The Trudeau government faces a number of key decisions in the latter half of 2016.
Their current level of public support is undeniable. A Forum Research Inc. poll conducted earlier this month found that 48 per cent of Canadians think the country is moving in "the right direction". The poll also found that 52 per cent would vote Liberal if an election were held today. And CBC has reported, "The last quarter of polling, including all polls conducted and published over the last three months, has been positive for the Liberals. They have averaged 46.6 per cent support, a gain of 7.1 points over where they stood on election night."
But the Trudeau government will need to decide this December on the 890,000 barrel per day Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain export pipeline.
An Ekos poll conducted in February found that 42 per cent of Canadians oppose the pipeline, 47 per cent support it, and 12 per cent don't know or didn't respond. That same poll found that 40 per cent of respondents think that no new oil and gas pipelines should be built, even if it hurts the economy. And in late April, another Ekos poll found that support for the Leap manifesto (which calls for a 100 per cent clean economy by 2050 and "no new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future") had the support of 40 per cent of respondents (and 50 per cent of those who identified as Liberal voters).
Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom comments, "In the end, the Liberal government will have to choose whom it wants to offend. The Albertans whose jobs depend on the oilsands and who see pipelines as a necessity? Or those in B.C.’s Lower Mainland who are desperate to keep their water and beaches free of tar and whose jobs depend, in large part, on the province’s pristine environment?"
A number of other decisions with significant consequences are also on the horizon before the end of this year:
- This past February, the government deferred a decision on approving a nuclear waste dump on the shore of Lake Huron near the community of Kincardine. A decision on that could come within months.
- In March, the government delayed its decision on the proposed Pacific Northwest Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal by asking the proponent to answer a series of questions. The government will then give itself 15 days to decide if those questions have been answered and another 90 days to make its decision on the project.
- On October 27, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in Brussels to sign the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). An Ekos poll conducted in September 2015 found that 71 per cent of respondents want the Parliamentary Budget Officer to conduct an independent economic assessment on CETA before it is ratified in the House of Commons.
- On November 7-18, the COP22 climate summit will take place in Morocco. At some point prior to this summit, the Trudeau Liberals will need to establish new climate emission targets beyond the "floor" set by the Conservatives (30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, which in reality equates to a 14 per cent reduction by 2030 when using the more common baseline of 1990 levels).
- On December 1, a House of Commons committee (with the majority of seats held by Liberals) will report its findings on electoral reform. A recent Ipsos Public Affairs poll found that 73 per cent of respondents agree that the government shouldn’t make any changes to Canada's voting system without first holding a referendum.
And as we look into 2017-18, there will be another set of key decisions for the federal government to decide:
- Around March 2017, the time of the next federal budget, we will know more about the Trudeau government's direction on the Canada Health Accord. In December 2011, the Harper government committed to a six per cent annual increase to federal health care transfers to the provinces between 2014 to 2016, but then to just a minimum three per cent annual increase between 2017 and 2024. Trudeau's first budget, delivered in March 2016, stated that health transfers will increase by $1-billion, or 2.8 per cent in 2017-18, which is below the 3 per cent minimum promised by the Conservatives.
- Also by the time of the next budget, we may see if the Trudeau government pursues 'asset recycling'. That's when public assets are privatized in order to finance new public assets (for instance, the Ontario government is privatizing 60 per cent of Hydro One to finance new investments in public transit).
- By November 2017, the government will have to decide whether or not it will ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). An Angus Reid Institute poll conducted in late January found that 32 of respondents supported the TPP, 20 per cent opposed it, and 49 per cent did not have an opinion.
- In March 2018, the National Energy Board will make its recommendation to the federal Cabinet on the proposed 1.1 million barrel per day Energy East export pipeline.
Six months ago, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow said our task with the newly elected government was to "hold the Liberals accountable for their promise of a new way of doing things and a more open and democratic government." She said we should congratulate them on the things they do well, and to oppose them when they do not act in the public interest.
As we move into the second half of the first year in power for the federal Liberals, that's what we will continue to do.