Editorial A year of Justin Trudeau”s sunny ways

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The election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government one year ago marked the dawn of a sunny new era in Canadian politics.

These good vibes have been felt both in the tone of discourse and the thrust of policy.

Trudeau made important statements about inclusiveness in the team he assembled, appointing a cabinet with gender parity and naming the first indigenous justice minister and first Sikh defence minister.

He declared himself a feminist and marched in Pride parades — powerful gestures.

Trudeau is often derided as “Prime Minister Selfie,” a swipe at a perceived lack of substance. But he has parlayed his celebrity status at Davos and the United Nations into a renewed respect for Canada internationally.

Trudeau has been deservedly lauded for opening Canada’s doors to 31,000 Syrian refugees. He re-committed Canada to the fight against climate change at the Paris Summit, even if the targets adopted were no stronger than those agreed to by his Conservative predecessors. He repaired frayed relations with the Obama administration during a love-in of a state visit to Washington.

Trudeau is enjoying a political honeymoon longer than most leaders. But in some areas, the bloom is off the rose.

The unorthodox campaign pledge to run a $10-billion deficit in order to take advantage of low interest rates and invest in infrastructure quickly ballooned. The Liberals’ maiden budget forecast a deficit of $29-billion in 2016. But the latest figures from TD Economics suggest it will now reach $34 billion this fiscal year due to weak growth. While the government deserves credit for having made good on promises to lower taxes for the middle class, raise them for high-income earners and direct the child-tax benefit to families most in need, the state of public finances and the sluggish economy should be of concern to Canadians.

Trudeau’s election was celebrated by aboriginals after his vows to usher in more respectful dialogue, implement the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples and lift a cap on funding First Nations programs. He was rightfully lauded for establishing the inquiry on murdered and missing aboriginal women. But relations have soured over his government’s back-pedalling on the UN declaration, unfulfilled funding commitments and a business-as-usual attitude when approving the Pacific NorthWest LNG pipeline in British Columbia.

Storm clouds may be gathering as his government embarks on sweeping changes, like legalizing marijuana and deciding whether to build a pipeline to get Alberta oil to world markets. Trudeau will have to balance economic imperatives with climate commitments and the expectations of First Nations. All of his considerable political skills will be needed to meet these challenges.