Saturday, 13 February 2016

101 Day Nation

It’s official. As of yesterday, Justin Trudeau made it past his first hundred days as Prime Minister.

CBC ran an in-depth analysis and opened a public forum to get public feedback on the overall impact of the changes since Trudeau’s nouveau majority took over from Harper’s long-reigning Conservative government. Granted, the forum was little more than an open-ended comments section but apparently Trudeau’s 100-day anniversary warrants a fancy title that empowers Canadian readers. It is 2016, afterall.

Those who bought into Harper’s “Just Not Ready” election campaign are probably surprised Trudeau made it this far at all, as if they expected him to step down from office in favour of a snowboarding trip to Nelson, BC. The guy is in his mid-40s, has a wife and three kids, and is a six-year veteran of parliament. Yet, throughout the election and even into these first hundred days, his critics still try to paint him as some young, artsy hipster; a laissez-faire Prime Minister who’s soft and terrorism and thinks legalized marijuana is ‘groovy’.

“Question period is such a drag! Come on, Soph’, let’s pack up the kids and blow this popsicle stand,” he implores, snowboard in one hand, Mountain Dew Code Red in the other.

Critics want you to think Trudeau’s first hundred days, much like his political career, are defined by his relatively young age, his flawless hair, the legacy of his name, or his natural, effortless charm. Certainly, those things all help in developing the much-needed cult of personality. To that end, he’s thriving in Canada’s pallid political landscape for two simple reasons: 1) He acts human; and 2) He treats Canadians like people. He offers both scripted and non-scripted responses to reporters. He shows excitement over geeky stuff, like when his family was treated to an early screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He interacts with members of the general public using what I’m sure Harper would describe as ‘an alarming level of natural human emotion’. These aren’t radical concepts, but Canadians have been so conditioned by a decade of Harper’s robotic speeches, pre-loaded media statements, and metallic blue gaze, that Trudeau’s warm smile is a welcome reprieve. Compared to the former --- I love typing that --- the former Conservative Prime Minister, yes, Trudeau is the young, hip, artsy Prime Minister: Harper was a Blackberry 8700 with a sliding keyboard, the phone of the business class; Trudeau is an iPhone 6S with a handcrafted, sustainably-sourced, bamboo case. Canadians opted for the upgrade.

Depending on how you measure successful social and foreign policies, yes, you might see Trudeau as a big softy. Do you think military force is the only reasonable approach to dealing with strained foreign relations? Do you consider every dead terrorist a moral victory for democracy? Is Reefer Madness your favourite documentary about the scourge of marijuana on society? If you answered “Yes” to all of the above, you’re probably not particularly happy with Trudeau’s first hundred days in office --- I’ve never claimed to be psychic or anything, but you’re probably not going to be thrilled about his next hundred days… or the several hundred after that.

As far as old school politics goes, Trudeau’s campaign and political outlook have already ruffled a lot of feathers: he’s advocating for transparency within government, he’s giving government-funded scientists the right to publish and promote their findings, and he’s taking a pro-active approach to social issues such as gender equality and decriminalizing marijuana.  No, I’m not here to give Trudeau a reach-around; I’ll leave that to the international media, who seem to court him like Canada’s Next Top Debutante --- swooning as he enters the ballroom, showered in soft light, an innocent glimmer in his eye. I’m simply pointing out that he ran on a platform of changing how things were done politically, and he seems to be following through, despite what will certainly be a monumental level of resistance from the old guard.

In the three-plus months since the November election, Conservatives have finished licking their wounds and attempted to regain their footing by pointing out imperfections in the Liberals’ armour. Interim-Conservative leader Rona Ambrose certainly deserves credit for her sustained and multi-faceted opposition tactics in parliament, but it’s hard to take her seriously when most of her criticisms can be directly attributed to ten years of federal Conservative mismanagement. Meanwhile, Canadians --- both supporters and detractors --- seem to think Trudeau’s stance on various social and political issues, from gender equality to the plight of Aboriginal communities and Canada’s military role in international conflict, is little more than far-left idealism. In reality, these policies are only game-changing relative to the rules established by the Conservatives during their time in power: deny wrongdoing, be divisive, maintain the status quo.

For a lot of political pundits and conservative critics, Trudeau is becoming somewhat of a political iconoclast.  In the face of the Conservative’s “Just Not Ready” election campaigns and jealous jabs at his undeniable boyish good looks, he was unflappable. Since being elected, it’s been more of the same. When his political opponents get past the ageist and superficial criticisms, the new Liberal style of governance is still causing a significant ideological rift. He’s making promises that, on the surface, seem to be geared towards improving all Canadians’ lives, rather than bowing to corporate interests and towing the line of historically oppressive social structures. His message has been fairly clear and consistent: “The Conservatives were in charge for ten years; we don’t like what they’ve done with the place and neither do a majority of Canadians. You’ve given us this chance, and we’re trying to do things differently.”

As a testament to that, his first real decision as Prime Minister was to establish gender parity in parliament. For better or worse --- yes, there’s room for debate over the merits & experience of specific cabinet appointees --- Trudeau promised equal representation among men and women in the Liberal government, and he delivered. He also cobbled together a decent level of diversity, including members from aboriginal/First Nations heritage, Middle Eastern and Central Asian descent, and those with physical disabilities. When asked why he made a point of doing this, his simple, mic-dropping response was, “because it’s 2015,” to which Canadians overwhelmingly responded, “OH NO YOU DIDN’T!” and snapped their fingers sassily.

Similarly, where the Conservative government played up the complexity of the Syrian refugee crisis by politicizing its tenuous --- nearly non-existent --- connection to national security and domestic terrorism, Trudeau approached the issue in simple, matter of fact terms: A) Syrian refugees are being murdered and displaced by ISIS and the Syrian government; B) If we use our money and resources to bring them here, they won’t be murdered; C) We should bring them here. It’s the Canadian thing to do.

And maybe that “agent of positive change” attitude is indicative of where we stand after the first hundred days under the fresh-faced Liberal majority. They remain undeterred by the closed-door politics and isolationist sentiments still lingering in the wake of Harper’s time in office. Although they’ve already fallen short on a couple of promises --- even the most optimistic, pro-immigration supporters saw the “25 000 Syrian refugees before the end of 2015” as an unrealistic projection --- it seems their overall goals are bigger than any individual policy. Rather than governing Canada in a traditional sense, they seem legitimately dedicated to using their leadership status to, well, lead Canada towards a brighter, equitable, and more inclusive future.

Whether or not Trudeau will succeed in reaching those lofty goals remains to be seen.  Has he surrounded himself with the right people to ensure they stay on message with mounting public scrutiny? Can he leverage what’s left of the tar sands money to pull the economy out of its tail spin? How will he react to the added pressure once the Conservatives finish the rebuilding process? (Not to diminish the role of the NDP, but I’m pretty sure the first time I’ve seen Mulcair since the election was when he popped his head out his burrow, saw his shadow, and declared six more weeks of winter).

Realistically, the first hundred days of any government are more of a test drive than a significant measure of success --- if we’re being honest, it’s been barely enough time for the Liberals to roll down the windows and steam clean the old Harper stank out of the seats.  It’s hard to say what will happen in the coming months, once the alluring new car smell slowly fades from Trudeau’s luscious locks. But I figure, we gave Harper nearly 3600 days before we sent him to the shop for his regular oil change, we may as well give the Liberals another hundred or so.

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