Opinion-Policy Nexus

Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON

My Dear Prime Minister:

I hate to be the one to break the bad news, but someone has to do it.

Sir, the honeymoon is about to end.

No, no, I am not referring to your wife Sophie, the beautiful lady with the crazy hats – long may that honeymoon last. I am referring to your honeymoon with the Canadian public.

It’s been grand hasn’t it? You’ve done a high-speed pirouette on the world stage – Antalya in Turkey, Manila, London, Malta, Paris. You’ve met the President and the Queen. You’ve talked global economics and climate change with world leaders. You’ve been mobbed by women who think you are the sexiest thing since your late father. And while you’ve been away, your popularity has gone up, up and up in the polls.

Some of us are afraid the country will forget all about your predecessor – you know, the brooding prince of Calgary. (Perhaps your new pal, Rachel Notley, would know what’s happened to Stephen Harper since the election.)

Reality is about to intrude, Prime Minister. Canada’s 42nd Parliament opens on Thursday. On Friday, Governor General David Johnston will read the speech from the throne that your staff wrote for him. If it sounds familiar, it will be because it contains all the promises and aspirations of your campaign speeches.

As your government house leader, Dominic LeBlanc, told the CBC on the weekend, Parliament will get down to serious work the following week. First up will be the Liberal signature campaign commitment: that income tax reduction for the middle class along with a marginal increase for the $200K crowd. Your man LeBlanc promises that if MPs are good boys and girls and clean everything on their plates for five days that week, he will let them go home early for Christmas. Somehow, I think they will manage to do that.

You should be aware, Mr. Trudeau, that a couple of shoals lie ahead of the Liberal ship of state. One is the Senate itself. It has 105 seats of which 22 sit empty because Stephen Harper got mad at the Supreme Court and refused to fill them. Of the remaining 83 senators, 46 are Conservatives, 29 still consider themselves Liberals even though you don’t let them come to caucus any longer, and eight are independents. In other words, the Conservatives have a majority of sitting senators, meaning you will have to work with them, or around them, to get your legislation through until you can figure out how to reform the place.

Some of this may come to a head this week because the first item of business on Thursday will be the installation of speakers for the two houses. The speaker of Commons is elected by secret ballot of MPs, so no big issue there. But the speaker of the Senate is named by the Prime Minister. That’s you, Mr. Trudeau.

The speaker in the last Parliament was Quebec Senator Leo Housakis, who is regarded as a hard-line Harper Conservative. He’s not exactly your type, Sir. But neither are many of those 46 Conservatives, all but four of whom were Harper appointees.

When you replace Speaker Housakis, you will have to choose someone who can support your program without enraging the Harperites; they have job security and have nothing to lose by making your life miserable.

Your house leader, Dominic LeBlanc, says another priority pre-Christmas item on MPs’ plates will be adopting a parliamentary process – perhaps a joint committee – to write new Criminal Code rules to govern assisted death. Last February, the Supreme Court struck down the old prohibition on physician-assisted suicide, but it suspended its ruling for one year to give the government time to draft a new law. Not wanting to face the hugely controversial issue, the Harper government frittered the time away.

Now the issue is all yours, Prime Minister, and the deadline is Feb. 7. Welcome home.