Skip to main content

'Deliverology" may be one of the uglier new words in the political lexicon, but the federal Liberals like to use it. This autumn, Justin Trudeau's government will need to deliverolify on five key priorities.

Success will demonstrate that the Prime Minister, apart from being wildly popular, also has the policy chops to implement his government's ambitious agenda. Failure will suggest Mr. Trudeau is more selfie than substance.

Canada is back.' But is it?

The most urgent priority is to produce a concrete plan to fight global warming. On this all-important file, time is running out. The annual gathering of countries to review efforts to fight climate change, known as COP22, begins Nov. 7 in Marrakesh, Morocco. Mr. Trudeau announced at COP21 in Paris last December that "Canada is back" as a leader in the fight against rising carbon dioxide emissions. The world will expect results.

As the Pembina Institute, an environmental research think tank, points out, the current collective plans of the provincial and federal governments fall far short of the emission targets set by Stephen Harper's Conservatives, which repeatedly earned the Fossil of the Year award for Canada at previous COPs.

The Liberals "absolutely have to deliver on [the previous government's targets]," Erin Flanagan, policy director at the institute, said in an interview. "What we expect to see in the fall is a credible package of carbon pricing and regulatory measures that will demonstrate how we can hit the target, and then to ratchet up ambition over time."

At the least, Ms. Flanagan believes, the federal government will need to impose more stringent regulatory measures, such as ordering an end to coal-fired power plants by 2030. In addition, Ottawa may have to impose a federal carbon tax or its equivalent.

But coercion will meet with strong provincial opposition, not to mention howls from businesses struggling to stay afloat in a weak economy. Mr. Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna have nine weeks to forge a consensus, before Canada must present its plans at Marrakesh.

To pipeline or not to pipeline

The government has set a deadline of Dec. 19 for deciding whether to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would twin an existing pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., almost tripling the bitumen that could be transported from Alberta to the Pacific coast. The National Energy Board has approved the pipeline, subject to conditions, but the government convened a separate panel to review the plan.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has said Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain proposal would be "incredibly disastrous" for his city, citing the increased tanker traffic and risk of a spill. Many environmentalists and indigenous Canadians are also implacably opposed. B.C. Premier Christy Clark is skeptical, though she has taken no final position. Polls show British Columbians split on the issue.

Saying no would choke development of oil exports to Asia from Alberta, where the energy sector is already struggling thanks to swooning oil prices.

"We will need new pipeline capacity to move the barrels that will be coming online through 2020," maintains Chris Bloomer, president and chief executive of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association. "… And that new capacity needs new markets."

Kathryn Harrison, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia, can't see how the Liberals can thread this political needle.

"At a certain point, they're going to have to make a decision that will make someone mad," she observes, adding that saying no to Trans Mountain while signalling a willingness to say yes to the proposed Energy East pipeline to New Brunswick would anger opponents of that pipeline in Quebec and Ontario.

When asked to predict which way she thinks the government will go, Prof. Harrison confessed, "I fluctuate from day to day."

What should replace first past the post?

The special committee on electoral reform must offer recommendations on how to transform the existing system for electing members of Parliament by Dec. 1. At this point, there appears to be no consensus among MPs on whether to move from the existing system, known as first past the post, to some form of proportional representation, or to a ballot in which voters rank their preferences, with second and third added until one candidate has 50 per cent of the vote. The Conservatives prefer the status quo, and are demanding that any proposed changes be put to a referendum.

Polls suggest that most Canadians know little and care less about changing the electoral system. Jane Hilderman, executive director of Samara, a charity that promotes democratic engagement, is urging the government to delay its decision to permit wider consultation with and education of the public.

"Most citizens face an uphill battle to understand what this debate is about, why it is important and how they can get involved," she believes. "Canadians need both more time and more non-partisan information about electoral-reform options."

But Elections Canada has warned it needs two years to implement any new system in time for the next election. A conundrum.

When and how will it be legal to toke?

Former Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan is head of a panel examining how to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The panel has until November to offer recommendations on where and how cannabis should legally be manufactured and sold, how to keep it out of the hands of people who are underage and how to prevent drug-impaired driving.

"I hope and expect that the task-force report will call for a balanced approach with an excess of caution," said Craig Jones, executive director of NORML, a non-profit organization that advocates for the legalization of marijuana. "That's the Canadian way, after all."

Once the task force reports, Mr. Trudeau and his government must decide whether to accept the report's recommendation and to proceed with legislation in 2017.

Saying we're sorry to sexual minorities

Sources inside and outside the government report that the Prime Minister intends to launch a broad-based initiative to advance the rights of sexual minorities in Canada, which will include an apology for those who were criminally charged or forced from their government jobs in the past because of their sexuality.

Mr. Trudeau is expected to soon appoint a government official to head up the process of implementing the recommendations of a report prepared for this purpose by Egale, a national organization that advocates for sexual minorities.

Some of the report's recommendations, such as creating a uniform age of consent and changing the laws regarding sex work, will take time to implement, says Douglas Elliott, a lawyer and veteran gay-rights activist who led the team that prepared the Egale report.

"But people who were fired from their jobs or who were discharged from the military can be easily identified, and they should have their pensions restored without another day of delay," he maintains.

And that's not the half of it

These five priorities don't exhaust this activist government's agenda by any means. Other items include enabling legislation to increase contributions to and enhance benefits from the Canada Pension Plan, which Finance Minister Bill Morneau is expected to introduce this fall.

As well, the Liberals must decide whether and when to ratify the free-trade agreement with the European Union and/or the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 other Pacific states.

While the government has launched an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, there has been little action to improve water quality, education, health care and a host of other challenges facing indigenous Canadians on and off reserve.

And somebody, some day, really should decide what jet fighter will replace the CF-18.

The next election is still more than three years away. But the deliverolification of this autumn's five key priorities is crucial, if the Liberals hope to keep their crowded agenda under control.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the author of this article:

Check Following for new articles

Interact with The Globe