. It is not … [but] … there is a remarkable continuity.” That continuity, as I will mention below, is provided by officials who served both governments.)
“The worry,” Mr Parkin says, “isn’t a spending scandal in the Prime Minister’s Office or a Minister who may not be aware of where she was born … [rather] … The nagging worry is on the biggest issues that deeply matter to regular Canadians – climate change, health care, the economy. Justin Trudeau used to talk like an ally. He’s not acting like one.” Tom Parkin points to the Trudeau government’s decision to stay with Prime Minister Harper’s carbon emission targets (622 megatons of emissions by 2020, down from about 750 mT in 2016) which, Mr Parkin says, “isn’t enough,” and which he points out Liberals “used to attack … as “the weakest,” “catastrophic” and “inadequate.”” But now they are also Justin Trudeau’s targets.
And he goes on: “Many senior, young and working class Canadians have no health benefits. They rely on our universal health care system. So there was real worry when Harper announced a cut to the Canada Health Transfer formula and squeeze provincial health plans by $36 billion over the next decade … [and] … Liberal MPs seemed worried, too. They called Harper’s cut “unilateral,” “arbitrary,” “austerity,” “dictatorial” and one of his “attacks on our seniors and our most vulnerable.” … [but] … last week, the Liberals adopted the Conservatives’ health care cut as their own. What happened?“
“They can’t,” he goes on, “fund health care. But they can fund a $3 billion a year tax cut with the biggest slice for people earning from $89,000 to $200,000 – their middle class. That’s just wrong.“
And he concludes: “There’s no plan for childcare or pharmacare to bring down high costs. No jobs plan for young and working class Canadians being left behind in this economy. No federal minimum wage boost for people who are really struggling … Instead, Liberal ministers recite lines about helping their political base, the affluent middle class – you probably don’t fit the definition – as if only their concerns, worries and struggles matter … Betrayal? You betcha.“
That’s a pretty stunning indictment of Monsieur Sunny Ways from a voice that I think represents many, many of the 4 million Canadians that Justin Trudeau convinced to come out and vote for him and his Liberal candidates ~ many for the first time, but many, many (millions) more instead of voting NDP, the left leaning BQ or the Greens.
So now Prime Minister Trudeau has, by trying to promise much more than he can hope to deliver, opened himself to attacks from both flanks …
… and despite the best planning (and neither Gerald Butts nor Katie Telford is a Field Marshal von Schlieffen) we know that two front wars usually end badly.
But I think he is hearing from really key sources …
Paul Rochon, Deputy Minister of Finance, Yaprak Baltacıoğlu, Secretary of the Treasury Board and Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council
… that he cannot, not even with the (expensive) advice of British “deliverology” guru Sir Michael Barber, deliver on all of his campaign promises.
There is a large segment of Canadian society that believes, as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau did, that “the land is strong …” in fact they believe that it is so infinitely strong that it (which really means you and I and our wages and savings) can afford any and all manner of wildly irresponsible social and environmental projects. But there are also many smart people, including a few in the Trudeau Cabinet and many in the very senior ranks of the public service who know that is nonsense.
But we must look again at the numbers from the 2015 election. Four million people who had note voted at all or had voted for Jack Layton and Elizabeth May in 2011 came out and voted for Justin Trudeau. Only a few did it because he promised to maintain the Conservative warship building programme, or to not by the F-35, or to stop bombing Syria, or to give veterans life-long pensions. Most did it because they think they heard him promise to never build a pipeline and to keep Alberta’s oil in the ground and to institute a carbon tax and to “fix” the environment for everyone, everywhere and to provide increased health care funding and free tuition and, and, and … all the things their parents thought they heard Pierre Trudeau promise. (Remember, that “preserving a harmonious natural environment” was one of the six key objectives in Pierre Trudeau’s 1970 foreign policy white paper.)
The Liberals cannot deliver on all their promises and the left, especially the young left, will feel betrayed.
But, we Conservatives, cannot, must not make promises we cannot keep. As Chuck Strahl reminds us on the excellent NewsHubNation site, “the leadership hopefuls … should be encouraged not to try to beat the Liberals at their own game. They need to continue to improve their communication skills, and figure out how to match Liberals on social media. But out-promise them? It can’t be done!” But, nor, as I have said before, should we become “Dr. No,” and threaten to slash and burn the social safety net. We should be honest with Canadians, explaining, reasonably, that we, like the average working and middle class household, like the average university student, simply cannot afford everything all at once … we must live within our means and set priorities. But we must understand that Canadians are not mean, skinflints … they actually do want to “care and share” with the least fortunate in Canada and in the world. Conservatives must understand and support that ethos. We must not, in other words, betray the voters by promising what we cannot and will not deliver.
We must, also, avoid a two front war. Conservatives must find a place for the small but loyal social conservative wing of the party; we need to be socially moderate; we do not want want to engage in the legally pointless and politically destructive exercize of trying to roll back Supreme Court decisions; but we must allow our own socially conservative wing to raise the issues and we must give them a respectful hearing. I really don’t think many social conservatives believe that they can change policies that are, by now, part of the warp and woof of Canadian society, but they do want to be heard as they express their deeply held views. By being both respectful and moderate we can appeal to a broad spectrum of Canadians.