You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, as the old saying goes.
This is doubly true in politics, where that rare thing called political momentum ebbs and flows mysteriously. And suddenly.
That’s why political leaders put so much emphasis on their first 100 days. It sets the tone for a whole administration, especially one elected on a “change” platform.
Governor Sarah Palin had a ticking digital clock outside her office. Franklin Roosevelt took decisive action to kickstart the economy, restructuring the banking sector, founding the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps and a half dozen other institutions that had a huge positive effect on the country. Donald Trump, who takes everything to extremes, has both a 100-day and a 200-day plan.
In Canada, Justin Trudeau put major emphasis on his first 100 days. The Prime Minister’s Office webpage highlights 48 major announcements during the period, about one every two days. Most of these were tangible measures, not just taking credit for having met with some stakeholders.
Skip to the next paragraph if you want to pass over the details of Trudeau’s 100-day moves. Many of these were significant items, including middle-class tax cuts, a new process for Senate appointments, pledging $2.65 billion for developing countries, suspending court actions and administrative compliance measures related to the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, approving 25,000 Syrian refugees, giving $10 million for the World Trade Organization to help developing countries participate in global trade, reinstating the long-form census, introducing legislation to change union rules, changing national rules for the multi-billion-dollar home mortgage market, signing an investment deal with Hong Kong and amending the Iran sanctions.
We are now over a month since the Yukon election. With just a half-dozen cabinet ministers to vet and write mandate letters for, Yukon premiers can quickly get to work. It is Day 7 since Sandy Silver was sworn in as premier.
Unexpectedly, however, Silver has so far been keeping a very low profile. He opted for a long transition handover period, and the only public statement between the election and inauguration on his party’s website was a 138-word thank you to Yukon voters.
There are not many circumstances where political advisors would recommend such a low engagement with the public after winning an election. Perhaps if you were a caretaker Italian prime minister, negotiating with a dozen disparate factions, it might be advisable. Trump, for example, continues to tour the country, leading victory rallies and talking up his plans for the nation in every media outlet he can find.
Silver’s go-slow approach is especially surprising since it was such a close election in many ridings. The Liberal majority depended on two wins of fewer than ten votes. More than six out of ten voters supported other political parties. Silver still has work to do to build political support for his new government.
Silver’s inaugural speech was a brief 500 word address and did not contain any Day 1 announcements.
As this column went to press on Thursday morning, there had been no substantive policy announcements (there were some process announcements such as those nominating a new Speaker, naming a new RCMP commander and attending the First Ministers meeting in Ottawa).
The first week is where new leaders can announce things like freezes in court actions, release mandate letters to ministers, giving direction to officials to approve or fund certain shovel-ready projects and so on. Canadian premiers have a large amount of executive power they can use through orders in council they can sign on Day 1 if they are prepared to do so.
It also looks like Silver won’t call the legislature to sit this year. Justin Trudeau was elected on October 19 and had Parliament working on his 100-day plan by Dec. 3. One wonders why Silver isn’t doing something similar, to get the proposed business tax cuts on the table and use the legislature’s deadlines to mobilize the bureaucracy.
We shall see what happens next. Silver may have a high-impact plan we will find out about in due course that will deliver the change he campaigned on. The clock is ticking, however. If he doesn’t step up the public leadership in his first 100 days, he may discover that old political adage that governments who don’t set the agenda end up having it set for them by events and the opposition.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He won last year’s Ma Murray award for best columnist.