A reservoir of goodwill
“In time, Trudeau’s popularity will wane. Slow growth will erode people’s expectations, adverse circumstances will push some of the prime minister’s goals out of reach and Liberal ministers will make costly mistakes.”
The consensus is almost universal. The cold winds of January will expose the cracks, holes and gaps in Justin Trudeau’s ambitious governing plan. With each missed target, Canadians will become less forgiving, less hopeful, less enchanted by their new prime minister.
Already, Liberal critics point out, he has fallen short of both of his campaign pledge to bring in 25,000 refugees within 60 days and his revised goal of admitting 10,000 refugees by the end of 2015. He has put two nannies on the public payroll after declaring that rich families like his did not need a taxpayer-funded childcare benefit. He has admitted boosting the tax rate for the richest 1 per of Canadians won’t cover the cost of his middleclass tax cut. His deficit projections look implausible. His plan to create a low-carbon economy within 15 years will require lifestyle changes from most Canadians.
“Nearly every plank in their fiscal platform has splintered into pieces,” said Conservative finance critic Lisa Raitt in late December. “The only surprise is how quickly it happened.”
“Our new prime minister seems to be having trouble keeping the promises that got him elected,” mocked Saskatoon Star-Phoenix columnist Les MacPherson.
“Three promises central to his party’s electoral success are broken and hauled to the dump and he doesn’t have the seat warm yet.”
“I feel fairly confident forecasting some sort of fall from grace for the Trudeau Liberals, probably even their first scandal,” said Globe and Mail columnist Marsha Lederman as the New Year began.
“When MPs next convene, Ottawa will not have quite the cheery snow globe sheen,” The Star’s Tim Harper predicted. “The long frozen days of January will mean the long dark reality of governing.”
It would be hard to dispute the logic of these analyses. But logic is not always the key to human psychology. For the first time in a decade Canadians feel good about themselves and their country. They like welcoming refugees; tackling climate change; being seen as a consensus-builder on the world stage and a friend in Washington. They like working together to accomplish shared goals. It will take more than a few missed deadlines and delayed commitments to sour the public mood.
The second factor working in Trudeau’s favour is the deep sense of relief many groups feel. Isadore Day, Ontario chief of the Assembly of the First Nations put it into words at a recent meeting of the Toronto Rotary Club: “The decade of darkness under Stephen Harper is over.” The same sentiment is reverberating among anti-poverty activists, human rights defenders, urban progressives, environmentalists, advocates of humane incarceration and embattled minorities, Muslims in particular.
By rescinding the dictums of the previous Tory government, the new prime minister can keep large segments of the population onside well into 2016.
He got to work within hours of being sworn in. He reinstated the mandatory full-length census killed by the Harper government in 2010. He restored the Interim Federal Health Program (which provides medical care for refugees), cancelled by the Tories in 2012. He lowered the age of eligibility for old age security to 65, raised to 67 by Harper four years ago. He lifted the ban on niqabs at citizenship ceremonies imposed by the Tories in 2011.
But the list of regressive Harper legacies is long: his punitive crime bills, his regressive tax credits, his subsidies to fossil fuel producers, his disproportionate anti-terrorism laws, his onesided Middle East stance and his cutbacks to everything from employment insurance to food safety inspections. That should keep the Liberals busy — and hearten fair-minded Canadians — for a good while.
The third reason Trudeau might surprise the pundits and politicos is that citizens don’t measure progress the way Ottawa-watchers do. They don’t keep a running tally of deadlines missed and targets postponed. Most couldn’t name more than a handful of his 195 election commitments.
As long as their lives are getting better, their kids have a promising future and their government is visibly trying to deliver what it promised, they have no motive to disparage their new prime minister.
In time, Trudeau’s popularity will wane. Slow growth will erode people’s expectations, adverse circumstances will push some of the prime minister’s goals out of reach and Liberal ministers will make costly mistakes.
But don’t expect a rapid comedown. The nation has waited a long time for this interlude of optimism.