by Barry Weisleder
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s protracted political honeymoon appears to be coming to a close. General irritation with his unctuous, almost unbearable lightness of being is taking hold – especially as his “sunny ways” imagery collides with the real actions of the Liberal government. One New Democrat MP scored media high fives when he compared Trudeau to the bright-colored characters in a British TV show for children who look like babies stuffed into cuddly animal costumes with TV antennae on their heads and screens on their bellies. “How do you wrestle with Teletubbies who want to keep hugging you?”
Well, the group hug is over, and the jig is up. It turns out that Trudeau’s agenda is not that different from his predecessor’s, the uber-Conservative PM Stephen Harper. What a rude awakening that must be for many of the folks who voted Liberal in October 2015, hoping and expecting to get something completely different.
A glance at just a few federal departments — environment, indigenous peoples, health care, and foreign affairs – is enough to see the trend.
On September 27 Ottawa gave the green light to a massive liquefied natural gas project on the coast of British Columbia. The Pacific Northwest LNG would involve a pipeline across the province and a terminal to export the liquefied gas from northern B.C. to Asian markets.
Touted as the largest private-sector development in Canada’s history, the megaproject is the first approved by Trudeau and provides a framework for upcoming decisions on the merits of pipelines designed to bring Alberta oil to eastern and southern ports. Absent is the agreement of several First Nations communities who have serious concerns, including over the health of wild salmon habitat. Environmentalists, from the Sierra Club to the David Suzuki Foundation to the Pembina Institute, oppose the plan despite the 190 conditions attached to it by the feds. Even with a cap on the project’s greenhouse gas emissions (one of the conditions), Pacific Northwest LNG would significantly raise B.C.’s greenhouse gas output. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency calculated that it would be “one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in Canada.”
How does that jibe with the promise by Catherine McKenna, the rookie environment minister, who proclaimed when she got her job last autumn that the carbon-reduction targets set by the Conservatives were a minimum. Now it’s clear that the Liberal government will be lucky to come anywhere near to meeting Harper’s low-bar targets.
In any case, shouldn’t Ottawa promote the spending of billions on making wind and sea wave turbines, solar panels and geothermal technology, rather than on conduits to increase the flow of climate-change-causing fossil fuels?
Instead of obtaining a “social license” from indigenous peoples, as he promised to do, Trudeau has been issuing construction permits for BC Hydro’s Site C dam, over the objection of First Nations that have taken the government to court. An article in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper referred to Trudeau’s “lofty rhetoric” on indigenous rights as “a cheap simulation of justice.”
Health-care funding is another credibility loser for Trudeau. The issue is transfer payments from Ottawa to the provinces. After growing at 6 per cent a year for a decade, subject to the terms Liberal PM Paul Martin reached with the provinces in 2005, which Stephen Harper upheld, transfers are scheduled to grow only about 3 per cent annually, starting in 2017. Harper built in that drop in funding. It made the provincial governments very angry. In the 2015 election, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair promised to restore the growth rate to 6 per cent, at a cost of $36 billion over ten years. The Liberals under Justin Trudeau were deliberately vague. Then in late September 2016, federal health Minister Jane Philpott admitted that Harper’s plan for transfers is Trudeau’s too.
Sadly, for the provinces, the Canada Institute for Health Information reports that total health spending in Canada “has fallen gradually in the past few years” as a share of GDP. “Since 2011, health spending has decreased by an average of 0.6 per cent per year.”
On the foreign affairs front, notwithstanding his canola summit in China, and restored diplomatic relations with Iran, Trudeau pursues a course bent on aggression and military weapons sales abroad. The Canadian military is gearing up to support a major French “counterterrorism” operation in northern Africa. This occurs in the wake of NATO’s obliteration of Libya’s secular Gadhafi regime. A Canadian air force general commanded the NATO bombing campaign, which quickly opened up political space for al Qaeda-linked fighters there and across the region. The Liberal government has said it will commit up to 600 troops to UN “peacekeeping” duties. Without saying where the soldiers will be deployed, National Defence, Global Affairs and the RCMP conducted a “reconnaissance mission” to Mali in August. Canadian military aircraft carried nearly 40 tonnes of equipment between France and Africa last year.
Notably, Canadian “aid” is not going to countries where Canadian-supported coups resulted in devastating human rights abuses, such as Honduras or Egypt. But why Mali? Does it have anything to do with Trudeau’s bid for a United Nations Security Council seat? Or could it be because Mali is a major supplier of uranium, or because Canadian gold mining operations at Nampala, which recently reported positive cash flow for Canadian firm Robex, got Ottawa’s attention. Mali happens to be the third-largest gold-producing country in Africa.
Sometimes the prospect of immediate profits from mineral resources take a back seat to larger considerations of geo-political power. Canada is sending an additional 500 troops to Latvia for an open-ended mission to help its imperialist allies to scare the Russians. It’s a move so provocative that Mikhail Gorbachev (former top bureaucrat of the USSR, and a strong critic of Vladimir Putin) warned: “NATO has begun preparations for escalating the Cold War into a hot one. All the rhetoric in Warsaw just yells of a desire almost to declare war on Russia. They only talk about defence, but actually they are preparing for offensive operations.”
This deployment adds to the hundreds of Canadian troops already playing war games in the Ukraine, where Trudeau took his nine-year-old son in July.
The Liberals kept their promise to remove Canada’s fighter planes from the war in Iraq, but compensated by tripling the number of Canadian “military advisers” on the ground there.
When Trudeau spoke to the United Nations Assembly in September he sweetly intoned “We’re Canadian and we’re here to help.” He showed what he meant by that, in practice, when he recently approved the export of $15 billion worth of armed vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a country which is occupying parts of Yemen, and is the be-heading capital of the world widely condemned for its horrible human rights record.
Not to be outdone by Harper, Justin Trudeau’s Canada now ranks second in arms exports to the Middle East for the first time in history, behind only the United States.
But why stop there? We could examine the government’s failure to amend, let alone rescind the intrusive and repressive Bill C-51 that gives Canada’s spies and police unprecedented powers, money and resources. We could look to Trudeau’s broken promise to restore home mail delivery where it was curtailed. We can reflect on Ottawa’s paltry planned increase in Canada Pension Plan payments to seniors, or its undiminished allegiance to the so-called free trade deals, the TPP and CETA. The list seems almost endless. But the point is this. When the fresh coat of paint called Justin Trudeau is stripped away, one sees basically the same austerity agenda designed to perpetuate capitalist rule, to maintain the dominion of the 0.1 per cent over the rest of us.
To end the pernicious cycle of capitalist political fakery and abuse, it is necessary to terminate the socio-economic system itself. The break up of the Liberal political honeymoon is a welcome step in that direction.