2018 Election Report Card: Will the Trudeau government deliver on its raised expectations?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his newly sworn-in cabinet ministers arrive on Parliament Hill. (JUSTIN TANG / THE CANADIAN PRESS)”

Ensight’s second annual check-in on deliverology – Ensight’s Shane Mackenzie & Jesse Robichaud provide a review of what the Trudeau cabinet and MPs are looking at as they approach the one-year to election 2019 countdown clock. What items are top of mind and what ones may fall by the electoral wayside?

Three years on from the 2015 election – campaign strategists are turning their attention to next year’s federal election. For Prime Minister Trudeau’s incumbent Liberals, the strategic path to re-election will look different than the party’s vault from third place to a resounding pan-Canadian victory last time.

 The Way Things Were

The promise of hope and renewed confidence in government was palpable when voters turned out en masse to elect MPs from Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party. The mere idea that “better is always possible!” gained traction with an electorate whose expectations had been steadily managed downward by the Harper government’s “no nonsense” decade at the helm of government. A previously struggling Liberal vote came to life when the party’s candidates and their leader framed their platform of “real change” promises as a return to openness, evidence-based policy, climate action, large-scale investment, reconciliation, equality, support for families, and diversity.

 The Way Things Are

 No good deed goes unpunished, and for the Trudeau government there will undoubtedly be a political price to pay for raising the bar for what voters should expect from their government. Indeed, the success standard set for Trudeau is higher than in some past elections. And he set it himself.

Once the bar has been raised, it’s impossible to lower it again – and it’s also harder to clear it consistently, as we have seen with issues like electoral reform, climate policy, pipelines, and relations with provincial governments. What’s more, the potential is even greater for self-inflicted wounds on issues like ethics, small business tax changes, and diplomatic fumbles on the world stage notwithstanding Trudeau’s mostly deft handling of the Trump administration.

The New Normal: A Higher Bar for Government and Re-Election

In the natural sequence of telling voters they should expect more, the Liberal government has assigned itself the responsibility of telling voters more about what they have delivered and where they still face obstacles. The term that’s been slapped on this responsibility is “deliverology,” a novel concept for Canada’s government – stemming from Sir Michael Barber’s work in the Blair U.K. government – is built on the chassis of corporate metrics like Key Performance Indicators.

Now – into the summer recess for Parliament – elected MPs are at home in their ridings defending their record of accomplishments and refining their campaign elevator pitch.

 What do the Liberal MPs that make up the governing caucus have to show for it?

  • 73 government bills passed from the House of Commons

Critics are quick to point to how this is less than their predecessors. If you solely base success on numbers of pieces of legislation passed, the benchmark set by the Harper Conservatives after 4 years of majority government (2011-2015) is very high:

  • 122 government bills passed

It’s not just about cold, hard numbers though. The government rightly points out this does not tell the story of “quality over quantity” or reflect the increased time provided for substantive review of these ideas.

The government uses its deliverology approach to fill in its own report card at Canada.ca/results, with an expansive scope that goes beyond legislation to include provincial/territorial as well as international agreements, new funding, strategies or consultations, appointments and other progress markers.

TrudeauMeter.polimeter.org provides a third-party perspective on analysis of promises and estimates the government has achieved 1/3 of its campaign commitments, while 1/3 are in progress, 1/5 abandoned, and 1/5 have not begun, with numbers based on National Post reporting.

Back in 2015, the Trudeau government quickly moved to a more nimble and sophisticated approach than measuring against campaign platforms by providing public mandate letters once in government. Former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty used to reiterate the message that success in government is about getting “the big things right.”

For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals – the ballot box question that voters will pivot on regionally or demographically may crystalize closer to Election Day. However, there are some telltale buckets that his team must not forget to demonstrate action on:

  • Health Care: Poll Canadians anytime – they value their health care. Trudeau’s most visible health initiatives were regulating cannabis and major Health Accord deals, but Liberals will have to communicate strongly how they have delivered on this.
  • Canada-U.S.: Whether it’s getting NAFTA done in a cooperative way or whether it’s standing up to Trump on behalf of Canada, Canadians want to see this relationship well managed.
  • Unity: With provinces infighting and fighting the federal government in courts – it’s up to Trudeau to maintain a reputation of being a consensus-builder. This was core to his promises.
  • Border policies and safety: Conservatives believe the government is vulnerable on its handling of illegal migration and terrorism concerns, but Trudeau’s ability to communicate compassion and cool-headed reassurance has played well with voters so far with the cross section of Canadians he relies on for success. Nevertheless, complex and emotionally charged issues such as these can prove volatile for governments.
  • Jobs: A low unemployment rate and a wealth of new companies popping up in Canada is a positive backdrop for Trudeau to walk into 2019 with. The state of the economy always impacts politics.
  • Dollars and cents: Conservative branding conveys lower debt and deficits. Trudeau may disagree about whether they have historically delivered that, but voters buy into the narrative. Contending with this is central to the economic messaging battle.

With almost 500 days until the next election and almost 1000 under their belt in government – the Trudeau government’s track to October 21, 2019 is paved with deliverables and expectations. What gets delivered, and how, will determine this government’s re-election prospects, and the expectations it could carry into a second mandate.