OTTAWA (CCN) — As the summer barbecue season begins, the Liberal government is getting mixed reviews as it nears the midway point of its electoral mandate.
Since the Trudeau government was elected in 2015, it has legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide; added gender expression and identity to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code; expanded a child-care benefit for lower- and middle-income families; promised $120 billion in infrastructure; and ballooned the deficit to nearly $30 billion this past year, after doubling the promised deficit the first year.
It brought in 25,000 Syrian refugees; it has touted its commitment to action on climate change and got most of the provinces on board with some form of carbon pricing; and it has introduced legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
The Liberal government committed $650 million to women’s health initiatives overseas, which includes abortion funding, to join other countries in filling the gap left by the United States after President Trump re-imposed the Mexico City Policy. (The Mexico City Policy prohibits foreign aid from the U.S. to be given to any non-governmental organization [NGO] abroad that discusses abortion as a family-planning option. The rule has gone back and forth between administrations since it was first introduced in 1984 at the U.N. International Conference on Population held in Mexico City. As reported by Time magazine, a 2011 report from the World Health Organization found that abortion rates actually increased in sub-Saharan Africa after the rule was reinstated in 2001 by President George W. Bush, likely owing to the fact that women no longer had the same access to contraceptives.)
The Trudeau government has also announced its foreign policy will take a feminist tack, and assess whether any funded programs adequately address the needs of women and girls.
“I think there’s been a thin gruel of achievements in 2017 so far,” said Joe Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), a Christian social justice think-tank. “On the issues that we are concerned with, we would have hoped for a little more movement forward.”
Gunn pointed out much of the infrastructure spending is “intentional” and not coming into effect until after the next election and beyond. Though there was a “great announcement of $11 billion for affordable housing, it’s not clear how this will roll out in any quick way,” he said.
The government is wrapping up a consultation on a federal poverty reduction strategy, and Gunn hopes as a result the Liberals will have a strategy in place in the fall. “We really need to see some action there,” he said.
Gunn said he assumes the Liberals’ “flagship program,” the Child Tax Benefit, has helped. Though statistical analysis of its impact will wait until later this year, there are indications families with children have benefited, he said. For example, churches that supported Syrian refugees with a couple of kids received benefits in the range of $4,000 a year.
The benefit does not help those below the poverty line who do not have children, he said, or many indigenous people living in poverty. “Aboriginal poverty is a huge problem,” he said. “Since many Aboriginal people do not file taxes, the government does not know based on the filings of the previous year how to pay out the benefit.”
“The government was suggesting hundreds of thousands of families would be taken off the poverty rolls,” Gunn said. “That might have been a stretch.”
“In the Child Tax Benefit, (the Liberals) have kept to their promise and we are pleased with that,” said Andrea Mrozek, director of Cardus Family. Cardus is a think-tank based on 2,000 years of Christian social thought. “Since their first federal budget, they’ve held the line and money to parents is a good thing,” she said. Though there could be “tweaks around the edges on how that money gets directed, it’s still good policy.”
On the “childcare framework, I am forced to take a posture of vigilant watching,” she said. “Right now it’s fine — a targeted plan to help disadvantaged, low-income families and a distinct plan for indigenous people.”
Mrozek said she has reservations when Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, talks about “getting to a universal plan.”
“We don’t want to get to universal,” she said. “That would be a decidedly negative turn for families; it doesn’t help the vast majority of children.”
Cardus’ research shows institutional daycare is not the first, second or third choice of most families, she said. But any changes are unlikely to happen before the next election.
Mrozek objected to the $650 million that includes abortion funding overseas and framing it in the context of women’s rights.
Even putting aside the issue of Canada’s interfering in the policies and cultures of foreign countries, Canada is “exporting the very worst of Canadian culture today,” Mrozek said.
“This notion abortion is a boon to women everywhere is deeply troubling,” she said.
As for the Liberal record on the environment, Gunn gives mixed reviews. On one hand, CPJ is pleased almost all the provinces are on board with a carbon tax or cap and trade system to price carbon.
Their environmental plan has “contradictory elements,” Gunn said. On one hand, it calls for the phasing out of coal-fired electricity plants, but gives provinces like Nova Scotia until 2020 to do that. It calls for a crude oil tanker moratorium in Northern B.C. but if the Kinder Morgan pipeline goes through, doubling the capacity of an existing pipeline, that would increase tanker traffic along the B.C. coast, he said. The government has also approved Liquid Natural Gas projects for further up the B.C. coast.
“All of these expand fossil fuel projects, at the same time they say we’re going to lower our greenhouse gas emissions,” Gunn said. The progress on developing carbon price will come into play in 2018. What is not clear is whether Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions will actually have fallen.”
Gunn said he is not concerned about deficit spending depending on how the money is invested. Though governments are under pressure from the Trump administration to raise defence spending to two per cent of GDP, Gunn does not think that’s “the most admirable way to build ourselves into a deficit situation.”
The international development assistance budget has not seen “one cent of increase,” he said.
“If the government is sincere about consultation on poverty reduction, there’s no question it’s going to cost us some money,” he said. “If we’re already in a deficit position, I’m not sure what is in the cupboard for a robust poverty reduction plan.”
Gunn also expressed concerns about cutbacks to the numbers of government-assisted refugees, as well as the cap on the number of private refugee sponsorships available.