Monday, November 2, 2015

Election Promises II

In the aftermath of the October 19th election, one of the main points that commentators are making is that Trudeau will have a hard time managing expectations.  He’s been compared to Obama 2008, in that the rhetoric of “hope and change” led to eventual disappointment.  So it will go with Trudeau, tell us some cynical pundits.

          Well, I’m here to tell you they’re wrong… sort of.  First, comparing Obama and Trudeau ignores a pretty major difference between the systems.  Trudeau has a majority government, which means he can count on the House of Commons to pass his legislative agenda, a luxury Obama never had, even when the Democrats had majorities in both houses of Congress.

          Second, and this is crucial, in many respects, Trudeau’s agenda is surprisingly modest.

          Don’t get me wrong.  He campaigned differently than the other two leaders, and he seems to be a different type of person.  So his discourse and his demeanor were very much about hope and change.  But the party’s policy platform wasn’t, necessarily.

          Let’s take some key promises: deficits, increased taxes for the very wealthy, increased infrastructure spending, cancelling income-splitting (except for seniors), remaking the child-benefit... all of that is very doable, and within the first year.  Within the first six months.  None of those things are too onerous, and because there are actual new sources of revenue (tax increases, end to income-splitting), it seems fiscally feasible.

          Another two-promises: electoral reform and Senate reform.  As much as I’m an abolitionist, the Liberal plan on Senate reform was easily the most realistic of the three main parties.  They’ve pledged to create a parliamentary committee to recommend the nomination of competent, wise Senators.  There’s really nothing that prevents them from doing that as soon as Parliament is convened.  Whether it’ll really change things is up for debate, but the promise is reasonable.

          On electoral reform, they’ve given themselves some wiggle room.  While Trudeau said “the 2015 election will be the last under First-Past-the-Post”, the actual party platform notes that they will call a parliamentary committee to study the issue and make recommendations.  I don’t see this changing without a referendum, however.  And as I’ve noted, in past referendums, Canadians have rejected electoral change.  So it might not happen, but that won’t really be on the government’s hands.

          Trudeau has pledged to ensure gender parity in Cabinet, which is entirely his prerogative.  He has also pledged to call a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, which is also his prerogative.

          The Trudeau Liberals have made promises which are overly ambitious, however.  Trudeau has pledged to change the discourse with Aboriginals, which is a welcome change that has raised expectations.  But while the discourse can change, the many issues related to Aboriginals in Canada will not change overnight, or even over a year.  For example: a promise to end boil water advisories within five years (while endlessly laudable) is going to be very difficult to enact.

          So there are some changes promised by the Liberals that will probably be difficult to implement.  On the balance, though, many of the promises made relate to things that a majority government can do fairly easily.  So within short order, we should see several of the expectations managed.

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