by Tim Harper
As the Stephen Harper years piled one onto another, debate grew in the capital over how much of his Conservative legacy would become a fundamentally ingrained part of Canada.
Would successive governments be unwilling or unable to lift the rocks and get at the philosophical underpinnings of almost a decade of Harper? Turns out, a lot of the Conservative agenda can be overturned, and rather quickly.
While Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government may be spinning its wheels on some big items, such as the size of its budget deficit, the scope of its missing and murdered indigenous women inquiry or the regional tensions engendered by its imminent decision on a $1-billion bailout or stake in Bombardier, it is proving much more adept at tearing down the Conservative house.
It’s as if the new government stole into that old Conservative neighbourhood armed with a pressure washer and started cleaning that unsightly graffiti off the walls.
It started early with the announcement of the restoration of the long-form census.
The Liberal government has overturned the closing of veterans offices, pledged to reverse funding cuts to the CBC, overturned two pieces of legislation it considered punitive to labour and restored funding to First Nations that had been frozen under the previous government’s transparency act.
It also suspended all court action against First Nations that did not comply with the legislation.
It ended a Conservative court appeal of provisions of Omar Khadr’s bail and ended an appeal of the citizenship niqab ruling that sullied the last election.
It changed the way the Conservatives dealt with sick leave for federal employees, has given permission to federal scientists to speak to the media and is ending an audit of charities by the Canada Revenue Agency, which was seen to be payback for advocating for the environment.
It has changed the way senators are appointed – although it is behind schedule and has a long way to go before there can be any clarity on this initiative.
It will fully restore health-care coverage for all refugees and asylum claimants to the pre-2012 levels, before Conservative cuts. It is revamping the environmental assessment process – a major Harper initiative – while keeping the right of cabinet to make the final decision on pipeline projects.
On the foreign policy file, the government has lifted some sanctions against Iran and will engage that country again and it has warmed relations with Washington.
Under the title of “tone,” Trudeau has made himself and his ministers more accessible to the media and has brought first ministers together for meetings, a practice Harper had ended.
More is to come: an overhaul of the C-51 domestic anti-terrorism act, changes to the Fair Elections Act, the Firearms Act and repeal of some provisions of the bill allowing the government to strip Canadian citizenship.
Some of the changes seem borne simply of election promises and not sound rationale, such as the revamped anti-Islamic State group mission. Some things that have not changed, such as the controversial Saudi arms deal, have been mired in confusion. Global Affairs Minister Stephane Dion says he is opposed to the deal, but it is going ahead regardless.
For this, according to a Forum poll published at the weekend, the Liberals would win 70 per cent of the seats if an election were held today.
This is likely to be about as good as it gets for this government, because we are fast approaching the point where the Conservative teardown runs out of low-hanging fruit and the Liberals will be judged on their own merits.
And their plethora of campaign promises is going to come back to bite on some files – ranging from F-35s to electoral reform – because this government has given itself a huge, and likely impossible, change file.
But the Liberal road may actually be smoothed by events south of the border.
After South Carolina on Saturday, those of us who have been dismissive of Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations are going to have to recalibrate our message. Some of us had front-row seats to the Rob Ford debacle in Toronto, so we intuitively know that the seemingly ludicrous suddenly becomes plausible, then reality.
What will happen is that the Trump bombast – should he win the Republican nomination – will bring all discourse down to his level in an election year which will receive immense coverage in all Canadian media.
No matter what trouble awaits the Trudeau Liberals, they will look positively radiant compared to the train wreck about to unfold in the good old U.S. of A.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services