Dimitri Lascaris and Nora Loretto say new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered on his pledge to appoint 50% women to his cabinet, but appointed a political conservative as his Minister of Finance
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Justin Pierre James Trudeau was sworn in as prime minister of Canada on Wednesday, along with his cabinet. CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: I shall keep secret all matters committed and revealed to me in this capacity, or that shall be secretly treated of in council. Generally in all things I shall do as a faithful and true servant ought to do for Her Majesty, so help me God. PERIES: All of them were sworn in pledging their allegiance and loyalty to the queen of the United Kingdom. As you can see, Canadians take their commonwealth status seriously. What was [stark] about the 30-member cabinet of Prime Minister Trudeau is that he kept his promise of appointing almost 50 percent women. To his credit, an extremely commendable and historic measure. And he appointed an indigenous woman, Jody Raybould, to the portfolio of Justice Minister. Upon taking office his new government will have to address a shrinking oil and natural resource-dependent economy in the age of climate crisis with the Keystone XL pipeline as one of the key crossborder issues with the United States. Now joining me discuss all of this is Nora Loreto and Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri is joining us from Toronto. Dimitri is a partner with the Canadian law firm Siskinds where heads the firm’s securities class actions practice. He’s also a board member of the Real News Network and recently was a Green Party candidate for London-West. Joining us from Quebec City is Nora Loreto. Nora is the author of From Demonized to Organized: Building the New Union Movement. She is also the editor of Rabble.ca’s series titled UP! Canadian Labor Rising. Dimitri, thank you so much for joining us. And Nora, thank you for joining us. NORA LORETO: Thank you. DIMITRI LASCARIS: Thank you. PERIES: So Nora, let me begin with you. Your reaction to the cabinet appointments? LORETO: Well, the big news of course is that this is the most gender-balanced cabinet that we’ve ever had in Canadian history. So Trudeau has made good on that promise. It was a promise that he basically had to keep, but he has kept it, so that’s good. From the position, though, of what does this mean for the future Liberal government, I think it’s fair to say that they’ve put–the right wing of the party is represented in the portfolios that deal with economics and finance, and perhaps the left wing of the party has been placed into the positions where social progress might be made. And so what that means is we’ve got Scott Brison, a former Progressive-Conservative, who crossed the floor more than a decade ago to the Liberals. He’s controlling the purse strings in the treasury board. And a rookie MP, William Morneau, is actually the Minister of Finance, which is arguably the most important cabinet post. Morneau is formerly the head of the CD Howe institute, which is a right-wing think tank in Canada, and has made his money in insurance. So what does this mean for a party that made a lot of progressive promises? Well, I think for average people on the left it means that we’re going to really have to fight to push this party, to make sure that they follow up on many of the promises that they made during the election. PERIES: Dimitri, your initial reaction to the appointments? LASCARIS: I’m largely in agreement with what [Loreto] had to say. I mean, let’s start out by just recognizing the reality, that the left wing of the Liberal party today is not really left wing. I think fairly examined, objectively examined, one ought to regard the left wing of the Liberal party as being rather centrist, and the right wing of the Liberal party is quite neoliberal in its orientation. So with that as sort of an overarching observation, I agree with what [Loreto] has had to say, and I focus particularly on the positions of power within this cabinet. And just to elaborate on a couple of things that [inaud.] had to say about Bill Morneau, the new finance minister, he was the CEO of a public company for many years, and is quite a wealthy man. His holding in the company Morneau Shepell, which I understand to be the largest employment agency in Canada, and it’s listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, is estimated to be worth something like $30 million. And as Loreto indicated, he was the chairman of a right-wing think tank, CD Howe institute, whose board members are almost all CEOs from public companies, and particularly public companies in the extractive sector, like Murray Edwards from Canadian Natural Resources, a big tar sands company. And it’s fair to say that he’s likely to pursue economic policies that are going to be quite favorable to Bay Street. I think anybody who has any other expectation would be kidding themselves. The environment ministry, it’s reassuring to see that a woman has been put in that portfolio. It’s an important portfolio, particularly at this point in time with COP 21 approaching. And overall I must commend the new prime minister on the gender balance that he has largely achieved in his cabinet. But ultimately what is going to make a difference for the lives of the people in this country is the political orientation of the people who are in that cabinet. And the new environment minister, Catherine McKenna, as far as I can tell has no real accomplishments in championing the environment, no real expertise in the question of climate change. She was a corporate lawyer with expertise in international trade, competition law, and investment. I imagine that she has had extensive dealings with the corporate sector and the extractive industries in the course of her professional life. It is a troubling appointment for that reason. One would have thought that at this point in time someone like Stephane Dion, who has been given the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, would have been better suited to the task of championing bold action in regard to the climate crisis. So the way I see it at the end of the day is you have a cabinet that is very much overall–especially when you’re talking about the positions of power within the cabinet–oriented towards Bay Street interests and not likely, regrettably, to take the kind of bold action that we’re going to need on climate change. PERIES: Dimitri, one of the major issues at hand is the Keystone XL pipeline. What is the new environment minister and Justin Trudeau’s position on all of this? LASCARIS: Well, Justin Trudeau has left no question in anyone’s mind about the fact that he favors the construction of Keystone XL. He, in fact, stated in his inaugural press conference as prime minister designate the day after the election that he raised the subject of Keystone XL in his first conversation with Barack Obama. That, you know, if you’re going to put that into the hopper in your first conversation with the U.S. president, it’s obviously a priority for you. And as I mentioned in a prior interview we had on your program, Sharmini, the campaign co-chair of the Liberal party was discovered to be a big oil consultant a couple of weeks before election day and resigned because it was determined that he was giving advice to TransCanada pipelines about how to deal with the incoming government. This is something which should have really been damaging to the campaign of Justin Trudeau, and I think if the corporate media had given it the attention that it deserved it probably would have been. But at the end of the day what does it signify? It signifies a leader who is very much in tune with the interests of the fossil fuels industry in Alberta, is determined to see the expansion of the tar sands, is determined to see the construction of pipeline infrastructure to facilitate that expansion. And at the end of the day, the only thing that I think, especially now that we’ve seen his cabinet, that is going to change substantially the orientation of this government is going to be massive and relentless public pressure. PERIES: And Nora, jump in. one of your key concerns is, of course, jobs, labor, and labor movement issues. How does the cabinet hold up when it comes to those issues? LORETO: Actually, I want to return to something that Dimitri didn’t touch on, which is the orientation of this government in relation to indigenous people and to First Nations. I think that what’s critical is to keep in mind that the First Nations have a lot to say in the process of resource extraction and development. They have constitutionally binding ability to say no in some cases, and they pose a real pressure point to be able to slow down and stop a lot of the biggest projects. Now, if you look at what the cabinet has said they’ve actually changed the name of Aboriginal Affairs to be Indigenous Affairs and Northern Affairs, which is an interesting change. There was an acknowledgement of the traditional land on which the ceremony today happened. And Trudeau keeps talking about a nation-to-nation relationship that he wants to have with indigenous people. And so while I agree with Dimitri that this government is absolutely oriented towards industry, I do think that these little openings provide a potential way forward for how the left, how indigenous communities, how people who want to protect the land and the air, can go forward to put pressure on these folks. PERIES: And what is Carolyn Bennett’s track record on Aboriginal and First Nations issues, as well as Northern Affairs issues? LORETO: Well, Carolyn is a longtime Liberal MP. She survived the near wipeout that happened in 2011 with the Liberal party. And she has actually been very strong, a very strong voice for indigenous issues as a person who’s been in opposition. She was actually sworn in holding an eagle feather and carrying a Metis sash. And I think we’ll see that this issue will receive the priority it deserves. Now, will the Liberals get it right, that is definitely to be seen. But to put Carolyn Bennett into that role, she has been the most vocal within the Liberal caucus on issues of missing and murdered indigenous women and indigenous rights. So hopefully this is a signal from Trudeau’s office that they want to make this a priority, and hopefully Carolyn will be strong enough to make sure that if an inquiry goes forward that that inquiry is led by the families affected, that they’re taking the direction from the communities and doing this in a good way, in a correct way that respects what everybody within the communities affected have been calling for the last decade. PERIES: And Dimitri, I know you have to go in just five minutes. So let me give you an opportunity to respond to some of the other appointments before you go. LASCARIS: Well, Ralph Goodale has been appointed the minister of public safety, and the mainstream press here is saying that probably a significant part of the motivation for putting him in power–Ralph Goodale was the minister of finance last time the Liberal [inaud.] power in this country. And he is widely regarded within mainstream politics, I think he commands a significant degree of respect from all of the major parties, all of the parties that have representation in parliament. But he’s very much an establishment figure. The mainstream press is speculating that he was put in that place because if anybody can rein in–they wouldn’t quite put it that way, but rein in the security agencies in this country and ensure that they’re acting responsibly and respecting the civil liberties of Canadians to a minimum degree, it’s Ralph Goodale. I’m not so optimistic about that. As I said, I think he’s very much an establishment figure, and he has no real history of having been a champion of civil liberties in this country. And that’s really what we need at this stage in the position of minister of public safety. So I don’t expect that this is going to result in the repeal of Bill C-51, which was a very draconian law that impinges quite extensively on the civil liberties of Canadians and has been roundly condemned by human rights organizations, including Amnesty International. I think what we’re going to end up seeing under Minister Goodale is a modest tweaking of the security law C-51, possibly making it somewhat less intrusive on the privacy, on the civil liberties of Canadians. But there won’t be any wholesale radical changes to that law. I think Stephane Dion in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is an interesting appointment. I think it’s fair to say he’s one of the more progressive members of the cabinet. And it’ll be interesting to see how his perspective affects Canada’s involvement in military adventures abroad, such as the bombardment of Syria and Iraq, and how that will affect, for example, Canada’s posture towards Russia, which has been a very belligerent posture, particularly in connection with the crisis in the Ukraine under the prior government of Stephen Harper. So I think that Stephane Dion in that role is somewhat promising, and it could result in Canada moving back towards more its historical position of a mediator in international crises with significant credibility, and one that is more oriented towards peacekeeping rather than the use of military force. LORETO: [Inaud.] about what this means for working people. I’ll just maybe finish off by mentioning Chrystia Freeland, who was put into the international trade portfolio. She’s a former journalist, she worked for Reuters. She’s written a book on the plutocracy, the problem with having the ultra-rich controlling democracy. That being said, it’s kind of a sign that they probably are looking to bolster free trade. She’s not particularly progressive. She’s progressive in the Liberal party, she’s not particularly progressive in a broader sense. And she’s quite interested in the Ukraine. She’s got a number of personal connections with the Ukraine. And a lot of folks were saying that this is a symbol that the Liberals probably want to continue with, the tradition that the Conservatives had started, really, of these aggressive free trade deals internationally. What this means for labor is I think that there’s going to be a strong desire to work behind the scenes with the Liberal party, to try and make sure that certain changes are made that protect unionized workers’ rights. But the Liberal party is a party that needs to have public pressure put on them. And no labor leader in this country should be thinking that back room deals are going to help working people or unionized workers. And so I hope that when the analysis comes out about what does a person like Chrystia Freeland in a position like international trade mean for free trade agreements, that obviously help to bring down the working conditions for Canadian workers–. PERIES: And Nora, Maryam Mihychuk, who’s been appointed employment, workforce development, and labor, what’s her track record on this issue? LORETO: I actually have no idea. She’s a new MP, she was elected in a riding that was a Conservative riding before. And the Conservative who held that riding made the issue of human trafficking her biggest thing. So I actually have no idea what to say about this minister yet. PERIES: Nora, thank you so much. And Dimitri, you’re off to Ottawa to participate in a number of actions related to the environment. Tell us a little bit about it before you go. LASCARIS: Well, the actions are being done under the rubric of something called the Climate Welcome. It’s being spearheaded, these actions are being spearheaded by a number of organizations in the country that are deeply concerned about the climate crisis. First Nations are playing a very important role. The Council of Canadians, Toronto350.org, on whose board I sit. And the plan is over a period of four days there are going to be sit-ins around 24 Sussex Drive, which is historically the prime minister’s residence, although the prime minister’s not going to be there this weekend. Apparently he’s going to be across the street at Rideau Cottage because major repairs need to be done to 24 Sussex. Nevertheless we’re going to be there to send a clear message from people around the country that it is time for bold action on climate change. In particular, it’s time for the government to freeze expansion of the tar sands. PERIES: All right, Dimitri. Good luck with that, and we’ll check in with you from Ottawa, then. LASCARIS: Thank you very much. PERIES: And thank you both.
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