Opinion » Maxed Out

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau:



May I call you Justin? I know, it's informal. But it's a lot less informal than hunka-hunka-burnin'-love or whatever else the world press has been calling you this week.

Sorry for writing you two weeks in a row and I promise this is the last time for a while. But there were some other things I wanted to say and they seem more apropos, now that the giddiness of victory has begun to be replaced by the reality of governing.

Let's start with a question. What do Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Jean Chrétien have in common? No, only two of them smoked pot. I won't keep you in suspense. Death by cynicism is the answer. Let me explain.

Much like you, Bill Clinton was elected president of the U.S. when the country got fed up with the conservative presidencies of St. Reagan and Bush the First. There was a sunny atmosphere of change. It lasted less than a year. After dropping the ball on health care reform, Clinton shot his brains out and frittered away political capital with his Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. The Republicans took back control of Congress in the mid-term elections and it was all downhill from there. Cynicism replaced hope; change became impossible.

Jean Chrétien, like yourself, was elected Prime Minister in 1993, after the dark years of Mulroney conservatism had soured in the electorate's mouths. Remember the Red Book? Remember the cynicism that followed Mr. Chretien's backpedalling on his promise to replace the GST with a "fairer" system? 'Nuff said.

Barack Obama will forever be linked with the words hope and change, not unlike yourself. He too stimulated an economy mired in recession, won the Nobel Peace Prize and tried to launch some ambitious reform programs. But he also spent much of the first two years of his presidency trying to make nice with Republicans and find common ground. Didn't happen. They gained control of the House in the mid-term elections and the remainder of his presidency has been a battle against almost impossible odds. Hope and change have died a cynical death in the U.S.

So what's this got to do with you? This is your shot, Justin. You've got the hopes of much of the country in your hands. You can shape that hope into substantive change or squish it into a cynical mud pie.

Unlike the two U.S. presidents, you don't have to fret over losing control of Parliament. That sword cuts both ways. Use it well to get things done and you'll be a hero. Abuse it and you'll be a goat, we'll be cynical, your shot will become a footnote in history.

So, let's get to work. You've promised a lot, you've begun to deliver. Thank you. You're already more available to the media than your predecessor. Don't abandon that when the questions become tougher. You never need to cover up what the light of day has already shined upon. The only people who don't make mistakes are the ones who never try anything. Try, fail, try again. It's the only way you'll ever succeed.

You're taking Elizabeth May to Paris for the environmental summit next month. Nice move. You've invited Tom Mulcair too. Excellent. Provincial premiers as well. Bravo. Leader of the Conservatives. Wicked sense of humour, dude. I believe your commitment to inclusiveness is genuine. But even if it's symbolic, nice symbolism.

Jump on the easy stuff right away to show us you weren't kidding. Raise taxes on those earning more than $200,000 per year. Some will howl, other's won't. It's fair and right. No one has succeeded in this country without a lot of help and the very good fortune to live here as opposed to, say, Burkina Faso. Roll back the TFSA limits. That was pandering by your predecessor and while I took advantage of the higher limit, meh. Very few will care.

One of the reasons you won the election was your promise to spend on infrastructure. Do it. Do it quickly. Fail to do it and you too will squander your goodwill and stoke the fires of cynicism.

It's been over a decade since the last time the first ministers and the federal government met to discuss health care. It's long overdue and you promised to do it. If you haven't noticed, Canada's population is getting older. Health care is going to become a much hotter topic. It's a ball you'd better start running with... quickly.

There are a number of sound studies pointing to the notion a national pharmacare program would save money in the long run. What? Spend money to save money? Do something incredibly popular? Listening, Justin?

And, um, the Supreme Court dropped a 600 pound (273 kilo) gorilla in your lap. That would be physician-assisted euthanasia. The former government had no stomach for this. There are many of us who have had the distasteful experience of helping loved ones die, loved ones begging us and their doctors to end their nightmare. I'd prefer to enjoy B.C. halibut rather than Swiss fondue as my final meal when the time comes. And I'm not getting any younger.

Legalize pot. All levels of government will make money from its sale, save money by not having to enforce ridiculous laws and make a lot more people happy than the few moralists who will be pissed off at it. Colorado's tax take in June of this year alone was US$50 million. The time for arguing about this is over.

I'm sure I've already asked you to fix Bill C-51. I'm not as concerned as I was two weeks ago about being labelled a terrorist but I'll be even less concerned once you've fixed this draconian piece of legislation.

Appoint judges based on merit and intelligence, not political ideology. Those who've tried to stack courts have been disappointed in the results, not to mention smarter judges make better decisions.

Ditto the senate. You can't abolish it. Starving it to death was a Quixotic idea. How about fixing it? Don't use it as a feedlot for aging political bag men and women. Appoint smart people. Let 'em do the job the Senate was designed to do.

I don't know where to start on the environment. Almost anything you do will be better than what's been done the past 10 years. But do something. I'll be dead before we run out of clean water and clean air. But I know people who won't. And I'd like them to have a reasonable quality of life.

In short, get to work. Benign neglect is no way to govern. Neither is the malignant neglect that's been visited on us this lost decade. I'll leave you alone now. You've got a lot to do. But we'll all be watching... and waiting... somewhat impatiently. Do better than those guys I mentioned earlier.