Sometimes It Makes Sense To Break Election Promises

By: Laura Steiner

In the weeks since Justin Trudeau’s election as Prime Minister he has marked his government as different.  He’s appointed people with background in their ministries, and made transparency a priority.   He has also made clear his government would keep its promises.  They’ve brought back the long-form census, and are starting to work on bringing the idea of an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women into reality. Barely a month into his mandate and he’s made a definitive break with Stephen Harper.

They’ve even begun work on bringing 25000 Syrian refugees to Canada by December 31, and pulling CF-18 jets from the fight with ISIS.  These two promises formed a significant part of his election platform, and are both key to his distinction from Harper.  The debate rages on about whether either is advisable.  The time may run short on whether it’s possible to re-settle that many refugees.  And recent attacks in Paris that have seen over 100 dead could make it impossible for him to bring the jets home.

Balancing compassion and security has always been a challenge for Canada.  The desire to help others is as natural as breathing for Canadians.  Service clubs across the country are preparing to sponsor their own refugees above the 25 thousand target.  In the first impulse to be compassionate it would be foolhardy to ignore concerns over security.  They exist, and it’s natural they should start playing a consideration as it comes to the promise on refugees.  It isn’t unreasonable to slow down, and start with those who have family already in Canada or limit it to those who have already reached a stage where they’ve had to go through a security check.  Mathematically, the government would have to process approximately 500 refugees/ day. It makes sense to slow it down.

President Francois Hollande
President Francois Hollande

In recent comments French President Francois Hollande has called the attacks an act of war, and said his country would be “pitiless” in its response.  France is a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O) making the organization a potential part of a solution.  They could decide to enact article 5 of the NATO charter which reads in part: “an attack on one ally shall be considered an attack on all allies.”  It’s known as the principle of “collective defense” and cannot be used without consultation with other member nations through a meeting with the NATO Council.  The United States (U.S.) used it when New York was attacked on 9/11 and that was the only time in 70 years it was used.

If used again it could freeze the planes in place.  Article 5 also gives countries leave to use whatever means necessary to help the member attacked.  This would give the Prime Minister leave to persist, and carry through on the promise to withdraw. However the pressure on Canada to contribute in some meaningful way would be enormous.  A compromise could be drawing the line at air support by leaving the CF-18’s in place, and limiting further involvement to a training and humanitarian mission.  Canada fought in a combat mission in Afghanistan which officially ended in 2014 after 10 years.  It would make sense that Canada isn’t ready to commit to another potentially lengthy ground war.  An argument could be made that we need to rebuild, and rest our ground troops.

He has political cover to break or alter them both.  Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose has said the party would support him if he chose to change his mind and leave the jets there; a rare agreement between the two parties.  He’s also not even two weeks into his official mandate.  Are we even going to remember he broke these promises in 4 years? Likely no.  And the opposition wouldn’t be able to do much because they went along with it.

It took an act of Parliament to put the CF-18’s in place. In October, 2014 the Parliament of Canada approved a 6 month mission.  It was extended in March, 2015.  Logically it could take one to bring them back. Trudeau promised more free votes in the House of Commons.  Hypothetically if he introduced legislation bringing the jets from Syria, and held a free vote he could lose.  That gives him cover because he can say it’s what the people want.

Justin Trudeau has already distinguished himself from his predecessor. He’s made it known his will be an open, transparent administration that speaks to the people.  There should be one more thing that makes him different from Stephen Harper: his willingness to change his mind.  Breaking election promises doesn’t always make you a liar.  Sometimes it makes you adaptable.