Skip to main content

Editorials Globe editorial: Justin Trudeau’s 2016: A year of goals and own-goals

Justin Trudeau performed in his first full year as Prime Minister exactly the way you'd expect a promising rookie to. Sometimes he was taking stupid elbowing penalties and getting caught out of position; at other times he was racking up the points and showing potential.

His best moment came near the end of 2016, when he announced his government's decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. He put his political capital on the line in defence of an idea that he's promoted since taking power: that it is possible to balance Canada's environmental obligations with the need to develop its resources.

His solution on the environmental side of the ledger has been politically clever, but also environmentally and economically sound. All provinces will be forced to put a rising price on carbon; the politically savvy part is that four provinces representing 80 per cent of the Canadian population are already doing this.

Story continues below advertisement

And Ottawa won't be introducing a carbon tax; the provinces will. Also, every cent stays in the province where it was raised, even if (hello, Brad Wall) Ottawa has to force it into their hands.

Mr. Trudeau insists that continuing to burn fossil fuels is inevitable, but also transitional. The world is not going cold turkey, and if Canada stopped producing oil tomorrow, we'd start importing it from elsewhere. The money earned from the domestic oil industry can enrich Canadians and fund the post-carbon future. All true.

Mr. Trudeau is quite sure that he embodies a sort of modern rational enlightenment, and that Canadians will trust him on an issue that is polarizing in the extreme. His country includes people who see the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions and the necessity of exploiting Alberta's oil sands exactly the same way: as life or death matters. He gives the impression of honestly believing he can reconcile two bitterly opposed camps, and that neither has to come out a loser.

Is there hubris in this? Sure. But short of swinging to one of two extremes – ignoring climate change or shutting down the oil sands – this is the way forward. It's to his credit that he's trying to walk the middle path.

That same self-confidence was evident in the assisted-death legislation adopted in the summer. Mr. Trudeau and his Justice Minister, Jody Raybould-Wilson, made a calculated gamble to limit the right to a medically assisted death to people who are close to the end of their lives – in spite of the fact that the Supreme Court, in the ruling that forced the government to act, mentioned no such limit. Critics said the end-of-life provision was unconstitutional, but the government believed it was necessary in order to protect the vulnerable. Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet withstood gales of criticism and put through a law that works the way they believe it should. Time will tell whether the courts agree.

There were other occasions when the Prime Minister showed spine: bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees – and perhaps more importantly, bringing them in on a slightly slower schedule than promised. He ensured the success of a big campaign promise by bending a subsidiary one.

But that same self-belief, that same hubris, was also the source of Mr. Trudeau's significant missteps in 2016.

It was most apparent in the cash-for-access fundraising scandal. The PM put forward solid ethical rules, and then ran roughshod over them. He put himself in a clear conflict of interest by allowing himself and his ministers to be privately lobbied by people who made big donations to the Liberal party.

He evidently feels his integrity is so unimpeachable that an activity that might cast doubt on another politician will have no such effect on him. As a result, while the PM's story about what happens at party fundraisers kept changing, Liberal party practices didn't. Hubris, meet chutzpah.

That same high confidence in his unbesmirchable Trudeauness was his Achilles heel on other issues. Electoral reform, for instance – one of the most badly flubbed portfolios since, well, the Harper government's Fair Elections Act fiasco. As the year ended, it was unclear whether the government was trying to bury a promise it never should have made – "2015 will be the last election conducted under first-past-the-post" – or doing a masterfully hamfisted job of trying to fulfill it.

See also the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, Mr. Trudeau's comments on Fidel Castro, the utter betrayal of a promise to be transparent about the purchase of military jets, and that clumsy moment when he imperiously strode across the House of Commons and straight into #elbowgate.

The rookie PM took his share of penalties. The question is whether he'll learn how to stay out of the box – or insist that he's deserving of special dispensation from the referee of public opinion. It should hardly ever be given, and hardly ever is.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter