Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Canada: "Plus ca change........"


Voters turn to "anti-austerity" but,
how real are the promises of
Liberal "Sunrise"?

Justin Trudeau has been elected Canada’s new Prime Minister. His Liberal Party won in a landslide, claiming more than half of the seats in parliament and ending Conservative Stephen Harper’s decade as Prime Minister.

The 43-year-old Mr Trudeau, whose father, Pierre Trudeau, was Prime Minister for more than 15 years in the 1970s and 1980s, is a onetime actor and former high school teacher, who sprang on to the public stage when he delivered the eulogy at his father’s funeral in 2000. He has been an MP since 2008 and becomes Canada’s second youngest prime minister ever. Addressing his supporters at Liberal headquarters in Montreal Monday night, Mr Trudeau said: “This is what positive politics can do… Canadians from all across this great country sent a clear message tonight. It’s time for a change in this country, my friends, a real change.” “Changement” was a repeated key-word in Mr Trudeau’s victory speech delivered in Montreal, Capital of Quebec Province, the main French-speaking area of Canada. Mr Trudeau, naturally enough considering his background, is fluent in French. Whether this commitment to “Changement” is actually implemented, beyond superficial measures, remains to be seen.

The Liberals, who held power for 80 of the 110 years between 1896 and 2006, had shrunk at the last election to become the Ottawa Parliament’s third largest party, behind the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). Elected Liberal leader in April 2013, Mr Trudeau seemed a popular choice with the public, but his Conservative and NDP opponents wrote him off as a political lightweight who had coasted to prominence on his father’s name.

Yet he exceeded expectations on the campaign trail and the debate stage, leading a steady Liberal poll surge: from third place at the start of the long election campaign in August, to the clear frontrunner in its closing days. Most polls had predicted a minority government, but the apparent collapse of the NDP to a distant third place will now leave the Liberals, under the second Prime Minister Trudeau, with a clear working majority. Scooping the pollsters a not inconsiderable achievement for Mr Trudeau. Canada had shifted much more to the right under Mr Harper, who has lowered sales and corporate taxes, avoided climate change legislation and clashed with the Obama administration over the Keystone XL pipeline, subject of fierce opposition and resistance by environmentalists and local activists in the proposed extension across the US Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico.

As the Senate-expenses scandal and following trial of former Conservative Senator, Mike Duffy, appointed by Mr Harper, played out, Conservative fortunes seemed to decline and the Liberals began slowly picking up steam. The Duffy trial was suspended during the election campaign leaving Mr Harper to face more inquiries when the trial resumes in November. Then came the first real disruptive event of the campaign, the Quebec-centred debate on the Conservatives’ determination to prevent women from wearing face-covering Niqabs at citizenship swearing-in ceremonies. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair came out strongly against the policy, a position that went over poorly in Quebec, the province whose orange-wave of New Democrat victories in 2011 raised the party to a historic high in Parliament making it the Official Opposition for the first time.

As the NDP’s support dropped in Quebec, the Liberals picked up support in the polls, apparently because voters determined to oust Harper and the Tories and saw Trudeau’s 
team as the best bet to win. The NDP gains in Quebec  in 2011 were obtained only as a result of voter dissatisfaction with the separatist Parti Quebecois whose voters were more likely to vote for the left-leaning NDP than switch to the despised Conservatives under Harper. The NDP’s parliamentary representation was more than halved to about 40 seats. Its share of the popular vote shrunk by more than a third to less than 20 percent. NDP lost seats not only to the Liberals, but also to the Conservatives and the pro-Quebec independence Bloc Quebecois (BQ), whose sister party at the provincial level, the Parti Quebecois, has long enjoyed the support of the union bureaucracy. During the election campaign, the Conservatives and BQ effectively worked in tandem. They made joint reactionary and Islamophobic appeals, demanding that restrictions be imposed on the wearing of the niqab and championing Canada’s role in the latest US war in the Middle East.

The 78-day election campaign set precedents on numerous counts: the longest race since 1872, the first mandated by a fixed-election-date law, and the launch pad for controversial new voter-ID rules mooted by the Harper Government. The Conservatives under Stephen Harper began a close second behind a buoyant New Democratic Party in most polls, though observers predicted the elongated campaign could play into the hands of the Tories and their overflowing war chest. At the start in August, the Liberals were in third, Trudeau supposedly having peaked months earlier and succumbed to the perception that he was too green and intellectually light-weight to be Prime Minister. Probably the earliest sign that those first expectations would have to be revised came with the first leaders’ debate, where no one scored an obvious win but Trudeau drew plaudits for a solid performance. The ultimate result on Monday night was the greatest political comeback in Canadian history. The Liberals increased their vote share by more than 15 percentage points in every single one of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories. Gains in Ontario and Quebec in particular were decisive in pushing the party over the 170-seats line needed to win a majority.
Monday’s vote was a massive repudiation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his decade-old Conservative government. The Conservatives lost more than 60 seats, with many cabinet ministers, including Finance Minister Joe Oliver, going down to personal defeat. Harper announced he was stepping aside as Conservative leader even before giving his concession speech.

The Liberals benefited from  mass opposition to the Conservative government, which imposed sweeping austerity measures, further integrated Canada into the military-strategic offensives of US imperialism, and attacked democratic and workers’ rights, rather than the vague “policies” fronted by Mr Trudeau during the campaign. The Liberals’ ability to portray themselves as the agents of “real” and “progressive” change was greatly assisted by the constant hinting by the NDP that a Liberal/NDP coalition could be on the cards if no party gained a majority. For years the Unions and NDP have been promoting the replacement of Harper by a “progressive” government in which the Liberals would play a leading role. Since last year, the Unions have been spearheading an “Anybody but Harper” campaign, pouring
millions of dollars into third-party anti-Conservative ad and protest campaigns. Further, the NDP, was assiduously courting Big Business that it should be entrusted with the reins of power, mounting a “Harper lite” election campaign. This included pledging four years of balanced budgets, no increases in the taxes of the rich and super-rich, further corporate tax cuts, and increased military spending. As the result, the Liberals were able to pass themselves off as opponents of austerity. Despite it being the party that, when it last formed Canada’s government, implemented the largest social spending cuts in Canadian history and handed tens of billions in savings to big business and the financial elite through massive corporate, capital-gains and personal-income tax cuts.

Trudeau and his Liberals will use their majority to continue the dictates of the Canadian capitalist elite. Under conditions of a deepening economic crisis in Canada, driven by the sharp fall in oil and commodity prices and slowed growth internationally, as well as mounting tensions between the major powers, the new Liberal government will be called upon to step up the assault on workers’ rights at home and to more aggressively assert Canadian capitalism’s predatory interests abroad. This will include adoption of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, a central component of the United States’ drive to strategically isolate and militarily encircle China.

During the course of the campaign, it became clear that powerful sections of the ruling class were rallying round the Liberals. Endorsements for a Trudeau government came from La Presse, Canada’s most important French-language daily, and even from Conrad Black,  former jailbird, convicted of fraud in a US court in 2007, and  founder of the neo-conservative National Post and a key backer of the 2004 fusing of Harper’s Canadian Alliance with the remnants of the Progressive Conservative Party. The ruling elites apparently have calculated that after nine years of Conservative rule, the installation of an ostensibly “progressive” government will better enable them to continue to ruthlessly enforce their interests while keeping a lid on mounting social anger.

They also know  that the Liberals have a very long record of making “progressive” appeals during election campaigns, only to impose the policy prescriptions of their avowedly more right-wing opponents when they take office. In 1993, the Liberals swept to power under Jean Chretien after nine years of Progressive Conservative rule. Chretien ran a “progressive” campaign, pledging to end the Conservatives’ “fixation” on the deficit so as to focus on “jobs, jobs, jobs” and to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). His government went on to spearhead the dismantling of public services and unemployment insurance, making savage cuts that are still held up by the IMF as an austerity model for governments around the world.

The Liberals are also committed to retaining Bill C-51, the police state law the Conservatives adopted with Liberal parliamentary support last spring. It gives the national security apparatus unlimited access to all government information on individual Canadians, enhances their powers of “preventive” detention, and empowers the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to break virtually any law when “disrupting” vaguely defined threats to national and economic security. Trudeau has promised to increase the number of Canadian Special Forces deployed to Iraq to train local proxy troops to combat ISIS within the framework of the US-led war coalition. He has also pledged to strengthen Ottawa’s relationship with Washington and to raise military spending, while also refusing to have direct use of Canadian Air Force jets in the US bombing campaigns in Syria and Iraq. As for the Liberals’ much vaunted promise to oppose austerity, their own financial plan calls for them to find $6 billion per year in annual savings by their fourth year in government.

The Liberals also supported the introduction of Bill C-24 which reduces rights of citizens of other nationality who have acquired Canadian citizenship and even of their children born in Canada. The law has been condemned by Amnesty International and civil rights groups in Canada.  Amnesty International  says that the law discriminates against dual citizens by suggesting they are somehow “less Canadian” and not necessarily entitled to the same rights as Canadian-born citizens. Many have also pointed out that some Canadians may not even be aware that they hold dual citizenships based on their origins, marriage and other family ties.“Canadians with another nationality (and those who are eligible to obtain another nationality) now have second-class status,” the British Columbia
Civil Liberties Association said earlier this month.

The law is due to be challenged in court by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) who said the rules that went into effect when Bill C-24 became law in May create a two-tiered system in which naturalised Canadians are treated as second-class. The two organisations are launching a formal constitutional challenge of the law on the grounds that it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

New articles on Blagaroon 2:   

No comments: