Canada: 'Trudeaumetre' rising?

Innovative website keeps track of big campaign promises by Canada's new prime minister in bid to stir public engagement.

    Canada: 'Trudeaumetre' rising?
    Trudeau campaigned on the promise of expanding Canada's middle class [Blair Gable/Reuters]

    An innovative citizen initiative keeping track of whether electoral promises made by Justin Trudeau, Canada's newly elected prime minister, are being fulfilled, has been launched.

    The initiative comes amid a wave of public optimism - an excitement known as "Trudeaumania" - towards his vows to bring massive changes to the country after 10 years of Conservative rule.

    The "Trudeaumetre" website , which claims to be not-for-profit and nonpartisan, seeks to continuously measure the government's implementation of reforms in various categories, including politics, the economy, immigration, and the environment.

    Dom Bernard, a co-founder of the site, told Al Jazeera that he wants the website, which has seen "great traffic and engagement", to "spread awareness" of campaign promises, "encourage people to become more engaged in the country's political process", and to be an "objective tracking tool".

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    In a statement on the website, Bernard said: "On the campaign trail, big changes were promised. Everyone pays close attention before voting day, but what about what happens after that? What about the next weeks, months, years?".

    The site's creators, who also created a Facebook page for the site, also said they were inspired by a similar initiative launched in 2011 by Egyptian activists for Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, which was called the Morsi Meter.

    Bernard elaborated: "What struck me at the time was that no Western country that I know of had ever done something similar - simple, collaborative, unbiased, and user-friendly."

    "Maybe it is because we take our democracy for granted. Maybe it is because we do not care; but whatever the reason was, I felt we were missing a great opportunity to come back to the roots of what living in a democratic society means," Bernard said.

    "It often takes the courage of those who face difficult circumstances to inspire the rest of us to action, and this is what happened in this case."

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    Maxwell Cameron, the director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia, told Al Jazeera that he expected the Trudeaumetre to be a "useful device" and could further "engage digital narratives".


    Political reforms

    Cameron, a former government adviser, noted that Trudeau had already taken major steps towards applying democratic reforms - demonstrated by the structuring of his cabinet and instructions given to his caucus.

    "By making public the 'mandate letters' given to the cabinet officials, the PM has already set a high bar in terms of accountability," he added.

    In a recent article, Cameron said that many of Trudeau's proposed reforms could be implemented without "difficult negotiations" with other political parties, but noted that efforts for electoral changes could face significant challenges.

    "There is one democratic reform, in particular, in which perverse incentives may kick in - electoral reform ... That said, immediately after the election Trudeau recommitted himself to an all-party committee to review the electoral system. Making cross-­partisan use of committees is consistent with the larger goal of making parliament work more effectively," Cameron said.

    Josee Legault, a prominent Canadian political scientist, author and columnist for Le Journal de Montreal, told Al Jazeera that Trudeau's administration had embraced numerous policies that could satisfy a sizable part of the voters, whether they lean to the centre, centre-right or centre-left, calling it a "novel way of positioning itself in the ideological spectrum".

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    Economic reforms

    Another major challenge Trudeau will face is implementing economic reforms after inheriting a $3bn budget deficit from the former Conservative government that had wrongly forecasted a $2-3bn surplus for this year.

    Despite the financial setback, Canadian Finance Minister Bill Moreau vowed on Friday to keep up the electoral promise of setting a budget deficit at $10bn over the next four years - as part of an effort to stimulate the economy with investments rather than austerity measures.

    Legault said that it was a pivotal move from the zero-deficit policy that became an "ideological dogma" over the past 20 years in the country.

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    A bulk of the future spending by the new government, which plans on investing a monumental $20bn in social infrastructure, may be directed towards helping to expand the country's middle class - of which the Trudeau administration has claimed to be a "die-hard supporter", Legault said.

    By planning to lower the income tax of the middle class and increase taxes for the "1 percent" who earn at least $200,000 annually, it appeared that Trudeau was trying to redistribute the country's wealth more equally, she added.

    Medical care

    Trudeau's promise to push for more effective universal healthcare for Canadian citizens - after the country's $41bn Health Accord expired in 2014 without being renewed by the government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper - could also encounter obstacles with some of the country's provincial states, which hold jurisdiction over healthcare services.

    "As Canadians, we believe fundamentally that everyone deserves access to timely, publicly funded, quality, universal healthcare - regardless of their background, physical need, where they live, or how much they make," Trudeau said in a campaign speech on September 30.

    "Liberals are committed to innovation and partnering with provinces and territories to create a modern, efficient system of universal healthcare," promised Trudeau.

    A major increase in privatised healthcare and a reduction in free medical services across the country in recent years have prompted more citizens to call on Trudeau to enforce the Canadian Healthcare Act.

    "We used to have a saying: When you go to your doctor, you do not need your credit card - you need your health card, but that has changed," Legault explained.

    According to Legault, some more right-leaning provincial governments, such as the one in Quebec, have opted for major budget cuts to reach their goal of a zero deficit. This, in turn, has resulted in further privatisation of public healthcare services.

    Trudeau has the constitutional right to reduce subsidies to provincial governments if they do not adhere to the Canadian Healthcare Act, but it could cause federal-provincial political disputes.

    "Now, you also have some people and doctors in Quebec turning to Trudeau to apply the national Healthcare Act to stop further privatisation of public services, but who knows what Trudeau will actually opt to do?" she added.


    Trudeau has so far fallen short on one pledge - to take in 25,000 refugees by the end of December. The figure has been brought down to around 10,000 after the initial promise. It could have cost the government up to $1bn to fulfill the pledge, fanning concerns on whether the country can afford it, in addition to questions over how the influx could bring violence.

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    The country has seen a major rise in fears over whether the arrival of refugees could result in more violence since the latest Paris attacks claimed by ISIL.

    Legault noted that Trudeau, who has been abroad attending international summits, had thus far failed to address those public concerns.

    "So far, the political class has not been able to calm down the fear. The prime minister's leadership is missing in regards to the refugee issue, so he must remedy the situation immediately," Legault said.

    "He needs to speak directly to his citizens about the urgent need to welcome refugees and, especially, to distinguish the matter from any risk of a possible attack on Canadian soil."

    Whether Trudeau breaks or fulfills his promises can be monitored on "Trudeaumetre", which is also hosting public discussions on the issues.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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