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Don Martin: Nice try, Prime Minister Trudeau. But it's too little, too late

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Nice try, prime minister. But likely too little, too late and too transparently desperate to serve as a realistic government-salvage strategy.

In a Hail Mary course correction designed to stop the Liberal death spiral, Justin Trudeau resurrected the ghost of rejected promises past, took notes from opposition ideas minutes before their release and delivered an empty ultimatum for excessively profitable grocery chains to stabilize prices.

It was a startling act of political self-preservation by the chronically inactive Trudeau, a realization that his iron grip on the caucus was slipping with potential electoral annihilation foreshadowed in the polls.

This is, after all, a prime minister who can be bombarded by negative news and act like he hears only the Hallelujah Chorus singing as he tiptoes through fields of tulips.

Perhaps that’s a tune-out skill that is essential for someone who faces enough prime ministerial fury and personal loathing to send any mere mortal into a fetal position whimpering for a mommy hug

But a reality of sorts finally got through to Trudeau this week at the Liberal caucus retreat.

THE HOUSING CRISIS HAS BEEN HERE FOR YEARS

He remains unapologetic about failing to act urgently on affordable housing, insisting circumstances have changed enough that enacting a broken 2015 Liberal promise to rebate the federal GST for rental housing construction makes sense now.

This is, of course, bovine-enhanced fertilizer, as any wannabe homeowner will tell you. The housing crisis has been here for years and gotten steadily worse while the federal government fiddled about for eight years.

But fresh from a second Delhi debacle, it appeared to be a slightly humbled Trudeau who emerged to repeatedly salute his MPs and unveil something resembling an action plan.

A prime minister notoriously deaf to caucus concerns listened to MPs warning of grim truths and electoral consequences if the housing and cost-of-living issues were ignored much longer.

Of course, devoid of original ideas for instant enactment, Trudeau simply lifted from others.

He claimed the GST exemption for rental housing, a move leaked just minutes before the Conservatives unveiled the same thing and an idea the NDP has supported for years.

An hour after CTV News’ Rachel Aiello broke news that the NDP leader would propose a bill to empower the Competition Bureau to tackle price gouging, Trudeau told MPs of plans to toughen up the Competition Act for similar purposes.

THE SAME-OLD, SAME-OLD RESPONSE

Beyond copy-catting, Trudeau retreated to his standard same-old, same-old response to any crisis: He called for a consultation.

Enter grocery chain executives, who will thus be summoned to a meeting within two weeks to demand price stability in their stores. Or else.

Good luck with that. They’ve been on the MP hot seat before to no discernable effect at the checkout.

But Trudeau and his minister warn this time it will be different. There will be unspecified “consequences” if undefined “meaningful action” on prices isn’t delivered.

This raises a lot of questions.

If they defiantly ignore the government and keep on boosting prices, will price controls be imposed? Will the government cut the carbon tax on fuel if the chains blame high gas prices? And what prevents chains that reject a price freeze from simply passing along any tax penalties imposed on them by the government? Short answers: No, no and it doesn’t.

Or course there’s the obvious bottom-line question: Will any of these moves stop the bleeding-out of Liberal support in the polls?

Nobody knows for sure. But by the time future renters move into any housing constructed courtesy of the GST rebate, Canadians will have long gone to the polls.

And grocery stores can vow cost reductions only to move prices around to preserve their profitable bottom line in a way no government could ever monitor.

But it’s a start as Trudeau has his come-to-Jesus moment in front of a caucus that is unhappy but not yet ready to revolt against their leader.

They forced their leader to snap out of his usual thought bubbles and unveil policy - be it old, new, borrowed or Tory blue.

And they loudly applauded Trudeau for promising further announcements on the hot button files. He just has to wait until the opposition parties come up with the ideas.

That’s the bottom line.

IN DEPTH

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