Diagnosis for Democracy
Insights into the State of Our Union
A Blog by Rob Tenery, MD


Another Trudeau Takes Over in Canada

By Rob Tenery, MD on November 23, 2015

A new era is about to emerge after recently elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party regains control of Canada’s Parliament.  Since 2004, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, which was formed after a merger of Canada’s Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance, has been in control. Trudeau’s commanding majority in the parliament will permit him to govern without having to form alliances with the other parties.

Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Pierre Trudeau who came into power as Prime Minister in 1968 and governed for most of the next 20 years, has already announced he will withdraw the Canadian fighter jets that were part of the bombing mission against the radicals in Iraq and Syria. His foreign policy is more a change back to the liberal identity, which existed during his father’s tenure and every government before him, but Harper’s. “Canada will go back to multilateralism, back to strong support for the United Nations,” said Robert Bothwell, a professor at the University of Toronto.

Under Harper’s leadership, corporate and sales taxes were lowered, more emphasis was placed on the oil and gas extraction industry and essentially blanket support for the Netanyahu regime in Israel. Also Harper was not particularly sympathetic to climate change legislation, which included pulling Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol on emission restrictions.  

With Canada, essentially cleaning house, what will that mean for the future direction of the country? One concern is the position of the current administration in the United States on Canada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which could well change if the next occupant of the White House is Republican. Whereas Harper had refused to add to Canada’s already significant Muslim population by accepting any Syrian refugees, Trudeau has already vowed to accept 25,000.

After a congratulatory call, Obama released a statement confirming their commitment ‘to joint efforts to promote trade, combat terrorism and mitigate climate change’. Although Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama appear almost in lock-step on their countries adopting a more balanced approach in Middle East, promoting trade and addressing climate change on a more global scale under the egis of the United Nations, one has to question how this will play out once a new administration takes over in the White House in 2017.

Understanding the reasons for the Liberal triumph seem to fall into two categories: First is Canada’s vote to move back to the left didn’t happen just because of the new Prime Minister’s good looks and has a famous father. The electorate was angry and ready for a change, and Trudeau’s mantra of ‘real change’ carried the day. Although there are many factors that contributed to the Liberal Party’s one-sided victory, their more favorable position on immigration and refugee acceptance turned out to be a major factor.

In 1971, under the leadership of Pierre Trudeau, Canada introduced the policy of multiculturalism that recognized the differences in Canadians’ heritage. Although there was some resistance initially, the policy evolved into broad legal protections of religious and ethnic differences--- a policy ‘cited by Canadians as a defining characteristic of their country.’ * Seen as somewhat anti-Muslim, Harper’s conservative government made it harder for recent immigrants to bring in relatives, tried to ban the niqab (face covering) during citizenship ceremonies and was slow to accept Syrian refugees. That position seemed to come back on the Conservatives, when the 33 electoral districts, where there are a majority of voters are ‘visible’ minority groups, all but three were won by the Liberal Party.

The second is the shift in the thinking from the ‘deficit-obsessed austerity orthodoxy that has dominated political discourse across the Western world’ to the Keynesian economic position. In Keynesian vision of economics, unemployment results from the imbalance in demand for goods and thus was a natural consequence if an economy that was undergoing contraction or over production. In order to bring some stability to the workforce utilization, there are situations where the government needs to step in and, by freeing-up under-utilized savings to work through government spending. Roosevelt’s New Deal is an example. The problem arises with those who are concerned with deficit spending and, as in the United States, depleting the funds dedicated for Social Security and the other entitlement programs.

Where does this change in leadership leave Canada with respect to their relationship with the United States?  In the short run, under Obama’s leadership, the Keystone XL pipeline will still be a point of contention. But the two leaders seem to agree on global warming restraints, letting the United Nations play more of a role in world affairs and having the government more financially involved in entitlement programs.  As far as Canada pulling its support from the Middle East conflict, their involvement was so small, it will probably not be noticed.

After the 2016 election, if the United States stays under Democratic control in the White House there should be little change. But if the Republicans regain control, there will be changes. On the positive side will probably be a deal on the pipeline. The United State’s position on illegal immigration will be one of the determinants in the outcome of that election. With a Republican win, how the Canadian border will be affected, is unknown. If the United States feels that the already present Muslim population in Canada or the additional immigrants who settle there are a threat to their national security, then there could be big changes!

*Austen, Ian, New Crop of Immigrants in Parliament is Seen as Reflection of Canada, The New York Times, Nov. 3,2015.

Note: Trudeau has refused since winning last month’s election to say when the fighter jets would return home, saying only that the withdrawal would be done “responsibly.” He also wouldn’t say before leaving for the G20 summit on Friday whether he was reconsidering that plan entirely. “We’ll continue to engage with our allies around the world in ensuring the safety of Canadians and others both here at home and around the world,” he said before boarding a plane to Turkey. “We will keep people apprised as more unfolds.” LEE BERTHIAUME, OTTAWA CITIZEN





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