Wednesday Oct. 19 marks the first anniversary of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election. One year after campaigning on a promise of “real change” for Canadians, what has Trudeau accomplished so far in office? We asked members of the McGill community to evaluate the Prime Minister on some of his core issues, including marijuana legalization, gender equality, electoral reform, foreign policy, and immigration and refugee policy.
-Andrew Potter, Director of the McGill Insitute for the Study of Canada
-Jake Cruickshank, Contributor
-Charlotte Atkins, Contributor
-Gabriel Rincon, Contributor
-Elias Wyncoop, Contributor
Electoral reform yet another unkept promise
When Justin Trudeau swore in his first cabinet last Nov. 4, one of the big surprises was the inclusion of the rookie MP from Peterborough, Maryam Monsef. As minister of democratic institutions, her job would be to make good on Trudeau’s pledge that the 2015 vote would be the last federal election held under the “first-past-the-post” electoral system.
Not only was Monsef very young and very inexperienced politically, but she also had no obvious familiarity, let alone expertise, with the file. And so the punters gathered on opposite sides of the betting pool: On the cynical side were those convinced that Trudeau had made the promise in haste, regretted it, and giving it to a politically weak minister was the best way of making sure it didn’t go anywhere. Across from them were the optimists who believed that Trudeau intended to take personal charge of the file, and that Monsef’s job was to act as the public relations advocate for the reform package that would be developed in the deepest recesses of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
Almost a year later, it’s clear that the cynics were—as usual—justified, because electoral reform is going nowhere under this government, though not because Monsef hasn’t thrown herself into the job. After a serious misstep over the committee membership and some deer-in-headlights moments, she’s become a capable advocate for reform. She has a handbook, a hashtag, and electoral reform zealot Elizabeth May on her side. She’s even managed to convince some of her cabinet colleagues to hold #ERRE [Electoral Reform, Réforme Électorale] town halls.
Not that it matters. University of British Columbia political scientist Ken Carty is a veteran of the provincial attempts at electoral reform over the last decade. And as he argues in a new paper written for the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, there is one common thread to the failures of reform in Ontario, Quebec, BC, and the Maritimes—it is the complete absence of political leadership from the relevant premier.
The upshot is that if Justin Trudeau doesn’t get religion on the need for reform, it’s simply not going to happen. That is why Monsef’s big problem is the one person she needs to bring on board seems either uninterested or unconvinced. And with time running out and lots of places to spend his political capital, electoral reform is looking like yet another Liberal promise that will go unkept.
– Andrew Potter, Director of the McGill Insitute for the Study of Canada
In cooperation with the Faculty of Law, MISC is hosting a workshop on electoral reform on November 1. For details visit mcgill.ca/misc
On track for marijuana legalization
Marijuana reform was an important aspect of Justin Trudeau’s 2015 election campaign, as he incorporated legalization into the Liberal Party’s official platform. In order to maintain the positive sentiment his exceedingly canny social-media PR team has engendered among young voters, it was a policy on which he had to follow through. And he did not disappoint: During his first year in office, Trudeau’s government has been steadfast in his push for marijuana legalization.
Trudeau’s government has worked steadily towards marijuana legalization since taking office. Just over six months into his term, the federal government launched the Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation—a nine-member group comprised of experts in the fields of medicine, law enforcement, and substance abuse. The task force, per the Government of Canada website, will “seek input on the design of a new system to legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to marijuana. Their advice will be considered by the Government of Canada as the new framework is developed.”
With the task force established as an engine to advise the government on marijuana legalization, skeptics might have worried that the legalization movement within government would become isolated from day-to-day business of government and lose steam. But the task force has been busy, running an online survey over the summer focused on marijuana legalization that received over 30,000 responses. The task force is set to review the responses and incorporate them into a report, which is going to be presented to Prime Minister Trudeau in November.
While there hasn’t yet been any major policy change in the realm of marijuana—Trudeau nixed the idea of pre-legalization decriminalization—this is the result of Trudeau’s careful approach. He has avoided rushing into faulty or hastily-formed policy, instead assuring consistent behind-the-scenes progress. Since assuming office, the Prime Minister has not shown a single sign of wavering on this issue. Trudeau should be applauded for making consistent progress and is on track to fulfill his promise to legalize marijuana in 2017.
– Jake Cruickshank, Contributor
Refugee target met, but work still remains
The Trudeau administration’s successful resettling of 25,000 refugees, after only a few months in office, was a highly publicized and widely supported endeavour. Trudeau extolled the importance of Canadian participation in resettlement efforts for Syrian refugees throughout his campaign; although it was delayed by two months, the Liberal government was able to achieve Trudeau’s refugee target.
However, Trudeau promised many other immigration and refugee reforms in his campaign and these issues have been given much less media attention.
In his campaign, Trudeau vowed to restore the Interim Federal Health Program, to double the number of applications for parents and grandparents, and grant spouses entering Canada faster permanent residency. The proposed reforms were focused on making it easier for immigrants to enter Canada, with an emphasis on keeping families together and giving greater funding to refugee processing.
At this point, Trudeau has doubled the number of parents and grandparents permitted to apply each year, restored the Interim Federal Health Program, and provided the United Nations High Commission of Refugees with $100 million in financial aid. It is clear that he has taken the initial steps to make the drastic changes he proposed in his campaign.
Trudeau has also promised to repeal Bill C-24, a Conservative measure passed in 2014 known as the ‘Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act,’ which expanded the age bracket for language and citizenship tests, increased costs pertaining to the application process, and allows the government to revoke citizenship from a dual citizen if they are convicted of treason, terrorism, or similarly severe offenses. Trudeau repealed the sections of the Bill pertaining to the revocation of Canadian citizenship on the basis of past convictions of terrorism, but kept the section that permits revocation due to misrepresentation on applications without a legal hearing. Since the beginning of its tenure, the Liberal government has issued an abundance of revocations—184 in its first 10 months in office—nearly equivalent to the total number of revocations between 1988 and 2015. The Liberals have been applying the law much more forcefully than Harper’s conservative government ever did.
Trudeau has made significant changes to the immigration and refugee process in Canada since being sworn in. However, due to time and budget constraints, Trudeau may not be able to fulfill his promises, and has continued to apply portions of C-24 despite pledging to repeal it. The resettlement of the refugees took two months longer than predicted and similar complications may be expected to arise considering the degree of reform Trudeau promised.
– Charlotte Atkins, Contributor
Trudeau’s foreign policy sees little real change
Central to Prime Minister Trudeau’s election campaign was a shift in foreign policy from the Harper era. Three key policy proposals marking the change of administration were ending the Iraq combat mission, committing to United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions, and restoring Canadian leadership in promoting global safety and peace. Unfortunately, Trudeau has failed to fulfill these promises after a year in office.
While Trudeau kept his word and withdrew all Canadian fighter jets from Iraq and Syria, Canadian special forces remain in Iraq in a combat capacity. The special forces’ mission is to train Kurdish fighters for their fight against ISIS; however, Brigadier-General Peter Dawe, deputy commander, Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, has told reporters that the mission is slowly evolving from “a more defensive posture to more offensive one,” as Canadian forces are beginning to exchange fire with ISIS fighters. Trudeau’s campaign proposal did include training for Kurdish forces, so he has kept that promise. However, Canadian troops engaging in firefights definitely violates the spirit of the Trudeau’s pledge to end the combat mission.
As for the promotion of world safety and peace, peacekeepers have yet to be deployed and Trudeau has made two decisions that compromise Canada’s international human rights leadership.
According to defence officials, likely destinations for Canadian peacekeepers are Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, which would make for exceptionally dangerous blue-helmet peacekeeping missions. Given the risk inherent in these potential peacekeeping deployments, it would be difficult to fault Trudeau for taking the time to carefully consider which mission is the best fit for Canadian peacekeepers. However, in other policy initiatives, Trudeau’s actions have not matched his ‘peace and safety’ rhetoric.
Despite warnings that the arms might be used against civilians, the Trudeau government allowed a Canadian company to sell $15 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. Here the strong principles of Canadian leadership and world safety were outweighed by economic factors.
Similarly, on his trip to China, Trudeau and Chinese leaders discussed an extradition treaty between the two nations. The concern with this treaty is that it would allow China to persecute economic and political dissidents after they entered the supposed asylum of Canada. Thus, potential economic relations with China have led Trudeau to consider compromising human rights protection for political refugees.
After a year, Trudeau’s foreign policy has been produced ambiguous results. The change of tone and rhetoric from the Harper era showing support for international efforts, like peacekeeping, is commendable. However, Canadian troops directly engaging ISIS betrays his promise to end the combat mission in Iraq. And the possible Chinese extradition treaty and the Saudi arms deal tarnish Trudeau’s promised global leadership. These broken promises hardly reverse the fear that Trudeau is all talk and little substance.
– Gabriel Rincon, Contributor
Trudeau makes improvements on gender equality
When Justin Trudeau was campaigning a year ago, he put forward a platform of gender equality and women’s rights. Trudeau wanted to increase female participation in government, expand access to early childcare in order to help more women work full-time, and raise general awareness of women’s rights in Canada and around the world. A year after Trudeau’s election, he has followed through on many, but not all, of his proposals.
Trudeau has made his dedication to gender parity in public life a major point of his administration. He received international acclaim for appointing Canada's first gender-equal Cabinet, with women holding the same number of positions as men. He has also spoken on gender equality and identifies as a feminist. Trudeau has collaborated with women's rights activists around the world, and spoke at the second Gender Equality Forum at the United Nations headquarters in New York this March. Since his election, Trudeau has proven himself willing to take an ideological stand for gender equality in a field long dominated by the ‘old boy’s club’ of politics. That’s good news for feminists, and indeed everyone.
While Trudeau has contributed to the dialogue on gender equality at events like the Gender Equality Forum, his track record on actual policies is a mixed bag. He announced additional spending for the creation of a National Early Learning and Child Care Framework to improve child care programs, but deferred the funding until next year. And the 2016 Budget did not include Trudeau’s promised increase to parental leave, public consultations on the subject only started on Oct 6 and are ongoing.
Pime Minister Justin Trudeau has not been perfect in following through on all his proposals to address gender inequality. He made history by appointing Canada’s first gender-equal cabinet, and has continued to support women’s rights activists in their campaigns. However, his execution of policies like increased childcare spending and prolonging parental leave, both of which would significantly benefit Canadian women, is lagging behind. However, the mere fact that Trudeau is beginning to address these issues still represents an important step towards gender equality in Canada and around the world.
– Elias Wyncoop, Contributor