My single most popular post last year was my listing on July 5th of the Trudeau government’s accomplishments, to date. Six months later, it is useful to take up the catalogue again, with a little help from my stash of newspaper clippings, my increasingly informative e-news sources, and related webpages. Here is another list: what the government has done in the second half of its first year in office. I apologize in advance that this is more wordy than the previous one. Skip the details, if you like. Or print the post as a hard copy.
1. The government developed a transparent, predictable process for appointing Justices for the Supreme Court of Canada, and defined criteria for qualities of the judges they wanted. The criteria included “functional bilingualism” in both Canada’s official languages, and sensitivity to the diversity of Canada’s population. Although the Prime Minister retained the right to make the appointment, an independent Advisory Committee chaired by former Prime Minister Kim Campbell was struck to vet applications and make recommendations. The competition was opened to any lawyer in Canada who applied for the position. The existence of a pool of candidates who self-identify as potential Supremes is very useful. Future candidates are on notice about the qualifications expected for the job and the government will be able to make future appointments more expeditiously
2. In the face of widespread pressure to retain the customary regional allocation of Supreme Court judges, the government appointed Canada’s first Supreme Court of Canada justice from Newfoundland. Mr. Justice Malcolm Rowe is a white male from a rural fishing family who is more than “functionally bilingual” in French and who has a personal track record demonstrating his appreciation of Canada’s diversity. His appointment has been widely applauded.
3. On October 20th, the government appointed 25 new s.96 justices across the country. One to the Tax Court, three to the Superior Court of B.C., two to the Alberta Court of Appeal, five to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, three to the Manitoba Queen’s Bench, three to the Superior Court of Nova Scotia, one to the Ontario Court of Appeal, five to the Ontario Superior Court and one to the Quebec Court of Appeal. These appointments do not expand the complement, nor even fill all existing vacancies, but they are a start. Biographical information about all new appointments is available on the Department of Justice website.
4. On November 23rd, they appointed 22 Deputy Judges for the Superior Courts of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. These part-time positions were appointed from existing jurists across the country.
5. The government defined a new transparent procedure for future s. 96 judicial appointments. Each province will have an Advisory Committee to solicit and vet applications. Committees will consist of representatives from the provincial Attorneys General, the major legal professional bodies, and three lay representatives. Anyone interested in serving as a lay member of these committees had to submit an application by mid-November. Clarifying the process and broadening the base of input into judicial recommendations will encourage the diversity that a responsible judiciary requires.
6. The process of building a new independent Senate was initiated. The government established an Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments consisting of a chair, two federal members and fourteen members representing the provinces. The role of the Advisory Board is to receive applications and provide recommendations on Senate appointments to the Prime Minister. The board is to advertise vacancies as they occur, and apply public, merit-based criteria “in order to identify Canadians who will make significant contribution to the work of Parliament.” On October 27th, the government announced nine individuals named to the Senate under the new procedure to fill vacancies in B.C., Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Their biographies are on the webpage of the Advisory Board.
7. The Terms of Reference of the Advisory Board require a report to the Prime Minister within three months of submitting names for appointments. On December 21st, the Advisory Board published its report on the first cycle of their permanent process from July to November 2016. The report indicates that 2,757 applications were received, 308 from B.C., 145 from Manitoba, 127 from New Brunswick, 174 from Nova Scotia, 1169 from Ontario, 768 from Quebec, and 66 from Prince Edward Island, 39.9 % female, 60.1% male, 67.9% English, 31.3% French, 21.08% unknown, self-identified diversity of 3.74% LGBTQ, 19.59% ethnic/cultural group, 13.57% Indigenous, 24.99% visible minority, and 9.03% people with disabilities. All of this information is also found on the website of the Board.
8. Canadians can now apply online “until 23:59 Eastern Time on January 25, 2017” for six Senate vacancies expected in 2017 in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario. The assessment criteria, forms and templates, frequently asked questions, and guidance on how to create a profile and submit an application are all on the website of the Advisory Board, as above.
9. The initiatives above are described in great detail on government websites which are user-friendly and readily accessible. These are a welcome contrast to the opaque government websites under the previous regime, notable for their singular lack of accessible information.
10. The government concluded and ratified the Canada Europe Free Trade Agreement. Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland is generally credited with having acquitted herself well in the last-minute negotiations.
11. In September, Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna both met with officials in China to encourage more bilateral trade, address climate change initiatives, and deal with more specific issues between them. Canada renewed its commitment to support of the CCICED (an international advisory body established in 1992 to provide China’s State Council with research-based policy recommendations on environment and development issues). During Prime Minister Trudeau’s official visit to China (August 30 – September 6, 2016), the two countries agreed to address climate change through the Paris Agreement, and signed a statement of cooperation between Parks Canada and the National Development and Reform Commission of China regarding establishment, conservation, and management of protected areas.
12. In October, the government announced a pan-Canadian approach to pricing carbon pollution. Provinces and territories will have flexibility in deciding whether to implement the policy by a direct price on carbon pollution or by adopting a cap-and-trade system. Although the provinces will choose the specific nature of their own climate change policies, the federal government has set a national “floor price” on carbon that all provinces must levy by 2018. The price is to be $10 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, rising by $10 each year to $50 a tonne by 2022. The federal policy provides that all proceeds from carbon pricing will return to the provinces implementing the policy. See CBC news coverage of this initiative.
13. In October, they announced plans for a “Canada Infrastructure and Development Bank” to be promoted with large international institutional investors in a conference featuring Trudeau and Moreau in November. See my previous post, “Private Money for Public Infrastructure?”
14. In late November, the government approved twinning of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby. If constructed, the number of tankers carrying diluted bitumen travelling through Vancouver harbour, the Salish Sea and Juan de Fuca Strait will increase from approximately five to 34 a month. The project is almost universally opposed by local municipal governments, environmentalists and Indigenous groups. Trudeau said the government expects Kinder Morgan to “meet and exceed” the 157 conditions imposed by the National Energy Board in April. Earlier in the month, the federal government announced a $1.5 billion ocean protection plan to improve responses to tanker and fuel spills in coastal oceans.
15. The same day, Trudeau announced that the government is approving the new Enbridge Line 3 renewal to transport oil from a terminal near Hardisty, Alberta to Gretna, Manitoba, near the Canada-US border. There, it will continue through northern Minnesota to refineries in the USA. A 1,659-kilometre project worth $7.5 billion dollars, the renewal will double the volume of oil carried by the existing pipeline, funnelling nearly three million barrels a day of Alberta oil to the United States. The National Energy Board approved that project in April with 89 conditions affecting the Canadian section. The project will need further permit approvals from the state of Minnesota where there is considerable opposition to running a pipeline through environments important for their water supply.
16. At the same time, Trudeau announced that the federal government would not approve Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to Kitimat in northern B.C for export via the northern coast of B.C. He also announced that the government will introduce a new law in 2017 to impose a moratorium on crude oil tankers along B.C.’s North Coast.
17. Opponents of this pipelines policy vow continued opposition to the government’s decision so that they may never be built. Environmentalists are also concerned that pipelines for fossil fuels undercut Canada’s commitment to climate change. Trudeau replied that the pipelines were in the national interest, support the Canadian economy and help the Alberta economy to access foreign markets. He also insisted that transporting oil by train (the current practice) is more hazardous to the environment and public safety than use of pipelines.
18. In December, Trudeau met with heads of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Manitoba Métis Federation. The Prime Minister committed to an annual meeting with the heads of the organizations, “to develop shared priorities and to monitor progress” on implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools. In addition, similar meetings with key cabinet ministers will take place at least twice a year. Indigenous leaders were pleased with, at least “a strategy and plan moving forward.” Senator Murray Sinclair, former head of the TRC, was pleased with the announcement. See Gloria Galloway’s article from the December 16, 2016 Globe and Mail.
19. In December, Canada contracted with Polaris Industries ($28 million) to deliver 78 of its Ultra Light Combat Vehicles (DAGOR), described as “dune buggies on steroids,” to Canada’s Special Operations Forces Command. The first 52 vehicles were purchased immediately for delivery in 2017, the remaining 26 will be delivered in early 2018. The vehicle will add a weapons turret for off-road operations and will be transported by a variety of military aircraft, including helicopters. The contract includes technical and logistics support for two years through Black’s Corners Motorsports (BCM), in Carleton Place, Ottawa. See David Pugliese’s recent article in the Ottawa Citizen.
20. In December, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan announced a ban on asbestos and asbestos-containing products by 2018. Canada’s last asbestos mines closed in 2011, but Canada has been slow to meet international anti-asbestos standards. The government announced that it will draft a new regulation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to ban “manufacture, use, import and export” of asbestos-containing products including building materials and brake pads. It will also introduce new federal workplace health and safety rules to “drastically” limit the risk of on-the-job asbestos exposure, expand the current list of asbestos-containing buildings owned or leased by the Canadian government, and work with the provinces to include a prohibition on use of asbestos in building codes, affecting new construction and renovations. Read Tavia Grant’s Globe and Mail article, where she reports that advocates have termed the ban “a win for public health,” but long overdue. Note that “under its proposed regulation, the mining and processing of asbestos tailings and residue in Quebec” will be excluded from the ban.
21. In December, the government received the Report of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation chaired by Anne McLellan. Even Chris Selley in the National Post (“The clock starts now for pot legalization” retitled for web-posting) said it “is the picture of bold common sense: set a minimum age of 18 for purchase, leaves to the provinces to determine retail models preferably keeping weed separate from alcohol, enforce labelling standards for higher strains and potency, allow people to grow a few plants at home, get busy studying the implications for impaired driving.” To meet the problem of higher potency marijuana, there will be a higher tax on higher potency. As Selley noted, “this file remains an opportunity for the Liberals to expend some capital doing the right thing, coherently and backed by evidence, for the right reasons—freeing up justice system resources, liberating people from ridiculous and counter-productive threat of criminal sanction, putting gangsters out of business.” Anne McLellan indicated that the consultations of her Committee were comprehensive and intensive, open to hearing all interests. The age group 18-24 is the age cohort most using cannabis, which they now obtain from the illegal market. The CMA had recommended 25 years of age (after the developing brain is intact) as the minimum legal age. The government compromised, 18 or 19 years of age, like alcohol, as determined by the provinces, in the expectation that young people of that age can make an informed decision after considering the risks.
23. In December, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains announced further details of a program called “Connect to Innovate,” a five-year program to invest $500 million in expanded broadband internet access in 300 remote and rural communities. Companies seeking funding under the initiative have until March 13, 2017 to make their applications.
24. The government prepared plans to respond to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. They publicly adopted an international stance in favour of trade, immigration and diversity. Paul Wells, in the Toronto Star December 16th, noted that Trudeau told reporters from the Guardian, Britain’s leading centre-left newspaper: “If we can show—as we are working very hard to demonstrate—that you can have engaged global perspectives and growth that works for everyone, then that diffuses a lot of the uncertainty, the anger, the populism that is surfacing in different parts of the world.” Pie in the sky? Or a real new role for Canada? It’s too early to tell, but at least the Trudeau government has staked out the Canadian alternative.
25. Patrick Gossage for CBC News on December 30th suggested that “the celebrity status of Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau in the United States” will be to their advantage in dealing with president-elect Trump. They are very popular there and, just as Reagan got along with Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Trump will likely get along with Justin. He also noted that their shared support of the Keystone XL pipeline in the USA will be “a gift” for Canada, and that Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, “knows Canada well, and Exxon has large holdings in Canadian oil retail, exploration and development.”
25. In December, Health Minister Jane Philpott and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale introduced Bill C-37, a new law and regulations amending the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Customs Act and the Proceeds of Crime and Terrorist Financing Act. These changes will make it easier for safe injection sites to open and make it harder to smuggle fentanyl into the country. Empirical data based on the Vancouver Insite clinic shows that such facilities save lives, allow addicts to access appropriate services, and do not have any negative impact on criminality. The new law repeals entirely the 26 criteria the previous government had passed which made it next to impossible for additional sites across the country to adopt the elements of the Vancouver model. The new strategy also puts drug policy back under the Health ministry and away from the Department of Justice.
26. The government made numerous changes in Canada’s taxation laws, which I will leave aside for the moment, as they are undoubtedly complex and I would need to defer to my son who is the tax specialist in the family. I do note, however, that my favourite children’s toy shop and bookstore is advertising the new “Teacher and Early Childhood Educator School Supply Tax Benefit.” This tax change will provide a cash benefit of up to $150 for purchases of supplies and materials up to $1000 made by all certified teachers and educators for their classes. I am normally opposed to tax “expenditures” of this kind but, if they must exist, providing some compensation for teachers is a good thing. Apparently, “the list of allowable school supplies will draw on best practices in Prince Edward Island, which has already implemented a provincial school supply tax benefit.” There are many ways to craft cooperative federalism. Imitating best practices from other jurisdictions is one of them. According to the promotional material, this tax benefit “will apply for the 2016 tax year and subsequent taxation years, and will generate $60 million annually in tax savings for teachers and early childhood educators across the country.”
27. In August, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and a team of Ministers announced that the federal government would spend $450 million over three years on a peace and stabilization fund that will be used for renewal of Canadian participation in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations. The allocation will extend to 150 police officers, an increase to $47 million in the RCMP stabilization fund, and up to 600 Canadian troops, the provision of air transport, medical, engineering and training components. During the fall, consultations continued with the United Nations and NATO allies about where deployment(s) would occur. The countries reviewed by the Defence Minister include Mali, the Congo and the Central African Republic. In January, Global Affairs, the newly renamed Department of Foreign Affairs, has scheduled a day-long strategy session with government officials and experts to give flesh to this policy. Expect details of how the new deployment will be “branded” and where it will occur. See the article by Mike Blanchfield in National Observer.
28. In November, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced that the government would purchase 18 Boeing Super Hornet fighter jets, in addition to holding a competition down the road for replacement of the C-18 fleet. The Super Hornet is considered to be a cheaper alternative to the F-35 stealth fighter jets selected by the Conservative government. Both types of jets are used by Canada’s allies. There is concern, however, that punting the decision about the F-35s down the road amounts to a “final decision” on the issue for the foreseeable future.
I don’t know about you, but I consider this list a pretty full agenda. Not bad at all for the second six months in office.
Understandably, there is disagreement over the specifics of particular policies. Partisans on all sides have strong positions. Whether for or against, I think that the government has done a great deal. Theirs may be a middle position, even a conservative position, but at least they have taken a position on many issues and are prepared to go forward. To say, as does Paul Wells in the Toronto Star in his December 16th article, “Global darling Trudeau fails to deliver at home,” that the Liberal government has done nothing is incorrect. “False news,” even.
“Failures” to date:
- The Special Committee of MPs studying Electoral Reform recommended that the government hold a referendum that pits the current First Past the Post system against a system of proportional representation, but apparently did not recommend a particular method of proportional representation. Notwithstanding this result, the Liberal members of the committee do not agree that a referendum should be held and the NDP and Green members issued a joint supplementary report which also questions the need for a referendum. Minister of Democratic Reform Maryam Monsef rebuked the committee for failing to recommend a specific type of proportional representation system. Among other things, she said they had “shirked their responsibility.” It is not surprising that she was later forced to apologize for her remarks. I have not read the reports, but clearly the government looks bad on this issue. They benefit from the FPTP system and have little incentive, except fulfilling an election promise, to change it. I agree that previous referenda about electoral reform have all failed. In my view, they failed because more resources were spent on the consultation process than on educating the public about the nature of the alternative proposal. When the electorate is confused and comes out in low numbers, any referendum is useless. If a referendum were desired, it strikes me that ours should follow the Irish model. There, they have high voter turnout and have made significant constitutional changes. See my previous posts entitled “Lessons from the Irish Referendum for Canada” and “Revelling in the Results of the Irish Referendum.” If nothing else, maybe the Liberal government could pass legislation making it mandatory that people vote. That would be an excellent “electoral reform” to implement before the next election. Who would disagree with that? There are precedents in other parts of the world.
2. In late December, Finance Minister Bill Morneau began negotiations with the provinces and Territories about the new federal Canada Health Transfer (CHT). The current federal contribution of 6% is scheduled to end next year. He offered to raise the minimum annual increase the government had previously offered from 3% to 3.5%, add an extra $8 billion over ten years for home care and mental health, as well as $544 million over five years for prescription drug and “innovation” initiatives. Talks broke down and that offer is now off the table. Most provinces rejected the offer because provincial demands for the base CHT were considerably higher, and because the extra funds came with federal strings attached. Later in the week, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia broke ranks with the rest of the provinces and entered into bilateral agreements with the federal government. They accepted the federal offer of 3% plus the add-ons, with the proviso that should other provinces receive a higher base transfer, they too would get the higher rate. Moreau had said before the meeting that if no deal could be reached, federal support would revert to an annual increase in health transfers of 3%, or nominal economic growth, and provide $3 billion for home care. This federal “take it or leave it” approach angered most provinces and, in my view, is a bluff. Expect further negotiations in January. I’m betting that all provinces will be on board eventually, and that some arrangement will be made so that “strings attached” will accommodate “the special nature of Quebec.”
3. The primary concern of the opposition parties and the media seems to be “access in exchange for political funding.” Trudeau may not be living up to his lofty standards, and certainly not the standards imposed by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. But, as Tom Flanagan argued in the Globe and Mail on December 16th, what they are doing is no different from the same thing done by other parties. As Flanagan warns, and Andrew Coyne took up in the National Post this morning, if critics are not careful, the Liberals may well restore government financial subsidies to political parties based on the vote, first implemented by Prime Minister Chrétien and later terminated with relish by Harper. The Tories would hate that, although the NDP, Green Party, and Liberals would be delighted. Wouldn’t that be an interesting twist?
In my view, that the opposition (and the conservative media) is obsessed with this issue, in the face of all the other things the government has done August to December, speaks to their weakness. Preoccupied as they are with choosing new leaders, the Trudeau government can get on with its agenda.