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NWT chapter at Common Front discussion on Trudeau’s first year in office

I had the pleasure of speaking today (via Skype from Ottawa) with a wonderful group of activists gathered for the Northwest Territories (NWT) Common Front meeting in Yellowknife.

I spoke about the Trudeau government’s record during the “Trudeau Tracker” portion of their agenda. With less than three weeks to go until the one year anniversary of the October 19, 2015 election win for the Liberals, we now have a greater ability to look at their record of promises broken, kept or still to be determined.

1- During the election, the Liberals promised “a full and open public debate in Parliament to ensure Canadians are consulted” on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In one sense they have kept this promise, the House of Commons standing committee on international trade has held extensive consultations across the country. But Trudeau also says the party “strongly supports free trade” and that the TPP would “increase opportunities for our middle class and those working hard to join it” (even though the evidence says that’s not true). It remains to be seen what will happen here, but the Liberals are facing a November 2017 deadline to ratify the agreement.

2- During the election, the Liberals also promised to “establish national emissions-reduction targets” that recognize the consequences of “a greater-than-two-degree increase” in global temperatures. They later said that Harper government’s weak emission reduction target was a floor “not a ceiling” of what they would do. Unfortunately, environment minister Catherine McKenna is now saying, “What I said is that we will at least meeting the target”. In other words they are, at this point, only committing to Harper’s goal of a 14 per cent reduction below 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – and not a target based on climate science.

3- The Liberals also promised to fulfill “our G20 commitment and phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry over the medium-term”, which the G7 has agreed means 2025. But by November 2015, it was already being reported that the Trudeau government had agreed to keep in place a $50 million-over-five-years tax cut to spur the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry in British Columbia. And in March of this year, natural resources minister Jim Carr said now is “not the moment” to begin to reduce the billions of dollars in subsidies given to fossil fuel corporations given the impact of lower oil prices on the industry.

4- The Liberals criticized the Harper government’s “elimination of the Navigable Waters Protection Act” and promised to “review these changes, restore lost protections, and incorporate more modern safeguards”. There was hope this would mean that the Trudeau government might, as a first step, immediately restore protections for the 31,000 lakes and 2.25 million rivers that were delisted in the Navigation Protection Act. That hasn’t happened and now Liberal MP Kate Young, who is the parliamentary secretary to the minister of transport, is suggesting an upcoming review of the Act will be on the listed waterways and whether or not more “should be added”.

5- It was welcomed when the Liberals promised a “renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation and partnership”. And there was further hope when the Trudeau government announced in May that it fully endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). But Grand Chief Stewart Phillip accused the Trudeau government of a “betrayal” when it issued Navigation Protection Act and Fisheries Act permits this summer to allow construction on the Site C dam on Treaty 8 territory to continue, despite the absence of “free, prior and informed consent” (a key article in UNDRIP) from First Nations for this dam.

6- After years of the Harper government refusing to hold a national public inquiry on murdered and missing Indigenous women, there was relief when the Liberals promised to “immediately launch” an inquiry to seek recommendations on “concrete actions that governments, law enforcement, and others” could take. The Trudeau government did launch this inquiry in September, and that inquiry will report its findings in December 2018, but Indigenous women have expressed dismay that the inquiry will not have the authority to make findings about police misconduct or on how seriously police investigations were conducted.

7- Given the Harper government refused to negotiate a new Health Accord (with a 6 per cent escalator) and instead imposed a new funding formula that could mean more than $36 billion will not be transferred from the federal government to provincial governments over the next ten years for health care, it was welcomed when the Liberals promised to “negotiate a new Health Accord with provinces and territories” as well as a “long-term agreement on funding”. But earlier this month the Trudeau government said it would implement the Harper government’s funding formula. Health minister Jane Philpott says, “I do not intend to push for an increase in the escalator”.

8- While the Liberals did not promise to implement pharmacare during the election (they only pledged to “improve access to necessary prescription medications”), it was still disappointing when the health minister confirmed in April that pharmacare was not part of her mandate. It is even more disappointing that the Trudeau government is pushing hard to get the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) ratified even though studies show that the patent provisions for pharmaceutical drugs in CETA could cost us between $850 million to $1.65 billion annually, while pharmacare would save about $14 billion a year.

9- The Liberals promised to “end Canada’s combat mission in Iraq”. But between their election win on October 19 and November 23 (weeks after they took office), at least 16 air strikes by CF-18s had taken place. And while those fighter jets were eventually removed by April of this year, Canada still provides refuelling and reconnaissance airplanes to support US and UK aerial-bombing missions in Iraq.  iPolitics has reported, “Canadian trainers are calling in airstrikes, Canadian planes are scouting targets, and Canadian officers are on the ground in Baghdad working with the Iraqi military and other members of the U.S.-led international coalition.”

10- And the Liberals promised “to better help those affected by war and violent conflict” by contributing to United Nations “conflict-prevention” and “post-conflict reconstruction” efforts. But by May, even after seeing a video of Saudi Arabia using armoured vehicles against civilians, Trudeau said Canada had to uphold its business deals and sell $15-billion of armoured vehicles to the government widely-known for its human rights violations. In July, Trudeau also announced that Canada would send up to six CF-18s, naval frigates and 450 soldiers as part of a NATO (not UN) mobilization in the Baltic region to block Russia expansionism, even though many analysts say the NATO buildup will only serve to destabilize the region.

Beyond this, there is still hope that the Liberals will allow charities to do their work “free from political harassment” as they have promised, that they will pass Bill C-4 that would repeal the anti-union legislation introduced by the Harper government (though in recent contract negotiations they reportedly offered the same deal to the PSAC as Harper did), and that the online consultation on C-51 could lead to changes to this “national security” legislation (though there are concerns that the questions are skewed and read like a “wish list” for police and intelligence services). There is also hope that the Liberals will introduce legislation to implement proportional representation in May 2017, repeal the barriers to voting Harper implemented in the Fair Elections Act, and make good on their promise to end boil water advisories in First Nations by 2020.

But there is also dismay that the Trudeau government approved both the Woodfibre and Pacific NorthWest LNG projects, agreed to exploratory talks on a Canada-China Free Trade Agreement, appears likely to approve the 890,000 barrel per day Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline in December (though it’s believed they could reject the 525,000 barrel per day Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline in October), could potentially privatize airports and other public assets through a scheme called “asset recycling” beginning in March next year, and that the public input against the Trans-Pacific Partnership will weigh less in its ultimate fate than the outcome of the US presidential election next month.

The Liberals still remain very popular in public opinion polls, but almost a year into their mandate they have already fallen short on some of the key promises they made.