Save for the odd journalist, it’s unlikely anyone cast their ballot for the Liberals over their plan to apply the Access to Information (ATI) regime to the Prime Minister and ministers’ offices. This was undoubtedly the political calculation behind the government’s recent announcement to bin the proposed reform.
Justin Trudeau’s government, like all governments, has become a convert to opacity in office. And while the broken promise will grate with the journalists who use disclosure, as will the other less-than-promised ATI reforms, the reversal isn’t likely to be remembered. Canadians care more about what a government achieves than how it gets things done.
While it’s true voters eventually tired of Stephen Harper’s manner, it wasn’t Mr. Trudeau’s transparency pledges that won the election, as much as it was the general sense that things under Mr. Trudeau would be different.
There were more who voted Liberal specifically to end the first-past-the-post voting system, and even more who thought the idea of modest, time-limited deficits were a good idea to goose a sluggish economy.
Add in the people who wanted a middle-class tax cut, those who wanted a more proactive approach on the environment and the crowd that wanted a fresh relationship with Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and you have a sizable voter coalition.
How many of those voters are now feeling disappointment as the Trudeau government heads into its mid-mandate summer recess? Was Mr. Trudeau’s “real change” simply a tale spun to get elected?
Mr. Trudeau surely meant every word of his platform, just as it’s surely his fault things aren’t going smoothly with its delivery. The Liberals have a majority; there’s no excuse for not keeping their word.
As Mr. Harper predicted during the last campaign, the Liberal deficits aren’t modest or time-limited. Nor is there a plan to get rid of them, with Mr. Trudeau refusing to even say when the budget would once again balance.
Electoral reform died an even slower death, with its cousin democratic reform now limping to an abbreviated finish line. And in both cases the Liberals broke another promise by trying to use their majority to strong-arm the very Parliament it pledged to respect into accepting its changes.
Indigenous communities are also restless with the slow pace of the inquiry into missing and murdered women and disappointed the government won’t be implementing all 94 of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Liberal promise wasn’t idle some more, it was action.
And it’s best not to inquire about military procurement. Pace the Liberal promise, the F-35 is still alive and the navy is still perilously short of ships. To add insult to injury, the Liberals took a sizable chunk of money out of defence in their most recent budget, only to later add it back in, albeit in future Parliaments, in the defence policy review.
Of course, not everyone is disappointed. The middle class have more money in their pockets, and environmentalists are happy with the Paris Accord and carbon tax, if not the approved oil and gas pipelines. The recent national security bill, while overdue, appears to have been worth the wait.
For anyone peeking into politics occasionally – that is to say, most voters – they continue to see a smiling, upbeat Justin Trudeau on the national and global stages, getting mostly positive ink outside Ottawa. There’s a reason Mr. Trudeau devotes so much time and effort to polishing his image: it keeps the messes hidden from view.
The trick for the opposition over this long, hot summer will be to bake in the spots on the Trudeau record and prepare voters for the fact that Mr. Trudeau – the man of many promises – can’t necessarily be counted on to keep them all.
So much of what separated Mr. Trudeau from Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair was the promise of something new. If Andrew Scheer can make the case that real change has only brought more of the same – or nothing much at all – voters might be willing to change again come 2019.