Published on Nov. 23, 2015 in the Waterloo Region Record.
These are still very early days, but so far Justin Trudeau is demonstrating there is more steel in his spine than many Canadians had suspected.
Skeptics who had dismissed him as a featherweight with no particular commitment to anything have been forced to reconsider. Trudeau has established that he is a politician who says what he means and who means to carry through on his election pledges – and that’s a breath of fresh air in cynical Ottawa.
He says he stands for change, and so far he is delivering. He campaigned on the principle of gender parity – including a cabinet with equal representation of women and men – and he delivered. He promised a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women – an inquiry his predecessor had adamantly refused to consider – and that is being done. Continue reading
He promised he would withdraw Canada’s CF-18s from their combat role in Iraq and Syria while balancing that withdrawal with an increase in the number of Canadian military trainers working in a non-combat role. He went to Washington where he delivered this message to Barack Obama; the president did not seem perturbed.
Today, he is meeting with provincial premiers for a briefing by scientists on climate change, to be followed by a working dinner with the premiers in preparation for the Paris conference in a week’s time. To give an idea how much things have changed in less than three weeks, consider this: scientists are a species that Stephen Harper did not trust to open their mouths, premiers are a group with whom he would not deign to meet, and climate change is an issue whose existence he barely acknowledged. Now his successor is working with scientists and the premiers to develop a unified Canadian approach on climate change to present to the world.
Tomorrow, the government is unveiling details of its plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada by the end of this year. The critics are out in force. Too ambitious, say some critics. That’s too many foreigners coming into Canada in a compressed time period, they argue. Where will they all be housed? Where will their children go to school? Too expensive, say others. Why not slow down and spread the cost over a period of years? Too risky, say still others for whom security worries will always trump humanitarian needs.
Trudeau will need his steel to forge ahead with his refuge plan. It will take a huge effort, but there are enough passenger aircraft available for charter to transport the refugees from Jordan to Canada; enough beds can be provided on military bases and in shuttered hospitals, schools, and other facilities; doctors and nurses can be recruited; translators can hired.
Time is the enemy. Can all this be done – and security concerns allayed – by New Year’s? The government says it can. If it can’t, I suspect the public would grant Trudeau some wiggle room.
If he can show by the end of the year that, say, half the 25,000 have arrived and been settled, with rest on the way within weeks, I suspect the public would say, mission accomplished.
With great challenges come great opportunities. Why not seize the opportunity to recruit young Canadians – that 18-24 year old demographic that was so good to Trudeau in the election – to assist the newcomers as they arrive, get settled and make the transition to Canadian life?
One of John F. Kennedy’s first actions when he became president was to embrace the idealism and energy of young Americans to create the Peace Corps. Could Justin Trudeau, with a similar appeal to the same demographic, not invite idealistic young Canadians to join what might amount to a domestic peace corps?
I suspect university students and recent graduates who are still searching for a career would flock to volunteer to serve for a year or two. They would work for a small wage or – even better – for forgiveness of their student loans.