OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberals were in a self-congratulatory mood Wednesday as both sides of the House of Commons marked the passing of one full year since the party’s convincing win in the 2015 election.
Of course, the Conservatives and the NDP struck a decidedly less celebratory tone.
“Over the last year, the prime minister has been getting advice everywhere, from a secretive summit in Davos to a so-called summer camp for billionaires in Sun Valley – even this week, he was rubbing shoulders with Chinese billionaires,” interim Conservative leader Ron Ambrose railed during question period.
“But along the way, he forgot to check in with ordinary working Canadians.”
Despite the best efforts of Ambrose and others, however, the political honeymoon for the Liberals appears little diminished 12 months later, with a variety of opinion polls placing support for the party consistently in the mid-40s to low 50s and the prime minister’s personal approval ratings even higher.
“We said we were going to help the middle class and we’ve done that,” Trudeau shot back at Ambrose. “This is the kind of change that Canadians voted for.”
That message punctuated much of what Trudeau had to say Wednesday as he weathered attacks against the Liberal record on everything from job losses and eliminating boutique tax credits to health care transfers and moving too slowly on a major promise to rebuild the relationship with First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples.
During question period, NDP indigenous affairs critic Charlie Angus did not mince words.
“The first promises the prime minister made were to indigenous Canadians, and those were the first promises he broke,” Angus said, rattling off a litany of examples where critics say the Liberal government has come up short in helping First Nations.
“Doesn’t the prime minister realize that breaking promises to First Nations children is the oldest con in Confederation? Happy anniversary.”
None of it seemed to dampen Liberal spirits, where they stuck to the themes of investing in Canada and Canadians – particularly those either in or aspiring to the middle class.
“We’re focused on making investments in our communities, in infrastructure, in housing, in bringing in great new jobs to Canada,” Trudeau said.
“Those are results that happen because of drawing in and making a case for investing in Canada and for showing that we are willing to invest in the middle class, create confidence among consumers and optimism for the future.”
The Liberals’ first year in office has seen a variety of measures, including an influx of Syrian refugees, environmental pledges, upper income tax hikes, health care promises and indigenous commitments.
But now that the Liberals have put a hold on health care transfer increases, maintained the old Conservative carbon cutting targets, fought First Nations in court and approved a major liquefied natural gas plant in B.C., there is some grumbling across the land.
“Their record is one of economic mismanagement, higher taxes and shocking entitlement,” Ambrose said.
“Most troubling of all, we have a prime minister who has already lost touch with everyday working people and their families … there’s no plan for jobs other than to borrow and spend billions of taxpayer dollars.”
New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair said many Canadians have been underwhelmed by the Liberals so far.
“A lot of the things that they promised to do, they’re not doing,” said Mulcair. He cited the fact that the Liberals adopted the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of their Conservative predecessors as just one of many disappointments.
Canadians, Trudeau said, “know that ten years of cuts from Stephen Harper wasn’t growing the economy. We need to do it the right way and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
The Liberals still have plenty of hard tasks ahead. They include creating a new infrastructure investment bank, a recreational marijuana market, plotting a path to emissions targets, hashing out home care and pharmacare promises and revamping the electoral system.