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Trudeau’s government is defeating itself. The Liberals need to refocus if they want to win in 2019

In the 10 days before the second anniversary of his election, Justin Trudeau spent his time wrestling with Donald Trump's threats to withdraw from NAFTA, climbing down from Finance Minister Bill Morneau's small-business tax proposals and overruling the Canada Revenue Agency.

The Prime Minister who came to power two years ago promising a political agenda to drive "real change" is now finding that events are in the driver's seat.

It's only been two years. But the Liberals will now look at the timeline another way: only two years till the next election.

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What do Mr. Trudeau's Liberals stand for now? What are they going to get done before Oct. 21, 2019?

If you asked Mr. Trudeau, he'd probably repeat a worn line about being focused on the middle class, and blah blah blah. But what's he actually going to be doing?

It can't only be coping with what the world thrusts upon him, as with NAFTA. A year ago, Mr. Trudeau seemed to be setting the agenda. He brought in a child tax benefit and a tax cut, met with premiers to get (most of) them to agree to a climate-change plan with carbon taxes, then approved a pipeline to B.C.

There are dozens of things left undone in the Liberal's 2015 platform, but mostly, they're little sidelines, or the biggest, thorniest ones, such as a pledge to "renew the relationship between Canada and its Indigenous peoples." What Mr. Trudeau's government really needs now is to pick the few big things they will own till 2019.

In one sense, time is already running out on first-mandate plans. Think, as many in Ottawa do, in terms of budget cycles. If the Liberals really want to bite off a few meaty, substantial accomplishments for the next two years, they're going to have to be in Mr. Morneau's third budget (assuming he's still the Finance Minister) in the spring. The fourth budget will be about campaigning. What will the Trudeau Liberals' identity be now that "real change" is gone?

Change was never going to be a narrative that lasts. That promise of a new openness and optimism did fuel his victory in 2015, but change fades. And Mr. Trudeau's government has fuelled disappointment by breaking promises on things such as electoral reform, access to information and omnibus bills.

And it's not as if the Liberals haven't come through on some promises. The government did, eventually, resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees; the Canada Child Benefit has an impact on the everyday lives of lower-income families. The website TrudeauMetre, which tracks Liberal promises, counts 58 achieved and 36 broken.

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But progress is getting slower, the promises ticked off smaller and more than a hundred are in progress or not started.

Things that once seemed central are now forgotten. Remember the economic growth council that was going to chart pro-growth policies? Mr. Trudeau seems to have forgotten it. There were plans to announce a peacekeeping mission in Africa more than a year ago. Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly promised a total revamp of cultural policy and basically announced a Netflix production agreement.

Now, it suddenly seems as if Mr. Trudeau's government is tripping over its feet, from employee discounts to small-business taxes. But a bigger problem is their agenda has lost steam; that helps make the cool Justin Trudeau symbolism of 2015 turn to empty photo ops in 2017. The Liberals aren't slipping in the polls because there are new opposition leaders – according to Nanos Research, they're losing a few points to the NDP in B.C, to the Tories on the Prairies and to the Bloc Québécois in Quebec. Right now, the government is defeating itself.

Events intrude on every government, of course. Mr. Trudeau didn't expect Mr. Trump and the renegotiation of NAFTA. So far, he has handled both well. But smooth handling of trade talks isn't really going to be the new Liberal brand to appeal to progressive voters – and Mr. Trudeau doesn't know how they'll end.

The Liberals will want to find a way to show they are driving again. They have to pick an agenda for the rest of their mandate. They're planning to roll out a housing strategy. They've started a new Indigenous services department. They have dozens of consultations on the go. Maybe they'll pull a revamped governing agenda from there. But they have to figure out what their government will be in 2019. The end of their mandate is only two years away.

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