When Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won last year’s election, many Canadians were ecstatic.
Compared to outgoing prime minister Stephen Harper, Trudeau seemed – to these voters at least – a breath of fresh air.
The working assumption was that things would be done differently in Ottawa. As it turned out, some things were very different.
The new Liberal government negotiated a deal with the provinces to expand the Canada Pension Plan, something the Harper Conservatives were dead-set against. It also replaced Harper’s universal baby bonus with one targeted to income.
It established the inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women that Harper refused to set up. It reduced the eligibility age for full old-age security back down to 65.
But in key areas, Harperism – albeit without Harper – remains.
The country got a taste of that last week when Ottawa approved a liquefied natural gas plant on British Columbia’s Pacific coast, as well as a pipeline to that plant.
It was the same decision Harper would have made. Environmentalists pointed to the massive increase in carbon emissions that will result from the decision.
Some First Nations said it will destroy the local fish habitat.
It was a reminder that Trudeau, like Harper, sees energy exports as crucial for the Canadian economy.
And like Harper, the new prime minister is willing to sacrifice environmental and aboriginal concerns in order to get things done.
Over the next few weeks, we should be able to see how different the Liberals are on the overall climate-change file.
They are using Harper’s carbon emission targets – the same targets they once derided as too weak.
Like Harper, they have relied on the provinces to curb climate change.
Unlike Harper, they are talking of setting a national carbon price. But they have given no hint as to whether this national price will reduce emissions sufficiently to allow them to meet their targets.
In fact, unless any new national carbon price is higher than those already in use by Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia, it almost certainly won’t suffice. The Liberals promised to roll back elements of Bill C-51, Harper’s addition to anti-terrorism laws. But so far they have done no such thing.
In fact, as Canada’s privacy commissioner has noted, under the Liberals, police and the security services are using some of these new powers apace.
Militarily, the Trudeau government kept its promise to remove Canada’s fighter planes from the war in Iraq. But it compensated by tripling the number of Canadian military advisers who are on the ground in that war.
The means may differ from those employed by Harper. But the aim – to militarily support the U.S. in the war against Islamist radicals – is unchanged.
Even the Liberal decision to recommit to United Nations peacekeeping may end up being more Harperish than expected. That depends on where Canadian troops are sent and what they are expected to do. On it goes.
Temporary foreign workers? The Harper government had a mixed record here, first actively importing such workers to labour in factories and fast-food joints, then cutting back when the political flak got too heavy.
Indications from the Liberals suggest they are planning to ease up again and increase the number of temporary foreign workers allowed into Canada.
Health spending? The Harper government had unilaterally decided to cut the annual increase in health-care transfers to the provinces by roughly 50 per cent next year.
The Liberals seem prepared to go ahead with this.
Unlike the Harperites, the Liberals have threatened to penalize provinces that don’t live up to the requirements of the Canada Health Act. So far, however, they haven’t followed through.
The economy? Harper preached pipelines, free-trade deals and foreign investment. So does Trudeau. The two have differed, though, on which pipelines to back.
They may have disagreed on when to run deficits, but both were willing to put government finances in the red in order to boost economic growth.
None of this is to suggest that Trudeau’s Liberal government is identical to that of Conservative Harper. It is not.
But there is a remarkable continuity.
Thomas Walkom’s is a national affairs writer.