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Rick Salutin and Dimitri Lascaris examine what happens when political celebrities tackle climate change

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JUSTIN TRUDEAU: [Translated from French] Canadians have chosen change, real change. SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: That was the newly-elected Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, on election night. Justin Trudeau arrived in Washington on Wednesday. A highly-anticipated state dinner is in the works for his visit on Thursday, March 10. On the agenda for the meetings between the president and the prime minister are the environment, security, and trade, after which Canada and the U.S. is expected to announce a joint climate plan. Trudeau’s state visit to Washington is regarded as the most important visit in the last 19 years by a Canadian prime minister, and the White House is pulling out all the stops to welcome him. But what is expected to be achieved, particularly on trade and climate change? These two issues will perhaps affect us on both sides of the border, and joining me to discuss all of this today is Dimitri Lascaris and Rick Salutin. Rick Salutin is a longtime Canadian journalist, and we have grown up with Rick Salutin, who was a reporter for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. He’s a novelist, playwright, and journalist based in Toronto. And also joining us from Vancouver is Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri is a Canadian lawyer, called to the bar in Ontario and New York. He is now a correspondent for the Real News Network. Gentlemen, thank you both for joining me today. Now, gentlemen, there’s much conversation around the visit, centered on the environment, with Obama wanting to make climate change his legacy, and Trudeau, of course, campaigning in a big way on environmental issues, making various promises. In fact, one of his first acts after taking office was to go to Paris to sign the climate agreement. So Dimitri, let me go to you first. What is on the table in terms of climate change to be discussed, and what is really at stake for us? DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, 2014, up until that point in time, was the hottest year on record. 2015 beat 2014 by an unprecedented margin. This was followed by January 2016, which was the hottest month ever recorded, again, by an historic margin. And February appears to have beaten January soundly. So what we are experiencing is a climate crisis of unprecedented proportions that’s accelerating. And it appears that the scientific community consistently, almost consistently underestimates the severity of climate change and the rapidity of climate change. So we really have a global state of emergency on our hands. You know, prior to going to Washington, I suspect the timing of this was intentional, first Justin Trudeau met with the premiers of the provinces in Vancouver. The expectation had been when he went to COP21 in Paris that within 90 days he was going to formulate a plan to meet Canada’s emissions reductions target, which, by the way, is the weakest target in the G7, and is currently the same target that Stephen Harper, who is probably the worst prime minister we’ve ever had on environmental issues, adopted in May of last year. So Justin Trudeau has simply embraced that target, said he was going to formulate a plan within 90 days of COP21. It turns out that in Vancouver there was no plan. There was a plan to make a plan, and that’s about all that can be said about what came out of Vancouver. It’s not clear exactly how we’re going to achieve even that rather pathetic emissions reductions target. So he’s going to Washington with, really, as far as I can tell, nothing concrete to offer. I’m sure there are going to be some wonderful, you know, expressions of rhetoric coming out of the meetings with the Obama administration about the seriousness of both governments to tackle the climate crisis. But it’s hard to see what, if anything, Justin Trudeau is going to be able to deliver of a serious nature, given the status of the talks with the premiers. PERIES: And Rick, get in on this. What is on the agenda, what do you expect will come out of this meeting? RICK SALUTIN: Well, it’s always a little embarrassing to see how excited Canadians, especially politicians and journalists, tend to get when they get some focus in Washington. So I think we’ll see a certain amount of peeing themselves over how much attention they’re getting. In terms of policy, I don’t know. I think that there are certain possibilities. I’m interested in the trade questions. And especially whether they’ll say anything about the TPP. I think, you know, it’s interesting that the model for all of these wretched trade deals that have de-industrialized much of Canada and the U.S. was the original Canada-U.S. trade deal. And in 1988, followed by NAFTA. And they got by with a certain amount of sprinkling of fairy dust, and promising good results. But this far down the line you can see they’re not, they’re not working. And even this, Bernie Sanders’ victory in Michigan, was a result of people living with the results of these trade deals. So I think, I’ll be interested to see if they try to do anything on the TPP, or are more or less ready to let it fade. It’s hard to know how committed either of them is to it. Certainly their financial backers want this deal. But it’s become really toxic electorally, I think. PERIES: And Dimitri, one of the items under discussion is, of course, the pipeline between the U.S. and Canada. Your thoughts on how this might pan out in the meeting? LASCARIS: Well, I think Trudeau–I mean, at the same time as Trudeau was issuing lofty declarations from the First Ministers meeting in Vancouver, he said very clearly and unambiguously that pipelines were part of the solution. Amazingly, really, because the science is showing unambiguously that we have to leave the vast majority of the fossil fuel reserves, the known fossil fuel reserves, in the ground, something on the order of 80 percent. Pipelines will undoubtedly facilitate expansion of the tar sands. So it’s remarkable, really, I think it’s not too strong a phrase to say that the Trudeau government has continued to live in a state of denial. You can’t achieve what we need to do in the climate crisis context with, while you’re simultaneously building pipeline infrastructure. Having said that, I don’t think Trudeau is going to go to Washington, or is going to Washington with the thought of trying to revive Keystone XL. That may be something which the government attempts to do, depending on who is elected and who replaces Obama. But I think they understand that Obama has committed himself not to approving the Keystone XL pipeline. I think they’re only going to generate friction by pressuring him to alter course at this stage. And there’s no need for them to do that. They could, as I say, you know, in a matter of a year or so take this up with the new government [inaud.] who is elected. SALUTIN: Just going to say, I think we’re at a bit of a different point with the pipeline. Because Harper had, the previous government, Harper had only one economic policy, which was to just dig all that dirty oil out of the ground, and sell it as fast as you could. And he let every other aspect of the Canadian economy languish, and pretty well die. Especially manufacturing in Ontario and Quebec. So I think, although Trudeau has said he was committed to this pipeline, and he’s said he’s committed to at least one pipeline to the East Coast in Canada, there’s also a real motivation there to expand what the Canadian economy is about. And there may be an opportunity there, as well. I also think on the environmental thing, I mean, these guys are opportunists. And Trudeau certainly is. On the other hand, it is in his interest, politically, to outflank his opposition on the left. Namely, the social democrats, what’s called the NDP. And he did manage to outflank them on the left and to win election in the fall. And I think the environment is one of the areas where it’s in his interest to be able to claim something. PERIES: In a 60 Minutes interview with Trudeau, Laura Logan did a real favorable interview, introducing the prime minister to Americans. There is much fanfare among Canadians, too, really the world over, when it comes to Trudeau, much like there was for Obama when he took office. And of course, during his campaign as well. But is all of this fanfare justified? Some would argue that after ten years of a Harper Conservative government that tremendously rolled back Canadian values, yes, it is a breath of fresh air. What do you have to say, Rick? SALUTIN: Nobody could fulfill all the promises that were made during that campaign, or probably any campaign. If you proceed from a sort of a base of low expectations, which I do, then you tend to feel a bit better about these things. They did bring in the Syrian refugees they said they were going to bring in, in more or less the time frame they said they would, which was kind of surprising. It wouldn’t have been surprising if they hadn’t done it. But overall, on most of these issues, I’m sort of with Bernie Sanders on this. You cannot accomplish anything from a position of leadership unless you really get pushed. But the, so the question is, is this a government that is at least–is this a government that is pushable in a way that the Harper government was not? And I’m inclined to say and to think, yes. On at least a number of these files, yes. PERIES: So Dimitri, is all of these favorable sentiments really progressive when it comes to Justin Trudeau, and is he really an alternative to the Harper-led government? LASCARIS: I’m unfortunately skeptical that we’re going to see the quote-unquote “real change” that was promised to the electorate by Justin Trudeau. And I think, I mean, there were many reasons that one might adopt a pessimistic view. I’m going to talk about one, and that was his recent interview, I think it was on 60 Minutes, where he was repeatedly invited to comment on Donald Trump, who as we all know seems headed to winning the Republican nomination for the presidential election. And let’s look at this in context. Donald Trump has said that undocumented Mexican workers in the United States are criminals and rapists. He has openly embraced torture and said, you know, that we need to embrace torture in order to, quote-unquote, “beat the savages”. He has called for banning of the entry of Muslims into the United States. He has openly embraced the notion that the families of terrorists should be killed, which is a war crime. So you could hardly imagine a more reprehensible figure taking the nomination from the Republican party. This has not–the fact that this is an election has not stopped conservative figures from other countries closely allied to the United States, and here I’m talking about three Mexican presidents, who have compared Donald Trump’s rhetoric to that of Mussolini and Hitler, nor has it stopped David Cameron, a country from the UK, a country very closely allied to the United States, obviously, from saying that Donald Trump is divisive and stupid, and members of the British parliament have called Donald Trump a hate preacher. Our so-called progressive prime minister went on 60 minutes and repeatedly was invited to comment on Donald Trump, and said more or less, I’m [just not] picking a fight with Donald Trump. So you’re hearing criticism, rather justified criticism, coming from conservative foreign leaders. Our supposedly progressive foreign prime minister is not willing to condemn the clearly racist and bigoted and extraordinarily dangerous rhetoric of Mr. Trump. I think that speaks volumes about what we can expect from Justin Trudeau going forward. PERIES: All right, gentlemen. Thank you so much for joining me today, and I hope to have you back after Trudeau’s visit to Washington, DC, perhaps on Friday. LASCARIS: Thank you. SALUTIN: Thanks very much. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer that focuses on human rights and environmental law. He is the former justice critic of the Green Party of Canada and is a former board member of the Real News Network. You can follow him @dimitrilascaris and find more of his work at

Rick Salutin is an novelist, playwright and freelance journalist based in Toronto, Canada. He has written columns for Canadian Business, Toronto Life, TV Times, and This Magazine, of which he is a founding editor, as well as a series of plays, novels and books. He was The Globe and Mail media columnist from 1991 to 1999 and is now an op-ed columnist with that paper.