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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to media before a memorial service for Member of Parliament Jim Carr at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Because political memory is short, we can too easily forget how transformative Justin Trudeau’s seven years as Prime Minister have been for Canada.

He came to office in November, 2015, with an ambitious agenda. That ambition has been largely realized. While the costs have been substantial, Canada is a different country from what he inherited. In the main, it is better.

Let’s begin where many wouldn’t, with the issue of trade. Our economy depends on selling our resources, products and services to others around the world. On this crucial file, the Trudeau government’s track record has been truly impressive.

Soon after coming into office, the Liberals secured trade agreements with the European Union and the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership. America’s withdrawal under former president Donald Trump and last-minute Canadian objections almost wrecked the TPP, but things were smoothed over and the extraneous words Comprehensive and Progressive added to the title.

Conservatives will point out that both agreements were launched and mostly completed while Stephen Harper was prime minister. But the Liberals sealed those deals.

And the biggest deal of all, the renegotiated North American free-trade agreement, happened entirely on Mr. Trudeau’s watch. Ottawa was able to protect and secure Canada’s favoured trading relationship with the United States despite Mr. Trump’s threats to cancel the accord.

Another of this government’s greatest accomplishments lies in the field of immigration. Our annual intake was already robust when Mr. Trudeau took office, but his government has almost doubled the figure, from just over 260,000 new permanent residents in 2014 to a projected 500,000 in 2025.

Immigration injects dynamism into Canadian society. The Trudeau government’s commitment to bringing in more and more new Canadians every year will go down as one of its greatest achievements.

Mr. Trudeau probably does not deserve as much credit as he gives himself for making Canada a leader in the effort to fight against global warming. Prepandemic, Canada’s carbon emissions continued to rise. But the Liberal government has taken substantial measures, including the steadily increasing carbon tax, to reduce those emissions. Under the Liberals, Canada finally got serious about fighting climate change.

The Liberal record on social policy is formidable. Over the past seven years, the federal government has enhanced the previous Conservative program of cash transfers to parents for child care and introduced a national program of subsidized daycare spaces.

After being pushed by Jagmeet Singh’s NDP, the Liberals came up with a national dental-care program that will expand in the years ahead. The government passed legislation to protect the LGBTQ community from conversion therapy and to protect the rights of trans people.

And though it seems positively commonplace now, we should not underestimate the political risk that Mr. Trudeau took following through on his promise to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

Stephen Harper tried but failed to bring meaningful reform to the Senate, which was in even greater disrepute when he left than when he arrived. But Justin Trudeau’s decision to appoint only independent (if mostly progressive) senators has made that chamber far more respectable and productive.

Mr. Trudeau promised more than he achieved in improving the lives and respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples. But for the first time in decades, respecting those rights and improving those lives became a major priority of the federal government.

Finally, Justin Trudeau will always be known as the Prime Minister who brought Canada through the Great Pandemic. Yes, there were mistakes at the beginning, as governments around the world struggled to grasp the true nature of the threat they faced. But once that threat was understood, Ottawa acted swiftly to protect lives and the economy, and then to procure and distribute vaccines.

In terms of per capita COVID-19 fatalities, Canada ranks better than most developed countries: better than France or Germany or Italy or Britain or the United States. The actions of the federal government under Justin Trudeau’s leadership saved thousands of Canadian lives.

Whatever your political persuasion, it is hard not be impressed with such a record of accomplishment.

The failures are substantial, too. For me, one of the greatest was Mr. Trudeau’s decision to renege on his commitment “to ensuring that the 2015 election will be the last federal election using first past the post.”

Personally, I’m agnostic about electoral reform. But when a political leader makes an explicit commitment and then abandons that commitment without even bothering to apologize, the public loses trust, not only in the politician, but in the entire system.

That’s true of Ontario Premier Doug Ford moving to sell off Greenbelt lands after promising not to. It’s true of Justin Trudeau’s promise of electoral reform.

Mr. Trudeau did something else that no politician should ever do. He deceived the public. When The Globe and Mail first reported that the Prime Minister had put pressure on then-attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould to secure a deferred prosecution agreement for engineering company SNC-Lavalin, Mr. Trudeau flat out stated: “The allegations in The Globe story are false. Neither the current nor the previous attorney-general was ever directed by me or by anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter.”

But Mr. Trudeau knew that The Globe story did not allege he had directed anyone. The allegation was that he and his advisers had exerted pressure on Ms. Wilson-Raybould, an allegation that was subsequently proven to be true.

Mr. Trudeau’s blatant deception further undermined trust in people who hold public office.

There were policy failures, too. Mr. Trudeau was unable to secure a free-trade agreement with China (though that turned out to be a blessing in disguise). China has become more adversary than partner on the global stage. It took this government far too long to recognize and act on that shift.

Although the Liberals did permit one oil pipeline to be built, even nationalizing it when investment dried up, its many environmental regulations and other restrictions have greatly hampered investment in Canada’s petroleum sector. Mr. Trudeau’s inability to persuade the Biden administration not to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline is particularly unfortunate.

In foreign affairs and defence, Ottawa has only belatedly acknowledged the rising importance of the Indo-Pacific region and the need to bolster this country’s defences, especially in the North, though the Liberals’ commitment to help Ukraine in its fight against Russia has been impressive.

But it’s hard not to note the alacrity with which Canada brought in thousands of Ukrainians seeking shelter from the Russian invasion of their country, while dragging its heels on admitting Afghans in desperate need of rescue from the Taliban.

And while Liberal immigration targets are impressive, Liberal immigration backlogs are not.

The government’s heavy-handed approach on environmental regulations and health care transfers estranged provincial governments, bringing the Bloc Québécois back to life in Quebec and leaving citizens in Alberta and Saskatchewan feeling angry and alienated.

The Liberals had to accept large fiscal deficits to fight the pandemic. But they were running deficits before it struck, and continue to spend heavily even though the worst of the pandemic is most likely behind us. Canadians will be paying off that debt for many years to come.

And while there were external forces at play as well, after seven years of Liberal government, inflation is at levels not seen in decades, while rising interest rates threaten to send the economy into recession.

It would not be in the least bit surprising if, at the next federal election, voters decided to put the Conservatives into office to sort things out.

In a time of increasing political polarization, too many of us look at politicians and governments as all one thing or another. For some, Justin Trudeau is the greatest prime minister since, well, his father. For others, he’s an epithet.

A more honest assessment might be that Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister has attempted much and accomplished much, though with some major failures and unintended consequences along the way.

If Justin Trudeau wanted to be known as a transformative prime minister, he succeeded.

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