Liberals’ own re­view gives them high marks

Re­al­ity, how­ever, is that their goals may be too am­bi­tious


The Liberals have is­sued a re­port card on their own per­for­mance, and it turns out they are ab­so­lutely brilliant at be­ing the gov­ern­ment.

The first “man­date let­ter tracker” looked at the 364 com­mit­ments the prime min­is­ter made in his mis­sives to min­is­ters and as­sessed whether they had been com­pleted, were un­der­way or were not be­ing pur­sued.

The gov­ern­ment did not quite give it­self a gold star but the mes­sage was clear: great progress is be­ing made and new chal­lenges are be­ing tack­led ev­ery day with a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude.

This is the first time that this kind of ex­er­cise has been made pub­lic, as part of Ot­tawa’s “open by de­fault” pol­icy.

The gov­ern­ment claimed 66 of its com­mit­ments have been com­pleted, 218 are un­der­way and on track, 13 are “un­der­way with chal­lenges,” three are not be­ing pur­sued and 21 are on-go­ing com­mit­ments.

If you take that per­for­mance at face value, the gov­ern­ment is in­deed do­ing an out­stand­ing job.

Fully 18 per cent of its com­mit­ments have been ful­filled and an­other 60 per cent are un­der­way, with no prospect what­so­ever that they might go pear shaped. Only a measly 0.8 per cent of com­mit­ments made by the prime min­is­ter have been re­neged upon.

That’s if you take things at face value. If you do, don’t an­swer mes­sages from renowned clair­voy­ants promis­ing great riches, in ex­change for a small fee and your bank­ing de­tails.

The Liberals’ new web­site, man­date let­ter tracker, of­fers a much more rosy per­for­mance pic­ture than the in­de­pen­dent web­site Trudeau Me­ter, which tracks elec­tion cam­paign prom­ises made (226), kept (59), in progress (72), not started (59) and bro­ken (36).

That ap­pears to be a much more re­al­is­tic as­sess­ment of the gov­ern­ment’s achieve­ments to date.

To give a taste of the gen­er­ous na­ture of the gov­ern­ment’s self­ap­praisal, the com­mit­ment to bal­ance the bud­get in 2019-20 is judged as be­ing “un­der­way, with chal­lenges.”

Yet the ac­com­pa­ny­ing text says “the fis­cal frame­work does not fore­cast a bal­anced bud­get in 2019-20.”

The lat­est fis­cal up­date sees deficits into the mid­dle of the next decade, with bal­ance nowhere in view, so to sug­gest the pledge is “un­der­way” in any shape or form is a bald-faced nose-stretcher.

The prin­ci­pal prob­lem area is In­dige­nous Af­fairs.

“Early progress has been mod­est for schools, drink­ing wa­ter and hous­ing,” the text ad­mits, de­spite nearly $12 bil­lion be­ing ear­marked over two bud­gets.

Mod­est or not, the tracker sug­gests progress is in­deed be­ing made, with long-term drink­ing wa­ter ad­vi­sories be­ing re­duced to 70 from 77, as of July 31.

Yet the gov­ern­ment web­site lists 101 long-term drink­ing wa­ter ad­vi­sories, as of Sept. 30, and that does not even in­clude Saskatchewan and Bri­tish Columbia (which lists 17 boil-wa­ter ad­vi­sories and three “do not con­sume” ad­vi­sories of its own).

There are plenty of other howlers — all is well on the in­fra­struc­ture file ap­par­ently, de­spite de­part­men­tal re­ports is­sued last week show­ing spend­ing at In­fra­struc­ture Canada was 40 per cent lower than planned.

An im­proved Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act is “un­der­way and on track,” de­spite the short­com­ings of leg­is­la­tion that does lit­tle to live up to what the gov­ern­ment promised in its elec­tion plat­form (namely ex­pan­sion of the act to cover min­is­te­rial of­fices and the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice).

This is not to say there is no value to the man­date let­ter tracker — just that it is com­piled by bu­reau­crats im­bued with an ex­per­tise in elid­ing in­con­ve­nient facts to put the best gloss on things.

The real take-away from the tracker is that run­ning a fed­er­a­tion like Canada is hard work and no amount of in­vok­ing sunny ways and Aesop’s Fa­bles makes it less so.

In its quest to de­liver on its prom­ises, the Trudeau gov­ern­ment has aban­doned its orig­i­nal game plan of al­low­ing min­is­ters to be masters and mis­tresses of their own do­mains. Power is as cen­tral­ized inside the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice as it ever was in the Harper years — per­haps more so.

PMO loy­al­ists have been parachuted into se­nior staffing roles in prob­lem min­istries; un­der­per­form­ing min­is­ters have been de­moted.

The gov­ern­ment has adopted the con­cept of “de­liv­erol­ogy,” the idea of de­liv­er­ing on goals and prom­ises adopted by Tony Blair’s Labour gov­ern­ment in the U.K., and trans­planted here by Sir Michael Bar­ber, Blair’s for­mer aide, at a cab­i­net re­treat in Jan­uary 2016.

Bar­ber’s role in Canada is be­ing per­formed by Matthew Men­del­sohn, the head of the “re­sults and de­liv­ery” unit in the Privy Coun­cil Of­fice.

The bu­reau­cracy has long op­er­ated on a goal-ori­ented struc­ture and, as Rachel Cur­ran, a for­mer ad­viser to Stephen Harper, noted in an ar­ti­cle in Pol­icy Op­tions, 95 per cent of the 100-plus com­mit­ments made in the 2011 Con­ser­va­tive elec­tion plat­form were even­tu­ally com­pleted.

The dif­fer­ence is that the in­ner work­ings of gov­ern­ment are be­ing laid bare — or as au na­turel as any­one work­ing inside gov­ern­ment is pre­pared to get.

That fewer than one in five com­mit­ments (even by the gov­ern­ment’s own in­flated num­bers) has been ful­filled two years into the man­date sug­gests a cou­ple of things. One is that the gov­ern­ment has been too am­bi­tious.

Noth­ing is more im­por­tant than the mid­dle class, un­less it is in­clu­sive­ness and di­ver­sity; or, on some days, In­dige­nous re­la­tions; and on oth­ers, the en­vi­ron­ment and cli­mate change.

The suc­cess of de­liv­erol­ogy de­pends on the clear iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of a lim­ited num­ber of pri­or­i­ties. Trudeau came to power with 364 com­mit­ments, com­pared with 100 in the Con­ser­va­tive 2011 elec­tion plat­form. Will 95 per cent of them be com­pleted by 2019? Not at this rate.

The other is that de­liv­erol­ogy de­pends on a gov­ern­ment hav­ing the abil­ity to de­liver. In Canada, more of­ten than not, Ot­tawa re­lies on prov­inces and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties for ser­vice de­liv­ery.

Hence the slow pace of in­fra­struc­ture roll­out and the po­ten­tial prob­lems with le­gal­iz­ing pot.

This ar­gu­ment is un­der­mined some­what by the fact that in two of the ma­jor prob­lem ar­eas — veter­ans and In­dige­nous af­fairs — the fed­eral gov­ern­ment does have sole ju­ris­dic­tion.

But it may be that the targe­to­ri­ented na­ture of de­liv­erol­ogy is well-suited to these files, and it is sim­ply the bu­reau­cratic log­jam cre­ated by throw­ing bil­lions and bil­lions and bil­lions of dol­lars at those prob­lems that has pro­duced such un­sat­is­fac­tory re­sults. Build­ing more houses on re­serves and in­creas­ing the par­tic­i­pa­tion rates at First Na­tion schools may end up be­ing prob­lems that de­liv­erol­ogy helps ease.

Trudeau had best hope so be­cause a more ob­jec­tive mea­sure of his gov­ern­ment at mid-point is that it is un­der­wa­ter — be­low C level.


Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau shakes hands with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau af­ter de­liv­er­ing his fall eco­nomic state­ment. In its quest to de­liver on prom­ises, the Trudeau gov­ern­ment has aban­doned its plan of al­low­ing min­is­ters more free­dom, with...

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