Given his fresh approach - open, engaging democratic, collaborative, realistic and positive, Justin Trudeau has raised expectations.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

November 27, 2015


It’s politics imitating life.

Imagine somebody resolving, on a boozy New Year’s eve, to lose 10 kgs by the next summer. Would anyone complain if they only lost 9 kgs and it took them until September?

Goals give us direction and a point of reference. Moving in the right direction and in some kind of time frame is what matters.

Trudeau Justin

Justin Trudeau before he became Prime Minister.

It’s more like curling than hockey, where you don’t need to be on the button to win, just closer than the other team, and the more rocks the better. So when the PM changed-down his plan from 25,000 refugees by the end of the year, to almost the end of the government’s fiscal year (March 2016), the important thing is that it is still happening.

And ‘doing it right’ is more important than just doing it. Selecting safe Syrian families from the camps and vetting them by our own guys takes time. Call it a broken election promise, but it’s one most Canadians don’t mind seeing broken – given the events in Paris. And, Canada will still be seen as a generous refugee recipient, surpassing most European states and even the USA.

You see there is a new sheriff in town. We elected a new way of doing things in this country last month, not just a new leader. A couple things stand out. For one our new government is more democratic. Decision-making is now shared among Trudeau’s team of cabinet ministers. This de-centralization can strengthen, more than threaten, his leadership. And after that big election win the PM can afford to be confident about his team implementing his vision without his paternal oversight.

Trudeau Justin with signs behind

Justin Trudeau during the election campaign.

Trudeau is also liberating his MPs from sticking to the party line on government bills, allowing more free votes to ensure they more directly represent the wishes of their constituents. He will also be reforming the Senate, something that has eluded his predecessors despite their best intentions. Removing partisanship from appointments will help transform that almost irrelevant body into more of the ‘chamber of sober second thought’ it was intended to be – rather than the rubber stamp it had become.

Then there are the other appointments. Mr. Harper’s cynical farewell gift to Canadians, just before the election, was to stack federal boards and commissions with Tory appointments, some going on beyond the four year term of the new government. The National Energy Board is a case in point – a body which would be able to block progress on a national climate change program. It is time these appointments were sunset with each change of government.

Second, there is a new collaborative approach to dealing with the federal government’s partners in the federation. Harper refused to engage this way, so the last time first ministers met was in 2009. It was refreshing to see Trudeau host an early meeting and obtain a very positive outcome on the potentially divisive issues of refugee settlement and climate change – a topic which prompted unsolicited emissions reduction plans by both Alberta and Ontario.

Third, the new government has shown it is prepared to compromise on goal achievement, if necessary, to deal with other priorities and other realities – as happened with the refugee issue. It would be easy to attribute the new tone of this government to the injection of fresh faces and youthful vigour, but I suspect it is due more to leadership at the top.

Will Farrell (not my favourite actor) wrote and performed an outstanding comedic stage production, which was recently re-played on HBO. Titled “You’re Welcome America” and set in 2009, it is recounts the GW Bush years. This production is both hilarious and thought provoking. It is also timely given that US Republicans are again looking to run an ignoramus as their presidential candidate, favouring the hyperbolic Trump and the seemingly ‘possessed’ Dr. Ben Carson over less charismatic characters in the GOP ‘braintrust’.

Trudeau Justin with big hair

The Prime Minister – the hair

Canada has had its share of colourful PM’s leaving their mark with his/her unique leadership style. Mr. Harper was obsessed with control. He made decisions unilaterally and was not big on entertaining ideas that didn’t conform to his ideology. He would tolerate neither criticisms nor critics. And his confrontational approach exacerbated divisions between supporters and opponents, the right and the centre-left, the disadvantaged and the 10%.

Those who follow my column will attest that I was never a fan of the former PM – neither his policies nor his leadership style. Mr. Trudeau, given this fresh approach – open, engaging democratic, collaborative, realistic and positive – has raised expectations. And we all understand how difficult it can be to maintain that momentum.

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.



Background links:

Climate Conference       Tory Appointments        Unmuzzling Scientists      First Ministers’ Meeting

Ontario’s Climate Change Strategy       Alberta’s Plan       Refugees        Attitudes on Climate Change

Trudeau Interview        You’re Welcome America

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1 comment to Given his fresh approach – open, engaging democratic, collaborative, realistic and positive, Justin Trudeau has raised expectations.

  • Bob

    During this honeymoon period, the PM has been saying all the right things and enjoying the embrace of a Canadian public starved for responsible government.

    The first argument will come when the Trans-Pacific Partnership comes up for debate. If he finds the courage to accept it, only after significant revisions erase the excessive allowances for trans-national investors, he deserves to find a sugar plum on his Christmas plate. Otherwise he can retrieve his lump of B.C. coal from an orphaned sock nailed to the back of an outhouse door beside one labelled for ex-PM Harper.