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Trudeau's broken promise playbook

Photo courtesy of CTV News.


A few weeks ago, the Liberal government announced that it was giving up on its promise to end boil-water advisories in First Nations communities by March of 2021. To give the Liberals credit, they have successfully lifted boil water advisories on 97 communities that had them in place when they first took power in 2015, which puts the current number at 59.

The key difficulty that they cited in finishing the job was Covid-19, and given how the pandemic has disrupted all of our lives, it seems reasonable that it would also make it more difficult to send aid to remote communities. But even a complicating factor on the scale of a global pandemic does not mean the Liberals have an excuse for another broken promise.

Looking at the numbers, it seemed like there was a lot of work to do in ending boil water advisories, even before Covid-19 made things difficult:

This graph, taken from the federal government's website, shows the number of boil water advisories over time.

I am not an expert, nor anywhere close to the people who are working to help these communities. However, just looking at the graph, it seems like the number of boil-water advisories was not going to reach zero by March 2021 unless things accelerated significantly. Covid-19, while a complicating factor, is also a convenient excuse for a government that often makes bold promises and fails to follow through on them.

This is not the first time that Covid-19 has been used to justify failure on the part of the Liberals. After legalizing marijuana, the Liberals promised pardons for the estimated 250,000 Canadians with criminal records for simple possession of the drug. In the first month when pardons were available only 44 people were pardoned. Even ignoring the complete insufficiency of pardons, as opposed to expunging records, or giving reparations to those who lost years of their lives in prison, the Liberals' failure to make significant progress in this regard is damning. Once again, Covid-19 was cited as part of the problem.

Other than pointing out one of history's greatest extenuating circumstances, the other part of the Liberals' broken promise playbook is distraction. On December third, the Liberals introduced legislation to adopt the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). This was long overdue, but whether or not the timing of adopting UNDRIP has something to do with the bad press the Liberals have been getting on Indigenous issues, it is hard to celebrate this as a victory when the Neskantaga First Nation is still waiting to return to their homes amid a water crisis.

At the end of the day, no matter how Covid-19 complicates the work of the federal government, their first responsibility should still be to protect the most vulnerable Canadians. In fact, Covid-19 has only made marginalized people more vulnerable. Prisons are being evacuated because of high rates of infection, demonstrating how outdated and broken our prison system is. Thousands of people are being let out of prison to prevent the spread of infection, and yet there has not been any increase in crime rates where these people have gone home. The quick and decisive response of some provinces to let people out makes the federal government's failure to make progress on marijuana pardons laughable.

Unfortunately, the people on the margins of society are also rarely the centre of attention. That's why it's so easy to make and break promises to them without significant outrage. That's also why its so easy to distract from the real, pressing issues that face them with symbolic victories. The current Liberal government has mastered both of these strategies.

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