(By Rob Hiff, Queen’s University)
Since he assumed office on November 4th 2015, Justin Trudeau has seemed to be thriving in his relatively new role as the Prime Minister of Canada (PM). His father, Pierre E. Trudeau was Canada’s 15th PM, who was most famous for his charismatic personality and his partition of the Canadian Constitution in 1982 that brought citizens the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is apparent that Justin Trudeau has some big shoes to fill when considering his father’s legacy. Though, from how he is portrayed in popular media, it would appear that he has already done so by pushing a liberal agenda, and putting on the charm. It is argued here, however, that bolstering the celebrity reputation of Justin Trudeau has detrimental implications for Canadian democracy. Instead of widely accepting the celebrity-like reputation of our PM, Canadian citizens should remain critical of his performance in in the policy arena while commending and standing by his liberal narrative.
Trudeau’s electoral victory yielded a majority government that holds 54% of seats in the House of Commons, proving that a positive campaign based on inclusivity, unity, and vision can beat out a negative campaign that aims to undermine, slander, and discourage the competition. Since then, Trudeau has appealed to his electorate by assuming a number of progressive stances on contentious issues and has begun to advance his policy agenda outlined in his platform. His first action as PM was to ensure that his cabinet was gender balanced to assert his support for feminism (an admirable stance). He also immediately adopted a strong stance on the Syrian refugee crises by initially agreeing to accept and resettle 15,000 Syrian refugees by January of 2016, now having accepted a total of 40,081 asylum seekers as of January 29th, 2017. In the wake of US President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim majority countries and general divisive and bigoted political rhetoric, Trudeau has welcomed diversity, tweeting out on January 28th, 2016 that “Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”
Justin Trudeau has also been remarkably progressive within his public statements on climate change. On March 10th 2016, Trudeau’s state visit to Washington fostered a discussion between him and Obama to move forward on a series of initiatives on reducing greenhouse gases and finding new sources of non-carbon based energy. He has also made several statements regarding retribution for Canada’s Indigenous populations. On December 15th 2016 at a meeting with the National Indigenous Organizations, Trudeau said he has, “committed to a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.” Canada’s PM has also situated himself comfortably in ‘the left’, being notable as a world leader who advocates for LGBTQ rights and acceptance. Images of Trudeau marching in pride parades over the summer of 2016 in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver overwhelmed social network feeds as the PM was captured leading the crowds.
These political stances and others have made it easy for Canadians to unite and support a vision for Canada based on inclusivity, unity, and longevity and be proud to live in a country whose leader exhumes a respectful reputation across the planet (despite some outliers). However, it is of the upmost importance that Canadians do not get caught up in the publicized narrative of Trudeau in mass popular media. Though we should support the progressive attitudes that our PM has expressed publically, our duty as citizens is to remain critical and hold him to the same standard in the policy arena.
After nearly half of a year in office, Justin Trudeau’s progress on his policy agenda has been relatively slow, which is what is to be expected with any transitional government. However, a non-partisan collaborative citizen initiative known as TrudeauMetre has concluded that Trudeau has not been true to the majority of his campaign promises. Their website has shown that out of 223 policy initiatives, Trudeau has only achieved 41, whilst abandoning 30, having 64 in progress, and leaving 88 to be initiated. Included in the policies that have not yet had official action, is the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana that Justin Trudeau has promoted throughout his social media platforms. Research restraints and delays on the report of the Federal Task Force make the decriminalization, let alone legalization, of marijuana a distant ‘achievement’.
The PM has also been criticized for his decisions concerning the fight against climate change, despite his public stance on the issue. Trudeau instituted a federal carbon tax or ‘cap-and-trade plan’ that sets a minimum price on carbon, thus affecting carbon emitting industries such as the fossil fuels, and placing a financial burden on citizens themselves that shows in gas and heating bills. Critics also argue that he has acted hypocritically in that his recent decisions have had devastating environmental implications. On November 29th 2016, Trudeau and his cabinet signed off on two major pipeline projects that will pump nearly a million more barrels a day from Alberta’s oil sands to global markets. The Trans Mountain Pipeline is of the most controversial as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency estimated that its construction will result in roughly 13.5 to 17 megatons of additional Green House Gas emissions each year.
The approvals also sparked outcry from the Indigenous community – the same people whom Trudeau pledged to support. One B.C. First Nation protests on the grounds that the pipelines construction could threaten their community’s very survival. Green Peace Representative Mike Hudema spoke about Trudeau’s conduct saying that, “Prime Minister Trudeau has broken his climate commitments, broken his commitments to Indigenous rights, and has declared war on B.C.”. Though these condemnations may seem harsh, Hudema’s opinion is echoed by members of the community. Despite lofty pronouncements by the Prime Minister, a report by the Privy Council Office gave Trudeau and his cabinet a failing grade for delivering on his promises to Indigenous Canadians. Trudeau falling short of his mandate to serve First Nations communities and his questionable decisions concerning climate change are just some of the faults that have been overlooked by many.
Trudeau has even experienced shortcomings in his ability to make Canadian society more equitable for those in the LGTBQ community. What most have yet to realize is that there is a disconnect between the headlines Trudeau is able to grab and the actual accomplishments he has made in office for these people. Rob Salerno writes that although Trudeau has made a series of public addresses and apologies to gays who have been discriminated against and oppressed throughout Canadian history, Trudeau has done little to address the institutional factors that have led to their discrimination. One example Salerno uses is how the Liberals took back their pledge for ending the discriminatory ban on blood donations for men engaging in sex with other men, proposing to replace it to a one-year deferral. Trudeau has also failed to specifically help the trans community, as they have not fulfilled their campaign promise to explicitly protect trans people under the Canadian Human Rights Act and hate crimes provisions in the Criminal Code.
The Liberal Government has also recently abandoned another campaign promise to reform the of the current First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system. The Minister of Democratic Institutions expressed that Justin Trudeau’s abandonment of his promise was in the best interest of Canadians based on consultations with over 300,000 citizens. Though this would be a worthy assertion, the PM and his cabinet never constructed an alternative option to present to the people who were consulted. It is hard to imagine that the electoral reform effort would have led to any ‘Real Change’ in this case, given the unreasonable expectation that grassroots citizens are exceptional at contemplating voting systems. Nevertheless, it is apparent now that the 2015 election granting Trudeau his seat in power will not be the last one fought under the FPTP system as he had so often stated and campaigned on.
As shown, the media profile of a politician is by no means indicative of their progress as a political leader. The problem in the case of Canadian society is that many have offered praise for what has been said in the public eye rather than for what has been done in the policy arena. There is an onus on Canadian citizens to uphold Canadian democratic principles and take advantage of the privileges that we have in a free and fair society. It is thus necessary to equip ourselves with accurate, critical, and reliant media sources to see behind the biased undertones of the popular media that fills up our news feeds. In an increasingly uncertain political climate, where politicians like Donald Trump are successful in spite of proclaiming false truths and spewing neo-fascist rhetoric, it is important to remember that even politicians such as charming Justin Trudeau have fatal flaws in their policy implementation strategies. What matters is not whether our PM can out-arm the ‘Donald Trump Handshake’, but if he is using those hands to sign legislation that is true to his platform and his word.
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