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Sunny Ways or Gloomy Days? Checking in on Liberal Promises

Gov’t coming up short on key vows to vets, TFWs, charities, say critics.

Jeremy Nuttall 14 Jul

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funder Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here. Support his work here.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s October election victory speech invoked the “sunny ways” philosophy of one of the country’s most prominent PMs, Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

“Sunny ways, my friends. Sunny ways,” he said after winning the election in which the Conservatives tried sharply divisive tactics, like a proposed ban on the niqab.

The promise of positive politics caught on so well the Liberals posted a dedicated explainer to the sunny ways school of thought in January.

“While more than 120 years have passed, Prime Minister Trudeau shares Laurier’s belief that the ‘sunny way’ remains essential to solving the complex problems facing our country,” it concludes.

But as Canada approaches the one-year anniversary of the campaign, some critics are saying the sun isn’t shining on their shoulders.

They allege Trudeau has left a trail of broken promises and misguided policy.

If the watchdog website TrudeauMetre is accurate, the Liberals made 219 promises during last year’s federal election campaign.

TrudeauMetre said 18 of the promises have been broken, and 32 fulfilled. It counts 63 as in progress and 106 still waiting to be started.

But critics are focusing on some prominent promises on which the Liberals appear to have changed course.

Bill C-51 still allows online spying on Canadians. Canadians are still being arrested for marijuana infractions even though pot will be legal next year. And other issues have critics shaking their heads.

Defending human rights abroad?

The Liberal government has allowed the sale of Canadian-made military equipment to Saudi Arabia despite the country’s human rights record, claiming the deal couldn’t be undone.

The Globe and Mail’s Steven Chase revealed that was not true and that Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion had signed the required export permits.

Saudi Arabia has drawn criticism for its treatment of dissidents, women and the country’s LGBT community.

Imtiaz Popat of Salaam Vancouver, a LGBT Muslim association, said he’s concerned about all aspects of human rights in Saudi Arabia and questioned Canada’s indifference to those rights when money is involved.

“When it’s advantageous, we’ll do business with them or sell arms to them,” Popat said. “It’s a huge problem.”

Popat said the Liberal approach to trade with Saudi Arabia has been no different than the Conservatives despite the “sunny ways” philosophy.

Canada’s desire to partner with other nations with poor human rights records, such as China, is also a concern, he said.

Late Tuesday, Global Affairs Canada issued a release announcing it was sending Vancouver MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones to Uruguay for a conference on the rights of the LGBTI people.

“Canada is a strong, vocal and forceful advocate for the rights of LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex] persons, both at home and abroad,” read the release. “The Government of Canada has committed to working with Canadian civil society organizations and grassroots LGBTI organizations around the world to combat discrimination, violence and unjust laws.”

Popat said in Saudi Arabia, homosexuals face the death penalty by beheading.

Temporary Foreign Worker program not ‘scaled back’

The Alberta Federation of Labour argues the Liberals have broken promises to reduce the controversial Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The organization points to a 2014 opinion piece Trudeau wrote for the Toronto Star suggesting the program should be scaled back.

But since being elected, the Liberals have actually eased restrictions on temporary foreign workers.

Changes to the seasonal worker program made it easier for fish processing plants in the Maritimes and resorts to hire TFWs. The Liberals also scrapped a regulation due to take effect this year that would have limited the number of TFWs to 10 per cent of a company’s work force. It will remain at 20 per cent.

Earlier this month federation president Gil McGowan called the Liberal shift the “worst kind of bait and switch” and criticized the government’s current review of the program, saying it was catering to those who want it expanded.

582px version of Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour
AFL leader Gil McGowan: Liberal shift on TFWs ‘worst kind of bait and switch.’ Photo: Facebook.

Meanwhile, Syed Hussan of the Migrant Workers Alliance says it’s “hard to pin down” the Liberal position on his group’s concerns, which include giving migrant workers permanent status and improving worker rights to protect them against abuse by employers.

Hussan said the Liberals have promised to address the issues, but taken no action.

Lukewarm reception from veterans

Military veterans’ advocate Tom Beaver, who was behind the Anyone But Conservative campaign during the last election, said the Liberals’ performance on the veteran’s file has been mediocre.

“They’re not communicating with anybody,” Beaver said. “I used to be able to send a letter in and I’d usually get an answer back within three weeks, that’s not happening lately.”

The relationship between some military veterans and the Harper government was adversarial and resulted in Ottawa facing off in court arguing Canada doesn’t have a “sacred obligation” to veterans.

That case was over pensions for disabled soldiers, which were changed from a lifetime pension to a lump sum system in 2006. The Liberals are continuing the case, and critics accused them of breaking their election promise.

The Liberal government did increase compensation for wounded veterans in the March budget, but also took flak for how the changes were implemented, as the new program effectively demoted some injured veterans to ensure their payments were below the pay of serving members of the forces.

Beaver said although he’s lukewarm to the performance of the Liberal government so far, he is willing to wait a bit longer before becoming too dismayed.

“Give them another year, give them till the next budget,” he said. “If they’re not on by the next budget -- sink them.”

Charity audits continue

The Liberals promised to end a Canada Revenue Agency audit program targeting charities, but Gareth Kirkby, a researcher who has dug into the case, said the commitments aren’t being fulfilled.

During the campaign, the Liberals said charities wouldn’t have to worry about being harassed by the Canada Revenue Agency as it searched for evidence organizations were using too much funding for political purposes.

“We will allow charities to do their work on behalf of Canadians free from political harassment,” the party website promised.

But the Liberals have allowed audits already under way when they took over to continue. More than 50 organizations have been audited under the program.

Kirkby said only a handful of audits that had not yet begun were cancelled.

“When they announced the program it was just to abandon the five or six that hadn’t taken place,” Kirkby said. “That’s deeply puzzling, why they wouldn’t stop all those that are currently underway.”

The Liberal government has said it won’t cancel the audits that were under way because that politicized the CRA. But Kirkby maintains that if the audits were political to begin with, as the Liberals argued during the election campaign, then stopping them is the right course of action.  [Tyee]

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