Published Oct. 19, 2015; most recently updated Nov. 3, 2015.
The polls hadn’t even closed across Canada when news organizations called a Liberal government – and, within an hour, a Liberal majority.
Justin Trudeau’s party went from a distant third in the polls barely a month before the election to sweeping Atlantic Canada, much of Quebec, the urban centres of Ontario and British Columbia and even spots in Alberta’s Conservative strongholds.
Now he’s preparing to unveil his cabinet and be sworn in as Canada’sa 23rd prime minister.
But once the party’s over, the Liberals will have to govern.
And they have a tough set of promises to live up to.
Jump to a topic:
- Tax changes
- Child benefits
- C-51 anti-terror law
- Infrastructure cash
- Long-form census
- Electoral reform
- Access-to-information reform
- Health Accord
- Climate change
- Pipeline projects
- Physician-assisted suicide
- Sex work
- Legal headaches
What Trudeau’s promised:
Trudeau’s promised to change Canada’s tax regime with hikes for the highest earners and cuts for middle-income Canadians within his first 100 days.
He’ll also reverse the Conservative government’s doubling of TFSA limits and the income splitting they introduced for families with young children.
A new ‘nation-to-nation’ relationship and an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women
In addition to acceding to mounting public pressure for an inquiry into more than 1,000 missing and murdered aboriginal women, which he’s promised to initiate within his first 100 days in office, Trudeau has pledged to build a “renewed relationship” with Canada’s indigenous people.
And while Trudeau’s paid lip service to the “nation-to-nation” relationship that courts have ruled is an obligation of the Canadian government, it isn’t entirely clear what that will entail.
What kind of say will aboriginal peoples have when it comes to resource development and other projects on indigenous land? Trudeau has said “governments grant permits, communities grant permission” in respect to pipeline projects. Which sounds lovely — but what does that mean when pipeline push comes to shove? Would First Nations have veto power?
Revamped child benefits
One of Trudeau’s most ambitious – and expensive – promises is a Canada Child Benefit that replaces all existing child benefits with one that’s geared to income. So families with young kids with household incomes below $200,000 will get more money (and it’ll be tax-free), but families earning more than that will get $0.
READ MORE: What does child care actually cost in Canada?
Trudeau, who earned scorn earlier this year when he voted for a terror bill he opposed, promised to “amend” C-51.
But we still don’t really know the details of that planned amendment: The Liberals have promised sunset clauses but we don’t know what additional oversight Trudeau has in mind or how he’d address the powers it gives federal departments to share personal information, among other things.
We also don’t know what he’d do to close the gaps in Canada’s security apparatus that have existed since the Air India bombing and which C-51 does not fix.
University of Ottawa security law professor Craig Forcese, who wrote a book about Canada’s terror law with University of Toronto’s Kent Roach, says the Liberals’ plan for anti-terror law isn’t as granular as he’d like. But he’s optimistic.
“I’m hoping that because we’ve got a freshly elected government that is not fixated on making this a political issue, that there’ll be a willingness to spend some time getting this right.”
READ MORE: ‘C-51 is a tragedy’
Massive infrastructure investment was a major plank of Trudeau’s campaign. But while the price tag was hefty, it’ll be trickier to divide that money up among the many provincial and local governments already clamoring for cash.
One of the first things Trudeau has said he’d do is legalize and regulate marijuana. He says doing so will make it harder, not easier, for young people to get it and cut out organized crime. The fine print of how it would be regulated and taxed has yet to be worked out, however.
He could immediately decriminalize incidental possession, which means you won’t have a criminal record if you’re caught with pot for personal use.
Statistics nerds, rejoice: Trudeau has pledged to bring back Canada’s long-form census “immediately.”
But not so fast: The next census is supposed to take place next year. Switching from optional household survey to mandatory long-form census is a massive task.
Canada’s former chief statisticians think it’s do-able, however — if the government gets on it asap.
“All they need to do is put on the front page that it is mandatory,” Munir Sheikh told the Globe and Mail.
READ MORE: Canada’s National Household Survey
Trudeau promised this would be Canada’s last plurality-based election: His government, he said during the campaign, will consult Canadians on a new electoral system.
Easier said than done: Multiple provincial referenda on proportional representation have failed, in large part because voters were confused as to what that means. He’d also have to get the provinces on board.
Canada’s Access to Information Act hasn’t been updated since a different Trudeau was PM. The Liberal platform pledged to modernize it.
They’ve said they’ll eliminate all but the $5 submission fee for access to information requests. The new government has promised to give the Information Commissioner more teeth and the ability to compel federal departments to disclose information. They’ll bring more parts of government, including the Prime Minister’s Office, under the Act.
A new Health Accord
Trudeau’s promise to hammer out a new health accord has major implications for how governments spend the single biggest item in their budget.
And this federal government will probably be much more hands-on when it comes to health than its predecessor.
“A more interventionist government is going to happen, given that we’ve had an absolutely non-interventionist government,” said Wilfrid Laurier University health economist Logan McLeod.
“In the last 10 years the previous government has moved away from really being involved at all with policy develoment in health and has really devolved all that down to the provinces.”
There are pros and cons to this approach: Leaving health policy to the provinces lets each one craft their own path based on the pressures they’re facing.
“Some regions are aging faster than others; some regions have higher rates of hypertension.”
On the other hand, the federal government can corral everyone together on major national policy issues.
And even though the Liberals avoided committing to universal pharmacare in their platform, McLeod thinks it’ll still come up.
“Drugs are one of the largest expenditure categories in health care. It makes sense to address how we pay for those in a more uniform, more fair way across the country.”
Trudeau said he’d bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada “immediately,” and reduce red tape for both government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees.
That means 10 times the number of Syrian refugees Canada resettled in two years, over the course of two months. It’s do-able, but would require swift action. And even refugee advocates say that could be tough to accomplish.
Trudeau also said he’d reverse federal cuts to refugee health care, which a court called “cruel and unusual” and advocates argue is bad both for public health and the public purse: When people don’t get the preventive care they need, they turn up at emergency departments in dire straits and cost the system much more.
REFUGEE HEALTH CUTS: Even those who qualify get turned away
What he’ll have to deal with:
Yes, it’s an ongoing global crisis. But it’s also the topic of an upcoming conference in Paris that Trudeau’s pledged to attend.
The awkward thing about this, of course, is that while Trudeau’s pledged to set ambitious emission-reduction targets for Canada, he hasn’t yet said what those will be and probably won’t know by the time he flies to France. He has promised to hammer out some kind of climate change policy within 90 days of the summit, however.
Is it realistic?
Trudeau promised to revamp Canada’s energy project approval process. How? We still don’t know.
The West Coast Environmental Law centre has a long wish list, though — starting with a reversal of changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act that remove environmental protection from a massive number of water bodies.
After that, “he should delve more deeply into a broader review of our environmental laws,” said the environmental law centre’s Anna Johnston.
She wants Canada’s environmental assessment process replaced with a “sustainability assessment” that would cover more projects and hold them to a higher ecological standard.
What does this mean for projects already in the developmental pipeline?
Environmental groups plan to hold Trudeau to his pledge to kibosh Northern Gateway.
PIPELINE POLITICS: What you need to know about oilsands and the election
Right to die
Physician-assisted death gets deleted from Canada’s Criminal Code on Feb. 7. The likelihood that Canada will have new laws to fill that legislative vacuum is very low.
Trudeau has promised to consult with Canadians on how to approach this issue, but consultations takes time; meanwhile he’ll have to work with the provinces to figure out how they approach the deadline and, ideally, avoid creating a legally murky patchwork of regulations across the country.
READ MORE: Is Canada ready for physician-assisted death?
ISIS and terrorism
Trudeau has said he’d end Canada’s combat mission fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and stick to training Iraqi troops instead.
But he didn’t discuss his plans to pull out of the bombing mission “in any detail” in his brief chat with U.C. President Barack Obama.
And things may get more complicated as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tries to hammer out a consensus on ending the bloodshed in Syria, and Russia launches a military mission of its own.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s troops have come under fire for human rights abuses. How would Canada approach that if it’s training them?
And as the U.S. mulls creating no-fly zones to protect Syrian civilians, what would Canada do, if anything, to counter both ISIS and President Bashar al-Assad?
That remains to be seen.
A group representing Canada’s sex workers says it will take the feds to court if they don’t “immediately” repeal Bill C-36, which the Conservative government passed to replace prostitution laws the Supreme Court struck down.
The bill, which makes it illegal to communicate for the purpose of selling sex or advertising your sexual services, was touted as a way to make sex workers safer but they’ve said it does the opposite.
Trudeau opposed the bill at the time but it would take months to craft replacement legislation. In the meantime, Pivot Legal hopes striking down the bill will decriminalize communication and advertising, as well as the act of buying sex, which they argue will make sex work less covert and dangerous.
Canada’s federal government faces a raft of legal challenges initiated when its predecessor Conservative government was still in power.
Many may be thrown into limbo if the Liberals follow through on repealing or reforming laws called unconstitutional. But in the meantime, court cases drag on.
A select few:
- Citizenship revocation appeals by convicted terrorists;
- Lawsuits on behalf of veterans;
- A class action suit alleging “cruel and unusual” treatment of inmates with mental illness.