The new Liberal cabinet: what will be its first priorities? The Liberal ministers have a lot on their plates. Which of the many "immediate" priorities that Trudeau promised during the campaign needs to be achieved right away? We asked Richard Mahoney, John Capobianco and Marit Stiles to come up with an immediate "must do" list for the new government.
It's hard for those of us looking at the agenda for the new Liberal government not to immediately put forward our party's own priorities. Obviously, I would have liked to see a different government elected and would have liked to see movement immediately to implement a national childcare program. Sour grapes but, hey, us working women have childcare needs!
But in terms of this Liberal government and their priorities, we're really left looking back at what they promised during the election for indications of where they will be moving first. Unfortunately, in the case of this incoming government there are too many priorities. A quick read of the Liberal 2015 federal platform finds 21 instances of promises they will implement immediately. Yikes! That's a lot of "immediately".
Some of these will be easier than others, and some will be symbolic and important as such. Among these I would argue that the most important is calling a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women. There are very few Canadians — especially whom voted either Liberal or New Democrat — who would argue against making that an immediate priority.
Returning the long form census would appear to be something they are already moving on, but they need to throw some bones to the environmental movement (especially since Trudeau seems dead set in his commitment to Keystone XL.) So perhaps starting the review of the environmental assessment process would be a good priority. And then there are the "tax cuts" — yup, he'll need to get on that wagon too.
One of the great things about the election of a new government and a new Prime Minister is the tonic that new government brings. There is optimism in the air that says things we thought impossible are now in the realm of the possible. That sense doesn't always last a long time, but while it does, it has a positive aspect on society, on business and on every day life. And it makes it just a little easier to bring about some of the change that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals promised.
Governments that have been entrenched for a long period, as the Harper government was, get a little tired and cynical. In the case of the CPC government this was particularly true, and we witnessed some of that in the campaign. But the very presence of new people, new ideas and the new energy that Justin Trudeau and his team bring will help achieve one of the first priorities of the incoming administration. That important priority is a new style and tone of government.
A more open, transparent government. A less divisive, controlling and oppressive tone to government actions and announcements. More optimism and respect for diverse opinion, less relentless attack and focus on the opposition. More sunny ways, yes, and more sunlight into what government does on our behalf.
That is the first, most important, and in some ways, most difficult task in front of the new government. And, more than any other specific policy outcome, the new government and Prime Minister will be judged in these early days on that.
Richard and Marit speak of tone and how Mr. Trudeau has to set the right tone. While this is important for any incoming PM, especially after being in opposition for close to 10 years, it is not critical.
It is fairly common for a new, fresh leader to come in and want to change the way things were done, mainly because the incumbent lost, so arguably people were tired of how things were being done beforehand. President Obama did the same thing when after eight years of Bush: he came in wanting to set the "right tone."
It works in the first year, usually during the honeymoon period, and setting the right tone can often elongate that same honeymoon period. But the reality of governing soon sets in and the last thing the PM, his government and voters will care about in the longer term is tone.
I do give Trudeau credit for the way he has conducted himself in this period since his election and before he was officially sworn in as PM — very Obama-esque. The walking around shaking hands and the air of openness and accessibility, much like President Obama did (as much as a US President can) during the very early days of his election. But as you see with the US President — not so much nowadays. Why? Because he has had the pressures of governing.
I know this is how Mr. Trudeau would like it to be — so would I and I bet so would many Canadians — but this world and the issues we face, and those his government will face, will make this last not so long as all would like.
I do, however, hope the tone sticks around for a long time.
Well said, Richard. I do agree that one of the most important tasks of an incoming government — particularly a new government and new Prime Minister — is to set the right tone. The civil service has been battered down and shredded under the Conservatives, and prior to that by the Jean Chretien and Paul Martin governments. It's going to be absolutely essential that they are shown more respect than they have come to expect, because as I mentioned earlier, the road ahead is crammed with priorities.
One of the other areas that will have to be a big priority for the incoming government is changing the relationship with other governments. First, respectful collaboration with the provinces, something that has been sorely missing. Trudeau stressed this a lot in his platform but the art will be in delivering on the promises and expectations of those provincial friends of his. Kathleen Wynne spent a lot of capital — real and political — getting Trudeau elected here in Ontario. And her demands will be swift and unrelenting. In electing Trudeau, she lost her foil: Harper. She has to show Ontarians that she is going to stick up for them and not fold in the presence of her Ottawa buddies.
Inviting the Premiers along for the Paris Summit was a smart move. Symbolic yes. But not unimportant. The real proof will be in the pudding, rolling up sleeves, getting work done and respecting the differing priorities of each province, not just those run by Liberals.
Lastly but not of least importance: Trudeau must change the way our government works with First Nations. The NDP committed to working "Nation to Nation." The Liberals have to show a real and meaningful change in the approach of past governments. And they need to give this the weight and importance they give dealings with the provinces.
Marit brings up a couple of examples where Mr. Trudeau will have an opportunity to show the change he represents: a more open and constructive engagement with the public service, which suffered under the Harper Conservatives (and the results were visible to Canadians in the quality of government and services they received.)
To meet some of the big challenges facing the country, such as climate change and the upcoming Paris conference, Canada needs a plan to meet our obligations to reduce emissions. We need our national government and our Prime Minister to lead a better relationship with the provincial governments, which, in many ways, have to implement the changes required to reduce those emissions. This is only one example of many where we will need to at least try to fashion a consensus approach to the changes required. Rebuilding the relationship with and improving the lives of our First Nations is another important example.
Finally, Mr. Trudeau has laid out a powerful case that we need to stimulate our economy and to do so in a way that helps grow our middle class (a key to economic growth) and helps our middle class get more of the benefits of a growing economy. I suspect one of the first major pieces of legislation will be the promised tax relief for those in the middle income tax brackets — a tangible measure that will help millions of Canadians.
There are lots of important things the new Prime Minister needs to do and wants to do. But none are more important than the commitment he fulfills by changing the way our government operates. That, and the tonic of a change at the top will go a long a way to helping the country and its new government succeed in the coming months.
The federal/provincial relationships will certainly be something we will watch especially since Ontario Premier Wynne campaigned so aggressively for Mr. Trudeau. How this will play out will be interesting. Marit brings up a good point about the Premier losing her "foil" with Mr. Harper gone. She will absolutely need to stick up for the province and not be seen as a junior minister in Mr. Trudeau's cabinet.
That said, we all agree that Mr. Trudeau's first move to invite the Premiers to Paris sends a message, but whether having a cozy relationship with the Premiers pays off will depend on when they face re-election in their respective jurisdictions and the approval rating of the federal government at that time. Having a relationship is a good thing as long as jurisdictional powers and responsibilities are respected and not used for political gain at the expense of good public policy.
After the swearing in of cabinet and of the PM-designate, and after the deserved glow of the election win starts to fade, all eyes will be on the Throne Speech. Mr. Trudeau has no shortage of campaign promises from which to choose his priorities, but he must choose wisely since that will set the "tone" which is most important to voters. The Syrian refugee issue (bringing in 25,000 by January) and the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, (on which we really didn't get a sense of Mr. Trudeau's position during the campaign) both need to be addressed, As well there is ISIS: the changing of our military scope will need clarifying.
All this and with an eye on our economy — tax hikes/cuts, infrastructure spending, renegotiating the provincial healthcare accords: all are priorities, but when and how much, we'll soon find out.