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jeffrey simpson

Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson.The Globe and Mail

Public Services Minister Judy Foote announces the creation of a task force to conduct a sweeping review of Canada Post, including whether door-to-door delivery should end, as the Conservatives authorized and the Liberals opposed. The task force will report in 2017 with government action to follow.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announces the creation of a four-person group to tour the country seeking input into a sweeping review of Canada's defence policies. The task force will report later this year, and the review will be finished some time in 2017. In the meantime, all major purchasing decisions are on hold.

Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly announces the creation of a task force to listen to Canadians and provide advice as part of a sweeping review of Canadian communications and cultural policies that is expected to end some time in 2017. "Everything is on the table," she says.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains announces a review, apparently to be conducted inside government, of how to improve Canada's less-than-stellar record of innovation. The review is expected to end some time in 2017.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau announces the creation of a task force, led by Dominic Barton (a Canadian resident of London, England, and managing director of consulting firm McKinsey and Co.), to recommend ways to improve Canadian productivity. The task force will work throughout 2016, and government action might occur in 2017 on the recommendations.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announces the forthcoming creation of a commission to examine the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women. Consultations with native communities are already under way, the commission will be appointed in mid-2016 and it will take up to two years to offer conclusions and recommendations.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau announces $3.3-million over the next three years for Via Rail to study the possibility of having its own tracks and upgrading its fleet within the Windsor-Quebec City corridor. (Via Rail had wanted an immediate infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars.) The minister also pledges to ban tanker traffic off the northern B.C. coast, but no ban goes into effect yet because the issue needs to be studied more carefully.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announces the government's intention to legalize marijuana. It then appoints a task force under Bill Blair, a Liberal MP and former Toronto police chief, to study the matter and make recommendations, with possible government action in 2017.

See a pattern here? Consultation. Study. Review. Next year. A hallmark of the Liberal government is already becoming apparent.

Of course, the government frequently makes decisions; scarcely a week passes without an announcement about new government spending, such as recent ones for hiring more ocean scientists or contributing more money to international funds to combat malaria and other diseases. The 2016 budget was full of new spending for a myriad of existing programs and the creation of new ones. Announcements will roll out all year from the budget, and since next year's budget will be equally expansionist, more announcements will be spread throughout 2017.

So far, this government hasn't demonstrated what all governments must at some point do: Say yes to those who want a no, and say no to those who want a yes. By spreading money everywhere and postponing decisions through consultations, task forces, committees and policy reviews, the government avoids almost all difficult decisions. With a four-year mandate and a hugely ambitious agenda, it will take its time.

These reviews either came from out of the blue (the communications and cultural one was not mentioned in the election platform or the Prime Minister's mandate letters) or were election platform promises that in the full light of day are very difficult to implement.

In some cases, defence policy being the most obvious, the government literally did not know what to do. The Liberal platform, politely stated, was a joke: refitting the navy by not purchasing the F-35 fighter aircraft but buying another plane. Such nonsense got the Liberals through the election campaign in which defence policy did not figure; it could not conceivably guide them in power.

The same was true for campaign nostrums about innovation and productivity, whose challenges have been studied ad nauseam by previous governments. As for Canada Post, the Liberals said they would halt the elimination of door-to-door delivery, a juicy campaign promise, but then what? As for legalizing marijuana – how?

Election campaign promises are one thing; doing something sensible with them turns out, predictably, to be much harder.