For a government spending big bucks on something called “deliverology,” the Liberals are doing an awfully poor job deliverologing.
This week, another campaign pledge — reform of the access-to-information regime — was added to the broken-promise bonfire, where it joins modest deficits and electoral reform, among others.
Not that these setbacks slow the Liberal cheer; a look at their Stepford social channels indicates all is well and that, even when they stumble, it’s OK because their “heart is in the right place”. That last bit was actually the defence from Liberals when columnist Chantal Hébert recently excoriated their record.
It might be arrogant and fact-free, but the defence is smart. The Liberals — and Trudeau in particular — are trusted on motive. Even if they can’t defend what they’re doing, or how it’s being done, they can always talk about why they’re doing it.
This works because Trudeau the politician is all heart; he cares and believes in government. This lets him promise “modest” $10-billion deficits for three years and then deliver yearly deficits three times that size with no plan to balance the budget. Reckless? Perhaps, but he means well.
Motive is what lets Trudeau promise the election he won will be the last run under the old rules and then keep said old rules after he cocks up the consultation on a new system. Because, you see, he screwed it up for the right reasons.
I have no doubt Justin Trudeau’s heart is in the right place — just about every politician’s is — but there’s precious little evidence it’s pumping enough blood into the body of competent government. That’s a problem.
Placing motive at the heart of politics as the Liberals do is a trick Conservatives haven’t mastered, with few even bothering to try. When one of your motives for being in government is to roll much of it back, it’s hard to make a convincing case for the bits of government that do need doing.
Conservatives do best when motive is stripped out of politics, when there’s a job to do and anxious voters prefer stern adults to best friends. A global economic crisis? We’ll see you through it. The nation is under threat? We’ll keep you safe. This helps to explain why Stephen Harper was able to win a majority in 2011 when the opposition and media were in histrionics over his style of governing.
New Conservative leader Andrew Scheer shouldn’t count on any future anxiety, so one of his jobs this summer will be to restore trust in the Conservative party’s motives for power, while siphoning off some of Trudeau’s reserves of goodwill.
The emphasis should be on the former, but it won’t be enough to hope others will do the latter. Even if journalists are now in fuller voice about Trudeau’s failings, there’s no guarantee their harsh words will reach Liberal supporters’ ears. Scheer will have to find ways to pick Trudeau apart, too.
How can the new Conservative leader do it? First, he needs to find some issues where he can be on the people’s side, preferably on pocketbook issues. For example, imagine if the Conservatives were courageous enough to abandon supply management.
A politician who truly cared about any squeeze being placed on hard-working families would label this cartel system a “milk tax,” “cheese tax,” “egg tax,” and “chicken tax,” and pledge to cut it to shreds. Let Trudeau defend the sad (heartless?) status quo.
The Conservatives could try something similar with Canada’s telecom cartel. People love their phones, love the content that gets pinged to them, and hate the exorbitant tariffs they must pay to get it. This would become an even more potent offer if the Liberals follow up on their suggested insanity of taxing streaming services.
These moves would help build motive for the Tories. But to weaken Trudeau’s, the Conservatives must challenge the prime minister and his government on competence, not intent. Motive becomes useless if people don’t believe a word you say, or trust in your ability to deliver it. Just ask the NDP. By holding a mirror to Trudeau’s spotty record in government, the Tories can discount future Trudeau promises.
And spotty it is. We’ve already covered deficits and democratic reform. The mid-mandate record on accountability and entitlement isn’t much better. The clutch of big promises to Canada’s long-suffering indigenous peoples leads the list of future landmines.
If the Tories can make 2019 about what Canadians believe will be done, and not about what can be promised, they’re in with a chance. If it’s a fight about who has the bigger heart, it will be another four years of Trudeau’s rhetorical reach exceeding the grasp of his government.