Just Another Liberal
Adam Rasmi · Trudeau’s First Year
By most measures, Justin Trudeau remains widely popular a year after he was sworn in as Canada’s prime minister. The number of news reports about him has gone up 40 per cent (it usually drops); flattering articles continue to appear in foreign media; voters are still enthused. A recent poll suggests that Trudeau's Liberals would win more than 70 per cent of seats if an election were held now.
Much of his sky-high approval rating is due to the centre and centre-left’s collective sigh of relief after nearly ten years of Conservative rule. A good deal of the Liberal Party’s election platform was meant to rollback recent Conservative legislation. The telegenic prime minister has also paid lip service to issues that matter to socially conscious Canadians. He has declared himself a feminist and promised a new relationship with indigenous peoples, robust environmental action, and a more just economy.
But behind his signature ‘sunny ways’, Trudeau is more or less another Liberal standard bearer. On 19 October, the first anniversary of his election win, Trudeau appeared to backtrack on his notable promise to scrap first-past-the-post. ‘Under Stephen Harper, there were so many people unhappy with the government,’ he told Le Devoir. ‘They now have a government they’re more satisfied with and the motivation to change the electoral system is less compelling.’
In early October, Trudeau unveiled a new national minimum price for CO2 of $10 per tonne, a move celebrated in many quarters. But several provinces already have a higher tax than that. And though the price will rise to $50 by 2022, $200 is what’s needed for Canada to meet its rather modest Paris agreement targets, the least ambitious of the G7 countries.
As for trade and economics, Trudeau has yet to say firmly whether Canada will ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership if it moves forward, but has expressed support at various times, and his government pushed hard for the CETA deal with Europe. The Liberals are just as partial to corporate-friendly international trade deals as the Conservatives are.
Yet as the West lurches to the right, Trudeau still looks comparatively benign. His defence of pluralism stands out from the rising tide of xenophobia in the United States and in Europe. (As last year’s election controversy over the niqab shows, Canada is hardly immune.) But social liberalism isn’t enough to address the grievances that are driving both left and right-wing populism. It has been decades since Canada launched any major social welfare programmes, while inequality has risen sharply.