OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's had to repeatedly remind his over-enthusiastic cabinet that their new Liberal government has a four-year mandate "and we can't expect to accomplish everything within the first few months."
As he summed up the first session of Canada's 42nd Parliament on Wednesday, Trudeau maintained that his government fulfilled three big economic commitments before the summer recess, but still has a lot of work to do.
On the other hand, his critics contend that it's taken less than nine months for the familiar old Liberal arrogance to return.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at an end-of-session news conferernce on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
Syrian refugee settlement, the recurring suicide crisis in First Nations communities, contentious and ground-breaking legislation on doctor-assisted death and a partial Liberal climbdown on the process for electoral reform were the dominant issues in the House of Commons this spring, but they didn't make it into the prime minister's self-edited highlight reel.
Instead, Trudeau pounded away at his preferred economic message: the Liberal tax cut for middle-income earners; the new Canada Child Benefit, whose first cheques will roll out within weeks; and the just-negotiated reforms to the Canada Pension Plan.
The Liberals have delivered, said Trudeau, still riffing off last year's Liberal campaign slogan, with the "real change that Canadians want and need and voted for."
Struggles with democratic reform file, F-35s
But a pan-Canadian climate plan — promised within 90 days of December's international climate conference in Paris — remains very much a work in progress. The first Liberal stab at reforming the voting system went badly astray. And the Liberal campaign vow to ditch the F-35 fighter jet purchase and "immediately launch an open and transparent competition to replace the CF-18 fighter aircraft" has all but vanished from the radar.
Trudeau pointedly avoided confirming either of the fighter jet promises Wednesday, waving the question off as "lots of speculation in the media."
It was a low-key and utilitarian performance. There would be no one-armed pushups, dimpled grins or hands on heart for the benefit of the parliamentary press throng.
"We don't have to accomplish everything immediately, and we can't expect to accomplish everything within the first few months."
The closest the prime minister came to anything approaching introspection during the half-hour news conference was his French-language response to a question about what he learned in his first eight months in power.
"One thing that I had to remind my ministers several times over the course of the session was this," Trudeau responded. "They came in with such amazing capacity, ability, and they were so motivated, so enthusiastic, I had to say, 'We have four years in our mandate. We don't have to accomplish everything immediately, and we can't expect to accomplish everything within the first few months.'"
The aren't-we-marvellous subtext has been grating on the opposition — but not yet the public at large, according to another bevy of public opinion surveys released this week. The Liberal party, and the prime minister personally, continues to ride high, largely at the expense of a New Democratic Party that's polling barely into the double digits.
Ambrose says Grits don't want public input
The Conservatives, under interim leader Rona Ambrose, are holding their own as they adjust to life on the margins after a decade on centre stage in government.
The Opposition says it's being whipsawed between the Liberal penchant for launching public consultations here, there and everywhere — thus avoiding hard decisions, say Conservative critics — and a contradictory Liberal impulse to make controversial moves without much debate.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Ambrose pointed to the lack of public input on Canada Pension Plan changes, a change to the national anthem's lyrics, and the Liberal decision to end Canada's role in the jet-fighter bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
'An arrogant attitude'
She also questioned how a party that campaigned on transparency could impose time allocation to close off debate in the Commons and employ heavy-handed tactics like the procedural jackhammer Motion 6, which was withdrawn only after Trudeau's elbowing incident in the Commons with the NDP's Ruth Ellen Brosseau.
"I think the concern that I have is that the government acts like the opposition doesn't matter and that they have complete carte blanche to do whatever they want," said Ambrose.
"I think that's an arrogant attitude, I think it's entitled and I think they have to recognize that opposition parties have a strong role to play and Canadians expect the government to be held to account."
— With files from Stephanie Levitz
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The Liberal government delivered its maiden budget Tuesday, March 22. A deficit of $29.4 billion in 2016-17, nearly three times the $10 billion promised during the fall election campaign, and a projected deficit of $17.7 billion in 2019-20 rather than the balanced budget that was promised in October. (Source: The Canadian Press)
One of the earmarks of the budget is a commitment to spending on aboriginal issues. This includes: - $2.6 billion over five years for primary and secondary education on First Nations reserves, including language and cultural programs, plus $969.4 million over five years for education infrastructure. - $1.2 billion over five years for social infrastructure for Aboriginal Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and northern communities. - $10.4 million over three years for new women's shelters in First Nations communities, and $33.6 million over five years and $8.3 million ongoing for support services. - $40 million over two years for the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will be changing the structure of Canada's child benefits, ending income splitting and other tax credits for families and parents. This means: - $10 billion more over two years for a new Canada child benefit, absorbing and replacing both the Canada child tax benefit and the universal child care benefit. Targeted to low and middle-income families, the government says the new benefit provides an average increase of nearly $2,300 in 2016-17. - An end to income splitting for couples with children, the children's fitness tax credit and the children's arts tax credit. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The government will spend $2.5 billion over two years on a suite of changes, including reducing the required work experience for new entrants and re-entrants; halving the two-week waiting period; extending a pilot project to allow claimants to work while collecting benefits; simplifying job-search requirements; and extending the benefit eligibility window in specific regions with a higher unemployment rate. (Source: The Canadian Press)
- $5.6 billion more in benefits to veterans and their families over five years, including a disability award that increases to $360,000, retroactive to 2006, and an earnings loss benefit to injured vets of 90 per cent of pre-release salary. The government is also re-opening nine veterans' service offices across the country and adding a 10th. - Planned National Defence purchases worth $3.7 billion — ships, planes and vehicles — are being deferred indefinitely. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
Planned National Defence purchases worth $3.7 billion — ships, planes and vehicles — are being deferred indefinitely. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget includes $3.4 billion over five years to increase the guaranteed income supplement top-up benefit by up to $947 annually for single seniors, and restore the old age security eligibility age to 65 from 67. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals broke a major campaign promise to cut the small business tax rate. Instead, the rate will remain at the current 10.5 per cent on the first $500,000 of active business income. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will spend $1.53 billion over five years to increase Canada student grants to $3,000 from $2,000 for low-income students, to $1,200 from $800 for middle-income students and to $1,800 from $1,200 for part-time students. $2 billion over three years is also earmarked for a new strategic investment fund for infrastructure improvements at colleges and universities, in partnership with provinces and territories.
The Liberals' green infrastructure plan includes: - $2.2 billion over five years in water and wastewater treatment and waste management - $2 billion over two years for a low-carbon economy fund - Over $1 billion over four years to support future clean technology investments - $345.3 million over five years to Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada and the National Research Council to take action to address air pollution. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will spend $500,000 to help understand the role of foreign homebuyers in the country's housing market. The government says comprehensive and reliable data on the number of homes sold to foreign buyers does not exist right now. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The marquee Liberal commitment to Syrian refugee resettlement could end up costing taxpayers close to $1 billion. The budget provided an additional $245 million over five years to bring in the remaining 10,000 people needed to meet the Liberal promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
$142.3 million over five years will be spent to add new national parks and improve access during the 150th anniversary of Confederation. (Source: The Canadian Press
The Grits will provide up to $178 million over two years for the provinces for urgent affordable housing needs. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget earmarks $38.5 million over two years to strengthen and modernize Canada's food safety system. (Source: The Canadian Press)