Shadier Side to Trudeau's Sunny Ways

Justin Trudeau looks and sounds progressive, especially now that the world is turning to extreme or restrictive forms of nationalism. But he’s not what he seems.
[Justin]Trudeau separates words and actions, presenting himself as a defender of human rights while his country sells unprecedented quantities of arms to dictatorships. Canada has become the second largest exporter of arms to the Middle East (from sixth in 2014) after massive deals with Saudi Arabia. These improved trade links, which then foreign minister Stéphane Dion presented as a lever with which to exercise benevolent influence over the kingdom, were made possible by rewriting Canada’s arms export legislation. This previously made sales conditional on ‘wide-ranging consultations’ to evaluate their implications for international security and human rights; the new wording states that consultations ‘may be’ carried out. As John Bell of the Socialist Worker points out, the law originally stated that Canadian arms exports must not be ‘diverted to ends that could threaten the security of Canada, its allies, or other countries or people’; the Trudeau-approved wording drops the crucial reference to ‘other countries or people’ and replaces it with ‘civilians’.

During the cold war, Pierre Trudeau took an original approach to diplomacy, balancing major powers — Canada had the US as its neighbour but was on good terms with Cuba and China — while building a strong welfare state and not hesitating to intervene in the economy, for example by nationalising oil production, with the support of the social-democratic NDP. Justin Trudeau has also chosen rapprochement with China, ending the tension that prevailed under Harper, who refused to attend the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Trudeau and his brothers admire Chinese society, in particular some of its anti-democratic qualities, such as efficiency. Last August Trudeau was warmly welcomed in China, where Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, the world’s largest e-commerce company, called him the ‘future of Canada’. Three weeks after this visit, which led to $1.2bn in new contracts, Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang visited Ottawa. The heads of government announced that they would be starting negotiations on a free trade agreement, delighting Canada’s mining, agrifood and finance multinationals, as well as the Chinese-Canadian business community, which donates generously to the LPC.

Though this rapprochement goes against Trump’s talk of a trade war with China, there are points on which Canadian and US policies converge. Trudeau approves of the intensive exploitation of oil sands, and the Keystone XL project, opposed by environmental activists and Indigenous communities. He also boasts of his special relationship with Argentina’s conservative president Mauricio Macri, whose father did business with Trump in the 1980s.

Despite implying that he would be even-handed, Trudeau has not discontinued the pro-Israel policy of Harper’s government, and has even strengthened it. Last February he supported a Conservative Party motion condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, on the grounds that ‘demonisation and delegitimatisation’ of the state of Israel promoted antisemitism. In August, a schoolteacher in Mississauga, Ontario, was suspended over her involvement in Palestine solidarity campaigns.

How is Trudeau able to get away with this, when he was elected as the ‘progressive’ candidate? He skilfully separates geopolitics and the economy from governance at home. There is an anti-racist tinge to some in his government, which is well-meaning if paternalistic. Trudeau claims to be concerned about colonialism in Canada. At a meeting with students at New York University last April, he said: ‘We have consistently marginalised [Indigenous peoples], engaged in colonial behaviour ... that has left a legacy of challenges.’ After Harper’s denial of the existence of colonialism, a government that claims to want to help Indigenous peoples seems an improvement.

Yet Trudeau has in fact intensified colonisation of Indigenous territories. His ambiguous formulation reveals this: He talks about ‘people who live in Canada’, negating the colonisation of what Indigenous peoples and many progressive Canadians see as nations that overlap with Canada — a modern version of what Perry Anderson called ‘parcellised sovereignty’. Indigenous peoples are not ‘people who live in Canada’ or ‘minorities’ (like Jews or Koreans). The earliest agreements with European settlers in the 17th century recognise them as ‘nations’, dealing with the Canadian state as such. Last Canada Day, 1 July, Trudeau also upset many Québécois by referring to Canada as ‘one nation’. He was later forced to recognise that ‘Québécois form a nation within a united Canada’, in line with the House of Commons resolution of 2006.

There is much talk of ‘helping the people up north’ among liberal Canadians concerned about Indigenous people who retain their ‘authenticity’. But apart from his terminology — which goes against his promise of establishing a new ‘nation-to-nation relationship’ — Trudeau is no more concerned for the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples than Harper. In October 2015, during a broadcast on the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, Trudeau said that Indigenous peoples should have a right to veto mining developments on their land. This conforms to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of 2007, which requires states to ‘consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples ... to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.’

But Trudeau eventually approved environmentally damaging oil pipeline projects and seismic surveys that the Tsleil-Waututh nation of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, and the Inuit of Clyde River on Baffin Island, in the northern territory of Nunavut, have opposed for years. To justify this, natural resources minister Jim Carr has claimed that the government seeks to develop a ‘Canadian definition’ of the UN declaration, which neither Harper nor Trudeau signed. Long-term Indigenous activist Russ Diablo says this is part of the long history of liberal governments saying ‘nice things in public’, but doing business-as-usual colonialism. As noted by Indigenous affairs specialist Warren Bernauer, Canada’s National Energy Board itself has found that the surveys (now being challenged before the courts) do not satisfy the requirement for free, prior and informed consent.

Trudeau is one of the last national leaders to defend migrants, minority rights and openness. Canadians may look at Trump, May, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orbán or Narendra Modi, at the possibility of Marine Le Pen, and breathe a sigh of relief. Yet this is where the danger lies. Trudeau’s ‘progressivism’ is part of a mutation of political divides. The left/centre/right system is being replaced by opposition between the proponents of economic and identity nationalism, and the defenders of capitalist globalisation. Trump and Trudeau are two sides of the same coin: time to change currencies?
(From Jordy Cummings’Le Monde Diplomatique, in alternt, 2/14/17)