Promises Kept, Promises Broken: Trudeau At Two Years

The Liberal government is halfway through its term. We look at some of its successes and failures.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 23 Oct 2017 |

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

“What’s going on with the Liberal government anyway?”

That’s the question increasingly being asked as the government headed by Justin Trudeau reaches the midpoint of its term.

The big promises and “sunny ways” of the Liberals sparked excitement across Canada after the toppling of the 10-year Conservative reign in Ottawa in 2015.

But it’s now two years since smiling crowds greeted Trudeau and his cabinet as they marched up to Rideau Hall to be sworn in back in November 2015.

Since then some of the sunny ways have been clouded by broken promises, while the Liberals have also made good on some commitments.

We highlighted a few of the more prominent — and lesser-known — promises the Liberals have kept.

And some they’ve failed to make good on.

Promises kept

Non-partisan Senate

During the 2015 campaign the Liberals promised to reform the Senate by establishing a non-partisan process for appointments with an independent advisory board. People would be chosen on merit, they said, and there a would be a process allowing Canadians to apply.

In the wake of numerous Senate scandals, often related to expense accounts, the idea was well-received. At the same time it faced criticism in the media and from political opponents.

More than 2,700 people applied for the first openings. In October 2016 the first nine new senators appointed under the new system were announced.

The Liberals were still accused of stacking the Senate with people likely to be sympathetic to the party.

Long-form census

The Conservatives abolished the long-form census in 2010 to outrage from statisticians, journalists and academics.

Those who relied on the information for their work said it would have serious consequences for future policy making.

The Liberal government made reinstating the census one of its first acts after taking power.

The census is conducted every five years to provide government, researchers and the public with information on Canada’s population.

Despite some voices on the right still decrying the census, long-time Conservative Tony Clement said he could not criticize the decision.

Dump the Conservatives’ labour bill

As the Conservative government was on its way out the door it passed Bill C-377, imposing new disclosure requirements on unions and other labour organizations.

The private members bill, sponsored by then-Tory MP Russ Hiebert, was touted as an initiative making unions more transparent and required greater financial disclosure from them.

The Canadian Labour Congress argued the bill was really about bogging unions down in red tape and the Canadian Union of Public Employees called it a “a political attack on the right of freedom of association and free speech.”

On coming into power the Liberals scrapped the legislation via Bill C-4, which restored the previous regulations to the praise of Canada’s labour groups.

“By passing Bill C-4, the federal government has demonstrated it understands the importance of fair labour relations, and the critical role unions play advancing rights for all Canadian workers,” said Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress.

Promises abandoned or in limbo

Electoral reform

The New Democrats have made sure those who want Canada’s first-past-the-post voting system abolished remember that Trudeau promised 1,813 times during the the 2015 campaign that it would be the last election conducted under the current system.

A special parliamentary committee was established to examine adopting a new electoral system that provided proportional representation and recommended a referendum on the issue. But the Liberals abandoned the campaign promise and decided they’d rather not change the system at all.

The reason given was a lack of appetite for change among Canadian voters, but proponents contend ample support exists. Liberal insiders told the press that fears a proportional representation system would also result in the rise of far-right populist parties was a factor.

None of it washes for Kelly Carmichael, executive director of Fair Vote Canada, an organization dedicated to electoral reform.

Carmichael said she wonders if Trudeau even read the results of the special committee’s work.

“Based on the evidence we think this was never really intended to succeed,” Carmichael said. “We’re looking to 2019. We don’t expect much at this point.”

Last week Fair Vote Canada and Democracy Watch, an independent government watchdog, submitted a complaint to the ethics commissioner, Mary Dawson, over Trudeau’s broken election promise.

Job Training

During the 2015 election campaign the Liberals made a big promise of an additional $775 million per year for skilled trades training in Canada.

The Conservative government had said for years that a shortage of skilled trades was the reason for the expansion of programs bringing foreign workers to Canada. Some analysts also criticized business for not doing its part to train the workers it wants.

The Liberals claimed to have a fix for it in their 2015 campaign.

“In a changing economy, Canadians need more opportunities to improve their skills and upgrade their credentials,” read the Liberals’ platform. “We will make it easier for adults to access training programs by increasing investment in skills training.”

But on budget day 2016 the government committed $175 million, far short of the promised $775 million.

Support for veterans

During the 2015 campaign the Liberals promised to implement free post-secondary education for military veterans, pledging $80 million a year for a veterans’ education benefit.

“This benefit will provide full support for the costs of up to four years of college, university, or technical education for Canadian Forces veterans after completion of service,” said the platform.

Mike Blais, executive director of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, said he was expecting a policy helping all veterans get post-secondary education similar to the GI Bill in the United States.

But when the plan, which comes into effect next April, was rolled out it had a number of restrictions preventing many vets from accessing the fund, Blais said.

“I do not find that’s right,” he said. “Seems there’s always an issue with a promise.”

Among his concerns is that veterans are only eligible if they’ve served at least six years and must take advantage of the benefit within 10 years of being discharged.

Blais said the time stipulation excludes many veterans, including those who served in Afghanistan.

He said he is hoping Ottawa makes changes to the plan in the future, but as it stands now is not satisfied.

“There’s gaps here that are going to result in veterans being excluded,” Blais said. “It’s incumbent upon the new minister to correct them.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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