Friday, November 21, 2014

Five questions for Justin Trudeau, a year later

Posted November 19, 2014 - by Maude Barlow (Council of Canadians) 


One year ago today I wrote an open letter to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. I asked him to clarify his position on restoring Stephen Harper's $36 billion cut to public health care, cancelling the two-year additional wait to be eligible for Old Age Security, and reversing the gutting of environmental protections for water. I also asked him to oppose export pipelines and to speak against both the Canada-European Union 'free trade' agreement and the Canada-China foreign investment protection agreement.

Mr. Trudeau has not directly responded to my letter published in the Globe and Mail a year ago, but in some of these areas we now know more fully his views. Unfortunately, these views do not always match the hope and aspiration for real change that Canadian voters will be seeking in next year's federal election.

Health Care

Last year, I wrote, "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?"

Despite NDP leader Thomas Mulcair vowing to use any budget surplus to cancel the $36 billion in cuts to health care, Mr. Trudeau has not made a similar promise. Indeed, the Liberals have not released a health care platform and Mr. Trudeau remains cagey on any specifics. Avoiding discussion on the issue and employing only feel-good rhetoric has led to the suspicion and deep concern that Mr. Trudeau will not be a strong advocate for public health care in Canada.

Employment

I stated, "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?"

We are pleased that late last month Trudeau promised to roll back the Harper plan to increase the eligibility age for Old Age Security to 67 by 2023 from the current 65. And last month it was reported that Trudeau said he would scrap Harper's latest Employment Insurance reforms and start all over again. In terms of Harper's expanding the use of temporary foreign workers, Mr. Trudeau has stated, "I believe it is wrong for Canada to follow the path of countries who exploit large numbers of guest workers, who have no realistic prospect of citizenship."

Environment

I wrote, "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?"

While we have not seen details and solid promises, Postmedia News has reported, "Expect to start hearing more from the party about fresh water protections, as [Liberal deputy leader Ralph] Goodale cited broad consultation on how to best protect and maintain the quarter of the world’s fresh water that sits in Canada." That said, Mr. Trudeau has not committed to a ban on fracking which depletes and destroy local water sources, instead only "proper review and oversight" and evidence-based policies. And in terms of extreme energy projects on the Great Lakes, Mr. Trudeau has only said he will seek to balance economic development with environmental protections and respect for Aboriginal rights.

The gutting of fresh water protections and increasing resource development has also further exacerbated the lack of clean drinking water in Indigenous communities. While the Liberal Party has promised to protect and ensure clean drinking water for all Canadians, including First Nations, Mr. Trudeau has not yet backed that with a commitment to allocate the $4.7 billion needed to ensure the human right to water and sanitation is fulfilled in First Nation communities across this country.

Energy

I said, "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?"

Unfortunately, Mr. Trudeau has not only not retracted his support for the 830,000 barrels per day Keystone XL tar sands pipeline (which would generate an estimated 22 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year), he is also now supporting another TransCanada pipeline – the 1.1 million barrels per day Energy East export pipeline. This 4,600 kilometre pipeline would generate 32 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year from the crude oil production required to fill it. That's the equivalent of adding 7 million cars on our roads. Mr. Trudeau has not yet squared his contradictory positions of wanting to both combat emissions while also supporting these climate-killing pipelines.

Trade

I wrote, "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 [CETA] would give European companies similar rights, while the Canada-China deal [FIPA] 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?"

Unfortunately, Mr. Trudeau has been clear that he backs CETA, expressing support for the deal before it was even made public. He has said, "We are broadly supportive of CETA, though we have yet to see its details." When the agreement was finally released this past September, the Liberal trade critic reiterated his party's support for CETA and even expressed concern about the growing opposition to it in Europe. On the Canada-China FIPA, Mr. Trudeau's party noted "concerns about provisions of this agreement, particularly on the issues of transparency during arbitration, termination of the agreement, and the length of time the agreement is in force", but maintained the party also "sees benefits" and that the deal "marks a significant step in our trade relationship with China." While the Liberals called for public hearings and a discussion on FIPA at the trade committee, no Liberal votedin favour of an NDP motion calling on the government not to ratify the deal.

We are now less than a year away from the October 19, 2015 fixed-date federal election. With the writ for the election to drop in early September, we are already in the pre-election campaign period and just nine months away from the election actively getting underway. The electorate has a right to know now if Mr. Trudeau would be a substantive departure from the Harper agenda, an agenda increasingly rejected by the majority of Canadians, or if we can expect only a difference in style.