In a late February interview on NBC’s Meet The Press, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an ally to Canada. He replied that it is not; rather, it is “a country we do business with.”
And what business it is: in January 2021 alone, Canada exported $487 million worth of light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the Kingdom was furthering its six-year war in Yemen by implementing a blockade on the country. The UN has reported that Yemen is “[speeding] towards a massive famine.”
A report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows that between 2018 and 2020, 545 LAVs were delivered to Saudi Arabia in accordance with the deal struck in 2014, including tank destroyers, fire support vehicles, and infantry fighting vehicles. Back in 2016, Trudeau defended Canada’s arms deals with Saudi Arabia by saying Canada would be viewed as a “banana republic” if it pulled out of the $15-billion deal. This comes after his claim that the sale could not be cancelled was shown to be false.
While his use of the term “banana republic” suggests both ignorance and Eurocolonial pretensions, that’s neither surprising nor significant. In contrast to Trudeau’s offered explanations, researcher and author David Wearing argues the arms sales that the U.S., the U.K., and Canada maintain with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are intended to ensure access to the region’s oil — and, perhaps more importantly, restrict access by anyone else, especially “hostile powers.” If this is true, there is no human rights violation or crime against humanity which would deter the trade.
This point is underlined by remarks Trudeau gave in 2017, implicitly endorsing this relationship while once again displaying a profoundly nihilistic worldview. Speaking at a Global Energy and Environment Leadership Award Dinner held in Houston, Texas, Trudeau argued that, “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.”
Trudeau’s worldview is also expressed in issues beyond those of war and oil. Rogers Communications recently signed a deal to purchase Shaw Communications, a sale valued at $26 billion, including debt. The deal is currently under review by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and the Department of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED). Some have argued that the decision may come down to what the government deems a priority — “better wireless networks or lower prices.” Seemingly in agreement, the federal innovation minister stated that the review will focus on “affordability, competition, and innovation.”
This, of course, is ridiculous — the notion that the government must choose between “better wireless networks or lower prices” concedes wholly to private, profiteering telecommunications companies — the same companies which accepted millions in public money through the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy program while reporting billions in profits, buying back their own stocks, and increasing dividend payouts to shareholders.
As argued by writer and researcher Paris Marx, access to internet and telecommunications services should be publicly funded utilities, provided to every resident of the country at no individualized cost, and with no exceptions. The same should be true of housing, whole-person health care (including drug, mental, dental, optometry, disability support, and sexual and reproductive health), education, and food, at the very least.
The question of cost is not a practical limitation. There simply do not appear to be prohibitive costs in national policy-making. Less than a year ago, the Bank of Canada was purchasing at least $5 billion in government bonds per week. A recent report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that conservative estimates of a moderate wealth tax could generate nearly $20 billion in its first year. Given the overwhelming popularity of wealth tax proposals, a significantly heavier wealth tax may also receive popular support.
As noted by labour economist Andrew Jackson, neither the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund nor the Bank of Canada itself — hardly raving Marxist institutions — are concerned about runaway inflation as a result of quantitative easing. Jackson argues, instead, that the primary issue is that capital is allocated by financial institutions and corporations in pursuit of profit, rather than by public agencies in service of the public good.
The Trudeau government seemingly approves of this arrangement. On March 10, 2021, representatives of the Canadian government attended a World Trade Organization meeting and maintained the country’s opposition to waiving intellectual property rights related to COVID-19 vaccines. This explicitly serves the interests of pharmaceutical companies and their shareholders at the expense of Black and brown lives.
We all deserve better than this. It is really that simple. Not one of us chose to be born, nor did we choose the circumstances we are born into. Despite this, people ensconced in wealth and privilege that most of us will never even witness, let alone experience, consistently argue that a better world is not possible. To call it obscene is far too kind. It is not only that a just and equitable world is possible — it’s non-negotiable.
On election night in 2015, once it had become clear that Trudeau would be the next prime minister, he took to the podium to extol the virtues of positive and hopeful politics. He began his remarks by referencing the 1895 speech by Wilfrid Laurier, which itself referred to the fable of Aesop involving the wind, the sun, and the coat-wearing traveller. Laurier said he’d chosen the path of the sun, the path of gracious negotiation. He spoke, too, of “peace amongst all creeds and races.”
How can someone cite a call for peace the world over, then turn around and sell billions of dollars in arms, you ask? That I cannot say, but perhaps it takes the same sort of person who would choose as their consigliere a man who claims that “left, right, and centre are meaningless concepts.”
Chuka Ejeckam is a political researcher and writer, and works in the labour movement in British Columbia. He focuses on political and economic inequity and inequality, both within Canada and as produced by Canadian policy.
Image credit: Adam Scotti/PMO