Liberals tack right, jettison progressive policy

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PMO Photo by Adam Scotti

When the Canada-Europe trade deal known as CETA came up for vote in the European parliament February 15, the Progressive Alliance Group opposed it: 254 members of the European parliament voted no; 33 abstained; and 408 voted yes.

While in Europe championing CETA, a deal fostered by Stephen Harper, Trudeau lined up with the conservative Christian Democrats -- not the Democrats, or Socialists, or Green Party members. On key issues such as Indigenous rights, climate change, and protection of the marine environment from fuel spills, Justin Trudeau has his party moving right, taking positions defended by the Conservatives. Why is he putting his progressive image at risk?

The Canadian parliamentary system encourages it. In any era the government of the day responds to the Official Opposition by taking its language and using it against them. With the language come policy ideas and sometimes ideology as well.

When Trudeau abandoned his priorities to focus on Canada-U.S. relations he lined up with Conservatives. Both parties are intent on cozying up to Donald Trump in order to preserve Canada's valued free trade relationship with the U.S.

The Liberals are giving credence to myth. Canada never got a free trade agreement with the U.S. Not in the so-called 1988 bilateral FTA, nor in 1994 with NAFTA.

In both deals American protectionist legislation still applied. Under NAFTA protectionist law was privatized. Investor-state rules allowed private companies to sue governments for breaches of the deal.

Say hello to Canada, the most sued country in world trade history. 

The Liberal party once knew what was wrong with the Mulroney trade deals: they provided security of investment for U.S. absentee owners of Canadian resources, monopoly rights for patent holders, and entrenched restrictions on Parliament. Pierre Elliott Trudeau labelled the 1988 bilateral accord  "a monstrous swindle."

Now his son has engaged the perpetrator of the swindle as his counsel on dealing with the U.S.

Mulroney has responded by singing "When Irish eyes are smiling" for Trump, as he did for Reagan in 1985, initiating the "make friends with the White House" foreign policy era.

Unfortunately for the make-nice-with-Donald strategy, the U.S. president does not control how international trade works itself out. Individual trade disputes depend on a quasi-judicial U.S. process. As for the renegotiation of NAFTA, it will be done by someone reporting to the (yet to be confirmed) United States Trade Representative (USTR) with supervision by Congress, not just the White House.

Canadian business is vocalizing its predictable right-wing views. Former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley runs the Business Council of Canada (BCC), made up of CEOs representing the 150 largest corporations operating in Canada.

Following the adage first coined by Winston Churchill, "never let a crisis go to waste," the BCC judge the election of Trump as an opportunity to push its favourite right-wing economics.

The Business Council CEO defines the election of Trump as a "competitive challenge" to Canada.

For Manley the Liberal government needs to respond with corporate tax cuts, deregulation, trade deals favourable to Canada, and going slow on climate change.

The Big Business message to Trudeau is: be more Trump than Trump.

Anyone who thinks the Liberals will not heed the army of corporate lobbyists carrying this message has not been paying attention to Canadian politics for the last 25-plus years.

The hard-right turn in Canadian public life has been orchestrated by corporations that have had more success influencing politics than in doing business.

When Justin Trudeau nixed the idea of proportional representation and banished electoral reform, he was tipping his hand as to an impending shift right.

Under current electoral rules, Liberals can win a majority in the next election by keeping the Conservatives down in Ontario. In order to do that, they need to win small "c" conservative voters.

Team Trudeau have decided they have less to fear from the NDP profiting from the Liberal shift to the right, than from disgruntled Ontario Tories getting out in big numbers to vote against them.

Duncan Cameron is former president of and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

PMO Photo by Adam Scotti

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