Justin Trudeau Promised Canadians ‘Real Change.’ Here’s What He Accomplished In One Year.

Not bad, eh?
He's had a busy year.
He's had a busy year.

As Americans await the results of their presidential election with bated breath, Justin Trudeau is celebrating his one-year anniversary as prime minister of Canada.

Trudeau’s Liberal Party campaigned for 11 weeks last year in the longest election cycle in the nation’s history. It won 184 of 338 parliamentary seats, forming a majority government and ending the Conservative Party’s nearly decade-long leadership under Stephen Harper.

Trudeau’s landslide victory came with the allure of “real change” at a time of mild economic recession and rising unemployment.

“We’ll kickstart the economy by investing in jobs and growth and lowering taxes for our middle class,” the father of three promised voters ahead of the election. “That’s real change.”

The selfie-snapping, stripteasing, gravity-defying, photo-bombing, panda-snuggling Liberal leader has captured international attention and widespread adoration since his inauguration on Nov. 4, 2015, and, at 44, has already been named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine.

With a recent poll showing 2 in 3 Canadians are satisfied with Trudeau’s leadership ― an unusually strong approval rating for a prime minister ― it would seem his honeymoon phase continues. But one year into the Trudeau government’s first term in power, and less than three years until Canada’s next federal election, where does the party stand on achieving its campaign pledges?

The WorldPost put together a progress report on Trudeau’s first year in office:

Appoint a gender-balanced cabinet

Trudeau checked off a major campaign promise on his first day as prime minister: Appointing a gender-balanced cabinet, with 15 men and 15 women. In fact, he named the most diverse government in Canadian history to “present to Canada a cabinet that looks like Canada.”

Trudeau poses with his newly appointed cabinet following his inauguration.
Trudeau poses with his newly appointed cabinet following his inauguration.

Ministers include a refugee, immigrants, Sikhs, Muslims, people with disabilities, and members of the aboriginal community. When asked why he prioritized gender parity, Trudeau delivered his now-famous one-liner without hesitation: “Because it’s 2015.”

Legalize marijuana 

Trudeau’s controversial pledge to legalize recreational marijuana is underway. The politician, who has admitted to smoking pot in the past, noted that many Canadians already have access to weed despite its prohibition, and suggested legalizing the substance and regulating sales would steer profits away from organized criminals.

His government established an expert-led task force to create a new sales and distribution system and vowed to increase the severity of punishment for those who supply marijuana to children. Details and deadlines remain limited at this point, but federal legislation is expected to be introduced in spring 2017.

Reform the electoral system

Trudeau came to power after vowing to change Canada’s “first-past-the-post” voting system, in which a candidate wins a district (known as a “riding”) simply by securing more votes than his or her opponents, without needing to win an overall majority of votes. One of the downsides of this approach is that it can lead to the election of members of parliament supported by less than half of their constituents.

One alternative system is ranked balloting, which allows voters to choose several candidates in order of preference. If the leading candidate fails to capture more than 50 percent of votes, second choices are counted and the candidate with the least votes is knocked out. This process goes on until someone wins the overall majority of votes.

Time and again while campaigning, Trudeau said 2015 would mark “the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.”

After he was elected, that changed. His government created a special committee in charge of electoral reform and launched a public consultation process, but Trudeau later seemed to backtrack. He suggested in a recent interview that since Canadians have apparently been pleased with his current government, there is no longer a need to reform the electoral system as he had promised.

“Under Mr. Harper, there were so many people who were upset with the government and his approach that people were saying ‘it takes electoral reform to no longer have a government we dislike,’” he told French newspaper Le Devoir. “But under the current system, they now have a government with which they are more satisfied. And the motivation to want to change the system is less compelling.”

Critics have compared his reluctance to change a potentially flawed system ― as long as it serves his interests ― to GOP nominee Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the election results unless he wins.

“Justin Trudeau thought our electoral system was broken until it re-elected Justin Trudeau,” quipped New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair.

Resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015

The Liberals told voters that if elected, they would welcome 25,000 additional Syrian refugees into Canada by the end of 2015, eliciting both praise and concerns about national security. By comparison, the opposing Conservatives vowed to take in 10,000 by September 2016.

Trudeau grins while greeting a young Syrian refugee.
Trudeau grins while greeting a young Syrian refugee.

In mid-November, less than two weeks after Paris’ deadly terrorist attacks by the self-proclaimed Islamic State sparked widespread reports of Western Islamophobia, the newly minted leader modified his promise.

“We want these families arriving to be welcomed, not feared,” explained Trudeau, extending the deadline to the end of February 2016 without lowering the number of refugees. In the past year, Canada has accepted some 33,200 refugees from Syria, a number of whom were personally greeted by the prime minister.

Cap the budget deficit at $30 billion (CAD) over three years

Economists strongly doubt the Liberal government will meet its campaign promise to run budget deficits of no more than $10 billion Canadian annually for three consecutive years, in addition to balancing the budget in the fourth year of its mandate.

In May, Trudeau said the $30 billion figure was not a hard limit, adding, “the arbitrary ‘picking a number and trying to stick with it’ is exactly what I campaigned against in the last campaign.”

Finance Minister Bill Morneau attributed the Liberal Party’s slow progress toward its goal in part to unanticipated weak economic growth and a poor fiscal situation “inherited” from the Conservatives.

Reports suggest the deficit could exceed Trudeau’s forecasted numbers by nearly $5 billion.

End military action against ISIS

The Liberals committed to pulling Canada’s six CF-18 fighter jets out of the war against ISIS ― a plan that triggered mixed reactions in the wake of the ISIS-led Paris attacks. They also allocated more than $1 billion to training local forces and providing humanitarian support for those affected by the crisis in Iraq and Syria. 

“While airstrike operations can be very useful to achieve short-term military and territorial gains, they do not on their own achieve long-term stability for local communities,” Trudeau said. “We will be supporting and empowering local forces to take their fight directly to [ISIS] so that ... they can reclaim their homes, their land and their future.” 

One year later, there’s still some confusion about what Canada’s ISIS mission actually entails.

Conservatives have criticized the government for providing scarce details on the new mission and accused it of concealing the fact that Canadian soldiers are supposedly fighting ISIS militants on the ground in Iraq, despite Trudeau’s vow to end the combat mission.

Trudeau defended his party’s apparent secrecy, stating: “We will not put our men and women in the Canadian Forces in harm’s way for communications purposes.”

Reduce carbon pollution

To the ire of many provincial leaders, Trudeau announced plans to impose a minimum carbon tax ― $10 per ton starting 2018, rising to $50 per ton by 2022 ― in an effort to combat climate change.

“Today is not a good day for federal-provincial relations,” Saskatchewan Environment Minister Scott Moe said upon learning of Trudeau’s carbon strategy.

Trudeau attends the United Nations Signing Ceremony for the Paris Agreement climate change accord.
Trudeau attends the United Nations Signing Ceremony for the Paris Agreement climate change accord.

Canada also ratified the historic Paris climate change accord, which takes effect Friday and commits countries to gradually reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“After 10 years of inaction, of not taking serious steps to tackle climate change, we’re finally doing it,” said Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, slamming her Conservative predecessors for neglecting to develop a sound strategy while in power.

Pundits believe Canada will fail to reach its climate change-related targets, in part due to high emissions from its energy sector. 

Reform counterterrorism strategy

The Liberals vowed to repeal “problematic elements” of the Conservatives’ controversial Bill C-51, a form of anti-terrorism legislation that grants the government increased access to citizens’ information for national security purposes. They have yet to make changes, but launched a public consultation platform in September as part of the process. 

Canadian Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien warned in March 2015 that “new powers that would be created [as part of Bill C-51] are excessive and the privacy safeguards proposed are seriously deficient.”

In response to an outpouring of similar concerns, the Liberals introduced another bill, C-22, which would create an all-party oversight committee to hold national security agencies accountable for their actions.

Protect transgender rights

On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, Trudeau followed through with another campaign promise and introduced government legislation that adds gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

“Everyone deserves to live free of stigma, persecution, and discrimination ― no matter who they are or whom they love,” he said on May 17. “Today is about ensuring that all people ― regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity ― feel safe and secure, and empowered to freely express themselves.”

Trudeau attending Toronto's annual Pride Parade with Ontario's Kathleen Wynne, the first openly gay elected Premier in t
Trudeau attending Toronto's annual Pride Parade with Ontario's Kathleen Wynne, the first openly gay elected Premier in the country.

He made history in July by becoming the first Canadian prime minister to ever march in the Pride parade, an event he participated in many times before assuming office. 

Reduce financial strain for middle-class families and students

As promised, the Trudeau government is raising taxes for the wealthiest 1 percent of Canadians to enable cuts for low-income families. Those benefiting from the tax relief are expected to save up to $670 each per year.

Liberals also just introduced the Canada Child Benefit to support middle-class parents. They say the program will give the typical family of four an additional $2,500 every year, free of taxes. 

To help students who are struggling to afford post-secondary education, the government has increased the maximum Canada Student Grant for low-income students to $3,000 per year for full-time students, and to $1,800 per year for part-time students. New measures also excuse students from repaying their Canada Student Loan until they’re earning at least $25,000 annually.

Individuals who earn an annual salary in excess of $200,000 now face a tax bracket of 33 percent, which will yield $3 billion in revenue, Liberals anticipate. Economists have warned that such a plan may lead to tax avoidance.

Improve indigenous relations and launch an inquiry into MMIW

Canadians have been demanding a formal inquiry into the country’s tragic epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) for decades. Canada’s national and federal police force, the RCMP, has also repeatedly been accused of abusive and discriminatory behavior toward indigenous people.

Indigenous women and girls comprise just 4 percent of Canada’s female population, but account for 16 percent of all Canadian women killed between 1980 and 2012, according to government numbers. The demographic is also “disproportionately affected by all forms of violence.”

An estimated 4,232 Canadian indigenous women have been killed or have disappeared since the 1980s, but until recently, very little had been done to address this issue at a government level.

One of Trudeau’s resounding campaign promises was to launch an immediate inquiry into MMIW, something Harper had dismissed and refused to do on multiple occasions while in office. Trudeau also vowed to renew Canada’s rocky relationship with its indigenous population, marred by years of assimilation in historic residential schools.

Almost one year after Trudeau’s election on Oct. 19, 2015, his government launched an independent MMIW inquiry, led by a panel of appointed commissioners. The panel is conducting a nearly $54 million investigation and will present its findings and recommendations to the government by the end of 2018.

The Justice Department has also allocated $16.17 million in funding over four years for new Family Information Liaison Units in each province and territory to support people affected by the crisis.

On Friday, Trudeau posted a video to Facebook and Instagram enumerating some of his administration’s achievements. 

“There’s a lot to be proud of,” he said, “but much more work to be done.”

This article has been updated to include Trudeau’s Facebook video.



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