Monday, September 15, 2014

Justin Trudeau’s lack of platform is ever more glaring

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks in Edmonton on Aug. 20, 2014.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks in Edmonton on Aug. 20, 2014. Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
For months Justin Trudeau has had his mitts in the air, deflecting right and left hooks from seasoned combatants who would love to connect solidly with his jaw, just once. The Liberal leader’s main point of vulnerability, they believe, is his lack of substance – which includes questions about his experience and judgment, but is mainly exemplified by his lack of a platform.

This raises an obvious question: Why haven’t the Liberals closed that chink in their leader’s armor?
Tom Mulcair, the NDP leader, promises to issue his own platform (The Orange Book? The Crush Manifesto?) within weeks. The Harper government on Friday announced a half-billion-dollar cut in small-businesses employment insurance premiums, the strongest signal yet that its 2015 campaign is already on. Trudeau, meantime, continues to say that he’s building a team and a policy book, both of which will be ready by the time the writ is dropped. Canadians considering placing a bet on the new guy, one suspects, would prefer to see the latter sooner, not later.

It is unfair – wrong, in fact – to say that Trudeau has given no indication of what he intends to do, should he become prime minister next year. He began sketching the broad outlines of his direction the day he announced his run for the Liberal leadership in 2012. He has called it Wilfrid Laurier liberalism; but essentially it’s a quite recognizable marriage of progressive social ideals with conservative economic orthodoxy.

More recently Trudeau has framed a skeleton of five core economic platform principles. He articulated these in April in a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade. Friday, in London, Ont., he ticked them off again. They are education and training; infrastructure development, both conventional (roads and bridges) and digital; free trade and enhanced foreign direct investment; sustainable resource development; and innovation.

There’s nothing there, in other words, that a small-c conservative couldn’t live with or even embrace. As I have written before, the Liberals’ strategic objective here is simple appropriation; to walk into the Tories’ mantle of economic rectitude like a poncho hanging on a clothesline, shrug it on, and just keep walking. Married to left-of-centre social policy – marijuana legalization and foursquare support for women’s reproductive rights, to mention two examples – this can be politically potent.

That said, there are enormous gaps in the five principles, and they grow more apparent as time passes. Because significant income redistribution is both politically toxic and difficult to enforce, education has to be the critical piece in ameliorating income inequality, Trudeau’s core stated objective. But education is a provincial responsibility. How does Ottawa introduce reform, in any way that will make a dent, without big-footing provincial powers? And what would those reforms look like? We still have no idea.


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