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Five policy questions Justin Trudeau needs to answer

Published in today’s Globe and Mail

As the Harper government stumbles, caught up in the Senate debacle and electoral fraud scandal, polls show many Canadians flocking to Justin Trudeau, hoping that he represents a different kind of politician.

This has put the spotlight on the Liberal leader to reveal what he really stands for. But aside from dropping a few policy hints at selected venues, Mr. Trudeau has kept to platitudes about supporting the middle class.

This is simply not good enough. The Harper government has embarked on a radical restructuring of economic, social, environmental and foreign policy that has moved Canada sharply to the right of the majority of the population. Canadians have a right to know where the Liberal Party stands on a variety of issues of far more import than whether or not to legalize marijuana.

Here are a few examples:

Health Care

The Harper government has announced that it will remove $36-billion from medicare, cutting the annual funding increase in half and significantly reducing the federal share of health spending. Cash-strapped provincial governments will then have no choice but to privatize health services.

The vast majority of Canadians oppose private health care. Will Justin Trudeau commit to a full funding partnership with the provinces and enforce the provisions of the Canada Health Act to maintain our public health care system?


Canadians are working longer than ever for less pay. The Harper government has added to their plight by raising the retirement age, reducing Employment Insurance eligibility, and expanding the use of foreign temporary workers. Now it is introducing regressive U.S.-style anti-labour laws.

Will Justin Trudeau really stand up for the middle class by opposing these draconian measures?


This is the most anti-environmental government in our history. Mr. Harper has gutted every serious regulation protecting our freshwater heritage, leaving the vast majority of our lakes and rivers with absolutely no protection from pollution and exploitation. He has killed more than 3,000 environmental assessments on potentially hazardous projects across the country and shut down dissenting scientists and environmental groups.

Would Justin Trudeau reverse these cuts to environmental protections and safeguard Canada’s water from abuse?


The Harper government has abandoned the Kyoto Protocol, supported the massive expansion of the oil sands and promoted export pipelines. It spends more money on subsidies to the energy industry than it does on Environment Canada, and has cut programs that promote energy conservation and renewable alternatives.

Justin Trudeau has said he wants to combat greenhouse gas emissions, but supports not only growth in the oil sands but also the Keystone XL pipeline. How does he square these competing positions?


The Harper government has pulled out all the stops to negotiate powerful new trade deals that give transnational corporations more rights to dictate Canadian environmental, economic and social policy. Using NAFTA, eight different U.S. corporations are currently suing Canada for $2.5-billion in compensation. The Canada-EU deal would give European companies similar rights, while the Canada-China deal would allow Chinese state-owned companies to sue Canada if any limit is placed on growth in the oil sands.

Does Justin Trudeau understand how these trade and investment deals limit the democratic process, and will he follow Australia and Brazil in refusing to negotiate deals that give foreign corporations these rights?

Mr. Trudeau has acknowledged that these and other market-friendly policies have not led to prosperity for all, and have instead squeezed the middle class. But he hasn’t proposed any changes.

In fact, Canadian Business says his agenda is as “capitalist friendly” as the Conservatives and that his personal appeal might actually make him “better for business than Harper.” Is this true?

Canadians have a right to know now if Justin Trudeau will make no substantive departure from the Harper agenda, an agenda increasingly rejected by the majority of Canadians.

Maude Barlow is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and author of Blue Future, Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever.