Panel discussion regarding Justin Trudeau’s Liberal governance

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On February 1st, exactly 455 days into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal leadership, the Department of Political Studies and Champlain College held a panel discussion to reflect on the overall direction of the Trudeau federal government, touching on areas of real change, controversial moments, as well as campaign promises and failures.

This event was paneled by four professors from the Departments of Political Studies, International Development Studies, and Sociology: Dr. Feyzi Baban, Dr. Kristy Buccieri, Dr. Nadine Changfoot, and Dr. Devin Penner.

Focusing on immigration and the refugee crisis, affordable housing, gender equality, and democratic reform, the discussion outlined the Trudeau government’s movement toward change, and was well-attended by students, staff, and faculty with a vested interest in Canadian politics.

Discussion began with a hot topic across American politics: immigration and the refugee crisis. Receiving praise for its openness toward the acceptance of Syrian refugees, the Canadian Liberal government was described by Political and International Development Studies Professor Dr. Feyzi Baban as a “fresh breath of air” after the strict regulation on refugee processing under the former Conservative leadership.

Despite this, Dr. Baban argued that in context, Canada isn’t doing enough. He asserted that Canada’s accepting of approximately 39,000 refugees pales in comparison to the millions finding asylum abroad and that the perception Canadians have of their government’s efforts regarding the crisis is exaggerated.

Diverting away from the topic of immigration policy, Dr. Baban also made an effort to tie his presentation to a previous panel discussion held in November, titled “From Trump to Brexit: Where is the World Going?”. He praised Trudeau for making strides to uphold what he describes as “keystones of liberal democratic order” such as respect for human rights and rule of law, which are values he believes have been under attack by not only the Donald Trump administration in the United States, but also the rise of “ extreme right-winged parties” within Europe.

Shifting the discussion toward affordable housing and federal policy, Dr. Kristy Buccieri of the Department of Sociology drew attention to the homelessness crisis in Canada, and resolution efforts made by the previous Conservative government. Indicating steps made by the current Liberal government through the National Housing Strategy, Dr. Buccieri showed confidence in the Trudeau government to make larger improvements in the future.

Dr. Nadine Changfoot’s presentation focused primarily on the Trudeau government’s initiatives regarding gender equality. Invoking Trudeau’s once-viral “because its 2015” quote, she commended the Prime Minister’s efforts towards increased political representation through appointments made in his current cabinet, half of which is comprised of women, as well as the nominal increase in women elected during the 2015 election.

Despite these positive sentiments expressed by the professor, Dr. Changfoot’s portion of the discussion was not void of criticism. She also noted that while the headway made by the Liberal leadership in conducting a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women was a step in the right direction, a report filed in January by the Native Womens’ Association of Canada described the government’s progress thus far as “incomplete” and “[in need of] further action”.

The report cited other areas of concern as well. Not giving Commissioners the authority to compel police to re-open cases or start new ones based on information provided during the inquiry, as well as a lack of inclusion of the role provincial and territorial governments play in the regulation of social services such as policing and child welfare in their investigation were two major highlights.

Dr. Devin Penner’s presentation focused on democratic reform, which was viewed by many as an integral component of Trudeau’s 2015 election campaign. He began by describing Trudeau’s promise of “bringing real change to the Senate” as something he considers to be an election promise the Prime Minister succeeded in fulfilling.

“Justin Trudeau said he would create an independent, non-partisan advisory to recommend Senate appointments. He did exactly that.” Dr. Penner explained. However, the professor also noted that the recommendations made by the board are non-binding, and could potentially be ignored by future Prime Ministers.

Moving onto the more contentious issue of electoral reform, Dr. Penner asserted that the Liberal government deserves “some credit” for opening a national discussion on this issue, despite this discussion being one that he describes as often “haphazard”. He pointed to the Party’s 2016 mydemocracy.com poll, which was criticized by many as being unscientific and biased against a proportional representation voting system, as an example of this.

Trent Mathew, who is a college liaison for Champlain College, was a key organizer of this event, as well as “From Trump to Brexit”, another roundtable discussion that took place regarding the U.S. election held in early October.

When reached for a comment regarding for a comment regarding his thoughts on the event and plans for the future, he had this to say: “Given the overwhelming response to the first three panel discussions, as well as recent developments both at home and abroad, I expect that there will be 1-2 more panels before the end of the semester. There is a real desire for this among students and faculty and Champlain College hopes it can help support these events as they come together.”