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He already holds the title of Canada’s favourite bad boy, but, like any great ass, Justin Trudeau just won’t quit. Leading in the polls with less than two weeks to go until the October 19th election, J.T. faces a daily bombardment of questions on topics including the state of the economy, the future of our healthcare system, and whether or not his marriage is an open relationship (don’t we all want to know?). This week, during an interview for CBC’s The House, Trudeau made an easy question about the environment look pretty difficult. When asked how much he would aim to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, he refused to provide a concrete answer.

“What we need is not ambitious political targets,” Trudeau said. He continued, “What we need is an ambitious plan to reduce emissions in the country.” Too true! So, to repeat the question, what are you going to do about emissions?

It isn’t hard to see why Trudeau is reluctant to provide a straight answer. In the last weeks of an incredibly long campaign, party leaders are taking every opportunity to separate themselves from their competitors. Trudeau’s Green, Conservative, and NDP competitors have all offered emissions reductions targets, so why should Trudeau do the same? He didn’t become a party leader by blending in with the crowd. No, he won the leadership in a boxing match. He is strong not in spite of his differences, but rather because of them.

"Canada is what it is because in our hearts we’ve always known that better is always possible."

“What I learned from my father is that in order to lead this country, you have to love to box.”
Reuters/Chris Wattie


Trudeau’s commitment to being different is what sets his platform apart from those of his competitors. That’s why, unlike his opponents, he won’t play politics by making promises involving money or periods of time. This explains why he didn’t offer to spend $3 billion over 4 years to improve access to homecare and cheaper prescription medications. It’s also why he didn’t make a specific promise to cut EI premiums from $1.88 per $100 earned to $1.65 per $100 earned by 2017. Actually, though, he did both of those things. He also promised to invest $20 billion in green infrastructure over 10 years. That’s an environmental promise, so what gives?

The distinction Trudeau seems to draw is one between money invested and outcome achieved. It’s fine to promise that he will spend a boatload of money on environmental initiatives over some period of time, but it’s playing politics to suggest that spending the money will achieve anything.

In Trudeau’s own words, “One of the things we’ve seen from political parties of all stripes — including my party in the past — is talking about targets on a political level, but not necessarily implementing a plan to achieve those targets.” He’s right. Canadians have seen too many goals set without plans to achieve them. So, in an effort to right those wrongs and turn that failed pattern upside down, Trudeau is instead promising to implement a plan with no clear goal. It’s perfect?

Ok, it isn’t perfect, but it sure is different. As COP21 in Paris approaches, perhaps hypothetical Prime Minister Justin Trudeau imagines he will have time to turn his plans into a goal, and then into an outcome. In any case, Trudeau is gambling that his attempt to separate through confusing environmental policy is more palatable than the Conservatives’ attempt to separate through hate mongering.