Even a few days ago, who woulda thunk it? Justin Trudeau and his red tide sweep the nation to a majority government, washing Steven Harper out to sea. For many progressive voters, it was too decisive – if only Mulcair hung in there a little more and we faced instead a Liberal-led minority government…But if ending the Harper era was the main objective of this “change” election, then beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.
So here we are. And if Tony Blair is any kind of a model for what happens next, then big, bold promises for things like electoral reform have a way of falling by the wayside with a strong majority government. As my colleague Rafe warned in these pages a few days ago, “It is up to us to hold them to that promise after election day – especially if Mr. Trudeau should continue his late surge, all the way to a majority government. Once the keys to absolute power are in his hands, he will need ample reminding of his commitment to change the mechanism by which he achieved it.”
Mr. Trudeau made some impressive promises, indeed, on his path to victory. And it would be a shame if we Canadians who gave him this mandate for change, now let him off the hook. So herewith a list (in no particular order) of the promises we really need kept – lest we too forget:
1. Electoral Reform
This is the grand daddy of them all. Once again, we are reminded of the manifest unfairness of our first past the post system, as a leader who won under 40% of the vote is left with 100% of the power. Mr. Trudeau – along with Tom Mulcair – pledged to change this and we need to hold him to it. We may never get such a good opportunity as this again if we fail to seize it.
2. Cancel Bill C-51
As my friend and anti-C-51 crusader Steve Anderson corrected me, Mr. Trudeau did not actually promise to cancel Bill C-51 after he got into power (a presumptuous declaration that now seems, if conceited, at least correct). He did however say he would “amend” it or repeal parts of it. So he will need to be held to that – with a little extra prompting to go further and kill the darned thing. The issue – which proved a major self-inflicted wound for Trudeau early on in the campaign – has hardly gone away. If anything, as the chorus of prominent voices and persistent citizen movement around the issue demonstrate, it is only growing. Killing it would be good politics and a bone to throw to the above-mentioned progressive voters who backed Mulcair.
3. Follow through on First Nations commitments
Mr. Trudeau called attention to Canada’s disgraceful inequity of water quality, pledging to end all boil water advisories in First Nations communities within five years. This is no small feat but it must be done. He has also joined the NDP and the UN in calling for a national Inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women – something he insisted he will do “immediately”. Finally, Trudeau has earmarked half a billion dollars a year towards First Nations education.
Mr. Harper’s shameful evasions and non-answers when questioned about the lack of clean drinking water on reserves and murdered and missing women marked a low point on the campaign trail – even for him. Let’s hope Mr. Trudeau’s actions speak as loud as his words on this file.
4. Invest in public transit
Mr. Trudeau differentiated himself from both his opponents with a ballsy commitment to deficit-fund much-needed infrastructure in this country, including public transit – to the tune of “$20 Billion or more” over the next decade. This is a tangible way to tackle our climate challenges, make our economy more efficient and offer affordable transportation choices to lower-income Canadians. And wouldn’t it be refreshing if this kind of federal support could alleviate the transit policy gridlock that continues to frustrate provinces like British Columbia.
5. End fossil fuel subsidies, invest in clean tech
Mr. Trudeau has vowed to uphold a G20 pledge to end fossil fuel subsidies and committed $200 million and year for “strategies that support innovation and clean technologies in the forestry, energy and agricultural sectors”. He will earmark another $100 million in support for clean tech companies. That’s not nearly enough – paling in comparison to other industrial nations like America, China, Germany and Brazil – as we have often demonstrated in these pages. Which is why we need to push our new PM not only to keep this commitment, but to expand on it. But compared with Mr. Harper, who absolutely gutted our innovation funding, Mr. Trudeau’s attitude is a welcome change.
6. Don’t forget the “middle class”
Whatever the “middle class” is, Mr. Trudeau should keep his promises to recalibrate our tax structure more in favour of regular Canadians and less in favour of corporations and the wealthy. These reforms don’t go far enough, but following through with them would be a good start.
7. Work with the provinces on health care
Mr. Trudeau has promised a new health accord with the provinces – something which Mr. Harper, in his characteristically antagonistic and aloof manner, let expire and linger in that fashion for over a year and a half. Health care was strangely absent from this campaign, relative to its importance to Canadians. But Trudeau’s commitment to thaw relations with the provinces and invest in programs like home care is sensible and much-needed.
8. Welcome more Syrian refugees
Mr. Trudeau committed to boosting the number of Syrian refugees welcomed by Canada to 25,000 by the end of this year, and possibly more. Time is ticking and the situation only worsening by the day, so he had better get down to it.
9. Leave the Niqab – and divisive politics – alone
I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping this is the last we hear of niqabs. Mr. Trudeau took the right stance on this divisive issue – even though it could have cost him politically (and did very much cost his “change” rival, Mulcair – who said politics was fair?). Good for him and good for Canada that the Lizard of Oz failed this time around. Let’s hope, as my colleague Rafe Mair has discussed in these pages, that with Mr. Trudeau comes a return to decency and civility in our politics and society.
10. What the heck – legalize pot
This one is number 10 for a reason, but while he’s at it, keeping the above promises, Mr. Trudeau might as well get on with it and legalize marijuana. It’s high time (forgive me) Canada got with the program – four former attorneys general in BC are backing legalization because of the issue with organized crime and the underground drug trade, while a number of US states have already taken the leap. With Harper gone, it would be nice to leave behind his irrational crime-and-punishment agenda and the pot file is as good a place as any to start.
A few promises he didn’t make but should
Mr. Trudeau would show wisdom and leadership by reinstating the many environmental protections gutted by his predecessor through a series of horrendous Omnibus Budget Bills – such as the habitat protections in the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, and our environmental assessment processes. While he’s at it, he should unmuzzle our government scientists and reinstate their funding for important initiatives like air and water quality monitoring, climate research, and clean tech innovation.
Mr. Trudeau did not propose a price of his own on carbon, leaving it instead to the provinces to set their own. It’s nice that he at least acknowledges the importance of the subject – dedicating some rhetoric to it on the campaign trail – but he would do well to follow the NDP’s lead towards a national cap-and-trade system or at least an expanded role for the federal government in this issue.
He would also do well to rethink his devotion to trade deals like the TPP (it’s not too late to halt Canada’s involvement by not ratifying it in the House), and the European CETA deal.
As for pipelines, let’s face, none them are a good idea in this climate – literally and figuratively. Exporting raw bitumen scarcely benefits the Canadian economy – certainly nothing like we’ve been told by the oil lobby. And with these prices, there’s no market for it anyway. Moreover, in an era of global warming (something that has been excluded from the National Energy Board’s reviews of projects like Northern Gateway and the TransMountain Pipeline), it’s grossly irresponsible for Canada to continue down this path. So double down on your clean tech investments, Justin, and put the pipelines on the shelf.
Finally, we British Columbians are very concerned with the impacts of the proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry. While this is BC Premier Christy Clark’s baby, the program has benefitted from federal tax credits (these should be reversed, in keeping with Trudeau’s promise to end fossil fuel subsidies), massive export licences from the NEB, and a peculiar double-standard on tanker safety, whereby the Harper government banned tankers on the East Cost but blessed them here. Not even the NDP openly criticized the program during the federal campaign and, while Howe Sounders concerned about the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant will be glad to see the back of Conservative MP and LNG cheerleader John Weston, it would be nice to see his Liberal replacement, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, step up on the LNG file. And Mr. Trudeau would do well to distance himself from this fool’s errand of Premier Clark.
Of course, none of the above will happen unless the public now holds Mr. Trudeau to his promises and pushes him to go even further. Stephen Harper is gone. Now the real work begins.