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Will promises broken by the Liberals have ballot-box impact?

2019 Federal Election: Is Trudeau’s ‘sunny ways’ image tarnished for good?

In 2015, the Liberals‘ campaign platform was chock-full of promises the party claimed would lead Canada toward “sunny ways.”

Now, four years later, as a federal election looms and the party seeks re-election, many of those promises — some kept, others broken — have been thrust into the limelight as the party’s record is scrutinized.

Which promises did the party break? And which ones remain a work in progress?

Here’s a look at a handful of contentious promises the Liberals made in 2015:

Balanced budget and a running a ‘modest deficit’

In 2015, the Justin Trudeau Liberals campaigned on a promise to run “modest deficits” of less than $10 billion for two fiscal years before balancing the budget by 2019.

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However, according to the government’s 2016 budget, the Liberals expected to run a $29.4-billion deficit in 2016-17, which would reduce to $29 billion in 2017-18 before falling to $14.3 billion by 2020-21 — though it’s not clear whether these figures include a contingency reserve.

The 2019 budget showed a deficit of $14.9 billion for 2017-18 and projected the deficit would hit $19.8 billion in 2019-20.

The deficit for 2020-21 was expected to hit $19.7 billion before falling to $9.8 billion in 2023-24.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have 3 budgets under their belts. Are they keeping their promises?

Additionally, the Liberals’ 2015 platform vowed to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio to 27 per cent.

The party claimed that in every year of its plan, the federal debt-to-GDP would “continue to fall.”

WATCH: Trudeau says despite not balancing the budget by 2019, his party’s focus will stay on ‘investing’ in Canadians

Federal Election 2019: Trudeau says despite not balancing budget by 2019, focus will stay on investing in Canadians
Federal Election 2019: Trudeau says despite not balancing budget by 2019, focus will stay on investing in Canadians

However, in the 2016 budget, it was projected the ratio would remain above 30 per cent for six years.

Similarly, the 2019 budget did not predict the debt-to-GDP ratio falling to 27 per cent in the foreseeable future.

According to the budget, the ratio is expected to remain above 30 per cent up to 2022-23. It is then projected to fall to 29.3 per cent and 28.6 per cent the following year.

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When asked about the party’s broken promise to balance the budget, Liberal spokesperson Joe Pickerill touted job growth under the party’s leadership and added that Canada has the “best balance sheet in the G7 with a declining debt-GDP ratio.”

“We are investing to give Canadians the things they need to succeed and delivering strong economic growth that benefits everyone,” he wrote in an email to Global News. “We are the ones focused on affordability measures that will benefit the people who actually need it most, and that, in turn, is good for our economy.”

Electoral reform

Another large campaign promise made by the Liberals was that the 2015 federal election would be the last in Canada conducted under the first-past-the-post electoral system.

While on the campaign trail in 2015, Trudeau promised to make “every vote count” and said that if elected, a national engagement process would be executed. He vowed that within 18 months of forming government, his party would “bring forward legislation to enact electoral reform.”

READ MORE: What Trudeau said: A look back at Liberal promises on electoral reform

Trudeau said a ranked ballot system, proportional representation, online voting and mandatory voting would be examined as potential options.

In 2016, a special committee held what the Liberal Party says were “extensive consultations with 360,000 Canadians” regarding electoral reform.

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WATCH: Trudeau’s reversal on electoral reform wasn’t a ‘broken promise,’ it was a ‘betrayal,’ Elizabeth May says

Federal Election 2019: Trudeau’s reversal on electoral reform wasn’t a ‘broken promise’, it was a ‘betrayal’: Elizabeth May
Federal Election 2019: Trudeau’s reversal on electoral reform wasn’t a ‘broken promise’, it was a ‘betrayal’: Elizabeth May

However, by February 2017, the party announced it would be walking away from the commitment.

In a letter to then-newly appointed Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, Trudeau said: “Changing the electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged,” adding that electoral reform would not be in her mandate.

In a statement to Global News, Pickerill said that “no clear preference for a new electoral system emerged.”

“Consultations can raise expectations,” he wrote. “But in the end, it was clear there was not a consensus on the path forward.”

Relationship with Indigenous Peoples

One of the largest promises outlined in the Trudeau Liberal’s 2015 platform was to build a “renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples” based on “recognition, rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.”

The list of promises included expanding investments in First Nations communities, increasing access to education, improving the quality of life for Métis individuals and communities, launching a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and enacting the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

READ MORE: Why some First Nations still don’t have clean drinking water — despite Trudeau’s promise

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While several of these promises were, in some way, tackled by the Liberals during their tenure, many feel as though the file remains in progress with considerable work left to be done.

The Liberal Party has, for instance, received considerable backlash over a lack of access to safe drinking water on reserves.

Pickerill said the party has committed nearly $2 billion in strengthening First Nations water and wastewater systems and aims to lift all long-term drinking water advisories by 2021.

With 17 months left on the clock, Trudeau’s government has nearly halved the number of long-term advisories — those in place for a year or longer — at 56 down from 105, according to government data.

WATCH: Trudeau commits to infrastructure, health-care improvements for Indigenous communities

Federal Election 2019: Trudeau commits to infrastructure, healthcare improvements for Indigenous communities
Federal Election 2019: Trudeau commits to infrastructure, healthcare improvements for Indigenous communities

The Trudeau government has also come under fire for its decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline, which tracks through Indigenous territory.

While Pickerill touted the work the party has done in improving infrastructure, education, health, safety and other areas of the file, he said reconciliation between the government of Canada and Indigenous Peoples — and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples — is an “ongoing process” that is “based on the recognition of Indigenous rights and on the principles of respect, co-operation, partnership and trust.”

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“We know that it won’t happen right away but we have started on a path forwards so that we can continue to advance on the path of reconciliation together,” the statement reads.

Veterans affairs

In 2015, the Liberals campaigned on a promise to deliver a “higher standard of service and care” for Canadian veterans and ensure that a “one veteran, one standard” approach was upheld.

“Our plan will give back to those who have given so much in service to all Canadians and will ensure that no veteran has to fight the government or the support and compensation they have earned,” the 2015 platform reads.

WATCH: Andrew Scheer vows to clear veterans’ benefits backlog if Conservatives elected

Election 2019: Andrew Scheer vows to clear veterans benefits backlog if Conservatives elected
Election 2019: Andrew Scheer vows to clear veterans benefits backlog if Conservatives elected

As part of this commitment, the party promised to invest $80 million “every year” to create a “new veterans education benefit” to cover the cost of up to four years of college, university or technical education for those who have completed military service.

Similarly, the Liberals pledged $100 million each year to “expand the circle of support for veterans’ families.”

However, neither allotment was included in the 2016 or 2017 federal budgets.

READ MORE: Reality check — Are the Liberals turning their back on veterans?

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And once they came to power, the Liberals also continued to fight the Equitas lawsuit — a case initially filed in 2012 by six veterans on behalf of thousands to sue the government of Canada for reinstatement of full lifetime disability pensions. The B.C. Court of Appeal tossed the case in 2017 and the Supreme Court of Canada refused leave to consider an appeal.

When asked at a 2018 event in Edmonton why the government was still fighting veterans groups in court, Trudeau said it was because “they are asking for more than we are able to give right now.”

READ MORE: ‘Both are burnt to me’ — Veterans struggle with parties after broken promises

The party also failed to bring back the previous disability pensions and instead introduced its own version.

This past February, the Parliamentary Budget Officer reported that veterans with disabilities would have received, on average, 1.5 times more over their lifetimes under the pre-2006 pension than through the Liberals’ so-called Pension for Life.

WATCH (Sept. 2018): Trudeau responds to question about funding for veterans and refugees

Trudeau responds to question about funding for veterans and refugees
Trudeau responds to question about funding for veterans and refugees

In a statement emailed to Global News, Pickerill said the party has “worked hard to ensure veterans and their families get the services they need and benefits they deserve.”

He said the party committed $10 billion into restoring services, hiring staff, creating a centre for post-traumatic stress disorder research and reinstating Pension for Life. However, Pickerill conceded that there is more work to be done.

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“We will continue to work to give veterans and their families the support they deserve,” he wrote.

Climate change

In their 2015 campaign platform, the Liberals vowed to “provide national leadership and join with the provinces and territories to take action on climate change, put a price on carbon and reduce carbon pollution.”

The party said it would “partner with provincial and territorial leaders to develop real climate change solutions, consistent with our international obligations to protect the planet, all while growing our economy.”

Just after the election, Trudeau claimed Canada was “back and ready to play its part in combating climate change.”

WATCH: Election promises, costs and the upcoming federal debate

Election promises, costs and the upcoming federal debate
Election promises, costs and the upcoming federal debate

Since 2015, Trudeau has positioned Canada as a world leader on climate change.

During their tenure, the Liberal party wrote the ‘pan-Canadian climate change framework,’ imposed a price on carbon at $20 per tonne and moved to ban single-use plastics.

However, a report released in August by the Climate Action Network — a global association of more than 1,300 climate groups — said Canada’s climate change plan was among the worst of the G7 nations.

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READ MORE: Trudeau has heated moment when asked to reconcile climate plan with pipeline purchase

The report card said Canada’s policies are consistent with global warming exceeding four degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, more than twice the stated goal of the Paris Agreement, which was to stay as close to 1.5 C of warming as possible.

The Trudeau Liberals have also received criticism and been challenged to reconcile their decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline with their government’s plan to tackle climate change and reduce carbon emissions.

WATCH: ‘We want to demand action’: Singh on climate change

Federal Election 2019: ‘We want to demand action’: Singh on climate change
Federal Election 2019: ‘We want to demand action’: Singh on climate change

At a town hall event in Cambridge, Ont., in April, Trudeau was asked to defend the decision.

“We know that we need to go beyond fossil fuels as a source of energy in this country,” he said.

He added that the country is “moving forward on reducing carbon emissions” but that “for the foreseeable future,” Canada will continue to require oil and gas.

READ MORE: Canada’s climate change plan among worst in G7 — report

“What we are doing as a government is managing a path forward that protects the environment at the same time as we grow the economy,” he said.

The same month, a report on emissions showed 706 million tonnes of greenhouse gases were produced n Canada in 2017 — an increase of eight million tonnes from 2016.

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WATCH: McKenna says Liberal government will aim for ‘net-zero’ emissions by 2050

Federal Election 2019: McKenna says Liberal government will aim for ‘net-zero’ emissions by 2050
Federal Election 2019: McKenna says Liberal government will aim for ‘net-zero’ emissions by 2050

In the statement to Global News, Pickerill said the Liberals “have a plan for both our environment and the economy” and cited the party’s pan-Canadian climate change framework.

“We have implemented and will continue to implement the pan-Canadian Climate Change Framework, which includes 50 measures designed to tackle climate change,” he wrote. “We are putting a price on pollution, protecting our oceans, phasing out coal, banning single-use plastics — all crucial parts of a larger plan.”

Do broken promises have ballot-box impact?

According to Jonathan Rose, associate professor of Canadian politics at Queen’s University, these broken or incomplete promises likely won’t have that great of an impact come election day.

“In Canada, people’s vote intention is not usually on issues but, rather, on party or leader,” he explained. “So people are more willing to forgive Justin Trudeau if they liked him in 2015 and like him now.”

READ MORE: Canada election: Promises Trudeau, Scheer, Singh, May and Blanchet have made

Rose says that in Canada, there is very rarely an election that is policy-specific.

“Governments are rarely given mandates for policy; they’re given broad encouragement on their platform,” he said.

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Rose says this is because Canada’s political parties are structured into “brokerage parties.”

“They broker interests from a wide, ideological spectrum,” he explained. “And in doing so, they stand for a wide diversity of policy.”

He says that as a result, promises matter less in Canada than they might in other countries where parties are more closely aligned to specific ideologies.

READ MORE: ‘I just don’t feel there’s anyone good’ — Canada’s undecided voters know what they want, but not who

According to the professor, small portions of the electorate who cast their ballot in 2015 based on a specific policy may shift their vote if that promise is not kept, however he says it likely won’t be many.

“I think for small constituencies, like electoral reformers, they will be angry that Trudeau didn’t make good on his promise. But the question is whether that will be a ballot-box question. Will they go into the ballot box knowing that and saying: ‘I want to punish his government, who didn’t make good on their promise,'” he said. “And I’m suggesting that’s not the case for most people — will be for some, but not for many.”

Rose says most voters know that promises made during an election campaign are really “broad exhortations” rather than specific policy proposals.

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“And even if they’re specific, like this year’s income-tax reduction, voters, I think, expect that it will be changed in the legislative process.”

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Amanda Alvaro, a former Liberal strategist and co-founder of the PR agency Pomp and Circumstance, says she believes the Liberal Party’s strategy in combating criticism over its record has been effective so far.

“It’s easy to pick and choose some areas that they didn’t fulfil completely on, but the Liberal strategy has been to spend a lot of time talking about areas that they have and the satisfaction within those communities and the endorsements within those communities for the work that’s been done and achieved,” she said. “And I think that’s the right strategy.”

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She says every sitting government has more to do when it seeks re-election.

“And I think the leader has been pretty clear that the job isn’t done,” she said. “But I think that their accomplishments have been plentiful.”

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Alvaro says for voters who cast their ballot in 2015 for a specific policy will “have their judgment day on Oct. 21st.”

“They’ll decide if some of the accomplishments that the government racked up over their four years in office outweigh something that they may feel didn’t come to fruition,” she said. “So those become very personal and very independent choices.”

— With files from Jesse Ferreras, Amanda Connolly, Maham Abedi, Jane Gerster and the Canadian Press