Wells: Global darling Trudeau fails to deliver at home

Here’s Justin Trudeau explaining his mission to the Guardian, the leading centre-left newspaper in Great Britain:

“What we’re facing right now — in terms of the rise of populism and divisive and fearful narratives around the world — it’s based around the fact that globalization doesn’t seem to be working for the middle class, for ordinary people,” Trudeau told the paper’s reporters. “And this is something that we identified years ago and built an entire platform and agenda for governing on.”

One year after coming to office, the Guardian reporters write, Trudeau’s government “seems to go against the political tide around the world: open to trade, immigration and diversity and led by a social media star whose views on feminism, Syrian refugees and LGBT rights have provoked delight among progressives.”

Making this case to international audiences is not incidental to Trudeau’s political goals. Trudeau is aware that, if there is to be a prominent western rebuttal to Brexit and Donald Trump, it’s got to come from governments like the one he leads.

“If we can show — as we are working very hard to demonstrate — that you can have engaged global perspectives and growth that works for everyone,” he told the Guardian, “then that diffuses a lot of the uncertainty, the anger, the populism that is surfacing in different pockets of the world.”

So how’s it going?

Depends how you measure it. In polls, the Liberals still lead all comers, less resoundingly than a few months ago, but still by comfortable margins. In the House of Commons, Trudeau’s a bum, castigated by opposition MPs, mostly over the government’s tone-deaf response to questions about Liberal fundraising.

Around Ottawa, among people who watch politics, but are not combatants, there is a sense that Trudeau has started more than he has delivered.

He greatly enhanced the child benefit program he inherited from Stephen Harper. He is building an infrastructure bank to attract investments from foreign pension funds, and it will be a remarkable thing if it works. He hopes to buy fighter jets some day. He has carbon-reduction targets for 2030 and hopes to provide guarantees of health-care funding until the same year, which is three federal elections away.

At lunch the other day, someone told me they couldn’t think of a thing Trudeau has done. Well, holy hell, he’s done a lot, I said. Long-form census. Consultations toward plans toward a commission of inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. Uh – what was the other thing – he’s started looking for a science adviser. He’s – other stuff. Something.

Trudeau used to be fascinated by mechanisms for ensuring everyone could follow the government’s progress on key files. And I mean everyone. That was during Trudeau’s early flirtation with “deliverology.” As conceived and marketed by the former Tony Blair adviser Sir Michael Barber, deliverology is a doctrine for tracking measurable progress toward publicly stated goals on key government priorities.

The key is that literally everyone in the country who cares to pay attention should know the goal and that anyone with Internet access can follow public data on progress toward the goals. Barber has been paid $200,000 to run occasional meetings with Trudeau’s cabinet. But his books are for sale on Amazon for a lot cheaper and in them, he repeats “publish the data” like a parrot.

One former Barber client is Martin O’Malley, the former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor.

The website for the Maryland health department tracks 39 indicators across every county in the state. The 2017 goal for teen birth rate is 17.8 births per 1,000 teenage females. In 2010 the rate was 27.2. Lower in Howard County, sky-high in Dorchester County. Repeat across 39 indicators, then repeat for every department. I see the Agriculture Department was way off target for tons of manure transported in 2013.

“One of the first precepts” in Maryland’s strain of deliverology, O’Malley told an Ottawa conference in 2014, “is ‘Timely, accurate information shared by all.’ And it’s amazing how many people will want to recite those tenets – and they always want to leave off the phrase ‘shared by all.’ You mean, shared by managers? No, I mean shared by all. You mean shared by the leader or the council members and, like, the second-tier managers? No, I mean shared by all: People on the front line – and citizens.”

O’Malley was being interviewed onstage by the young leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Justin Trudeau, who nodded attentively.

Can you name the Trudeau government’s targets on “engaged global perspectives” and “growth that works for everyone?” Do you know where to find numbers on their progress toward those goals? I’m told that somewhere inside the Langevin Block, people still take deliverology seriously. Out here in the rest of the country there is no evidence of it.

Paul Wells is a national affairs writer.

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