Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Chips in Trudeau's Armour?

The last few months have not been kind to the Prime Minister. While I hesitate to use the word scandal for what has befallen his government it appears that they are increasingly mirror in unforced errors. Before I dive deeper into this piece I should make my prejudices abundantly clear. I do not like the current Prime Minister and generally I have not supported the Liberal Party. The issues confronting the Liberals seem to stem from three areas: appearance of improper financial dealings, style, and keeping their promises.

At the end of the year Justin Trudeau's approval ratings were sitting at 51%. This is a considerable number but down from earlier in the year. Similarly, Liberal support has moved from 51% to 42% in the same poll. This is a higher percentage than they won the election with. However, I think this is evidence that the honeymoon can be officially called over as the government passes a year in office. Canadians are off the high of the election and now are beginning to think of Liberals and Justin Trudeau as another politician.

The main source of the decline in the polls seems to be the fundraising issue. To my distress Canadians don't much care about things like electoral reform, but the stories circulating about the cash-for-access fundraisers are eroding sympathy and support for the government. The Prime Minister has appeared at fundraisers where wealthy Canadians and people with links to Chinese business donate money to the party and discuss government business.

If I'm being honest I think some of the criticism is hyperbole. However, the government's handling of the issue has been appallingly bad. For a time the government seemed to hope that it would all go away over Christmas. Though she later retracted the comments Bardish Chagger, the Government House Leader stated that the House of Commons was not the place to discuss this issue. The Liberals have seemed to violate their own guidelines of fundraising. While I doubt $1500 is enough to sway a minister's opinion it looks problematic to say the least.

Perhaps the Liberals could have weathered the storm with Christmas and New Year's to give them cover, but then out came the story of the Trudeaus holidaying with Aga Khan in Bermuda. Much like the fundraising the Liberals have had trouble with their messaging on this issue. Trudeau attempted to dismiss allegations by saying it was a family trip. It was later revealed that a Liberal MP, his spouse and the president of the Liberal Party and her spouse was also on the trip. All told this probably doesn't amount to much, but the whiff of corruption or at least backroom dealings and sweetheart deals is in the air. Despite the disturbing number of times Justin Trudeau can cram "middle class" into a sentence he is an elite and has connections and relationships that compromise his ability to appear objective.

The style of the new government is also losing its appeal. The savvy, social media focused, light and fun government with the young leader is losing its traction. While the PM and the government generally remain popular there is a tonal shift in the media to not so easily fall for these ploys. I'm confident a video of Trudeau playing with puppies would do exceptionally well and smear itself all over my social media channels, but the number of people who would roll their eyes seems much higher now than 12 months ago.

The style problem has been exacerbated by the fact that the Liberals actually have to govern. The first year of endless consultations, reports and committee work now has to confront the reality of making choices and implementing policies. This is most apparent in the relationships with the provinces. The PM cannot simply force policy without power criticism, nor will "sunny ways" impress the likes of Christie Clark, Brad Wall or Rachel Notley.

Finally there are the promises. According to the Trudeau Meter website the Liberals made 223 promises during the election. So far they have broken 28, kept 38 and not started on 90 of them. Some are minor, but others are major. The pipeline approvals went against the expressed wishes of First Nations leadership and the environmental lobby. Commitments to renew the relationship with First Nations has been pushed off. What about proper funding for indigenous children as the Human Rights Tribunal ordered? What about keeping the deficit to $10 billion per year? What about reviving the economy and protecting the middle class? How about this big one, where's movement on Bill C-51?

Individually there is little political penalty for each promise broken or half-delivered, but there are constituencies out there watching. Bill C-51 was important for Toronto ridings. If the bill isn't fixed by 2019 that leaves the door open for the NDP. If the Liberals fail to put in place some sort of electoral reform it will have been seen, rightfully, by Conservatives as a boondoggle and waste of time,  and a betrayal by the NDP, Greens and electoral reform advocates.

I am not a Trudeau fan, but I think evidence is mounting that the shine is coming off the Prime Minister and his party. Initial enthusiasm gives way to the day-to-day business of governing which inevitably angers some and pleases others. The question is how the government will respond and if that response will be enough.

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