It has been a full year since seven million Canadians, charged to action by bright-eyed optimism, voted for real change, social progress, and a really great haircut. On October 19, 2015, the Liberal Party of Canada was elected to not only lead the country, but to do so with a landslide majority government.
For almost a decade, Canada has struggled with a prime minister and cabinet whose attitude towards transparency and the media bordered on contempt. After years of being unable to hold the government fully accountable for things like unbridled spending and a callous attitude toward equal rights lobbyists, Canadians fought back and demanded “Real Change.”
In the interest of full disclosure, I must mention that I am a member of the Liberal Party of Canada. But like many other Canadians, I am deeply concerned with what my government is doing and not doing for me in Ottawa, all partisan objectives aside. Trudeau gained unprecedented support promising social progress, defence of civil rights, a strong middle class, and a Canadian government that would be transparent and accountable to the public. A year later, we know the prime minister’s luscious locks and popularity are still going strong — but how are his promises holding up?
Canadians need know what promises our government is keeping, and which ones they’re sweeping under the rug.
We will have to wait another three years to pass a final verdict on the Trudeau government. After the first year in power, though, what progress has our government made toward the platform we elected it on? After all, a total of 219 campaign promises does not leave much room for a slow start.
Don’t worry, it’s not as tall of an order as it once was: the government has already achieved 34 and broken another 26 of them. Do you know which category the changes you voted for have fallen into?
The following is a sample of some of the key issues that arose over the course of the 2015 election, and the actions that have been taken to follow through on these promises. If they should convince you of one thing, it is not the vices or virtues of the Trudeau government, but the importance of keeping our government accountable.
Canadians have been offered a luxury that we aren’t especially used to: government transparency. More than ever before, Canadians not only have access to the information necessary to monitor our government’s activities, but have endless mediums available to speak out and keep them accountable to our needs and their promises. With these changes comes a new responsibility for Canadians to stay informed and voice their concerns.
To stay informed on developments with the specific policies I have mentioned — as well as the other promises the Trudeau government made upon taking power — you can visit the Trudeau Metre website: a citizen-run accountability campaign which allows voters to analyze and report on the government’s progress toward its election promises.
The Promise: “We will repeal the problematic elements of Bill C-51, and introduce new legislation that better balances our collective security with our rights and freedoms.” – Liberal Party of Canada
Real Change: None.
In October 2014, Canada fell victim to a terrorist attack which ended in a dramatic shoot-out on Parliament Hill and left Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian serviceman, and the attacker himself dead. Canadians were shaken to the core and the Conservative government (in power at the time under the leadership of Stephen Harper) answered with Bill C-51, which promised to empower the Canadian Security Intelligence Service by allowing them greater access to citizens’ personal information and permitting them to detain any citizen for up to seven days on suspicion of terrorism.
This became a strong point of contention in last year’s election, as the Conservative government touted the importance of national security and the NDP took up the fight for civil liberties. Meanwhile, Trudeau’s Liberal Party believed that Canadians could defend their cake and eat it too.
The Trudeau government promised that, while it would not fully repeal the Anti-Terrorism Act, it would make significant amendments to ensure that the civil liberties of Canadian citizens would be protected. Now, a year later, with no amendments proposed, one has to wonder if this was a case of Trudeau’s campaign writing cheques his government can’t cash.
Promise: “[Our government] will ensure that government science is fully available to the public, that scientists are able to speak freely about their work, and that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes decisions.” – Liberal Party of Canada
Real Change: Alain Vézina, regional director of science at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, confirmed in an email to the CBC on November 6, 2015 that scientists’ exchanges with media were no longer restricted.
At the best of times, the relationship between the Harper government and the Canadian media was cold; at worst, it drew unfavourable comparisons to George Orwell’s 1984. Under the Harper regime government, scientists were permitted to speak to media only if it was approved by federal communications officers who would field interview requests to approve questions, answers, and which scientists would be spoken to — a system which was cumbersome and impractical, if not outright oppressive.
In one instance, the CBC reported 110 pages of email correspondence with 16 different government communications officers for a single interview with a single scientist. This not only created an iron curtain between the Canadian public and our scientific community, but it created a reluctance among the global scientific community to work with Canadian scientists for fear of being tied down by government regulations.
Furthermore, on February 29, the Royal Society of Canada confirmed the Liberal government’s appointment of a chief science officer of Canada. The officer’s primary mandate is to maintain scientists’ freedom of speech, facilitate government scientific activities, and advise the prime minister and his cabinet on policy decisions.
Promise: “Public policies affect women and men in different ways. We will take these differences into account when making decisions in Cabinet.” – Liberal Party of Canada
Real Change: Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet . . . because it was 2015.
To many, Trudeau’s appointment of Canada’s first cabinet with equal numbers of men and women seemed more like a social statement than an imperative government policy — and a lot of Canadians felt that was reason enough to appoint them. However, this decision was significant to more than just gender equality, as it addressed the issue of demographic representation.
Canada’s population has long been divided, very equally, between men and women. In fact, as of the 2016 Canadian census, the balance of men and women in the population differs by less than one percent. With this in mind, the former government’s cabinet (which was never a 50/50 split) not only displayed inequality in the opportunities it offered to women, but also devalued the voices of over 15 million Canadians. A gender-balanced cabinet is necessary not only to Canada’s social conscience but in order for us to be a true and effective democracy.
Promise: “We will bring an end to the discriminatory ban that prevents men who have had sex with men [MSM] from donating blood.” – Liberal Party of Canada
Real Change: Hardly. On August 15, Health Canada implemented a policy which would allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood — provided they have abstained from sex for at least one year.
This seems like a hollow victory to begin with. Consider as well that the existing policy was not a complete ban on blood from MSM donors, but a requirement for five years of abstinence. The question on the minds of many members of the LGBTQIA+ community is, in today’s society, why is high-risk sexual behaviour still regarded as a gay problem?
“Sadly, it was gay men who first suffered the initial epidemic of HIV through risky sexual behaviour and it is this stigma, that all gay men touch HIV in some way shape or form, that terrifies the general population about the use of our blood products,” said Kristopher Wondga, a nursing student and self-identified gay man. “I see first-hand just how important blood products are to those who use them, and I wish that I could help. Have I had sex in the past year? Yes, I have. Have [I] conducted my sexual behaviour in a way that lower[s] my risk of HIV infection? Yes, I have. Have I been tested for HIV at least once in the last six months? Yes, I have.”
To change the terminology of this policy which is — as the Liberal Party has previously described — discriminatory, without changing the policy itself, is simply putting a new label on an old problem.
Promise: “We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.” – Liberal Party of Canada
Real Change: Not only has no change taken place, but the government’s motivation to follow through with this promise has weakened — and it’s our fault.
At least, that was the explanation recently given by Prime Minister Trudeau. In an interview with Le Devoir, Trudeau said “Under Stephen Harper, there were so many people unhappy with the government and their approach that people were saying, ‘It will take electoral reform to no longer have a government we don’t like,’” and that “under the current system, they now have a government they’re more satisfied with and the motivation to change the electoral system is less compelling.”
The first-past-the-post system elects a government by allowing citizens to vote for members of parliament (MPs) who will represent their riding. Each MP is a member of a political party, which has elected its own leader prior to the election. Once Canadians have elected their MP, the party that won the most ridings will take power and their leader will be sworn in as prime minister.
This is a perfectly effective approach to a bipartisan election but the rise of the NDP, Green Party, and Bloc Québécois has created a glitch in the system. With votes in each riding split between candidates, a party not only does not need support from the majority of the country to win the election — it doesn’t even need it to win a majority government!
Last fall, the Liberal Party won by a small margin in so many ridings that, after earning 39.5 percent of votes, it now occupies 54 percent of the seats in the House of Commons (184). On the other end of the spectrum, the Green party gained 3.5 percent of the vote and won one seat, while the Bloc Québécois earned 4.7 percent and won 10.
A broken clock is still right twice a day, and it seems misleading for Prime Minister Trudeau to equate a popular government with an effective electoral process. While the overall result of last year’s election may have been what the majority of voters wanted, there is still a distinct contrast between who Canadians voted for and who is governing them.
Since his interview with Le Devoir, there has been mass outcry, and Prime Minister Trudeau has back-pedalled a little to say that the Liberal Party will look into alternatives. The fact remains though, that we might not get to see any “Real Change” in the next election.