Opinion-Policy Nexus

What a difference a year makes! Both Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau can attest to that.

A year ago last week, Notley took over as premier of Alberta. She had come from nowhere, from leader of a four-member caucus to head of a majority New Democratic government in a province that had been governed by Tories for 44 unbroken years.

The socialists in power in Edmonton? Don't be ridiculous!

Today, Notley is a superstar in the galaxy of provincial premiers. She is decisive. She can be tough when she needs to be, but she is controlled, compassionate and articulate. She never patronizes. Her empathy with people in their hours of need shines through. Observing her on television, I haven't heard her strike an insincere note yet.

She is not perfect, but she has had to deal with more huge issues in her first year than most premiers face in a full term. The collapse of oil prices knocked Albertans' self-confidence and their economy for a loop. Global concern over climate change came to Alberta, and Notley met it by introducing a new carbon tax, to come into effect next Jan. 1 in tax-adverse Alberta.

As befits the leader of the energy province, she is fighting for the construction of more pipelines to carry Alberta oil to market. At the NDP national convention in Edmonton, she faced down the muddled idealists of the party's left wing who, with their "Leap Manifesto," would leave oil in the ground rather than build pipelines.

Now, of course, there is Fort McMurray and the epic wildfire that has destroyed much of the town and forced nearly 90,000 people to leave. That the evacuation went off without panic or loss of life owed much to the spirit and strength of character of the people of this 21st century frontier town, to the courage of the firefighters and to the calm reassurance projected by Notley that her government has the back of the Fort Mac community, that the town will be rebuilt, and all will be well in the end.

As for Justin Trudeau, a year ago he was the leader of the third party in Ottawa and the target of a bombardment of attack ads from Harper Conservatives that sought to convince Canadians that he was not ready for prime time. As it turned out, the Conservatives wasted their advertising money; they lost the election, and they were wrong about Trudeau.

Like Notley, he has had to face early challenges. There was the rush to accept, welcome and resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees, and the push to produce an approach to climate change that Canada could present to the world. There was the need to kick-start the economy with massive infrastructure spending, some of which is beginning to dribble out of the fiscal pipeline. Now there is the urgency to meet the Supreme Court-imposed deadline for a new law on physician-assisted death, a deadline the Harper Conservatives had chosen to ignore.

Trudeau's problems have been less with his performance — facing an opposition in disarray, he has had a relatively clear run — than they have been with living up to expectations he created in before the election.

Issues that seem so simple in opposition can become mind-bogglingly complex when the opposition becomes the government. Trudeau promised a new nation-to-nation relationship with Canada's aboriginal peoples. We still do not know what that relationship might involve or if it can ever happen.

He promised Senate reform, but Trudeau is learning, like every prime minister before him, that it would be easier to move the Rock of Gibraltar to Lake Ontario than to bring fundamental change to the upper house.

Not least, he promised a new electoral system in time for the next election in 2019, but nothing is happening on that front and it won't until the government gets its act together.

But let's not weep for Trudeau — a year ago, he wanted the job.



Tuesday, May 10, 2016 - 10:04