How has the Liberal government fared in the first 100 days?
Sonja Puzic, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, February 12, 2016 6:00AM EST
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was sworn in on Nov. 4, he vowed that the new Liberal government would be open, transparent and committed to making “better decisions.”
Throughout the election campaign that preceded the Liberals’ historic comeback from third party status, Trudeau made sweeping promises as part of his “real change” mantra. They included economic policies to boost Canada’s middle class, an ambitious plan to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, and a new approach to the fight against Islamic State militants.
As Trudeau and his cabinet mark their first 100 days in office, we asked three political observers to evaluate the government’s performance on these key issues:
The Liberals moved quickly on their key economic plank – raising taxes for the highest income earners in order to pay for middle class tax cuts. Their tax package passed in the House of Commons in December, even as they acknowledged that the change would cost the treasury $1.2 billion annually for the next five years.
But the biggest test of the new government is yet to come, as Finance Minister Bill Morneau prepares to deliver his first budget.
“Now that the first 100 days are over, they have to turn 99 per cent of their attention to economic well-being,” said Scott Reid, a CTV political analyst who served as an adviser to former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin.
Reid said that will be a difficult task “in an economy that has gone nowhere but south since the campaign ended.”
“They can’t make oil prices change. They can’t make employment appear. They can’t make regional impact vanish,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. “What they have to show, that it’s their number one preoccupation, is that they’re doing everything…to make it better, not worse.”
Robin Sears, a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group and a former national director of the NDP, gave Morneau high marks for his performance so far.
“I must confess I was surprised and nervous for him for being given such a central role in the government given his absolutely green status in politics, but I don’t think he’s put a foot wrong,” Sears told CTVNews.ca.
Michele Austin, a senior adviser at Summa Strategies and a Conservative, also singled out Morneau even though she is critical of the way the government has been handling the economy file.
“They are spending too much time focusing on huge programs like infrastructure, like the role of Canada in the world, like refugees and they’re not minding the shop,” Austin said.
But she said that Morneau has been “by far their best communicator,” especially while answering questions from the public and the media.
“And frankly, I also think he has been the best to manage expectations,” Austin said.
As the end of his first 100 days in office neared, Trudeau unveiled the government’s long-awaited plan to withdraw Canadian fighter jets from the coalition fight against ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria. The Conservative Party called it a “shameful step backwards,” but some observers saw the plan to triple the number of Canadian military trainers on the ground as a substantial contribution.
“They are in fact engaging far more directly and at a higher level of risk than the Tories were ever willing to do themselves,” Sears said. Now that we are putting more trainers on the ground, “the risks go way up,” he added.
“From a pure public opinion standpoint, (Trudeau) didn’t need to do as much as he did in terms of the commitment made to the mission,” Reid said, adding that the decision to send more personnel and boost humanitarian efforts in the region seemed to be “less driven by domestic political consideration” than a desire to maintain strong relations with Canada’s allies.
For Austin, taking three months to unveil their anti-ISIS plan is another reflection of the Liberals’ tendency to offer “a lot of chatter,” but lag on decision-making.
“Did they effectively communicate the evidence as to why we need to pull all the CF-18s out? I would argue no,” she said. “For a government that values its ability to communicate, I think we are all unclear as to the evidence behind the decision-making.”
From the start, even those who supported the Liberals’ plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015 knew it would be a near-impossible endeavour. And by the end of November, the government agreed its self-imposed deadline wouldn’t be met. Still, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum said he’s confident that 25,000 refugees will arrive before March.
Given the scope and the urgency of the resettlement program, Sears said he’s surprised there haven’t been more problems as families continue to arrive in Canada.
Austin argued that bringing in so many refugees in a short period of time has not gone well, in light of reports that some families have been living in hotels much longer than expected, as they wait for more permanent accommodations.
Since the Liberals formed government, they’ve reaffirmed their commitment to combatting climate change at the Paris summit and changed the pipeline review process to include consideration of future greenhouse gas emissions.
“Unless something goes really badly, which on this file often does, I think it’s very hard to be critical of their first steps here, both domestically and internationally,” Sears said. He commended Trudeau for trying to reach out to provincial leaders to discuss Canada’s approach to climate change and his efforts to “break partisan differences” on the pipeline issue.
Reid said the government has handled the new pipeline regulations as best as it could since it’s an “inherently divisive” issue, especially after a disastrous year for the Alberta oilpatch.
“It would be darn strange if the government had popped up and said, ‘You know what, it turns out the economy has sagged, so we’re going to abandon all the words we dedicated to climate change,’” Reid said.
But Austin said the government has “accomplished nothing” on the climate change front. She said the Liberals have simply embraced the previous Conservative government’s emissions target plan without brining anything new to the table.
Sticking to their vow to improve the relationship between the federal government and Canada’s indigenous people, the Liberals launched the first phase of their promised inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in early December.
Sears said the government has “the right vision…and the right take-it-slowly approach,” but how the inquiry is actually carried out will “either haunt them” or become a long-lasting success.
Sears said the First Nations file is a difficult one. “I know how frustrated and what a high level of confrontation and anger the Liberals have inherited from the ways the Tories managed it.”
Austin said that while the government’s “willingness to engage on the issue” is universally applauded, this is another situation where the Liberals will have to “demonstrate how their approach is going to be different” before they can be truly evaluated.
“This is just a huge, huge endeavour,” she said. “This is not something that you’re going to be able to demonstrate a win on in the next two years.”
If the inquiry leads to significant change, “this could be one of the great legacies of (Trudeau’s) term,” Reid said.
(Graphics by Jesse Tahirali)