I’m as excited about our new prime minister as much as the next Canadian, but to be honest, the fawning over Justin Trudeau is making me embarrassed for you.
I went from intrigued to cringing when national media reported Trudeau getting mobbed by public service workers after a news conference from Foreign Affairs on U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to kill the Keystone pipeline. Cheering and selfies with the new prime minister naturally followed, as did booing of reporters who asked questions bureaucrats apparently didn’t like. The public service is supposed to be non-partisan, yet keeping up appearances was difficult that day.
Perhaps I’m just that cynical, waiting for the other shoe to drop on Trudeau. He can’t be that nice, can he? As a source in the Ottawa Citizen’s account of the event suggested, it’s early days – wait a few weeks to see if the euphoria continues. Because while Trudeau appointed a gender-balanced cabinet and re-instated the long-form census, a few stickier decisions are looming that will test the Trudeau government’s commitment to its election promises.
Case in point: electoral reform. Although the Liberal Party won with nearly 40 per cent of the popular vote, that still leaves more than half the population unrepresented in Ottawa. The Conservatives, who were so vilified by the left during the campaign, managed to score more than 30 per cent of the vote – a significant number of voters who wanted to choose Stephen Harper and his party for another four-year term. Like the left complained it was under-represented in Ottawa during a decade of Tory rule, so can the Conservatives have the right to lament relegation to the sidelines.
Trudeau promised electoral reform, to create a new way to fight elections that allows for broader representation among voters. Now that the Liberals are no longer facing a minority situation in the House of Commons, it remains to be seen whether Trudeau will give his opponents a greater opportunity to defeat his party in the future.
The challenge to act on electoral promises also hinges on dozens of factors other than simply will or ideology. After former U.S. vice-president Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth was released, the world was jumping on all sorts of bandwagons to reduce carbon footprints, invest in green energy and generally accept that humans were having a grave effect on Earth’s climate. Then the financial crisis of 2008 hit and citizens were more concerned with feeding their families and saving their mortgages than they were about electric vehicles.
Obama killed the Keystone pipeline, but Northern Gateway still remains a possibility, along with an increase in oil tankers on the West Coast. Environmental organizations believe Trudeau will not support an increase in tanker traffic and he did commit to cancelling Gateway. As Alberta, lately the country’s economic driver, continues to struggle amid cheap world oil prices, will the Liberals be able to stick to its environmental promises while people lose their homes and livelihoods? Perhaps the commitment to invest in green energy will fill the gap.
Canada’s 42nd election saw some of the highest engagement and debate among voters that I’ve covered in my nearly 14-year career as well as my 18 years as a voter. I hope that continues, but I worry that the adoration lavished on Trudeau at this point will create disillusionment if and when his government is unable to fulfill all 184 promises made during the election. Keeping those promises might not be in the best interest of the country in three years’ time. Governments must evolve, negotiate and compromise when it’s necessary. Hopefully Trudeau’s fan base understands that.
If you want to be part of the non-partisan team keeping track of Trudeau’s election promises, visit www.trudeametre.ca.