Ten big challenges facing Trudeau’s fledgling government in New Year
Ottawa: Bringing the Liberal party back from the dead was a monumental undertaking for Justin Trudeau: two and a half grinding years rebuilding the party apparatus from the ground up, filling its depleted war chest, recruiting impressive candidates and crafting a platform, capped by a gruelling 11week marathon campaign that vaulted the Liberals from third to first with a solid majority victory on Oct. 19. So much for the easy stuff. Now comes the hard part as the rookie prime minister and his team confront the reality of delivering on Trudeau’s promises of “real change.’’
Here are 10 of the biggest challenges ahead in the year to come. 1. The budget. Finance Minister Bill Morneau is expected to table his maiden budget in February or March. He’s got the unenviable task of trying to deliver all the Liberals’ pricey campaign promises without plunging the country deeply into deficit. Trudeau promised during last fall’s election campaign that a Liberal government would run “modest’’ deficits of less than $10 billion in each of the first three years before finishing up the final year of his mandate with a slim surplus of $1 billion. But parliamentary budget officer Jean-Denis Frechette has estimated that over the medium term, the government could run up deficits $10.8 billion higher than Morneau has projected, and that’s before factoring in all the new spending the Liberals have promised. Morneau acknowledges the books are in worse shape than anticipated, as commodity prices continue to plummet and economic growth remains stalled. Little wonder Trudeau’s promise to run modest deficits has already been downgraded to a “goal.’’ Trudeau says he’s still firmly committed to producing a balanced budget in the fourth year but the bigger the deficits amassed in the first three, the harder it will be to achieve balance.
2. Withdrawing Canadian fighter jets from the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq. Trudeau has promised to end Canadian participation in the air war but says Canada will continue to contribute in some other way to the campaign against Islamic radicals. He’s talked about using Canadian troops to help train local military and police but how many and how close to the front lines the trainers may be has yet to be determined. The government is also talking to NATO allies about other ways Canada could contribute. Canada’s commitment to the current air mission ends on March 31.
3. Resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015 and another 15,000 by the end of February, two months later than originally promised. Fewer than 4,000 have arrived so far...
but the Liberals insist the remainder will come by the government’s self-imposed deadline. The logistics of processing and moving so many people has proved much more complicated and costly than anticipated.
4. Meeting with premiers and territo
rial leaders by mid-March to hammer out a detailed national climate change strategy. Having agreed to an ambitious 195-country deal to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, Trudeau and the premiers now have to set a specific target for reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and figure out how to achieve it. The strategy will involve putting a price on carbon and will require consensus among the premiers, which may be hard to come by. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has already signalled his concern that imposing a price on carbon will unfairly damage the economies of energy producing western provinces, already reeling from the plunge in oil prices. The previous Conservative government set a target to cut emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The Trudeau government has said that target is a “floor;’’ it hopes to set a more ambitious goal.
5. Develop a nation-to-nation relation
ship with indigenous peoples and work in partnership to improve housing, infrastructure, health care, child welfare, education and community policing, as promised in the campaign. That includes immediately setting up a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, delivering on all 94 of the Truth and Reconciliation commission’s recommendations and ending all boil-water advisories on reserves within five years. Any one of those promises would be ambitious. Taken together, they’re daunting.
6. Pass a new law that recognizes the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help in ending their lives. The Supreme Court, which struck down the prohibition on doctorassisted dying last February, gave the government a year to draft a new law but the Trudeau government is asking for a sixmonth extension. The government has struck a special joint parliamentary committee to consult widely and report back with recommendations for a new law by the end of February. Assuming the court grants the extension, the government aims to have a new law in place by the time Parliament breaks in June for the summer.
7. Fill 22 vacancies in the scandal
plagued Senate. The government has announced the creation of an arm’s-length advisory board to recommend non-partisan nominees for appointment to the Senate, a move Trudeau says is aimed at restoring the maligned upper house to its intended role as an independent chamber of sober second thought. The five-member board is supposed to recommend nominees to fill five vacancies by early next year, with the rest to follow by the end of 2016. Trudeau has touted the new process as the only practical way to achieve concrete changes in the Senate without getting bogged down in constitutional negotiations. The success of his approach will be judged in large measure by the quality of senators he eventually appoints.
8. Deliver on Trudeau’s promise that
the 2015 election will be the last under the first-past-the-post electoral system. He’s pledged to create an all-party committee to consult on alternatives, including ranked ballots, proportional representation, online voting and mandatory voting, and report back within 18 months. The Liberals maintain that electoral reform should be the product of all-party consensus but, with each party looking out for its own self-interest, that may prove impossible. Even before special committee is struck, Trudeau is facing opposition accusations that he favours a ranked ballot system because it would theoretically benefit his centrist party most. And he’s under pressure from the Conservatives to commit to holding a referendum on whatever is ultimately proposed, a process that has killed electoral reform initiatives in three provinces and could do the same for any federal proposal.
9. Legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana. This will be a complex and controversial file that will require working with the provinces. If Trudeau wants to achieve legalization during his first mandate, the government will have to get down to work quickly in the new year. 10. Repeal parts of the previous Conservative government’s controver
sial anti-terrorism act and introduce new legislation that better protects rights and freedoms while improving security. Among other things, Trudeau has promised to create an all-party parliamentary committee to oversee national security agencies, narrow the definition of terrorist propaganda and ensure lawful protests and advocacy are not considered terrorism.
Ray Hudson: Just in time for the winter weather, there has been an improvement for homeless in the Whalley area.
Mayor Hepner: With funding from the Provincial government, we opened our forty-bed, 24/7 winter shelter, in the former Dell Hotel liquor outlet, after being without a shelter for a couple of years. And along with that, land has been rezoned near Surrey Memorial hospital, for a long-term emergency shelter. Mayor Hepner said that the city is dedicated to involving as much of the population as possible in the many public events facilitated by the city. “I think we’re the only city that puts on festivals ourselves, and we have more than half a million people attend the big five, which are Canada Day, Fusion Fest, The Children’s Festival, Party for the Planet, and the Christmas Tree-lighting at City Hall.” She went on to highlight a major sports event this summer, which may impact the Olympic Games. “We will host the 2016 World Softball Championships which will bring hundreds of thousands of people and perhaps in the range of $30 million, to the city. There are over forty teams coming to this key tournament, as it will be the determinant as to whether or not the sport is returned to the Olympics.”
Surrey as a Host City for Refugees:
Ray Hudson: Moving on from the year past, to the immediate future, Syrian refugees are coming, and although we don’t know how many will settle in Surrey, the city is a designated refugee resettlement location. What plans do we have to accommodate them?
Mayor Hepner: I’ve asked to be notified so I can participate in some personal greetings as well, but right now we have our inter-agency groups, thirty in total, working to develop what our plan will be. Early in January, I’ll be calling a meeting for those interested in helping. We’ll establish a plan to organize where to send them, whether it has to do with housing, clothing, or other services for refugees. We haven’t advised anyone yet so you’re the first to have the scoop on that plan. My biggest concern with respect to the needs of the refugees, is language and learning to speak English. I have asked to be kept apprised as to how we’re doing, not only with respect to ESL in the schools and where that program is headed, but also in gathering more data on the numbers of refugees coming here. It may even be less than we originally thought. My concern is that as the people settle into our community, the money that supports their services also flows to this community. I want to make sure it’s our agencies that are getting the funding for assisting those people and that the funds follow that family wherever they move during that period of assistance.