A look back at Justin Trudeau’s term in office

A look back at Justin Trudeau’s term in office

Photograph by Alex Guibord/Flickr

If the recent provincial vote and the mangled municipal election haven’t been enough political excitement for you, fear not: the federal election is only a year away. Predictably, Justin Trudeau has announced that he’s running again for his spot as prime minister. Here, we look at a few highs and lows from his term in office.

A gender-balanced cabinet
When Trudeau was asked why he formed a gender-balanced cabinet, he had a soon-to-be-viral answer: “Because it’s 2015.” While the decision may have been partly about PR, it was still a step forward in correcting imbalances in politics—even if the goal of having a more representative government is still a ways off.

The handling of the Syrian refugee crisis
Trudeau welcoming Syrian refugees was clearly choreographed, but it was still a highlight early on in his term. In the intervening years, Canada’s refugee resettlement efforts have not gone exactly as planned. Some refugees have been unable to find work, while others still have relatives stuck overseas. And last year, when U.S. President Donald Trump closed the USA’s borders to certain Muslim-majority countries, Trudeau’s response fell flat. His tepid “#WelcometoCanada” tweet reportedly prompted a flood of enquiries about Canada’s policies on refugees.

Cash for access
The Liberal party’s cash-for-access scandal was infuriating, but not particularly surprising. And some of the transactions were so simple they were almost insulting: The Globe and Mail reported that guests paid $1,500 to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser at the home of a wealthy business executive, where the guest list included “a well-heeled donor who was seeking Ottawa’s final approval to begin operating a new bank aimed at Canada’s Chinese community.” The late billionaire Barry Sherman’s cancelled appearance at an event with finance minister Bill Morneau also caught the attention of Canada’s lobbying commissioner (the investigation was closed after Sherman’s death). The Liberals were eventually forced to address the criticism by enacting Bill C-50.

Apologies, despite their plunging market value
In the three years since the Liberals were elected, they’ve tried to make amends with Canada’s LGBT people, residential school survivors, and others. CTV’s Don Martin called Trudeau “the greatest apologist in our history,” arguing that the “sheer volume of apologies dilutes the value of putting a parliamentary spotlight on sad chapters of our history.” Yes, a savvy politician like Trudeau may try to milk every bit of goodwill that comes with apologizing, but the idea that owning up to your country’s mistakes should follow the same supply-and-demand laws as crude oil and baseball cards is stupid. 

Groping allegation
Earlier this year, an allegation that Trudeau groped a young reporter at a music festival 18 years ago surfaced online. Because Trudeau has always been vocal about his feminist credentials, his apology made it look like he was failing to hold himself to the same standards he’d applied to other men. He opted for denial, saying: “I’m confident that I did not act inappropriately. But I think the essence of this is that people can experience interactions differently.”

Constant photo ops and perpetual campaigning
There’s probably no politician in Canada who has been able to capture the viral powers of the internet better than Trudeau. His photographer, Adam Scotti, was the subject of a 2016 Globe and Mail profile that examined how the “physical intimacy” conveyed in photos of the Prime Minister reinforces a very specific, curated image. One expert told The Globe that the PM’s photogenic adventures are basically a perpetual political campaign. Given the constant stage-managing—the hugging, the running and the fancy socks—Canadians can be forgiven for rolling their eyes the next time they see Trudeau’s bare thighs flapping through the background of some kids’ prom photos.

Electoral refo—oh, forget it
For critics, there are plenty of reasons to ditch first-past-the-post voting—the biggest being the fact that FPTP makes it very possible for a party to govern with low popular support. Trudeau’s Liberals promised that the 2015 race would be the last federal election held under this system. Of course, they made that promise before that same unfair, lopsided system brought them to power. At that point, they decided that the old system wasn’t so bad and ditched the campaign promise. (Surprisingly, it’s still floating around on their website).

Trans Mountain
The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which runs from Alberta to the west coast, has drawn opposition from First Nations leaders, environmentalists and politicians across the country. Parent company Kinder Morgan lost interest in the pipeline, so the Liberals swooped in with a plan to buy it for $4.5 billion dollars. Since then, documents have shown the expansion could cost more money and take even longer to complete than initially proposed. There was some support for the purchase—Canada’s Building Trades Unions said the government had “stepped up for one of Canada’s major industries”—but if Trudeau was looking for something to unite Canadians, he made the wrong call. 

Indigenous issues, eventually
Trudeau and the Liberals promised a “renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples.” But there’s still a lot of work to be done. Canada’s list of drinking water advisories in First Nations communities is cause for concern, and the chief commissioner on the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls recently accused the government of prioritizing politics above public safety. More recently, Trudeau spoke with Indigenous leaders and talked up the government’s long-term plans to address social problems, as well as his desire to make changes that will last “for generations to come.” As one leader put it, “He needs to get on with it right now.”

Marijuana legalization, kind of…  
It feels like Canada has been limping toward marijuana legalization for ages. Still, legalizing pot will be a campaign promise kept for the Liberals (and they’re already leveraging that to raise campaign funds). Lawyers say the change should go one step further, with pardons for people convicted of cannabis-related crimes—an issue that the government is currently examining.