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One cannot overstate the importance of the first 100 days for a new administration. American President Franklin D. Roosevelt was first to coin this period to chart a course for America that became “The New Deal”. Done well, a president establishes the tone, expectations and agenda for their four-year mandate. It’s also one of the core principles of good governance advocated by the Institute on Governance that government should establish clear policy and programme directions publicly to improve both policy coherence (and hence performance) and accountability (because governments are judged on how they’ve delivered against what they’ve said they’ll do).
New administrations are under intense scrutiny by the public, media, and opposition parties to detect any incongruence with actions, platforms, and statements made during the preceding election campaign. While supporters are looking for leaders to keep promises, critics are equally vigilant to throw shade in hopes to slow, destabilize or wound a new, inexperienced government.
Clarity, conviction and competence are the three C’s of an administration’s early success. A new administration is strengthened by its ability to – ideally flawlessly – telegraph its intentions and vision, to reinforce convictions battle-tested during a campaign, and to execute them, thereby cementing their agenda until the next election.
In the United States the inauguration is the “kick-off” to give citizens the first indication of what the next four years will bring. In Canada, we have the swearing in ceremony and soon after the Speech from the Throne.
In 2015, Prime Minister-Elect Justin Trudeau assembled his Cabinet in waiting on Parliament Hill to travel together to the Governor General’s residence for the swearing in ceremony. The imagery was deliberate: A youthful, diverse, and gender-balanced team taking busses to incent team building akin to the life-long bonds children form on their way to summer camp. That day was planned to the last detail and was executed with military-like precision. The symbolism, tone, and contrast with the previous government was dramatic.
President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are also looking to establish clarity, conviction, and competence. Arguably, there are much greater stakes on a global scale. A nation plagued by a pandemic, polarized by racial conflict and socio-economic inequality, submerged in a boiling pot of misinformation and media manipulation sets the scene for either greatness or burning agony during the next four years.
Unlike Canada, which has a Westminster styled, permanent, non-partisan public service at the ready, a good portion of the Biden Administration’s time will be spent recruiting, screening, and appointing its senior public service to provide leadership to deliver on his mandate.
Nevertheless, Canada, the United States closest ally, has a role to play to make sure the first 100 days are successful. Canada needs to assess alignment with agendas and interests.
Major media outlets have written about the common policy interests between Canada and the new Biden Administration, including climate adaptation, building back better, and dealing with increased aggressiveness from China. However, Buy America and the cancelation of the Keystone Pipeline authorization make it clear that there will be “puts and takes” to be factored. Identifying early wins for both countries that align with the clarity of agendas, conviction of constituencies, and competently delivered appears to be in both countries national interest.
The Institute on Governance will be following decisions by the new Administration for clarity, conviction, and competence in its transition, and drawing comparisons to public administration and governance in Canada.