I asked one of my sons the other day what he thought of Justin Trudeau, and he answered briefly, but tellingly: “He’s all we’ve got.”
There must be many people in Canada feeling as he feels, as they watch Trudeau stumble from one mistake to another, displaying less than a firm grip on the tiller of government; and at the same time regarding with some horror the idiocy of most of the reactions by Andrew Scheer, the Conservative Party leader, who seems to be the only person with a chance of beating Trudeau at the coming election.
Of course speaking personally, I can take these disappointments more or less equably, because neither of these leaders nor their parties ever reach my expectations of what I would call good government.
I confess to having shared the widespread pleasure and surprise at the election of Trudeau, who seemed to have an open-minded attitude that was very much improved on that of the previous Prime Minister, the sepulchral Stephen Harper. And I even remember before that election realizing one day that this handsome young man, who seemed able to talk about issues coherently, might have the capacity to sweep the country.
That pleasure lasted for a month or two, but eventually the “sunny days” attitude began to become a bit cloying, and from time to time the young man himself began to exhibit a shortness of temper that seemed to be not far from arrogance. Most people, observing this, appeared to shrug and say, well, with an upbringing like his, the son of a wealthy, prominent and powerful family, what could one expect?
He slotted in, from the beginning, to the modern habit of proclaiming that everything he was doing was for the benefit of the middle class, as if even to mention that working people belong to a working class were anathema to him. But then, what do we judge the Liberal party and its policies against?
Surely the danger to everything Canadian lies in the model exhibited south of the border. In spite of the immense pressure provided by their power, wealth and influence, (and I must include the overpowering, world-wide influence of their soft power, transmitted through pop, but also formal, culture), we have succeeded in building a relatively efficient welfare state, with our nationalized health service at its centre. Of course it is only half completed, with obvious gaps in its meagre provisions for day care, something that is drastically needed in any society that demands, as does ours, that a single family needs two wage packets if it is to get by comfortably.
Both the Liberal and the New Democratic parties together deserve approbation for this, but it is necessary to say that the Conservative Party, the repository of the loyalty of the wealthier Canadians, has played little part in this. In fact I often recall the statement made in the 1950s by Dr. George Grant, a Conservative political philosopher, who outlined in a book called Lament for a Nation how any movement designed to keep control of our economy in Canadian hands had always faced spirited opposition from the assembled ranks of commerce, whose practitioners and controllers have always looked to the Conservative Party to represent their interests.
There has recently been an egregious example of this when the leader of the Conservative Party was the main speaker at a semi-secretive gathering of CEOs of the fossil fuel industry. This is an area where Mr Trudeau has tried to be on both sides at the same time, a tactic that has simply exposed him to be an economic lightweight without the backbone to resist the bullies of capitalism.
Set against Trudeau’s making an ass of himself during his visit to India (for much of which I blame his New Age, far-out wife, who seems to have a great deal of influence with him) I would say that Scheer’s gaffe in putting himself helplessly at the disposal of the captains of industry was much more definitive of the guy, especially if we are measuring them against the likelihood of their becoming our next Prime Minister. An even more determinative issue would be their attitude to our number one challenge as members of the human race, namely, the onset of human-made global warming. Here, Scheer so far isn’t even in the race. Trudeau it is true, has adopted a totally impossible policy which is to set national targets for global carbon emissions, in line with the demands of the Paris accord agreed by 195 international participants, but also, as his government keeps saying “to get our resources to market,” by which he means simultaneously to expand production of the Alberta Tar Sands, the digging up of which has required such high levels of carbon emissions as to make it known to be one of the major polluting sources available anywhere in the world.
This double-barrelled policy is nonsense, as its rough history thus far indicates. The Federal Court of Appeal examined the diligence with which the National Energy Board (NEB) approached its approval-in-principle of the building of the expanded pipeline to get more Tar Sands oil across to tidewater on the British Columbia coast where it could be shipped, at what Albertans believe would be a premium cost, to China, and although they said they had no power of judicial review of the NEB’s decision, they did challenge the Order-in-Council issued by the government by which approval for the pipeline was granted. They found the NEB attitude to the problem had been inadequate in two aspects.
For one thing, they discovered on examination something that every interested person in Canada could have told them years ago, that the process of consulting the indigenous communities lying along the way had amounted to little more than writing down notes about what the indigenous people said, and then throwing the notes away, in effect. This is no new discovery: this has been the norm throughout history. The only difference this time is that under guidelines agreed to by Canada when it finally adopted the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), the government party is obligated to recognize that “states shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned… in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources,” and that this must apply “particularly” to the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.
This concept of “free, prior and informed consent” of indigenous people in relation to any development proposed for their lands is the one provision from UNDRIP that has caught hold so far among the indigenous people of Canada, and it certainly is not something that could be denied by a government that came into office trumpeting how it was willing, able and indeed, determined, to re-conceive the entire relationship between government and indigenous peoples that has been, as one foreign journal recently described it, “Canada’s secret shame” for generations.
Indeed, as one person who has studied the historical record, and checked that out with dozens of visits to native communities and many discussions on the subject with indigenous people, I can say without hesitation that this has always been the most shameful aspect of Canadian history.
The Federal Court of Appeal found that the Government of Canada acted in good faith and formed an appropriate plan for consultation. However, at the last stage, the consultation itself, “Canada fell well short of the minimum requirements imposed by the case law of the Supreme Court of Canada.
“The Government of Canada was required to engage in a considered, meaningful two-way dialogue. However, for the most part, Canada’s representatives limited their mandate to listening to and recording
the concerns of the Indigenous applicants and then transmitting those concerns to the decision-makers. On the whole, the record does not disclose responsive, considered and meaningful dialogue coming back
from Canada in response to the concerns expressed by the Indigenous applicants. The law requires Canada to do more than receive and record concerns and complaints.”
To my mind, this is a stinging response to an attitude that, as I have outlined above, has always existed --- one of treating the indigenous people --- as was once the official position --- as wards of state with the status of children.
But there was a second part of the NEB’s inadequacy, neatly summarized by the Court in its judgment that although the NEB had concluded that project-related tanker traffic would have negative adverse effects on the resident population of killer whales, nevertheless they had advised the government that the project was not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. “The unjustified exclusion of project-related marine shipping from the definition of the project rendered the Board’s report impermissibly flawed,” Court said in judgment. The report did not give the Governor in Council the information and assessments it needed in order to properly assess the public interest, including the project’s environmental effects—matters it was legally obligated to assess.”
Canadian environmentalists must have been waiting for decades to read a judgment like this in relation to what has always seemed to be an untouchable NEB.
This judgment caused the company that was proposing to build the new pipeline to withdraw, leaving the federal government as a face-saving measure to buy the existing pipeline for $4.5 billion, along with the obligation to build the new section, if once it is approved, for another estimated $9 billion.
I intended to get on to Mr, Kenny, the little weasel who has taken over Alberta, a politician we have already seen at work in the Harper federal cabinet, now eagerly whipping up the Alberta people against the rest of the country, to ensure his election. And along with him, Mr. Ford, the idiot elected by the people of Ontario. But I will have plenty of opportunity in future so I leave it here for the moment.