This is the first in a series of political party profiles for the 2019 Canadian federal election.
It’s hard not to think of the Liberal Party’s campaign slogan “Choose Forward” as a thinly veiled plea for the public to stop revisiting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s political headaches.
The SNC-Lavalin scandal dominated Canadian politics this year and struck a recent blow to the Liberals after Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion concluded last month that the prime minister violated the Conflict of Interest Act by pressuring former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in a case against the Quebec construction giant.
The Liberals then used their majority on the House ethics committee to prevent Dion from testifying about his findings.
Trudeau swept into power in 2015 after campaigning on progressive rhetoric about the environment, feminism, and Indigenous issues. He initially appointed about half of his 31 cabinet to women, famously saying that he did so “because it’s 2015.”
But on the election trail in 2019, Trudeau have to contend with criticisms that the Liberals have failed to deliver on a number of his promises. Steering the conversation away from this mess means talking about how bleak things will be if the Conservatives win.
Economy and jobs
Both Trudeau and Conservatives’ Leader Andrew Scheer have put themselves forward as true champions of the Canadian “middle class.” Scheer says Trudeau can’t possibly relate to that segment of society since he grew up rich. Trudeau says Scheer is only interested in giving corporations and wealthy people tax cuts while diminishing Canada’s social safety net.
The Liberals have already lowered the tax rate from 22 to 20.5 per cent for those earning between $45,282 and $90,563, a change that the Department of Finance says has saved nine million people hundreds of dollars a year.
The Liberals are sure to continue touting how, statistically, about a million more Canadians are working now compared to four years ago. Trudeau will certainly repeat how low Canada’s unemployment rate is when he’s been PM. But these numbers don’t include those who’ve stopped looking for work, as well as those in precarious working situations that don’t offer a true living wage or socioeconomic stability.
Telling voters how amazing things are can easily translate into a disconnect when it comes to those who feel like they’re not doing so well. Increasing the Canada Child Benefit and capping monthly smartphone bills are likely to play a central role in Trudeau’s pitch to the middle class.
The Liberals are also going to increase the carbon tax yearly by $10 per ton, starting at a 20$/ton base. In Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, this means the average household pays about $10 more per month for natural gas. Gasoline goes up about four cents a litre and about three cents for propane. These numbers will go up as the carbon tax increases each year, although the party has aggressively promoted the fact that Canadians can claim a carbon tax rebate every year.
Trudeau’s international image as a progressive leader rests a lot on his rhetoric about addressing climate change and environmental disaster. At home, the Liberals have tried to position themselves as the only party capable of balancing environmental protection with energy and economic development.
The Liberals have been touting their record since taking power: the carbon tax (a favourite target of the Conservatives), a ban on oil tankers off the B.C. coast, the implementation of a carbon-limited fuel standard, and funding public transportation. Those on the left have criticized Trudeau’s handling of the carbon tax for taking it too easy on industry and not charging enough per ton of carbon produced.
The Liberals don’t have a complete platform and have said that its energy strategy will be an ongoing “dialogue,” not a concrete document. They bought and approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, pointing to how it’ll help Western Canada access markets other than that of the U.S. They’ve also poured a lot of money into B.C.’s LNG project, which they say will run on “clean hydroelectricity.” This is a cleaner form of energy but the natural gas industry still accounts for about 20 percent of B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The Liberals have also tried to reduce carbon production by bringing in a new fuel standard for fuel used in heating homes and transportation. Their “Incentives for Zero-Emissions Vehicles Program” helped increase the number of electric car sales/leases by 30 percent.
Crime and Security
The Liberals have not campaigned much on tough-on-crime issues. Trudeau has generally stuck to the rhetoric of making sure to balance security with civil liberties.
Under Trudeau, Public Safety Canada listed the first white supremacist groups onto its list of terrorist entities. This was after a 2018 report by Public Safety was called out by numerous civil society groups for overlooking the threat of far-right, white-supremacist violence in Canada. The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) argued that the report improperly magnified the threat of Muslim and Sikh terrorism. The government ended up dropping the term “Sikh terrorism” altogether.
The Liberals also pushed through Bill C-59 last year, which overhauled some of Canada’s national security laws. The Liberals promised that the bill would fix certain provisions in Bill C-51, passed by Conservatives in 2015.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) concluded that C-59 has improved oversight of the government’s national security agencies. But it also created new issues, such as essentially permitting large-scale surveillance and expanding the mandate of several agencies. This includes giving the CSE, Canada’s signals intelligence agency, powers to conduct offensive and defensive cyber operations, thus endorsing state-sponsored hacking with minimal oversight.
The Liberals have also promised to strengthen Canada’s Coast Guard by spending spending just under $16 billion on a fleet of new ships. This is done as part of the National Shipbuilding Plan to help revitalize Canada’s marine industry, as well as to renew a rusty fleet of ships that the Coast Guard currently uses.
The Liberals don’t have a full platform for this file yet but have promised to align Canada’s commitments to Indigenous nations with the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
NDP MP Romeo Saganash introduced a private member’s bill (Bill 262) to have Canada legally bound to the declaration, but that’s not likely to succeed. The declaration is technically a non-binding document that affirms Indigenous people’s rights to give “Free, Prior, and Informed” consent for any projects to commence on their land. How it actually plays out, if implemented, will mainly be up to the courts to define.
Indigenous voters turned out for Trudeau in 2015 partly due to his sweeping promises, from launching an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), to addressing the prolonged water crisis on reserves.
They are likely to be disappointed. Numerous issues (and resignations) plagued the MMIW inquiry, including Indigenous voices revealing the lack of consultation with their communities. VICE has also covered extensively how the Liberals have fallen short in providing reserves with clean water. For example, the Trudeau government said they essentially solved the issue with their investments. But a VICE fact check revealed that several reserves still suffered from chronic issues like power outages, underfunding, delays, and other breakdowns.
The disappointment perhaps culminated last when the government bought the Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion. Some Indigenous nations, along with advocacy groups, even took their complaints to court as the PM defended the purchase by pointing to his record on the environment.
Trudeau announced in June that his party was committed to instituting a national pharmacare program that extends prescription drug coverage to all Canadians. This proposed system would cover a shorter list of “essential medicines” in 2022 and expanded year after year. The specific list hasn been made yet but the Liberals promise that it’ll be a “carefully chosen list” that covers “most major conditions and representing about half of all prescriptions.”
The 2018 budget also included a number of investments in mental health, including for youth. The Liberals invested $5 million to address and prevent bullying and cyberbullying. It also put money into addressing the mental health of first responders, veterans, and on Indigenous reserves.
The Liberals have campaigned by depicting the Conservatives as wanting to cut social and healthcare services at every turn. But several provinces, including Quebec, thought Trudeau’s Liberals didn’t live up to his 2015 promises of negotiating with provinces about healthcare funding.
They felt the Trudeau Liberals provided them with an “ultimatum” that included a clampdown in increases of health-transfer payments, from a six per cent annual increase down to three per cent.
The Trudeau government has legalized and regulated cannabis but will not decriminalize other illicit drugs. It has also eased some restrictions around opening up safe, supervised consumption sites.
But deaths due to opioid overdoses have increased under Trudeau. The Liberals have since announced a fund to help provinces and territories treat those addicted to opioids, but has not declared the crisis a “national emergency,” as the NDP has urged them to.
The Liberals raised the minimum annual income someone must make before having to start paying off their student debt, to $25,000.
They’ve also written off hundreds of millions of dollars in student loans in the past four years.
The Liberals’ 2019 budget made a number of moves to increase funding for Indigenous students and students with disabilities, while reducing the interest charged on loans.
Party sources have said that the Liberals are set to make promises to cut cell phone and Internet bills. The could be a cap on how much can be charged or having large providers offer access to smaller outfits without their own telecommunications infrastructure.
Best case scenario
Roughly tied with the Conservatives going into the election, Trudeau finds some of that 2015 magic on the campaign trail and Andrew Scheer proves to be dull and gaffe-laden. Ontario and Quebec largely go Liberal, with the Conservatives losing the Toronto suburbs thanks to Doug Ford, and a weakened NDP ceding seats to the Grits in Quebec. The Liberals lose a couple seats in Atlantic Canada but largely sweep it. Western Canada is still a losing cause but they mostly maintain their seats there. If the Liberals can get young voters out again, and the Conservatives fail to make a dent in Ontario, Trudeau could easily win another majority, albeit a smaller one, even if they just have a narrow popular vote victory.
Worst case scenario
Trudeau embarrasses himself in the debates with Andrew Scheer and Liberal voters, particularly young people, stay home, while the Conservatives reveal a stronger than expected ground game, especially in Ontario. The Tories win an extremely narrow majority and Trudeau steps down instead of serving as Opposition Leader.
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