Liberal Honeymoon: Clouds on the Horizon


Trudeau at 2016 Unifor Convention

“A honeymoon lasts not nowadays above a fortnight,” said 18th century English writer, Samuel Richardson. This is not true of the relationship between Justin Trudeau and the Canadian public. Even after a year in office, the love-in between Trudeau and most Canadians continues.

The reasons for this are many – Trudeau is such a contrast to Harper – smiling, friendly, youthful and accessible. He has the 2008 Obama touch; he talks of hope. He’s pushed the right buttons – “because it’s 2015” when appointing a gender parity cabinet, adding “and Climate Change” to the Environment ministry’s name, appearing at Pride parades and apologizing to Indigenous People for past abuses. Even with the labour movement, Trudeau leads a charmed life, receiving a hero’s welcome at Unifor’s August national convention.

The Liberals’ popularity is a reality with them polling around 48% throughout 2016. This level of support for a governing party is rare. However, as one wit noted, “a honeymoon is a short period of doting between dating and debting.” The love-in, sooner or later, will come to an end. Liberal measures to date cannot be dismissed as mere window dressing. However, they are mostly low cost, without requiring fundamental changes.

Economic Warning Signs

Although Canada managed to weather the global financial crisis of 2007-08 better than most industrialized countries, it has not seen much of a recovery unless one counts explosive housing markets of Toronto and Vancouver as indicators of such. Over the last 9 years, most people have not seen any real recovery in living standards.

The global economy is teetering on the edge of renewed recession. Canadian manufacturing, in decline over the last 20 years losing 600,000 jobs, has lost a further 30,000 jobs in the past year. The steep slump in oil prices was already taking its toll of jobs in Alberta when the Fort McMurray fire made matters worse. StatsCan reported that a loss of 38,000 paid positions was made up by a similar increase in self-employment; a loss of 40,000 full-time jobs was replaced by a gain in part-time positions. In other words – precariousness and McJobs. The youth unemployment rate stands at 13.3%, nearly twice the national average.

Liberal Clouds

Moreover, there are growing signs that Trudeau’s sunny ways will likely become cloudy in the coming months. At some point the Liberals will return to the policies of the last Liberal government – doing what Bay Street wants.

On the labour front, Trudeau gets hurrahs for repealing Harper’s anti-union laws but, beyond that, he has not acted as a friend of workers. Trudeau was silent on the postal workers dispute, especially noticeable given the importance of pay equity in the union’s claim. The Harper-appointed Canada Post management is still in place.

The Old Port workers of Montréal have received no support although their workplace is federally regulated and their fight is for a $15 minimum wage, surely needed to help “those working hard to join” the middle class.

The Liberals have not restored a full Employment Insurance plan or returned the money governments took from the plan. Nor have they acted to protect the pensions of Hamilton steelworkers being taken by US Steel.

The proposed infrastructure investment is wide open to privatization schemes. The Liberals have not reversed the action of the last Liberal government in 1999 to make rail companies responsible for safety – with the inevitable decline in safety.

They are pushing for a tar sands pipeline and have given permits to build the Site C dam in BC, enraging First Nations. They have failed on the human rights file by selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

Where is the Opposition

The Liberals are helped by the weak opposition. The Tories are trying to re-brand themselves, with interim leader Rona Ambrose claiming, “the bad man’s gone away.” Although the Tories have maintained their core support, at around 28%, they have a lot of repair work to do. It will take Canadians a long time to forget Harper.

The leftwing opposition is not in parliament. The NDP, despite ditching Mulcair, shows no signs of a Corbyn-like turn and have not only failed to rebuild federally, with support mired at around 13%, but have lost government in Manitoba and dropped to third place in an Ontario provincial by-election. Rather than the NDP rebounding, the Liberals are making serious efforts to woo a section of its support.

Opposition to the Liberals is outside of Parliament. Campaigns and struggles point to Liberal failures such as not repealing the anti-democratic Bill C-51, in union actions, and resisting pipelines and other environmentally-damaging projects.

Canada is in a bubble of seeming stability compared to much of the world. At some point, the bubble will burst and Canada will face turmoil and mass struggle. Even now, Canadian capitalism cannot provide good jobs, affordable education, healthy lives and a good environment for all. As the crisis of capitalism grows, Socialist Alternative will work to build support for socialism and a world where people flourish.

Posted in: Canada