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Decent work and dignity can counter the rise of radical right-wing populism

Across this country there has been an overwhelming sense of grief at the tragic loss of life of six Muslim-Canadians gunned down because of their religion in a mosque Sainte-Foy Quebec. The murder by a white supremacist, fuelled by the Islamophobia of Marie Le Pen and Donald Trump, stands as a shocking notice of what is at stake in 2017 and beyond.

It's not surprising that the inauguration of Donald Trump was met with the largest outpouring of anger in living memory. In the first month he proved our worst fears to be justified. Executive orders to build a wall against Mexico and bar Muslims foster a climate of fear and division, while his cabinet of billionaires are set to gut labour standards, public education and equality rights.

In Canada, the Trudeau government is positioning itself to accommodate the new reality of an America First doctrine. The cabinet was shuffled, disgraced former PM Brian Mulroney was recruited, and the Keystone pipeline decision applauded. Business leaders are trying to position themselves for future trade relations, while oil, gas and mining interests prepare to challenge measures for carbon pricing or climate justice.

There will be much to protest in the next four years. Hatred will spread as the most powerful man on earth gives license to xenophobes, racists and misogynists to act out their worst instincts. Civil liberties will be under attack by Republican majorities and the Supreme Court and anti-labour legislation is being tabled. Here at home Kevin O’Leary and Kellie Leitch will try to ride to power by mimicking the Trump formula. It is becoming a much nastier world.

But signs of resistance were everywhere on January 21, as millions turned out to repudiate the Trump agenda. The presence of hundreds of lawyers at U.S. airports to assist those caught in the net of repression was a hopeful sign, along with court rulings that challenged the legality of the immigration ban. Mayors and State Governors have vowed to obstruct the repression against undocumented residents, and a sanctuary movement is blossoming.

Canadians have already responded in vigils across the country to support our Muslim neighbours, and to publicly reject division and hate. But we need to ensure that no Canadian politician or businessman is allowed to "normalize" the rule of Trump and the extremist Republicans. It will be ever more important that people have decent work and dignity -- this is absolutely vital to countering the despair that is a fertile ground for right-wing populism.

We need to be resolute in standing for the true values of Canada, guided by the courageous last words of Jack Layton as he urged us to affirm our shared humanity:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we can change the world.

But the world won’t change just with positive emotions. We need a comprehensive plan to address these troubling times. Here are some key features that would make a difference:

  • Build powerful movements to challenge Islamophobia and all forms of discrimination, and deepen the equity agenda in schools, workplaces and every organization. Strengthen the refugee, migrant rights and sanctuary movements and support those in the U.S. who are working to uphold civil liberties. Rescind the "Safe Third Country" agreement and repeal Bill C-51.
  • Strengthen the economy and secure good jobs for all. If NAFTA is being re-negotiated, delete Chapter 11 and enshrine labour and environmental rights. Enact Just Transition policies to assist transformation to a low-carbon economy. Defend public services and enact fair corporate tax policies. Strengthen workers’ rights and economic security.
  • Support Indigenous peoples in their struggle to defend land and water, for justice for missing and murdered indigenous women, and implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Report. Justice in Canada cannot be achieved without addressing our relationships with the first peoples.
  • Defend the principles of professional journalism and the financial sustainability of Canadian media as a key component of democracy. We need to be informed in order to make effective judgements, and to maintain accountability of those we elect -- and all those who wield power in our society.

John Cartwright is President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council.

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