There can be something very small-minded about a big vision. There’s a lot of talk. Great sizzle and hype. But it too often lacks specifics. There’s not always a lot of follow through. Big vision has great success as a pep talk, but it can be soft on execution.
That’s where we seem to find ourselves now, six months into the Liberal government’s majority mandate. What exactly has been accomplished?
For starters, there’s a lot of gesture politics. By that I mean the promise of doing things differently simply based on language and tone – which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done with a number of files.
So far that’s largely been a bust. First Nations were looking forward to a renewed relationship, but are already feeling let down. The Parliamentary Budget Officer noted the Liberals’ first budget was in some ways less transparent than the Harper budgets – despite their promise of greater transparency. Then there’s that whole “Canada’s back” thing, which we’re all still trying to figure out exactly what that means in a practical sense.
Add to that Trudeau’s love of “meta-governance”. What’s that? Well normal governance is where your legislation is about actual stuff like defence and foreign affairs. But when a lot of your initiatives don’t outright govern but instead tinker with how we govern – like Trudeau’s plans to change how we vote and his Senate tweaks – that’s meta-governance.
Then there’s the simple fact that the few raw meat things the Liberals have actually done aren’t exactly as they seem. When it comes to helping the middle-class – the signature part of their mandate – their tax cut is misleading. As my social democrat colleague Tom Parkin has explained in detail, the cut actually benefits people making $89,000 to $200,000 the most. Those making $45,000 see practically no gains.
And as for the record-setting infrastructure plan that was sold as a transformative project of nation-building significance, it’s been revealed that for now the plan is just to perform regular maintenance on current projects. A good idea, but not how it was sold.
Lastly, there’s the inconvenient fact Canadian opinion is firmly off-side on some of the key issues of the past six months. Only 27%, according to Angus Reid Institute back in February, supported the PM’s plans to withdraw from the ISIS fight. And a full 70% of Canadians are against the Liberals bringing in more than 25,000 refugees – an increase that refugee minister John McCallum has pledged. Polls leading up to the budget also showed Canadians’ support for it declined as prospective deficit numbers increased.
So taken together, the Liberals haven’t scored a single slam dunk public opinion win on any of the contested issues since they formed office. Except for the most important one, that is.
In a Mainstreet Research poll conducted last week, the Liberals were at 49%, trailed by the Conservatives at 30% and a very poor 14% showing by the NDP.
“If an election were held today these numbers would translate into a mega-majority for the Liberals,” Mainstreet president Quito Maggi noted.
The past six months have seen gesture politics, misleading policies and a misread on major issues – yet Trudeau and his team are still immensely popular. Let’s call it the honeymoon period that just won’t end.
Why is he getting a free pass? Simple. Because he’s our feel-good PM. In today’s social media age the country is one giant room and Trudeau, with selfies and magazine covers at his disposal, is working it with gusto.