Justin Trudeau has piled up political capital since becoming Prime Minister last October. When will he spend any of it?
Mr. Trudeau enjoys widespread popularity. His government is up sharply in public opinion polls since voting day, for what polls count. He's a smash hit when overseas; the cameras devour him at home. His government's style offers a refreshing change from the Harper government's ways of proceeding. The two Opposition parties' leaders are interim.
Making his cabinet 50-50 female-male was a Trudeau masterstroke. It likely created the new standard by which gender composition will be judged. Put another way, how politically incorrect and dangerous would it be for another government not to meet, or come very close to meeting, this standard?
Mr. Trudeau is a political actor of the highest order – a compliment rather than a critique, because in the modern, visual world a leader's public comportment counts for a great deal. A successful leader cannot be less than an accomplished actor, and in a variety of settings requiring the leader to play different roles.
His government is a big-spending one. It threw away the promise to balance the budget within four years, pushing off that objective to some faraway date. The economy is not in recession; indeed, it is modestly growing. But that will not stop the spending spigot from remaining wide open for some years to come.
If big spending equals political popularity because the government can say "yes" to so many groups, what's to dent the Liberals' standing? It's easy for a government's "sunny ways" to continue when it only says "yes."
Jean Chrétien used to argue that as a Liberal minister and prime minister, he always tried to underpromise and overdeliver. Justin Trudeau has turned upside down the first part of that mantra. He has overpromised, or at least promised an enormous number of changes. And not just incremental changes, but huge ones. It is an open question, one upon which perhaps the ultimate fate of the government will rest, whether all these promises can be fulfilled.
It's not that the Liberals knew upon arriving in office how to give effect to their promises. They got their tax changes passed quickly, plus some other measures, then pushed the review button. No government has ever launched more studies of more policies in a shorter period of time than this one. Scarcely a week goes by – and this is not a figure of speech – that the Trudeau government doesn't announce a new study, review or consultation.
In the past two weeks, reviews have been launched of innovation policies, university research and regulatory bodies for resource projects. The Transport Minister also said his department was reviewing internally an external policy review ordered and delivered by the previous government.
Culture, defence, foreign aid, pipelines, electoral reform and legalization of marijuana are among the subjects for long-term review. Then there are the vast campaign promises on other files, such as implementing all the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; figuring out a national plan for climate change while also getting oil and natural gas to foreign markets; negotiating a multibillion-dollar health accord with the provinces; getting a new pension deal with the provinces (done this week); spending tens of billions of dollars on infrastructure and $8-billion on aboriginal communities; pledging a transparent procurement process for a new fighter jet while refusing to study the leading candidate (the F-35); deciding whether to give money to Bombardier for the C-series plane; and working through the thicket of problems involved in creating some sort of inquiry or commission into missing and murdered aboriginal women that won't take far more time and money than promised and come to anything other than predictable conclusions.
At some point, the government will have to say "no." The Prime Minister himself has recognized that when the government makes decisions on energy projects some people will be unhappy.
He was not publicly unhappy when President Barack Obama killed the Keystone XL pipeline. The same quiescence cannot be expected if Mr. Trudeau's government turns down pipelines, or approves them.
But saying yes, being more transparent than the previous government, spending a lot of money and being led by a telegenic leader has left the Liberals in a stronger spot politically than when elected.