The Independent View: Pierre Trudeau and the Just Society – lessons for Canadian liberals today

Canada flag License Some rights reserved by archer10 (Dennis)The general election expected to be held in Canada next year will be a decisive one for the Lib Dem’s Canadian counterpart, the Liberal Party of Canada, as it faces the prospect of returning to office after more than eight years in the political wilderness.

With a recent poll showing the governing Conservatives trailing behind the Liberals, the party’s leader Justin Trudeau stands a good chance of becoming the first Canadian Liberal prime minister since 2006.

However, if Justin Trudeau hopes to be a successful prime minister and a progressive alternative to the incumbent Stephen Harper, he will need to demonstrate to Canadians that his administration will be a radically reforming one, prepared to take daring steps to make Canada a fairer society. For inspiration, Trudeau could look at the example of one past Liberal prime minister who took major steps to change Canadian society for the better: that of his father, Pierre Trudeau.

Holding the post of prime minister almost continuously from 1968 to 1984, Pierre Trudeau came to office with the promise of building a ‘Just Society’, a pledge that he went far in meeting during his time in office. More money was allocated towards shared-cost programmes for education, health, and welfare, and the welfare state was extended, with improvements in existing benefits (such as family allowances and pensions, which were indexed to cost of living increases ) and the introduction of new social programmes. Eligibility for family allowances was extended to children under the age of 18, special allowances were introduced for children under that age living in public institutions or foster homes, and a child tax credit was established. A Spouse’s Allowance was introduced for low-income surviving spouses between 60 and 65 years of age, while unemployment insurance coverage was widened. Social housing was also greatly expanded, and measures were undertaken to facilitate development in economically depressed parts of the country.

The Trudeau Government also introduced a broad range of socially liberal measures, as befitting a liberal administration. Capital punishment was ended, a liberal policy towards the intake of refugees was carried out, procedures for dual citizenship were liberalised, and the residency requirement for naturalisation was reduced from 5 to 3 years. A 1977 Human Rights Act guaranteed no discrimination against people on the basis of their sexuality, religion, sex, or race, while minority language rights were strengthened through measures such as bilingual positions in the federal civil service, the declaration of English and French as Canada’s two official languages, and the requirement of federal institutions to provide services in French or English to meet the needs of service users. In addition, equal rights were enshrined in a Charter of Rights and Freedoms established in 1982.

The reform record of Pierre Trudeau not only demonstrates the importance of liberalism in fostering social and economic development, but it also shows how a party with a clear vision of where it wishes to go in social policy can remain in office for a considerable period of time, enabling it to put its ideals into practice. This is a lesson that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals must remember if it wishes to win the next general election in Canada and usher in a new era of innovative social change.

* Vittorio Trevitt has written for Respublica, Democratic Audit, Catch 21, Fabian Society and Compass. He has also done voluntary work for the Labour Party, including campaigning on behalf of local candidates, carrying out research for speeches, and writing articles to raise awareness of important social issues. He believes in British socialists and liberals working together to achieve progressive ends, united by their commitment to equality, freedom, and justice.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.
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