Justin Trudeau is learn­ing some hard re­al­i­ties of gov­ern­ing.

Trudeau needs to del­e­gate more and do a bet­ter job of us­ing the deep ex­pe­ri­ence avail­able to him

Investment Executive - - FRONT PAGE - BY GORD M C IN TOSH

af­ter two years of walk­ing on po­lit­i­cal wa­ter, Justin Trudeau is learn­ing some hard re­al­i­ties. And he’s not the first prime min­is­ter to go through this.

Brian Mul­roney hit this point on the learn­ing curve less than a year af­ter be­ing elected. It was Black Septem­ber in 1985, when the new Mul­roney gov­ern­ment was forced to pro­rogue the House of Com­mons for sev­eral weeks be­cause the PM was up to his neck in scan­dal.

Like Justin, his dad, Pierre, also hit the end of his po­lit­i­cal hon­ey­moon two years into his first man­date. In fact, the el­der Trudeau was in deep trouble in the polls at the time. Had it not been for the FLQ kid­nap­pings in the Oc­to­ber Cri­sis of 1970, which gave the gov­ern­ment a bump in the polls, the first Trudeau gov­ern­ment might not have sur­vived the 1972 elec­tion.

There’s no rea­son, at this point, to think the gov­ern­ment of Trudeau the Younger can’t sur­vive the 2019 elec­tion. His pre­de­ces­sor, Stephen Harper, dropped to 26% in the polls at the two-year point of his first term, yet re­mained PM for an­other seven years. Still, the cur­rent predica­ment will be a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for Justin. Let’s look at a cou­ple of lessons for him:

les­son 1: There re­ally are two gov­ern­ments in Ot­tawa: one is elected; the other isn’t. The Pub­lic Ser­vice is the gov­ern­ment that will con­tinue to be around af­ter its elected coun­ter­part is long gone. So, pub­lic ser­vants are ac­cus­tomed to do­ing things their own way, and run­ning things their own way. Of­ten, the un­elected group makes pol­icy changes and lets the elected gov­ern­ment take the rap.

The short-lived rul­ing by the Canada Rev­enue Agency (CRA) that re­tail work­ers get­ting em­ployee dis­counts have to pay taxes on them is a prime ex­am­ple. The bu­reau­crats de­cided to rein­ter­pret standing pol­icy and post that de­ci­sion on the CRA web­site. And a gov­ern­ment that got elected by promis­ing to be nice to the mid­dle class was be­ing seen as heart­lessly squeez­ing nick­els and dimes out of re­tail store clerks.

Na­tional Rev­enue Min­is­ter Diane Le­bouthillier in­sisted her gov­ern­ment did not know this was com­ing — and she’s prob­a­bly telling the truth. But gov­ern­ments don’t like to ad­mit they have been caught by sur­prise by their bu­reau­crats; a cen­turies-old sys­tem of min­is­te­rial ac­count­abil­ity says min­is­ters must be ac­count­able for ev­ery­thing done by their de­part­ments.

Mod­ern gov­ern­ment, how­ever, is a many-headed hy­dra. Min­is­ters can no longer keep on top of ev­ery­thing their de­part­ments do.

Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als also prob­a­bly were sand­bagged when the Na­tional En­ergy Board brought down last-minute en­vi­ron­men­tal rules and killed the En­ergy East Pipe­line this au­tumn. This is why Harper wasted no time in­tim­i­dat­ing the pub­lic ser­vice early in his man­date. Harper ruled with an iron fist, and ev­ery bu­reau­crat knew who was boss. Trudeau needs to take a sterner hand with the Pub­lic Ser­vice man­darins, just as his fa­ther did.

les­son 2: Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is just as im­por­tant as pol­icy in gov­ern­ment. What­ever you do, don’t dump an es­o­teric pol­icy pa­per on tax changes on the elec­torate in the mid­dle of the sum­mer and ex­pect docile ac­cep­tance. This is why a hu­mil­i­ated Bill Morneau had to backpedal on tax changes for small­busi­ness cor­po­ra­tions in mid-Oc­to­ber, then had to cut the small-busi­ness tax rate to 9% by 2019 from the cur­rent 10.5%.

There are signs Trudeau has learned his les­son here al­ready. Justin To, a trusted aide in the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice, has been dis­patched to the De­part­ment of Fi­nance Canada to over­see things. The gnomes at Fi­nance Canada aren’t likely to be trusted with com­mu­ni­cat­ing ma­jor tax changes on their own ever again — with this gov­ern­ment, at least. And the 2018 federal bud­get will be Morneau’s last if he can’t stop screw­ing up.

So, what needs to change? I have noted in this space be­fore that Trudeau needs a deputy prime min­is­ter, as his fa­ther had. That ad­vice still stands. The on­go­ing (U.S. Pres­i­dent) Trump is­sue will con­tinue to eat up the en­ergy and time in the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice. They need to del­e­gate.

There are too many rook­ies in cabi­net for the sake of op­tics. This gov­ern­ment has plenty of ex­pe­ri­enced, street­wise vet­er­ans, such as Wayne Easter, who should be on the front line.

Watch for Trudeau to pro­rogue Par­lia­ment af­ter the au­tumn Eco­nomic State­ment and start fresh in the new year — and, pos­si­bly, make some cabi­net changes.

Gov­ern­ments don’t like to ad­mit that they’ve been caught by sur­prise

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.