It’s now safe to say that Justin Trudeau has arrived as a Canadian prime minister. The callow scion deemed “just not ready” by the Conservatives in 2015, and who promised to do politics differently, has officially completed his transformation into a leader who is ruthless, cynical and disdainful of Parliament.
He coldly dispatches capable senior ministers who challenge him on valid issues. First it was Jody Wilson-Raybould, who stood her ground on the federal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, and now it’s Bill Morneau, the finance minister who did his job by expressing concerns about the federal government’s massive COVID-19 relief spending.
He prorogues Parliament to get out of political jams, something he criticized former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper for doing, and also something he promised before coming to power that he would never do. His announcement Tuesday means that committee hearings into the WE Charity fiasco, and any news stories they might have generated, have been silenced for the rest of the summer, and probably well into the fall.
When he’s not proroguing Parliament, he is sidelining it. It was a Liberal Party motion, supported by the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, that adjourned Parliament in March and reduced it to a mere spectator during the COVID-19 crisis. Mr. Trudeau has somehow managed to govern in the pandemic as though he has a majority in the Commons. Given how embarrassingly ineffective Parliament was in the first session of the 43rd Parliament, the prorogation is actually something of a mercy killing.
The new session starts Sept. 23 with a Throne Speech, and it is apparent that Mr. Trudeau plans to further hamstring democracy in the interests of his party.
The speech will outline his government’s comprehensive plan for the postpandemic recovery, after which the House will hold a confidence vote. If the Liberals and their plan survive the vote, they will have effectively been given a mandate to enact major reforms – a mandate granted without the usual inconvenience of an election.
We don’t know what the recovery plan will contain, but Mr. Trudeau outlined the broad strokes on Tuesday. Mostly, it will involve borrowing a lot more money.
“Advanced economies understand that, with interest rates so low, the costs of borrowing are just as low for stimulating the recovery,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Governments, like that of Canada, that have a solid fiscal position, must invest to help citizens get through this crisis.”
Mr. Trudeau implied on Tuesday that he intends to invest new money in health care, in emergency preparedness and in making the country “more fair.” He spoke of “bold new solutions,” which could be any number of new programs, from pharmacare to a guaranteed basic income.
He made it clear when asked by a reporter that his government will not be raising taxes as it spends money “to build a Canada that is more resilient, a Canada that is healthier and safer, greener and more competitive.” Which means the new spending will be financed by debt – or by cuts to other services, which is not the Liberal way.
No one is damning the Liberals for running up a $343-billion deficit as they responded to the COVID-19 crisis. But reasonable voters can disagree about whether the borrowing should continue into 2021 to help spur the recovery, or whether Ottawa should slow down.
It is also legitimate to ask whether Mr. Trudeau has the mandate to continue to run unprecedented deficits after the pandemic emergency has passed, but he is avoiding that question.
Instead, he seems to expect that his government’s Throne Speech will survive a confidence vote. He, like many, suspects the opposition parties will be loath to force an election this fall, when voters will be dealing with the return to school and other pressing issues.
If so, Canada will go into 2021 under a minority government that has no true mandate to bring in what could be radical changes, but is able to do so nonetheless because of the strange times in which we live.
“As much as this pandemic is an unexpected challenge, it is also an unprecedented opportunity,” Mr. Trudeau said Tuesday. He’s not wrong. But Canadians should be alarmed by the way the Prime Minister is cynically trying to use this national emergency to his political advantage.
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