Shortly after the last federal election, I was having coffee with a friend in Tim Hortons at the corner of Fir and West Broadway in Vancouver.
With a twinkle in his eye, he quipped that there was no need for the NDP anymore because Canada finally had its equivalent: a Liberal government headed by the "progressive" Justin Trudeau.
The new prime minister had just appointed the first Indigenous justice minister in Canadian history.
Trudeau had announced to the world at the Paris climate conference that "Canada is back."
He was going to slightly raise personal income taxes on the rich and take away their tax-free Canada child benefit.
Plus, the Liberals were going to finally embark on a national housing strategy—something that the Harper government had scrupulously avoided.
Under a Trudeau government, there weren't going to be any more court fights over supervised-injection sites and cannabis was going to be legal.
Rapid-transit projects would be funded. Boil-water advisories on First Nations reserves would be addressed.
We no longer had a prime minister who would publicly chastise the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and repeatedly introduce legislation that fell afoul of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Stephen Harper's predilection for whipping up Islamophobia was a thing of the past.
The grinch was gone—only to be replaced with "sunny ways", in the form of Trudeau and his gender-balanced cabinet.
But over the next three-and-a-half years, that positive mood dissipated as it became increasingly clear that Trudeau was more interested in photo-ops, public speaking, and travelling than actual governing.
On one occasion, that involved an all-expenses-paid trip to a billionaire's private island, resulting in a negative ruling from the ethics commissioner.
The heavy lifting was done by important cabinet ministers like Ralph Goodale, Bill Morneau, Chrystia Freeland, Jim Carr, and Marc Garneau, who often didn't come across like New Democrats at all.
The first Indigenous justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, wasn't always that liberal, maintaining many of the Harper government's most obnoxious laws, including minimum mandatory sentences and the predator-encouraging Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.
The first Trudeau health minister, Jane Philpott, was slow to respond to the fentanyl crisis before the government finally got into gear.
Perhaps this is because she, unlike former Liberal health critic Hedy Fry, had so little experience dealing with the drug-addiction crisis in Vancouver and other large cities.
The government's medically assisted dying legislation, which came in the wake of a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision, fell woefully short of meeting the terms of that ruling.
The Cannabis Act was a joke with packaging and sponsorship regulations that seemed like they were straight out of Reefer Madness. This was Prohibition 2.0, in the minds of those who risked their liberty over many years to try to take away the stigma of smoking pot and help sick patients who could benefit from the plant's extracts.
When it came to the climate, Trudeau didn't seem much different from Harper. Liberals will vehemently argue this point, notwithstanding the Trudeau government's purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline system.
Trudeau viewed from many angles
So now we're in this political grey zone.
To Harper-loving Conservatives, Trudeau is a left-wing zealot who has to be thrown out of power.
To those in the arts community, Trudeau is a beacon for sharply increasing funding to the Canada Council and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
His supporters can rightfully say that he's not a bigot, unlike Donald Trump, even if the Trudeau government is still, through the Canada Border Services Agency, sometimes acting in illiberal ways.
The LGBT community, in particular, can point to many actions by the prime minister to support equal rights.
Some praise him as a feminist, while others criticize him for actions that led two of his most admired female ministers to quit the cabinet.
At the same time, there have also been improvements on the housing file, which is why the Liberal government is being occasionally praised by big-city mayors.
But to those who worry that we're on the precipice of Climate Armageddon, Trudeau is far worse than the Conservatives because the Conservatives don't come across as hypocrites.
Andrew Scheer's environmental plan doesn't even include targets for greenhouse gas emissions.
Trudeau, on the other hand, bought a pipeline system, is proceeding with plans to triple diluted bitumen shipments through it, approved Enbridge's Line 3, kept the Harper government's climate targets, yet still claimed that he's on the right track.
The root of the issue is that Trudeau will act progressively when it doesn't rile big business, the police lobby, or the U.S. government.
That explains the trade negotiations, which maintained investors' rights to launch complaints against governments.
That also explains the reluctance to end mandatory minimum sentences and unravel the previous Harper regime's Leviticus-like criminal legislation.
And it's most on display in the Trudeau's dealings with big business.
As SFU professor emeritus Donald Gutstein has pointed out in his book The Big Stall, the petroleum giants don't have a serious issue with the carbon tax.
But Big Oil does have a problem if it can't export its product through the Port of Vancouver. That's why the Trudeau government is so gung-ho for a pipeline that will result in more downstream emissions annually than are produced each year in all of British Columbia.
This is the backdrop for ethics ruling
Trudeau's obeisance to big business has also been reflected in the extraordinary lengths to which his office went to try to get a deferred prosecution deal for Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin.
He put his career on the line for a scandal-plagued Montreal corporation for no discernible political benefit.
Meanwhile, his finance minister, Bill Morneau, never includes things in his budgets that will upset big business. The banks, Air Canada, and the telecommunications giants have nothing to fear from this government.
Nor do the U.S. digital giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Canada is so much more welcoming to them than what they have to endure under European regulators.
All of this explains why the left sees Trudeau as a corporate sellout, the right thinks he's a pinko, and arts administrators and many minority-community leaders believe he's the best prime minister in a generation.
A big danger, of course, is that this political balkanization could return the Conservatives to power.
That's why Trudeau's ass-kissing of the corporations is creating such an enormous problem for progressive Canadians.
Do they plug their nose and give him a second term because Scheer is worse? Or do they vote with their hearts and their conscience?
History shows that Conservative chances will improve if there's low voter turnout.
Staying home isn't an option, no matter how dissatisfied people might be with the status quo.
So even if someone is appalled by the prospect of a Conservative government led by Scheer, it's imperative to vote regardless of how they feel about Trudeau's first term as prime minister.
This point was made by Green Leader Elizabeth May at the recent Vancouver Pride parade, where Scheer was a no-show.
It's worth noting that Scheer has been missing in action at Pride events across Canada for years, reflecting the low regard he holds for LGBT human rights.
The leader of the People's Party of Canada, Maxime Bernier, is perhaps even worse, openly consorting with homophobes.
"For the upcoming election, I think the main message is we need to get out voter turnout," May told the Straight. "We need young people to vote. We need everyone to vote.
"There’s a reason for feeling disillusioned when you vote for a party that you believed at the time and then they let you down," the Green leader continued. "But for heaven’s sakes, everyone get out and vote and vote for what you want, because in this election, there will be six parties returning MPs to Parliament—six—which means the chances of a minority Parliament are way up.
"It’s time for people to stop overthinking it—worrying that if they vote Green they’ll be somehow helping the Conservatives or if they vote NDP, they’ll be inadvertently helping Maxine Bernier. Goodness only knows, don’t overthink. In this election, everyone should get out to vote—drag your friends out and vote for what you want.”
Just vote. It's that simple. And if there's a minority government that keeps Trudeau's worst impulses in check, the country will benefit.More