Justin Trudeau has returned from his first foreign trip as prime minister to face a cold dose of reality.
There were no hordes of adoring women to meet him on Friday when he landed in Ottawa after flying back from a Pacific Rim summit in Manila.
Trudeaumania may still be rampant in the Philippines, where he is labelled a “hottie.” It certainly was on Thursday as screaming fans mobbed Canada’s 43-year-old prime minister.
But here at home, the ecstasy generated by Trudeau’s defeat of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is gradually dissipating.
Polls by Forum Research and the Angus Reid Institute suggest that Canadians remain deeply divided over the new Liberal government’s plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to this country by the end of December.
Another Angus Reid poll indicates that, in light of the Paris terror attacks, fully 62 per cent of those surveyed are unhappy with Trudeau’s decision to scale back Canada’s air war against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
Meanwhile, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau has confirmed what most analysts already suspected: The $2.3-billion budgetary surplus promised for this year by Harper has become a $3-billion deficit, the victim of falling oil prices and the sluggish world economy.
Morneau told reporters Friday that the Liberal government will still honour its campaign pledge to fund billions of dollars worth of infrastructure in order to boost jobs and growth.
But he wouldn’t explain how, in light of deteriorating government revenues, he’d be able to do that and balance the books by 2019, as the Liberals also promised.
Last week too, U.S. President Barrack Obama inadvertently revealed another badly kept secret — that Trudeau plans to sign onto the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade and investment deal agreed to by the Harper government.
After meeting Trudeau privately during the summit in Manila, Obama told reporters that Canada and the U.S. “are both soon to be signatories” to the 12-nation deal.
Officially, the Liberal government is holding fire on the decision until the deal, which among other things would hurt Canada’s auto industry, is debated in Parliament.
Still, the Americans have doubtless been informed of three important facts.
First, Trudeau supports trade pacts. Second, the new government has not yet found anything in this deal that bothers it unduly.
Third, since the Liberals hold a majority of seats in the Commons, they can pass anything the prime minister wants.
But it is the refugee and Islamic State issues that pose the most immediate political problems for the new government.
Canadians have long been split on the question of whether to admit 25,000 Syrian refugees by year’s end.
Those in favour say that helping refugees from Syria’s brutal civil war is a simple matter of humanity.
Those opposed fear that doing so could allow Islamic terrorists into Canada.
Last week’s terror attacks in Paris didn’t appear to affect this divide. Angus Reid polls conducted before and after the Paris attacks came up with much the same result: about 50 per cent of Canadians oppose the Liberal plan; roughly 40 per cent support it.
As for Trudeau’s decision to pull Canadian fighter planes from the war against Islamic State militants, critics may not fully appreciate the subtlety of the Liberal position.
The Liberals have never been hesitant to send Canadian troops into battle. It was Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government that sent Canadian soldiers into the Afghan War. It was Harper’s Conservative government that withdrew them.
During the election campaign, and again last week, Trudeau made it clear that he plans to beef up Canada’s role in the ground war in Iraq, even as he brings home the RCAF’s six fighter planes.
Technically, the extra Canadian soldiers will be there to train and advise local troops. But the roughly 70 Canadian special forces “advisers” already in Iraq operate right on the front lines, where they shoot and are shot at. Trudeau has given no indication he’ll change that.
None of this is to suggest that the romance is over. My sense is that many Canadians are still willing to cut the new prime minister slack as he tries to deliver on his ambitious and somewhat contradictory campaign promises.
But delivery is not always easy. That’s the lesson from last week.