There is something remarkably significant about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau trying to fulfil his election promises. He is trying to prove that a promise actually means something and that a Liberal promise means even more.
The Liberal brand was badly tarnished after decades of broken campaign promises. An argument can be put forward that modern day political cynicism in Canada began with the Liberal Party of Canada. History tells us that over the years, the Liberals told Canadians some real whoppers.
Pierre Trudeau openly mocked his Progressive Conservative opponents’ call for wage and price controls in the hyper inflationary period of the 1974 election. The choice was clear. A vote for Robert Stanfield and the Tories meant wage and price controls, while a vote for Trudeau’s Liberals meant there wouldn’t be.
There were not many other issues in 1974 other than what to do about the ailing economy. When Pierre Trudeau won a significant majority government, the difference in the huge Liberal victory was, arguably, his promise not to freeze wages and prices.
It was a real shocker when Pierre Trudeau, shortly after winning the ’74 election, announced inflation was worsening and that wage and price controls were the answer. The baby boom generation was in university and it was a generational wake-up call to the politics of telling untruths to win power.
The next time Pierre Trudeau was seriously challenged by the Progressive Conservatives was in 1979 when Joe Clark’s Tories won a minority government. In its first budget, the Clark government proposed an 18-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline to pay down Canada’s mounting debt from the Trudeau regime.
Again Pierre Trudeau laughed at the proposal, the Clark government fell, and the Liberals promised Canadians the Conservative’s gasoline tax hike would never happen if the Liberals were elected.
Voters handed the Liberals a return to majority rule in the 1980 election, and strange things happened on the way to the gas pump.
Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals did two things. They introduced the National Energy Program and the metric system. The elimination of the gallon clouded comparisons, but the Liberal tax increase per litre of gasoline was much more than the Conservative’s 18-cents-a-gallon. Once again, the Liberals did the opposite of what they promised.
After the Mulroney era, Jean Chrétien was the next Liberal leader to win power. Chrétien vehemently opposed the goods and services tax introduced by Mulroney’s Tory government. He was going to “kill it.” He was going to “abolish it.” He breezed through the 1993 election getting huge cheers for his stand against the GST.
But they didn’t abolish the tax. Instead, the Chrétien Liberals basked in surpluses because of the very-hated GST they promised to get rid of. Say something in an election campaign and do the exact opposite in power became the Liberal ethos. They kept doing it because it kept working, and winning is everything until it isn’t any more.
The Liberals lost favour, and a long famine ensued. The cynical Liberal ways – not sunny ways – cut deeply. Winning election campaigns by consistently not telling the truth eventually catches up to you and your reputation. No one appears to know that better than the new prime minister.
Justin Trudeau is a keen observer. He grew up in a period when public disdain for politicians intensified and festered. He instinctively knows he can’t break promises the way his father and Chrétien did. He wants to speak of a new Liberal Party. He wants to show Canadians his Liberal Party will do what it said it will do, not the opposite.
He should be applauded for his efforts because his intentions are good, needed and appreciated. An election promise has to be real, has to show a standard of truthfulness. Promises can’t always be delivered to the letter, but the intent, the resolve, and the will, have to be there.
Agree or disagree, Justin Trudeau is showing his mettle on major policy planks from refugees to middle class tax deductions to electoral reform. Neither logistics nor the bad economy will stop him from moving forward. He is also delivering on his promise to be more open and accountable.
Justin Trudeau has passed all the early tests in trying to improve the abysmal Liberal record on election promises, particularly his own father’s.