by Chantal Hébert
If one had to describe the mode of Justin Trudeau’s government six months into its first mandate, it would be cruise control rather than full throttle.
Whether by design or by necessity the Liberals are dealing with a heavy policy agenda by pacing themselves.
In this fashion, 180 days after the swearing-in of a new cabinet, Canada is no closer to an actual plan to reconcile its energy and climate change ambitions.
A promised inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women has yet to be launched, and a larger road map is still a work in progress.
If there are concrete changes in the offing on the fronts of medicare and/or public pensions, to name just two national programs that have not kept up with the times, they have yet to find their way on the public radar.
For all the talk of the government on gender parity and family/work balance it has yet to translate into measures that extend beyond the Parliament Hill bubble and those fortunate enough to toil within it.
Marijuana is still an illegal substance whose consumption is a criminal offence, with the status of offenders unclear given the Liberal intention to legalize weed.
From one week to the next, the government’s promise to set up a process designed to lead to a different electoral system in time for the next election has been shovelled forward. The security overhaul undertaken by the Conservatives through Bill C-51 remains in place.
A new Senate appointment process has yet to yield more than a handful of bodies to refill the upper house.
This is not an exhaustive list.
Some of the above is normal. There is no magic formula to make up for a lost decade on climate change in a country whose economy is partly dependent on the success of its energy industry.
Raising the living conditions of Canada’s indigenous population to an acceptable level will take years, not months.
But the pace – glacial in so many instances – at which other files are progressing is of the government’s own setting.
Not that Canadians seem to mind. More voters are satisfied with the government than the proportion of the electorate that actually supported the Liberals last fall. Perhaps as importantly, appreciation for Trudeau’s handling of his new role is high across the country and among all age groups.
That’s quite a departure from the last Conservative mandate when Stephen Harper’s team routinely managed to do little more than keep the party base happy.
So far, the Liberals have avoided some of the mishaps that have often attended the early days of past rookie governments, mishaps that have often resulted in an early loss of public confidence.
It also helps that Trudeau has so far asked little of Canadians beyond their patience. For his government, the hard-to-sell trade-offs are still down the road.
At the same juncture in his first mandate, Jean ChrÈtien was already scrambling to adjust the Liberal promises to the realities of a runaway deficit. Paul Martin never had time to find his policy bearings. He spent his minority mandate trying to dig himself out of the sponsorship scandal. Harper’s overriding priority during his first months in office was ensuring the survival of a fragile minority government long enough to successfully seek re-election.
By comparison to his three immediate predecessors, Trudeau has enjoyed the gift of a leisurely landing, and he has been making the most of it. And that probably speaks not just to short-term caution but also to the political assumptions of the Liberal government.
For if one had to name one distinguishing feature that has come to light over the past six months, it would not be the marketing flair of the Trudeau team or the so-called sunnier ways of the new prime minister. Both were in evidence over the last campaign and they contributed to the Liberal majority victory.
More striking is how comfortable this incoming government seems with playing the long game.
It should be clear by now that Trudeau is setting a policy course that stretches over two mandates. His government is operating on a 10-year plan in all but name.
Time will tell whether that is good governance or just presumptuous of the enduring goodwill of voters.
Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services