Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

On October 20, 2015, the morning after the last federal election, published a list of 16 of newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s many promises. 

Now that we’re in a new election campaign, it might be instructive to look back and see how many of those promises Trudeau kept.

Have a look at the full list below and judge for yourself. 

You will see immediately, of course, that Trudeau and his Liberals flagrantly failed on promise No. 1: Electoral reform. That is all-too-well-known. But they also failed to deliver on a number of other major promises. 

Take promise No. 7, for example: To legislate an end to the use of omnibus bills. 

The Harper government made an artform of stuffing widely disparate pieces of consequential legislation into massive bills, especially budget implementation bills, thus evading any serious debate or discussion, and preventing amendments. Trudeau pledged to abolish the practice, but instead used it himself. 

Here is one glaring example. The Liberal government got itself into big trouble when it introduced the new law that allows deferred prosecution agreements — the root of the SNC-Lavalin scandal — not as a justice bill, but almost as an afterthought, at the end of a long budget bill. 

The Trudeau Liberals’ motive for proceeding in this stealthy and undemocratic way was exactly the same as the Harper Conservatives’ when they snuck through such measures as the abolition of the Navigable Waters Act or radical changes to federal environmental review in omnibus bills. Both governments wanted to hide controversial measures — designed mostly to help their well-connected corporate friends — from public view, and avoid any sort of serious debate or discussion. 

In the case of deferred prosecution agreements, it did not work out as planned for the Liberals. And yet, based on their public statements, it boggles the mind that the Liberals do not seem to have learned their lesson. Since the SNC-Lavalin scandal broke, not a single senior Liberal has said they will never again use the omnibus ruse to hide major legislation from the Canadian people.

Mail delivery and access to information 

Then there is promise No. 3: To restore home delivery of mail. 

This reporter heard the Liberal leader make that promise to rapturous applause from a room full of Liberal partisans at the same campaign-style event where he solemnly pledged 2015’s election would be the last under first-past-the-post.

Justin Trudeau promised to fully restore home mail delivery, not merely freeze the process of ending it the Harper government had started. But what did Trudeau do once in power? He did put a stop to the cuts to home delivery, but he did not reinstate it for a single Canadian. 

Or how about promise No. 4: To extend the access to information law to the prime minister’s and cabinet ministers’ offices. That did not happen. In fact, the current PM continued the practice, going back to his father’s time, of highly centralized, out-of-public view, Prime-Minister’s-Office-dominated government. 

The revelations of the SNC-Lavalin affair drew back the curtain on some of this centralized control. Those revelations resulted in the resignation of Trudeau’s chief backroom manipulator and enforcer, Gerald Butts. 

Butts has now returned to his former position of influence, with a key role in the Liberal campaign. 

There are many more promises on the list and, in fairness, the Trudeau government has kept a good number of them, including bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees in a single year. 

As well, whether or not voters choose to support the Liberals this time will depend on a lot more than promises kept or broken. For one thing, there is the matter of the alternatives to the Trudeau Liberals. Since we still have first-past-the-post, many voters might, again, feel impelled to vote in a notionally strategic way. They might want to use their vote to block the party they fear and loathe — even if that means not voting for the party with which they most agree. 

The 2015 list of promises

The campaign will last more than five weeks. There’ll be plenty of time to consider one’s options. 

For now, it might be useful to at least consider what Justin Trudeau promised when he asked for your vote last time.

Here is the full list from October 2015:

1. To create a special, all-party parliamentary committee to study alternatives to the current first-past-the-post electoral system, and, within 18 months, introduce legislation to replace first-past-the-post, based on the committee’s recommendations.

That is a key promise, and one that the power brokers and insiders of the Liberal party will not want the new prime minister to keep.

It will take determination and fortitude on Justin Trudeau’s part to resist the many who will advise him to shelve that particular pledge.

The cynics are already saying we can forget about electoral reform.

On election night, when one member of a Radio-Canada television panel evoked Trudeau’s electoral pledge, there were snickers all around.

When has it ever happened, the panellists said almost with one voice, that a party wins a majority under a voting system and turns around and changes the system?

Those who voted for the Liberals with hearts full of hope — especially those who said theirs was a strategic vote necessitated by our unfair and unrepresentative electoral system — might want to get ready to start actively encouraging their party of choice to honour this particular promise.

If enacted, electoral reform would change the face of Canadian democracy for generations to come. It would be a true and lasting legacy project for Justin Trudeau’s new government.

2. To get the Canada Revenue Agency to “pro-actively” inform Canadians who have failed to apply for benefits of their right to do so; and, more important, to end the Harper government’s politically motivated harassment of charities.

3. To restore home delivery of mail.

4. To extend the federal access to information law to the prime minister’s and cabinet ministers’ offices.

5. To institute parliamentary oversight, involving all parties in the House, of Canada’s security agencies.

6. To appoint a commissioner to assure that all government advertising is non-partisan.

7. To end the odious and anti-parliamentary practice of stuffing disparate pieces of legislation into massive omnibus bills. This was a trademark of the Stephen Harper regime.

8. To have all parliamentary committee chairs elected by the full House, by secret ballot. Currently committee chairs are purely partisan appointments of the prime minister.

9. To end Stephen Harper’s war on science and restore the compulsory long form census.

10. To name an equal number of women and men to the cabinet.

Those are just some of the many Liberal promises that relate to democratic reform. Justin Trudeau announced those reform commitments, and a number of others — with much fanfare — this past June (in 2015).

Trudeau and Liberal party have also promised:

11. To restore healthcare for refugees and reinstitute family reunification in immigration. They would allow, for instance, elderly parents to join their families in Canada as permanent residents, entitled to health care and other services. The Harper government has consigned such folks to precarious status on annually renewable visitor’s visas.

12. To make a major investment in on-reserve First Nations education, without imposing Harper’s humiliating and draconian conditions on First Nations communities, all in the context of a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis people

13. To find a consensus with the provinces to achieve real progress on greenhouse gas reductions. It is notable that Trudeau has not yet set any emission reduction targets for Canada. But he has long described himself as an environmentalist, and says he is committed to seeing Canada take a leadership role in the fight against climate change. Canadians who worry about global warming might want to watch carefully how the new government performs on this file. The UN Conference of the Parties on climate change will start in barely more than a month, in Paris.

14. To restore funding for CBC/Radio-Canada. The Liberal record on this — going back to the Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin days — is not encouraging. But Montreal MP and former leader Stéphane Dion has taken a strong, well-articulated and committed position on this dossier. And one hopes the new government will recognize that federal support for public broadcasting involves more than the CBC alone. It must also include the National Film Board, Telefilm Canada and the full range of federal funding mechanisms for the production and distribution of programs and films that tell Canada’s story.

15. To end Canada’s participation in bombing raids on Iraq and Syria.

And finally:

16. To bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of this year.

There you have it. Four years on, the 2019 campaign is now officially on and much of the chatter will be about all kinds of ephemera and nonsense. 

We will have a tweet here, an unfortunate photo there. There will be embarrassing off-hand comments and social media posts, ill-considered campaign ads that backfire, hyped so-called knock-out blows in debates, and all the rest of the theatricality of what we call politics.

Once in a while it might be useful to spare a moment to consider what political leaders promise vis-à-vis what they actually do.

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble’s politics reporter.

Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg joined rabble in 2011 to cover news for the rest of us from Parliament Hill. Karl has been a journalist and filmmaker for over 25 years, including eight years as the producer of the CBC...