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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, flanked by a RCMP security detail, makes his way to a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

When Justin Trudeau touted the "three big things" his government has done to improve the economic lot of the middle class on Wednesday, it represented just one side of his Liberal Party's economic platform.

Mr. Trudeau's Liberals have made Canada more liberal, ticking off three big initiatives to redistribute income and security for middle-income workers. But that other side of the Liberal promise – growth policies to spark the economy and gear key sectors for the future – that's been slower, and some of it has been pushed off for years.

The Liberals' magic formula was supposed to be both parts of their economic agenda: not just a slightly better take-home income, but growth policies to make the whole country more prosperous. Mr. Trudeau's campaign evoked the notion of building cranes in the skyline courtesy of an infrastructure boom, innovation incentives for the new-economy opportunity and oil piped to market with responsible environmental policies.

So far, he has succeeded on one side: He's ticked off the promises on redistribution, not growth; for individuals, not business.

"We've delivered on key economic issues for the country," Mr. Trudeau boasted at a news conference Wednesday. But the real-economy policies have proved harder, and slower.

The three things Mr. Trudeau boasted about are indeed big. They're liberal, so not everyone likes them, but they're substantial.

The first, the middle-class tax cut – or raising upper-income taxes and cutting the tax rate slightly for income between $45,282 and $90,563 – was accomplished with the stroke of a pen last fall. The second, the Canada Child Benefit, reorganized several existing parental benefits into a single benefit that will be more generous for most parents, especially lower-income families.

They're Liberal versions of things Stephen Harper did when he took power in 2006, when he cut the GST and created universal child-care benefit cheques for parents. Mr. Trudeau applied his tax break to wages, not purchases, and chose to use child benefits to redistribute income more.

The third big thing, this week's deal with provinces to expand the Canada Pension Plan will expand public pension benefits significantly, adding security at the price of substantially higher premiums – and business complaints that it will hurt competitiveness.

All three have things in common. The Liberals came into power with fairly precise policies in mind. All are adjustments to benefits or levies. They're things governments alone can do fairly simply, even if the CPP deal required tough talks with provinces.

But those real-economy policies were fuzzier.

Even the infrastructure boom is still mostly on the drawing board, although funding deals with B.C. and Yukon have just been rolled out, with more to come in coming weeks. Most of the projects under the $69-million Yukon deal won't start until next year. The Liberals might have sprinted to start the building. Instead, they plodded. It was wise to work out the details. It just wasn't as quick as his campaign let on.

In fact, while Mr. Trudeau sprinted into power, his government was slow in transition, late to hire staff, with ministers not ready to wrestle big files for months. Urgent issues – Syrian refugees, assisted-dying legislation – occupied attention. Real-economy policies were delayed.

The Liberals said they'd plot an innovation economy. Last week, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, in charge of Canada's multibillion-dollar industrial policy, unveiled broad themes for consultation after eight months in power.

Mr. Trudeau promised his government would establish a new working balance between resource exploitation and responsible environmental regulation. This week, a half-dozen ministers announced panels will conduct reviews of the review process, to report next year, with government policy to follow later.

In the meantime, the Liberals added layers to two ongoing oil-pipeline reviews, and will essentially make a political decision. The real policy will wait years.

Mr. Trudeau was right when he told reporters the government can't do everything in its first eight months, but it's worth noting which economic promises are proving easier: the middle-class redistribution, not the complex business of sparking real-economy growth.