When Justin Trudeau became prime minister in 2015, Trudeau charmed many Canadians with his social media skills and courting millennial votes. He was seen as representing new, energetic change, shaking up the tired Stephen Harper status quo.
Now, more than halfway through Trudeau’s mandate, what has he delivered?
To his credit, many of the changes Trudeau proposed were very good ones, such as reforming Canada’s electoral system, implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools, and revising the tax system to reduce loopholes such as personal incorporation and income sprinkling.
Unfortunately, Trudeau also bungled many of these changes. The electoral reform project was scrapped after most consultations supported proportional representation, instead of the listed ballot Trudeau himself preferred. The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women became a gong show, with commissioners resigning publicly. Many Indigenous people have also been furious in general with issues such as the federal government ignoring courts and human rights commissions ordering it to provide equal support to Indigenous health and childcare. The Trudeau government embarrassingly pulled back on its tax revisions after Finance Minister Bill Morneau failed to put his shares in a company doing business with the federal government in a blind trust. Trudeau himself held fundraisers allowing foreign billionaires to pay for access to him, and went on overseas vacations with the multimillionaire Aga Khan in the Bahamas, which didn’t help his claim that his government worked on behalf of middle-class Canadians. Trudeau also broke his promise to limit the size of Canada’s deficits, which have ballooned well beyond the $10 billion a year he promised.
Disturbingly, Trudeau has also fumbled some key aspects of basic governance. The Trudeau government has let a large backlog of appointments build for everything from judgeships to important officers of Parliament, leaving critical roles such as the commissioners for official languages and the RCMP filled with interim appointees. The Phoenix system used to pay public servants continues to be a mess, as the costs to fix it grow without any tangible results.
In fairness, Trudeau has gotten some things right. Veteran political journalist Paul Wells credited Trudeau for his efforts to attract high-tech knowledge workers, stimulus payments, child care tax benefits, assisted dying legislation, and provincial mental health transfers. The jury is still out on the infrastructure bank designed to address Canada’s infrastructure backlog, and the legalization of marijuana, but if they provide the benefits their advocates claim then Trudeau can rightly claim credit for them.
However, Justin Trudeau may turn out to be much like Stephen Harper. Harper could be credited for many worthwhile “bread and butter” initiatives, but he failed most of his larger goals. Trudeau has also succeeded at bread and butter issues, while making a hash of his larger-scale changes.
When Justin Trudeau originally became Liberal leader in 2013, I was asked what I thought of him. I said at the time that Justin had inherited his father Pierre’s charisma, but not Pierre’s intellect.
Sometimes I hate being right.
Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.