Politics

'Broken promise:' Critics question Trudeau's electoral reform plan as Liberals celebrate 1st year in office

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrated his first year in office by touting his government's greatest achievements so far, but critics are lambasting the Liberal spending record and questioning his commitment to electoral reform.

Opposition suggests about-face on voting system changes is self-serving, cynical and politically dangerous

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's majority Liberal government was elected exactly one year ago. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrated his first year in office today by touting his government's greatest achievements, but critics lambasted the Liberal spending record and questioned his commitment to electoral reform.

Exactly one year since Canadian voters sent a majority Liberal government to Ottawa, Trudeau said his top accomplishment so far is "making a dent" in helping the middle class with the Canada child benefit.

But during a wide-ranging interview with CBC Radio One's The Current, Trudeau said he has "so many challenges" ahead: growing the economy, fixing the "broken" relationship with Indigenous Canadians and building clean jobs for the future by striking the right balance between protecting the environment and building the economy.

"These are the kinds of balancing acts that are ongoing, and we'll continue to work very hard on them," he told host Anna Maria Tremonti.

Despite disputes with the provinces over a national carbon pricing scheme and health-care funding, Trudeau insisted he is building a "collaborative" relationship with the premiers. He also defended a contentious assertion by Health Minister Jane Philpott that there must be more accountability around how federal health dollars are spent.

Justin Trudeau thought our electoral system was broken until it re-elected Justin Trudeau.- NDP Leader Tom Mulcair

"Mr. Harper refused to actually talk with the premiers about health care, just kept sending cheques to the provinces without even checking that the money was being spent on health care," he said.

"We simply want to say yes, we're going to continue to invest in health care, we know it's important for Canadians, but we want to make sure that the federal money invested in health care actually gets spent on health care by the provinces. And I don't think that's unreasonable."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks about the challenges ahead as his Liberal government celebrates its first year in office 0:47

Facing a deficit that is much larger than expected, Trudeau also defended his government's massive spending on infrastructure, insisting it will put Canada on the "right path" for medium and long-term growth.

He said his government has spent more on infrastructure in the first 10 months in office than the Conservatives did in five years.

'Reckless' spending

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, however, said the Liberal record of the past year is one of "reckless and uncontrolled spending."

"Canada's Conservatives are the voice of the taxpayer, and the Liberal record of the last year has given us a lot to talk about," she said. "Their record is one of economic mismanagement, higher taxes and shocking entitlement."

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said Trudeau's Liberal government isn't living up to the promise of delivering "real change," keeping Conservative commitments on health-care funding and greenhouse gas reduction targets instead of making improvements.

"Canadians are starting to pay a bit more attention to the substance of what's happening, and not just the image," he told CBC News in an interview. "I love the change in tone like most Canadians, but now we have to have a substantive change."

Less 'motivation'

One of Trudeau's key campaign promises was to overhaul Canada's electoral system, but in an interview with Le Devoir, he appeared to be backing away from delivering.

Trudeau told the newspaper that Canadians were pushing hard for electoral reform as a way to get rid of a government it did not like — the Conservatives. But now that the Liberals are in office, the "motivation" to change the electoral system is less compelling.

Mulcair suggested the wavering is politically self-serving.

"Justin Trudeau thought our electoral system was broken until it re-elected Justin Trudeau. Now he's starting to say maybe it's not so bad after all," he said. "That's a concern for all Canadians who wanted a more fair electoral system, which is supposed to be what they were delivering. I guess it is going to be another broken promise at this point."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair battle it out over the future of electoral reform during question period 1:13

Nathan Cullen, the NDP's critic for democratic reform, called it an "insult" to the thousands of Canadians who offered their input on how to reform the voting system through a lengthy consultation process.

'Deeply shocked'

"I was deeply shocked at the flippancy and the casualness with which Mr. Trudeau treated his own promise to Canadians and rejecting almost out of hand the need for any action now," he said. "He has simply divined that people are happy enough with what we have, and therefore the effort is no longer needed."

Cullen said the electoral reform promise was one of the key planks to court progressive voters, and warned there will be a political price to pay if Trudeau fails to deliver.

"This is a danger for them. If they think they're so incredibly popular that people will forgive them any broken promise, they are sadly mistaken," he said.

Veteran Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Tony Clement said the Liberals have "gone way over the top in over-exposure." While the "celebrity politics" strategy may be succeeding now, he said it may not weather the test of time.

"Once people figure out that, wow, you're posing with your new socks for Vogue magazine and they can't pay their hydro bills, then the light switch turns off when it comes to celebrity politics," he said.

"That day will come. Not today. It's probably not tomorrow either. But there'll be a time when Canadians want to judge on results."

During the interview with Tremonti, Trudeau also spoke about Canada's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. He rejected the notion that it is a "reward" or "prize," but said it was a way to ensure Canada's voice is heard around the world and to offer solutions to the world's biggest conflicts.

With files from Hannah Thibedeau

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