Trudeau’s Liberals a government without excuses

TheGlobeandMail.com – Globe Debate
Nov. 24, 2015.   Lawrence Martin

You can believe whichever side you wish on the state of the nation’s financial books. You can believe new Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who says they are in a lot worse shape than the Tories let on. Or you can believe former finance minister Joe Oliver, who says the Liberals are just playing the cupboard-is-bare game. “That of course is the classic scenario when a new government comes in: ‘I’m shocked, shocked!’ ”

But even if you believe Mr. Morneau, there’s no need to send pity the Liberals’ way. There’s either no deficit or a very small one.

Similarly with the timing of terror in France, which served to call into question Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s opposition to the use of force against Islamic State. No need to send pity either.

This is a government which by comparison to others in modern Canada starts off with no excuses. They have come to power at a most auspicious time. How auspicious? You can go back almost half a century before finding another that had it so good.

The Trudeau Liberals have a majority. They have allies everywhere. They have the rare circumstance of having compatible Liberal governments in both Ontario and Quebec. They have the unusual advantage of a like-minded progressive government in Alberta. They have a liberal government in Washington under Barack Obama and, given the weirdos currently leading the Republican ticket, Hillary Clinton is likely to follow him.

Besides a budget close to balance, Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals have low interest rates, low inflation and manageable unemployment.

They have a country which finds itself, despite the divide-and-conquer politics of Stephen Harper, in an unusual state of harmony. Regional tensions are few. The separatist threat in Quebec, if not dead, is throughly diminished.

The Liberals have official Ottawa and much of the country greeting them with open arms. The restrictions on freedom of speech under the Conservatives were so deplorable that anyone taking over would be viewed as a liberator by comparison.

In terms of beneficial circumstances or lack of them, check how other governments coming to power compared.

Stephen Harper took the reins in 2006 with a fragile minority, with Liberal governments in Quebec and Ontario, with an Ottawa bureaucracy suspected of having Liberal leanings, with an Afghanistan war to contend with, with George W. Bush next door.

When Jean Chrétien was elected in 1993 he had a deficit of no less than $40-billion. He had a separatist threat in Quebec escalating at an ominous rate. He had the Bloc Québécois’s Lucien Bouchard as leader of the opposition. Discontent was rife in the West in the name of the upstart Reform Party.

Paul Martin had many advantages when he succeeded Mr. Chrétien but the Liberals had been in power 11 years, they faced internal divisions owing to the long-running Martin-Chrétien feud, and Mr. Martin was saddled with the debilitating sponsorship scandal.

Brian Mulroney won the most number of seats in history with his victory in 1984, but it was hardly all wine and roses. He inherited from Pierre Trudeau a woeful fiscal situation with debt and deficit accumulating rapidly. Quebec was a non-signatory to Mr. Trudeau’s constitutional accord.

As for Joe Clark, how would Justin Trudeau liked to have been met with his conditions? Mr. Clark had a minority, the economy was in the grip of stagflation, a referendum in Quebec was around the corner.

Arguably you have to go back all the way to Pierre Trudeau in 1968 to find another prime minister who set sail with such strong tailwinds as the Trudeau of today. The centennial year had been a blissful one. Problems in Quebec and the economy were brewing, but the country was wealthy, healthy and Canadians were entranced by the potential they saw in the northern magus.

Justin Trudeau has a low-growth economy, a low revenue stream, depressed commodity prices. No cakewalk is in store, but compared to the others, he has so little to lament, so much to build on.

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