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Waiting for Trudeau

Do we have a Progressive New Prime Minister, or is it just a Honeymoon Period?

Shannon Corregan
Sophie Grégroire-Trudeau and Justin Trudeau for Vogue magazine – but how long will the honeymoon last?

From Syrian refugees to Indigenous relations to climate change, Canada’s new Liberal government’s policies have been a radical departure from the Harper government’s way of doing things – and these policies have got the international community talking.

A new year, a new Prime Minister, a new start – but how long will our honeymoon with Trudeau Mark II last?

The Syrian refugee crisis played a surprisingly major role in our last federal election. A photograph of young Alan Kurdi – whose body washed ashore on a Turkish beach in early September – forced Western nations to address the crisis. In Canada, both the Liberals and the NDP took the issue to the campaign trail, promising that they would greatly increase the number of refugees that Canada was going to accept. The crisis provided a touchstone for Canadian identity, and represented a chance for Canada to make a statement about our country on the global stage.

As Nadia Aboufariss pointed out in a November edition of the Obiter, this was a major campaign promise for the Liberals – not only in terms of its importance on the trail, but in terms of its cost and impact on the country as well. Initial reactions to the bold promise were skeptical, but the Liberals pushed ahead, with a commitment to resettle 250,000 refugees by the end of 2015. Almost overnight, the conversation changed from “Should we do this? Can we do this?” to “We’re doing this – now how?”

The Liberals quickly and quietly rearranged their talking points to include privately- as well as publically-sponsored refugees in this number, and extended the timeline to the end of March – ostensibly in response to increased security concerns after the attacks in Paris, although many, including Aboufariss, correctly identified that the 2015 deadline was patently unrealistic from the start. The message was clear, however – the refugees are coming.

As Canada waits for Trudeau’s first major misstep as Prime Minister (Nannygate didn’t really take off the way Rona Ambrose wanted it to), the first of our refugees are being resettled in cities across the country. The very first refugees began arriving in November on commercial flights, much more quickly than many of us thought was possible, signaling the high priority the Liberals were placing on the issue.

The first government plane arrived in Toronto in early December; Trudeau met them at Pearson airport with coats and boots and scarves, and personally welcomed them to the country. It was a move that was lauded on European new channels, especially when compared to individual American states’ petulant and xenophobic refusal to accept any refugees, despite their President’s stance.

Trudeau also took pains to address the danger of identity politics and xenophobia when commenting on Donald Trump’s rise in popularity, yet another move that drew international praise. (It is crucial to note, however, that mounting Islamaphobia is not just an American problem – since the Paris bombings, many Canadians have been assaulted or harassed for wearing hijabs or appearing to be anything other than “old-stock” Canadians. And the refugees’ arrivals are soured by the unfortunate footnote that the government did not release the source of their newly-donated winter gear for fear of reprisals or security implications.)

Trudeau was praised for Canada’s proactive role in the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris – an issue that rang true to many Canadians this holiday season, as an unprecedented majority of us had Christmases without snow. (There was a brief expression of horror on my weatherman’s face when he observed that Victoria, BC had a better chance of snow on the twenty-fifth than London, ON. )

Trudeau has also signaled the government’s serious commitment to reconciling with Indigenous Canadians, including an investigation into Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women. And on 16 December, Trudeau promised to raise the issue of a formal apology from the Pope on the issue of residential schools.

Batting three for three on some of the most important issues of the year and looking Vogue-worthy while doing it, it seems as though our Prime Minister can do no wrong – so how long will the honeymoon last?

In an apparently unending American election cycle that has seen more baldly xenophobic and manically hateful rhetoric than any in decades, Trudeau’s determined embrace of a different approach is likely to keep him popular both at home and abroad for some time to come. When the bar to beat is Trump, Trudeau can’t help but appear to be a politician of integrity, courage, and wisdom.

But we have yet to see what is to become of his bold early moves: our refugees need long-term support, solutions to climate change need long-term and emphatic strategies, and the long road to reconciliation between the Canadian nation and its First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations needs a long-term commitment.

Aboufariss indicated in her analysis that the likelihood of an Official Inquiry is high, but what is less certain is its effectiveness in informing subsequent shifts in policy and attitudes.

Canada has embarked upon a new road with Trudeau in 2016 – but despite the progressive rhetoric, it’s still too early to know if this bright, bold beginning will be characteristic of his Prime Ministerial term, or if the tune’s about to change.