by Susan Delacourt
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once may have hoped to be a disruptive force in Canadian politics, but it’s hard not to notice that it’s his agenda that keeps getting disrupted.
The newest disruption is the surprise floor-crossing by one of Trudeau’s own caucus members – Leona Alleslev, who announced on Monday she would in future be sitting as the Conservative MP for Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill.
“The world has changed dramatically in the last three years,” Alleslev said in her first public statement as a Conservative.
It’s interesting that Alleslev cast this as a point of departure with Trudeau. Does the prime minister really not believe that the world has changed since he was elected in 2015?
Listening to Trudeau last week, explaining why his government wasn’t coming out with a new throne speech this fall, it was tempting to conclude that, indeed, the PM just might be stuck in a place that no longer exists in Canadian politics.
“In the 2015 election we presented a plan to invest in Canadians, invest in our communities, to put more money in the pockets of the middle class and to deliver real change for Canadians,” Trudeau told reporters in Saskatoon. “We’ve done an awful lot over these past three years to deliver on that but there is still more to do.”
So quite deliberately, Trudeau and his team seem to have decided that they would treat the fall of 2018 as a more-of-the-same season in politics – that there was no need to reset their approach or their priorities while that 2015 mandate is still sitting out there, awaiting complete delivery.
Like it or not, Trudeau’s first session of Parliament is stretching into one of the longest in Canadian parliamentary history, as though the world of 2018 is where it was when Liberals came to office in 2015.
But once again, events intervened and the hopes of delivering on expectations collided with the unexpected.
What Parliament Hill was talking about on Monday was not the middle-class-aspirations message that the Trudeau government wanted to discuss, but instead whether Alleslev’s departure was a portent of bigger shifts in political fortunes, away from the Liberals and toward their Conservative rivals.
That’s not the “real change” Trudeau was referencing last week, needless to say.
By now, this is a well-established pattern – Trudeau sets out to fulfill the 2015 election promises and inevitably, something knocks the government into reaction mode. It’s not just that some of those promises have fallen by the wayside, from deficit projections to electoral reform.
It’s that one gets the sense that this is a government that is more acted upon than actor.
The two major cabinet shuffles of this Liberal government have been triggered by outside
developments: the election of Donald Trump in late 2016 and the election of Doug Ford last June. The shuffles put different ministers in key portfolios – trade, foreign affairs, border security and so on – to accommodate what Trump or Ford have identified as hot-button issues. So basically, Trudeau has pressed the reset button twice during his tenure, but only according to others’ terms and timing.
To be fair, those are huge changes to accommodate – Trump has introduced turmoil into Canada-U.S. relations and Ford is threatening to be a serious disruptor in Ottawa’s relations with Canada’s biggest province. Merely staying on top of these two unpredictable, populist surges has to be an all-consuming task for any federal government.
But Trudeau didn’t come to office hoping to be the agent of stability and more of the same. Alleslev’s departure reminds us, once again, that things really have changed since 2015, and that a prime minister who came to office hoping to shake things up keeps getting shaken off message and mandate.
Susan Delacourt is the Starís Ottawa bureau chief and a columnist covering national politics. Reach her via email: email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @susandelacourt
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