The next noise you hear from Ottawa will be the sound of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals rebooting.
It is all but certain that they will prorogue Parliament when MPs return from vacation in September and present a new Speech from the Throne with an agenda designed to carry them through to the election in October 2019.
And what might this new agenda be?
Unencumbered by inside information, I’m free to bet on a couple of big initiatives, each of which would command the support of roughly 70 per cent of the populace, according to pollsters.
One is a national pharmacare program to cover the cost of prescription drugs for all Canadians – universal coverage that for economic reasons was left out when medicare was introduced in the 1960s by Lester Pearson’s Liberals.
The second is a package of Criminal Code amendments to impose a national ban on the possession of handguns, probably with an automatic prison sentence for anyone (peace officers exempted) found with a handgun in their possession.
Gun control has zoomed up the ladder of Liberal priorities in the past week, since the murders of 18-year-old Reese Fallon and 10-year-old Julianna Kozis, on Danforth Avenue in Toronto.
Those murders, along a spate of gang- and drug-related shootings this summer, prompted Toronto Mayor John Tory to cry. “Why does anyone in Toronto need a gun?” It’s a familiar cry, but it takes on a new resonance this summer.
Bill C-71, a Criminal Code amendment to tighten somewhat existing restrictions on firearms ownership, was introduced in the Commons last March and is finally ready to go to the Senate. It does not offer nearly enough deterrence to satisfy public demand. The cabinet will have to decide whether to overhaul C-71 or scrap it and start over.
A handgun ban is not a solution to gun violence, but it would be a start, a signal that the political leadership is taking the gun epidemic seriously and is ready to take other steps – tightening our porous border with the gun-happy United States, breaking up organized gangs that traffic in guns, and investing money and effort in social and educational programs to divert youth away from gang life.
To change tack, the Liberals also need to adjust their agenda to a political world that has changed dramatically since 2015. The challenges of today are not the same challenges they faced back then.
Back in 2015, “President” Donald Trump was a figment of his own imagination, the renegotiation of NAFTA looked like a walk in the park, and no one dreamed that the United States would start a trade war.
Back in 2015, no one could foresee that British Columbia would be ruled by an NDP-Green marriage of convenience dedicated to stopping the Trans Mountain pipeline after it had been endorsed by both levels of government.
Three years ago, Trudeau had an ally in Kathleen Wynne in Ontario on issues that mattered most to him, especially climate change. Doug Ford was a former Toronto councillor and failed mayoral candidate. Today, Wynne is gone, and Ford is premier and enthusiastically lobbing bricks at Ottawa at every opportunity.
As bad as Ford is, Jason Kenney in Alberta is worse. Back in 2015, the United Conservative Party did not exist, and Kenney was an ambitious former federal minister. Today, he is so sure he is going to be premier that he hurls personal insults at the prime minister (“an empty trust-fund millionaire,” among other epithets.)
Trudeau can shrug off insults, but he needs to be flexible and more sure-footed than he has often appeared to be if he hopes to save his core policies from his newfound foes.
He needs to demonstrate that he is the boss, that he is in control and he will make his new agenda work. To this end, it would help immeasurably if he could get that pipeline built and his carbon plan in place, regardless of the Fords and Kenneys of his difficult world.