First things first, but which are the first things? That is the question prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau and his staff must figure out. Obviously, selecting a cabinet comes first, but after that?
The Liberals made many promises during the campaign. Doing even some of them quickly will be difficult. Others will be impossible, such as bringing to Canada 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year. Canada does not have the personnel on the ground in Europe or the Middle East, nor the institutions and people in the country ready to process and receive that many Syrians, Afghans and people of other nationalities so soon.
Election rhetoric is one thing; reality is another. By some time in early 2016, maybe the 25,000 can be accommodated, but not before. Not if the government wants to accomplish this objective properly.
Another example: The Liberals said they would accept, and presumably implement, the hundreds of recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Let them go ahead and try, given that the recommendations range from necessary to implausible, while also attempting (yet again) to reach a negotiated agreement with aboriginal leaders 'on spending hundreds of millions of dollars on aboriginal education and other priorities.
Still another: A month from taking office, Mr. Trudeau has said he will head to the climate change conference in Paris with premiers. Planning that properly will take plenty of time.
Senior Liberals have lots of reading material these days, but a few of them should flip through Donald Savoie's latest book, What Is Government Good At? Arguably Canada's pre-eminent scholar of public administration, the University of Moncton professor says governments often fall down in "implementation." They conceptualize policies and introduce them, but then implementation falters.
If this analysis is true, the argument should offer the Liberals at least some yellow lights, and not just because they will discover that the world of government is much more complicated than the simplicities of opposition.
Yes, the Liberal Party was elected with a majority of seats (on a minority of votes), and yes, it offered an ambitious agenda, but it cannot do everything at once, let alone in the first year of a four-year mandate. If it tries to do too much, it risks implementing policies poorly, or so the Savoie thesis suggests.
Picking a few "first things" to be done "first" won't be easy. So many causes were mentioned in the platform that many interest groups are now convinced that their cause should be at the head of the line.
Take infrastructure. Every premier and mayor has a list of projects. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre made a big local splash with his list during the campaign, inviting all the party leaders to visit him for a chat and a photo op. Other mayors have their own priorities.
Quite apart from the impossibility of meeting every priority, pushing money out the door fast for infrastructure runs the risk of doing projects badly. Projects take time to plan and execute, but the Liberals promised infrastructure spending right away (Jobs Now! was a Liberal slogan) as a tonic for a faltering economy.
The apple of the Liberal campaign's eye – the large middle-class tax cut – presumably will be among the first priorities. Do the Liberals wait for a budget in 2016 to refine the details, or push ahead before the end of 2015 as a symbol of a government anxious to fulfill campaign promises now?
The lure of the slogan such as "100 days of decision" is strong for any new government. To push ahead quickly on a range of fronts. Take advantage of a political honeymoon. Exude energy. Catch the opposition parties while they are still nursing their wounds. Get off to a fast start.
The fast-start strategy presupposes that big-ticket policies and broad promises were properly thought through in opposition and are ready to go right after the transition to power. That assumption belies past experience.
Do a few things early and do them properly. Set a different tone, to be sure. Let ministers surround themselves with staff, a process that usually takes three or four months. Let them learn their briefs about the many issues they know little or nothing about. Then, and only then, begin tackling the many priorities in the platform.