Nothing unifies a divided people quite like a common enemy. Fighting the enemy focuses people’s energies and generates a common frame of reference that delivers moral clarity. However, once the enemy is vanquished the unifying frame of reference vanishes along with it. Suddenly, a new, “peacetime” frame of reference fills the void, and old divisions redevelop, maybe even some new ones. Canadian voters are just now coming to appreciate that while winning a war may be hard, winning the peace is even harder.
After ridding the country of Stephen Harper’s toxic dictatorship, the electorate is now divided over what, exactly, to make of Justin Trudeau’s new Liberal government. Optimists believe that it represents a return to a sane, humane Canada whereas pessimists think it will generally hearken unto the same corporatist cabal that Harper did. To some degree Trudeau’s victory is analogous to Barack Obama’s presidential victory in 2008 after the end of the Bush error… er, era. A short analysis of the expectation, election and fallout of the U.S.’s first black president provides useful insight into what’s in store for Canada.
The Great Black Hope
In 2008, Senator Barack Obama was the Democratic standard bearer for a return to rational government after George W. Bush’s eight-year régime, which was notorious for warmongering, anti-Muslim fear mongering, treason, zionist servility and corporatism, among other things. Although not all of these traits were unique to Bush, they reached such extremes that the political establishment decided that the so-called Republican Party was unfit to remain in power. This belief was confirmed when the party chose Sen. John “Insane” McCain to challenge for the White House.
Endorsements for Obama crossed party and political lines, running the gamut from communists to The Economist and included members of McCain’s own party, like Bush’s one-time Secretary of State Colin Powell. Typical of the establishment view was the New York Timesendorsement editorial:
We believe [Senator Barack Obama] has the will and the ability to forge the broad political consensus that is essential to finding solutions to this nation’s problems. In the same time, Senator John McCain of Arizona has retreated farther and farther to the fringe of American politics, running a campaign on partisan division, class warfare and even hints of racism. His policies and worldview are mired in the past. His choice of a running mate [Sarah Palin] so evidently unfit for the office was a final act of opportunism and bad judgment that eclipsed the accomplishments of 26 years in Congress. Given the particularly ugly nature of Mr. McCain’s campaign, the urge to choose on the basis of raw emotion is strong. But there is a greater value in looking closely at the facts of life in America today and at the prescriptions the candidates offer. The differences are profound.
The editorial’s endorsement of promised reforms under Obama was significant because the paper had been the chief cheerleader and disinformant—take a bow, Judith Miller!—for Bush’s military aggressions, economic gangsterism, repression of civil liberties, World Trade Towers/Pentagon attack and passage of the unconstitutionalUSA PATRIOT Act. Powell, himself, even lied to the UN to justify attacking Afghanistan, and the Times dutifully reported the lie as if it were legitimate news.
For voters, and the international community at large, Barack Obama was the Great Black Hope, and his election was hailed as a victory for civil rights, minority rights, reasoned government and an end to irresponsible military adventurism. However, this near-giddy optimism was not based on any realistic understanding of Obama the politician. For voters, electing the first black president in a racist country and getting rid of the Bush junta mattered far more than any substantive assessment of Obama’s politics.
The Great Black Nope
Any expectation that Obama would be much different from Bush was dashed almost immediately when he announced that he would not launch an investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks to find out who really did it. Obama said he was not going to look backwards; he was going to look forwards, and with that dismissal the whitewash of establishment guilt became government policy, as did the ensuing police-state terrorism.
In addition, as a senator from Illinois, Obama voted for Bush’s $700-plus billion “rescue” package for banks and other financial institutions even though their greed and predatory behaviour were entirely responsible for their misfortune. Once elected Obama’s administration accepted the egregious Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and even expanded it to cover loans to keep General Motors and Chrysler from going under. The following excerpt is taken from a list of 23 false promises Obama told to get into office. (For the full list, including links to what happened to them, click here.)
#2 “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.”
#8 “We reject the use of national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime.”
#10 “We will close the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, the location of so many of the worst constitutional abuses in recent years.”
#12 “We will revisit the Patriot Act and overturn unconstitutional executive decisions issued during the past eight years.”
#14 “We reject sweeping claims of ‘inherent’ presidential power.”
#16 “We support constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans.”
#17 “If we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home; we will end this war. You can take that to the bank.”
#19 “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”
The irony is that even if voters had understood Obama’s politics, it would not have made any difference because McCain and Palin were unelectable. Obama’s 2008 victory was, therefore, less an election than a necessity, and any talk of reform must be seen as just an election ploy. The upshot is that electing Obama made not a damned bit of difference. He continued or expanded many of Bush’s repressions, such as warranties wiretaps, surveillance of American citizens, drone strikes, and military commissions. In fact, the U.S. became even more repressive under Obama, who added civil rights abuses, such as prosecution of whistleblowers, criminalization of peaceful political protest, blacklisting, targeted killing of Americans overseas and secretive GPS tracking of individuals.
Whether Obama became a captive of an entrenched corporatist/zionist/militarist political culture or whether he was a willing participant is irrelevant. What, if anything, does the failed promise of Obama’s election mean for Canada’s new government?
To begin with, Justin Trudeau was swept to power under similar circumstances and with similar expectations as Obama was. Despite winning only 39.5% of the popular vote, his Liberals ended up with a resounding majority government that ended Stephen Harper’s nine-plus years of neo-fascism, which was notorious for warmongering, anti-Muslim fear mongering, treason, zionist servility and corporatism, among other things. Although not all of these traits were unique to Harper, they reached such extremes that the public and the political establishment decided that the so-called Conservative Party of Canada was unfit to remain in power.
Trudeau and his Liberals were swept to power in a wave of near-giddy emotion that invites allusion not only to the “Hope for Change” campaign of Obama’s 2008 election but also to the “Trudeaumania” that helped his father, the swinging bachelor Pierre, lead the Liberals to victory in 1968. Justin’s youthful charm combined with a strategic anti-Harper voting campaign caused a stampede to the Liberals that also trampled underfoot the fortunes of the only other governing possibility, the centre-left New Democratic Party, which early on looked poised to win.
To much popular approval, Trudeau quickly set about reversing certain aspects of Harperism. He cancelled Canada‘s participation in the illegal bombing campaign of Syria, will repeal Bill C-24 (which created two-tiered citizenship) and unmuzzled federal scientists, who are now free to speak out against the dangers of global warming.
Trudeau also showed generally good judgment in his choice of cabinet ministers. For example, Catherine McKenna, minister for environment and climate change, looks ready to stand up to Big Oil. Her chief of staff Marlo Raynolds is a former executive director of the Pembina Institute, which advocates the elimination of fossil fuels. Former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, the new foreign minister, has promised that Canada will become an “honest broker” in the Middle East, implying that it will no longer be Israel’s chief lackey.
Canada does, indeed, appear to be returning to the law-abiding nation the world knew before the darkness descended, but people are still basking in the warm afterglow of Trudeaumania part deux, which means that relief at Harper’s demise still hasn’t given way to a sober appraisal of Justin Trudeau. Admittedly, such an appraisal is difficult because Trudeau is largely an empty vessel.
Before entering politics in October 2008 and being elected party leader five years later, Trudeau’s résumé consisted of teaching two years of public school and abandoning two university programs. In contrast, Pierre Trudeau had been an intellectual, editor, lawyer and minister of justice before becoming prime minister, and Barack Obama had been an attorney and served 11 years as a state and federal senator before entering the White House.
Eventually, the fog of celebrity will dissipate and Canadians will wake up to a pounding election hangover: Canada’s new prime minister is a callow dilettante who lacks the political, economic or military expertise to think for himself, stand up to intense lobbying or lead the country with any degree of confidence. Such lack of qualification was in plain view throughout the campaign, but his fawning fans could not or would not see it.
Had the NDP run a more assertive, passionate campaign and gone after Trudeau for being a junior, milder version of Harper, Thomas Mulcair might now be at the head of a genuinely reformist government. Instead, the country is saddled with a government that, like Obama’s, is turning out to be little better than the one it replaced. The following three policy areas show just how little Trudeau differs from the reviled Harper.
Even before the government was sworn in, Trudeau confirmed pessimists’ worst fears when he announced that, after speaking with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he would support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Orwellian betrayal of sovereignty and civil rights to multinational corporations, which Canadians overwhelmingly oppose.
It is impossible that Trudeau could have had any deep understanding of this deal, which was negotiated behind closed doors; in fact, he admitted as much in early October during the campaign:
The Trans-Pacific Partnership stands to remove trade barriers, widely expand free trade for Canada, and increase opportunities for our middle class and those working hard to join it. Liberals will take a responsible approach to thoroughly examining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Harper Conservatives have failed to be transparent through the entirety of the negotiations – especially in regards to what Canada is conceding in order to be accepted into this partnership. (my emphasis)
How could Trudeau support the TPP in the course of a 15-minute phone conversation after he had promised to review it?!” Adam Kingsmith, a member of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, shows just how irresponsible and treasonous Harper was in negotiating the TPP:
The Canadian government lobbied heavily for two years to secure Canada’s spot at the table, believing the TPP to be an opportunity to boost our economic profile. Admission however, came with some serious strings attached. Sight unseen, the Canadian government had to agree to accept all negotiated text on which current members have already reached a consensus. According to the United States Trade Representative (USTR), this includes all un-bracketed text within chapters that are still open for negotiation. As only one chapter has been officially closed to date, the federal government will essentially be forced to implement policies Canadians had no say in shaping, as well as policies yet to be drafted up.
Just days before the Oct. 19 election, Trudeau’s campaign co-chairman Dan Gagnier was forced to resign amid revelations he sent e-mails to the pipeline company TransCanada Corp. on how it should lobby the new government to shape national energy policy. Like the TPP, the majority of Canadians oppose the Keystone XL and the Energy East pipelines, but such obvious collusion between TransCanada and the Liberals shows that Trudeau cannot be trusted to act in the national interest.
After Obama killed U.S. participation in the Keystone pipeline, Trudeau had the gall to express disappointment even though it would not have benefited Canada and would have contributed to global warming. Is Trudeau a prime minister, or is he, like Harper, a front man for Big Oil? His anodyne reaction to Obama’s decision could have been penned by the most cynical Harperite hack:
We know that Canadians want a government that they can trust to protect the environment and grow the economy. The government of Canada will work hand in hand with provinces, territories and like-minded countries to combat climate change, adapt to its impacts, and create the clean jobs of tomorrow.
As the world now knows, Russia did not shoot down Malaysia Airlines MH-17, and it did not invade Ukraine. It also knows that the U.S. spent $5 billion to destabilize Viktor Yanukovich’s government to install a pro-NATO, neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine, which falsified claims of Russian aggression. In fact, Russia has been a force for stability in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but Trudeau doesn’t know this because he is ignorant of basic history and hearkens unto the same imperial voices that Harper did. How else to explain thisembarrassing fit of petulance?:
Canada needs to continue to stand strongly with the international community pushing back against the bully that is Vladimir Putin. If I have the opportunity in the coming months to meet with Vladimir Putin, I will tell him all this directly to his face because we need to ensure that Canada continues to stand strongly for peace and justice in the world.
Later, Trudeau reported that he had had a positive conversation with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Canadians may have cast out a tyrant, but they embraced a gormless boy-king who is only marginally less dangerous. The only hope is that public pressure can force the Liberals, who are not ideologically monolithic, to backtrack before things get seriously out of hand. Otherwise, instead of sunnier days in Canada, as one usually reliable columnist wrote, Canadians will face a false dawn, just like the Americans did.
Greg Felton, counterpunch.org