OTTAWA – Exactly two years ago Thursday, the federal Liberals won a sweeping, and not totally expected majority government.
From the floor of the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal where he made his election night victory speech, Justin Trudeau said the election of 184 Liberal MPs proved that positive politics work, and promised “real change” was on its way to Ottawa.
Since then the government, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have had highs and lows, as they’ve fulfilled some campaign promises, and broken others, and the tangible amount of “real change” that will be felt by 2019 is yet to be determined.
They now have 180 Liberal MPs, the result of two Liberals being removed from caucus and designated independent MPs over allegations of impropriety, and vacancies yet to be filled by the death of Arnold Chan and retirement of Judy Foote.
There have been six federal byelections since 2015 and in all six, the successful candidate was a member of the party that held the seat prior to the byelection, three of those being Liberals.
And, members of the federal cabinet have been shuffled a few times, including a rejig in response to the results of the U.S. election, and the latest overhaul in the federal approach to Indigenous Affairs.
Here is a quick rundown of where the government stands on some major files:
Economy: The government promised to reform taxes, grow the economy, and extend the Canada Pension Plan. So far, the economy is performing well, with 400,000 new jobs created in the last two years, and CPP changes to be phased in starting in 2019.
The Liberals recently revived their pledge to lower the small business tax rate to 9 per cent. However, their months-long endeavor for tax “fairness” has been receiving amendments all week after resounding pushback.
They also promised to run deficits of less than $10 billion through their first three years. Instead, the federal government ended the 2016-17 fiscal year with a $17.8-billion deficit.
Foreign Affairs: The government came in pushing the message that “Canada is back” on the international stage, and after multiple trips and magazine covers, Trudeau has name recognition worldwide. They also promised to welcome refugees and “renew and repair” Canada’s relationship with the U.S. and Mexico.
To date, just over 40,000 Syrian refugees have been brought to Canada since the Liberals came to power but a new flood have migrants has raised a new challenge on the immigration front. While the relationship with Canada’s North American counterparts remains a work in progress, considering the unpredictable nature of U.S. President Donald Trump, and the fact that Mexico is set to elect a new president in 2018.
Electoral Reform & Transparency: “We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system,” the Liberals pledged in the campaign, a promise they broke in February 2017 after spending thousands in consultations, citing no consensus as the reason.
The Liberals also promised to open up the Access to Information law to have it apply to the Prime Minister’s and Minister’s offices, which in their ATIP bill, they did not fully do. A recent audit also found that the federal access to information system has worsened under the Liberals.
Trudeau also said he’d establish a regular prime minister’s question period, which now happens regularly on Wednesdays, when the prime minister is in town.
Trade: The Liberals promised to defend supply management, and explore new trade relationships, including with China and India.
Trudeau announced in September that exploratory talks with China are underway, and the government has promised to back supply management in the NAFTA talks -- a chapter in the trade dossier that Trudeau didn’t plan on having to reopen back in 2015.
Canada-EU trade also entered new territory recently, with the provisional application of CETA coming into effect.
A 'feminist' government: Trudeau came to power and quickly appointed a gender-balanced cabinet of 15 men and 15 women, because, as the self-declared feminist prime minister said at the time, “it’s 2015.”
That gender balance has been maintained, and the government is getting into the practice of applying gender-based analysis on its federal policy, but critics have noted they are still waiting on the promised pay equity legislation.
Indigenous Issues: Trudeau promised to improve the relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people; to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls that has since come under fire; and to boost funding for First Nations’ healthcare, housing, and education.
Recently the Liberals announced an overhaul of its approach to Indigenous Affairs, after criticism that the new nation-to-nation relationship was still a ways off. There are now two ministers on the file, and $3.4-billion earmarked in the latest budget through to 2020 for health, training, clean water and jobs, but work remains. For example, there are still over 100 boil water advisories in First Nations communities.
How the opposition see things:
“What we've seen over the past two years is that people should expect less, that people should not expect a government to follow through on their commitments. We've seen that there's a government that expects people to dream smaller and not really envision a better country,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, speaking to the Trudeau mandate’s two-year mark, while on Parliament Hill earlier this week.
In Hamilton, Ont., Thursday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer also touched on the government’s two-year mark.
“The Trudeau Liberals campaigned saying that they wanted to help the middle class. But our concern is that, after two years, their policies are doing precisely the opposite. Instead of doing everything they can to make sure our children and grandchildren are better off, the Trudeau Liberals have spent all the money they can get their hands on,” Scheer said.
Other issues that the government will have to show results on by 2019: the rollout of legalized marijuana; finding the balance between the environment and the economy when it comes to natural resource development; fully ending the blood ban for gay men; making housing more affordable for seniors and low-income Canadians; developing infrastructure projects; and improving relations with the public service after over a year of pay problems.
With much of the political media’s attention focused on the controversy surrounding Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s personal finances, little was said about the Liberal two-year mark in the House of Commons Thursday.
Though, asked about how she thinks her government is doing at its midway point following Wednesday’s Liberal caucus meeting, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said she thinks they’re doing well, and accomplished a lot, but recognized there is more left to be done.
“We certainly have a long list of priorities that we’re dealing with, but we’re going to move forward to making sure again that we do the good work that Canadians expect of us,” she said.