Here’s some good news for the federal Liberals.
The Senate was embroiled in a constitutional debate over a Liberal budget bill this week.
The good news is that the overwhelming majority of Canadians on a bright spring morning are highly unlikely to delve into any issue that uses Senate and Constitution in the same sentence.
But the Liberals walked right into this mess, and it is Justin Trudeau’s saving grace that with summer approaching, Canadian politics is not top of mind for voters. It is much like the usual state of mind, except now it’s warmer.
Yet, somehow, this government is now facing the prospect of having a budget bill split, or stalled, in the non-elected, non-accountable Senate. It has wandered into this muck by tabling the type of omnibus budget bill it railed against in opposition when it was done by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and by appointing independent senators who have taken that label literally.
Sen. André Pratte may have been quite right in pushing to have the government’s infrastructure bank yanked out of the Liberal budget bill for separate scrutiny. And Trudeau’s point man in the Senate, Peter Harder, may have been quite right in arguing that splitting the bill would mean a spending bill would originate in the Senate — powers the upper chamber does not have.
But because neither was elected, the debate shouldn’t have happened because neither has the legitimacy to thwart an elected government.
Because the Commons will shortly pack up for its summer break, Trudeau will likely escape proper scrutiny on this.
This is the saviour for the Liberals.
They are governing a country that largely gave Trudeau a message in 2015 — we gave you a majority because we like you and we needed a change. Now leave us alone, don’t bug us for a few years and don’t mess up anything too badly.
Canadians appear to give this government a long leash, certainly much longer that it gave Harper.
But after the looming summer break, MPs will not return until mid-September, when this government will be at its halfway point.
Voters will instinctively begin paying more attention to Ottawa, and they might not like what they see on some key files.
On the economy, they will see that behind what looks to be a chugging locomotive is a federal deficit that goes much beyond — almost three times beyond — the $10 billion or so Trudeau promised in 2015. It conjures memories of a mocking Harper holding his thumb and forefinger almost together and laughing at Trudeau’s plan for those “tiny” deficits.
On Indigenous issues, the Trudeau Liberals lifted expectations sky high for historic national reconciliation with First Nations.
But they have not walked their talk on spending on health and social services for Indigenous children living on reserves. They have instead ignored a series of non-compliance orders from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which ruled in January 2016 that Ottawa was discriminating against the children. It is also seeking individual hearings for thousands of children taken from reserves and placed with non-Indigenous families in the so-called ’60s Scoop, despite losing a court battle over compensation.
The inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women has turned into a morass, way behind schedule, certain to miss its deadline, sure to seek more money and losing the support of frustrated family members. Thursday, it lost another key member, Tanya Kappo, one of the Idle No More founders, who resigned as a community relations manager, one more dropping shoe indicating the commission is floundering.
On the environment, the Trudeau government is still operating under the Harper emission targets, and it faces challenges with Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord. So far, the Trudeau environmental package includes a carbon tax in return for a pipeline, and the future of that Trans Mountain pipeline is clouded by the chaotic politics of British Columbia.
The autumn will also mark the end of the free ride.The Trudeau Liberals spent 19 months being opposed by an interim leader and a dead duck.
The Conservatives have chosen Andrew Scheer as their leader, and already there is some polling data showing he is making gains by attacking Trudeau’s profligate spending.
New Democrats, too, will have a new leader shortly after the House returns, meaning Trudeau will be facing two parties that should be energized after leadership races.
There is no endless summer. People will start engaging. They may be unpleasantly surprised at what’s been going on while they’ve been away.
Tim Harper writes on national affairs. firstname.lastname@example.org , Twitter: @nutgraf1