As Ontarians get ready to go to the polls June 7, all bets are off on the outcome of the provincial election. What looked like a slam dunk for the PCs less than a month ago has morphed into a horserace with the NDP, while the Liberals limp along in third place.
Voters fed up with the status quo, but fearful of handing the reins to Doug Ford’s Tories, are betting on the NDP, which, if trends continue, will form the official opposition — if not the government — once the ballots are counted.
Populism, anti-elitism, throw-the-bums-out-ism; whatever you call it, Revenge of the Masses has become the theme of elections from the Brexit breakaway to Trump’s triumph to the ascension of Emmanuel Macron in France.
To an extent, it also shaped Canadian federal politics in 2015: a long-in-the-tooth Conservative government got tossed in favour of Trudeau’s new-born Liberals. Transparency, doing politics differently, and promises for everybody won the day.
Those promises could now prove to be Trudeau’s undoing. While he kept several in the months after taking office — most notably on family benefits and tax changes — many big-ticket items still languish at various stages of completion and others have been abandoned. The Liberals’ much-vaunted amendments to the Access to Information Act were panned by the federal information commissioner.
Electoral reform collapsed when consultations yielded recommendations the Prime Minister didn’t want to hear. The Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls remains mired in miscommunication and multiple resignations. Marijuana legislation is stuck in the Senate, which is now sitting into the summer in the hopes of passing the bill.
This is due in large part to Trudeau’s style of government, which involved a lot of talk and collaboration – with interest groups, with the public, with provinces – producing a lot of “busy-ness” but also a lot of pushback.
Trudeau appears to have underestimated the provinces’ resistance on key files, including the carbon tax, legal pot, and now the Trans Mountain pipeline. The latter is morphing into a full-blown constitutional crisis, with B.C. suing Alberta over Bill 12, legislation that would cut off energy exports from Alberta to force B.C. to permit pipeline construction. Trudeau’s response has been to throw taxpayers’ money at the problem, to “compensate” Kinder Morgan for political delays — and task Finance Minister Bill Morneau with the unpleasant task of selling this non-solution to the Canadian public.
The same let’s-buy-some-time approach is also being applied to the growing crisis at the Lacolle border crossing in Quebec, where 7,500 migrants have crossed into Canada illegally from the United States over the past four months. A majority of refugee claimants arriving this way in the past year have been refused status, and the new influx means that those now arriving could wait up to 11 years for a hearing — while collecting benefits on Canadian soil.
WATCH: Trudeau confident CBSA has resources to handle spike in asylum seekers
The issue has gripped Quebec to the point where duelling protests broke out at the border over the weekend. In Ontario, Toronto mayor John Tory has called for federal aid as his city’s shelters are swamped by migrants seeking shelter, while Pearson Airport could experience delays as border security officers are diverted to Quebec. The Opposition has been hammering the government on this issue for months, yet Trudeau remains silent on a potential solution, which is to close the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States that encourages these illegal crossings.
WATCH: Trudeau optimistic NAFTA deal will be finalized soon
Part of the reason for this inaction on the border issue is no doubt the ongoing drama of NAFTA negotiations, which took a turn for the worse this week with U.S. President Donald Trump calling Canada “very difficult to deal with” and “spoiled.”
Trudeau faces a delicate balancing act of getting a deal while not “poking the bear” on other cross-border issues. Trump’s unexpected election also forced Trudeau to commit greater resources to shoring up NAFTA and navigating the relationship with our neighbour to the south. It no doubt threw a spanner in the works of a government already tasked with a long list of deliverables.
But Trudeau can only play the Trump card for so long. The reality is that he has allowed himself plenty of diversions from his core mandate (i.e., delivering on his promises and dealing with the business of the day). He has taken on the role of global ambassador for feminism and pluralism. He has held more town halls, posed for more selfies and graced the covers of more magazines in three years than Harper did in nine.
WATCH ABOVE: Justin Trudeau delivers NYU commencement address
All this was supposed to redefine and promote the Canadian brand as avant-garde, progressive and inclusive. But Rome is burning behind the façade.
Trudeau has to stop fiddling and face up to his responsibilities — for the good of the country as well as his government. If he doesn’t, the 2019 election could turn into a change election as well.