A messy Parliament session, while big decisions await Trudeau government

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The Liberal government prepares for the summer parliamentary break in two weeks time with widespread support for its leader Justin Trudeau. Public opinion polls record high public approval for the Liberals, who hold on to new support captured since the 2015 election.

The legislative stumbles over legalization of marijuana, democratic reform, and the right to die with dignity do not seem to have affected the standing, or image of the government.

The Liberals have ignored the need to decriminalize sales of soft drugs while making up their minds about how to commercialize marijuana. Yet, as suggested by the NDP opposition, criminal actions against Canadians for dealing in marijuana -- when it is the stated intention of the government to legalize it -- make little sense.

Cutting off parliamentary debate on the difficult issue of dying with dignity has not affected the popularity of the government. Indeed, by holding up the Liberal legislation the Senate has given the Trudeau government, which bungled the file, a fresh opportunity to tackle the subject with more respect for an open legislative process.

By remaking the parliamentary committee charged with democratic reform to reflect the 2015 election popular vote, rather than the results of the current electoral system, the Liberals showed a healthy willingness to change direction that should inform them in crafting future legislation.

A series of big decisions await the attention of the Trudeau cabinet however.

The Quebec Liberal government wants to know when the Federal Liberals will announce $1 billion plus funding for Bombardier. A big U.S. contract for C series aircraft with Delta Airlines validated the saleability of the Bombardier product, but not its profitability, as the asking price was discounted.

The Trudeau government is reluctant to put public money into a private, family controlled company, and has been trying to get Bombardier to re-structure.

With Alberta knocked into recession by fallen oil prices the Western oil patch is keeping close tabs on how the Liberals deal with Quebec based Bombardier, so it can scream unfair treatment, hoping the energy sector gets its own compensation for facing difficult markets.

The economic strategy of the Trudeau Liberals is focused on infrastructure spending. But the government has yet to say how it plans to spend the money. Its extensive consultations have revealed that the needs are much greater than even the $125 billion promised over a 10-year period.

The initial dollars are the real money, and the Trudeau government has been unwilling to choose between competing proposals from across the country.

When it does announce its spending priorities, the Liberals will disappoint some entirely, while providing less than expected help to others.

Two of the Trudeau government allies in municipal government are on opposite sides of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion proposal. Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson is opposed to more tankers charged with crude oil, shipping out of the Burrard Inlet, and down the coast to U.S. refineries.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi of Calgary wants future production of Alberta bitumen to have guaranteed access to tide water, and backs Kinder Morgan.

The Trudeau government has been stuck with the military procurement files bungled by the previous Conservative government, and in March postponed $10 billion of military equipment purchase.

Canadians have watched an attempt beginning in 1983 to replace Sea King helicopters, that had still not succeeded by 2014. The Chrétien Liberals bought used submarines in 1998 from the U.K. for just less than $1 billion, the Conservatives spent double that in repairs, and Canada is still without serviceable submarines.

New frigates costed at $30 billion await a Liberal decision.

The 2015 election was supposed to kill the order of 65 F-35 first strike bombers placed by the Harper Conservatives. Now the Trudeau government is rumoured to be ready to buy some 30 Boeing F-18 E/F Super Hornets, using the same "no public call for tenders" procedure it criticized the Conservatives for using in the F-35 order. And the F-35 is back on the table for consideration as well.

As if deciding what to do about Bombardier, Kinder Morgan, and failed military purchases were not enough to do for a young government, the decades old conflict with the United States over softwood lumber is about to enter a new phase with little possibility of resolution in sight.

One of the reasons for the popularity of the Trudeau Liberals is that by avoiding big, difficult decisions, it maintains its support from groups that will be angered when choices are eventually made.

Messing up in parliament may not have cost the government popularity, but taking major decisions on controversial issues will weaken its standing with public opinion, which is why it is reluctant to act.

 

Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: flickr/Justin Trudeau

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