By Karl Nerenberg
Oct 20, 2015
After one of his three majority victories, Pierre Elliott Trudeau quoted a line from New Hampshire poet Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening:
"I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep."
At the late Prime Minister's funeral in 2000 his eldest son Justin paraphrased that quote:
"He kept his promises and earned his sleep."
It is Justin Trudeau who now has promises to keep.
He made many, many promises during this campaign, possibly more than his father made in his five election campaigns combined.
Here are a just 16 of them:
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 abut electoral reform.
On election night, when one member of a Radio-Canada panel evoked that particular Trudeau 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 one voting system and turns around and changes that 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 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 Minster'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 the 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.
Trudeau’s newly elected Liberal party has 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.
16. To bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of this year.
It is a big and ambitious agenda. And, of course, the list is far from exhaustive.
Those who voted for this new government were ready to put aside thoughts of Liberal scandals of the past.
On Monday October 19, and at the advanced polls earlier, the legions of Liberal voters -- many of whom had voted for Jack Layton's NDP last time -- were not thinking of the insiders and lobbyists who swarmed around previous Liberal governments.
Mostly, one suspects, they wanted to drive a stake through the heart of the loathsome Harper regime
A great many voters did not want to risk an uncertain result. They were ready to put their unqualified faith in the optimism, energy and hope of the young Liberal leader -- now the next Prime Minister.
The last time a Liberal government swept to power after nearly a decade of Conservative rule, in 1993, it too promised hope and change, anchored in a program of major infrastructure investments.
That Jean Chrétien-led government did deliver some of what it promised.
But it also slashed the CBC and other federal institutions, radically reduced health and social transfers to the provinces, and completely ended longstanding federal support for some programs, such as public housing.
Neither Chrétien not any of his senior colleagues had never mentioned they were planning to do any of that.
Let's hope the voters have better luck with the Liberal party this time.
Karl Nerenberg has been reporting on federal politics from Parliament Hill for rabble.ca since September, 2011. In his long career, he has won numerous awards as a broadcaster and documentary filmmaker.