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Trudeau tries to blend neo-liberalism with populism

Photo by Global News

As his popularity begins to slide in the polls – perhaps as a result of privileged cash-for-access fundraising with rich donors, a new year’s day holiday on a private island in the Bahamas, the approval of two controversial tar sands pipelines, and flip-flopping on his promise to implement electoral reform – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has decided to skip the upcoming World Economic Forum in Davos and the inauguration of Donald J. Trump in Washington.

Reuters reports, “Trudeau, who never misses a chance to sell Canada as a destination for foreign investment, had planned to attend the annual mid-January meeting of billionaires, investors, celebrities and politicians.” Trudeau was at last year’s World Economic Forum, just a few months after his election, in order to push for the ratification of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), which contains an ‘investment protection’ provision that allows transnational corporations to sue national governments over public interest measures that affect future profits.

And while Trudeau will skip the inauguration of Trump on January 20, CTV reports, “Trudeau’s top advisers have had about a dozen high-level meetings with Trump’s most trusted officials. The two sides have met 10 or 12 times since the U.S. election, and as recently as Tuesday [January 3] — a five-hour meeting between Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, his principal secretary Gerry Butts, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.” The private meetings reportedly have been about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but may have also included talks about the 890,000 barrel per day Keystone XL tar sands pipeline which both Trump and Trudeau support.

Instead of travelling to Switzerland and the United States, Trudeau will be seeking to reconnect with “ordinary citizens”.

The Globe and Mail reports, “Trudeau is planning to embark on a campaign-style tour, talking to average folks at coffee shops and church basements across the country. The first leg of the tour is to start at the end of next week with Trudeau travelling Highway 401 from Ottawa to London, Ont. That will be followed up by stops in British Columbia, Quebec and the Prairies, with events still being planned for the Atlantic provinces. The events will be a mix of traditional townhall-style, question-and-answer sessions and more informal mingling with people in coffee shops and church basements.”

This may provide an opportunity to ask the prime minister questions about his support for CETA, his position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, if he will call for the ‘investment protection’ provisions to be removed from NAFTA, if he will oppose the Energy East pipeline after having approved 1 million barrels a day of tar sands export capacity with the Kinder Morgan and Line 3 pipelines, if he will immediately restore federal protection to the 2.25 million rivers and 31,000 lakes removed from the Navigable Waters Protection Act, if his government will commit to covering 25 per cent of health care spending in Canada and implement universal pharmacare, his position on proportional representation, and why he is courting BlackRock Inc. and global capital to invest in public-private partnerships including toll bridges, energy grids and water systems.

This tour also comes as The Globe and Mail reports, “The federal government is spending half a billion dollars to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Much of the planning of the 150th celebrations began under Stephen Harper’s government, but the Liberals quickly put their own stamp on it. The Conservatives wanted celebrations to emphasize Canada as ‘strong, proud and free’, while the Liberals redrew public servants’ marching orders to focus on diversity, reconciliation with indigenous peoples, the environment and youth.”

It is already being pointed out that if the priorities were truly reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, youth and the environment, then that $500 million could be more meaningfully spent on ensuring that First Nations have clean drinking water (the Alternative Federal Budget calls for an annual $470 million investment in this), on free post-secondary education and strategies to address precarious employment for young people, and to stop approving pipelines that facilitate an expansion of the tar sands, worsen climate change, and which threaten thousands of waterways across the country.

Rick Salutin recently commented, “I think you can see Trudeau trying to be both a neo-liberal and a populist. As a neo-liberal, he is committed to trade deals like the TPP, and the Canada-Europe deal, CETA. But they would almost certainly cost Canadians jobs. It’s what trade deals do. So on the other hand, he’s approving new pipelines because they create some jobs, and symbolically, they’re all about job creation. As a next gen empathic neo-liberal, he’s also created a national carbon cutting plan, alongside the pipelines, which will increase emissions. Contradictions, anyone? Yes, it’s rationally incoherent, but that doesn’t really matter in politics, as long as it keeps you in office.”

And so we get, as Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom suggests, “neo-liberalism with a human face”, with Trudeau a version of Tony Blair in relation to Stephen Harper as Margaret Thatcher. Both carrying out fundamentally the same agenda, but one appearing to do so in a “more acceptable manner”.

For a far more compelling alternative vision to Trudeau’s neo-liberalism, please see Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow’s vision for 2017. To help make that vision a reality, you can join one of our local chapters, take action through one of our online action alerts, and/or support our collective work through a donation.