Majority Liberal Win Met with Mixed Reaction from Canadian Progressives
Most of the Canadian left hoped for a minority government, but with a majority, activists fear that Trudeau will only be a small improvement over Harper. With Joanne St. Lewis of University of Ottawa Law, Leena Minifie, editor Ricochet Media and Andrea Harden-Donahu of The Council of Canadians
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s election night in Canada, and we’re live on the Real News Network. As we go on air, CBC is projecting a Liberal majority government led by Justin Trudeau. He’s defeating the Harper Conservatives. He is the famous political son of Pierre Trudeau.
To discuss all of this we are joined by a panel of three guests. Joining me from Ottawa is Andrea Harden-Donahu. She’s joining us from Ottawa, as I said, and she is the energy and climate campaigner with the Council of Canadians. Also joining me is Leena Minifie. She’s joining us from unceded Coast Salish Territories. And Leena is a writer, producer, and media maker. And also joining us from Ottawa is Joanne St. Lewis. She teaches social justice legislation and public law at Ottawa Faculty of Law. She is a newly re-elected bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada. She was the first black woman elected to the bench.
Thank you all for joining me today.
JOANNE ST. LEWIS: It’s our pleasure.
LEENA MINIFIE: Thank you for having us.
PERIES: So Leena, let me go to you first. Your reaction to the news of a majority Justin Trudeau-led Liberal government?
MINIFIE: My reaction is that this is kind of a win for getting Harper out, but it’s a loss for progressives and for First Nations across the country. I’d say that Trudeau’s not in a position to be able to repeal any of the 14 bills that Harper put through that took away aboriginal rights and title. That’s still going to be challenged in the Supreme Court. As well as not taking away Bill C-51, which is the surveillance of our people. And also second-class citizens, like our [allies] who are immigrants and refugees, are still going to be second-class citizens.
So I don’t know if this is the win that we were looking for as progressive people. It’s very, very surprising the NDP and Greens haven’t got any seats. So we have yet to see what it means, I guess. Their platform kind of ignored aboriginal–any sort of aboriginal [tenets], or–.
PERIES: You know, there seems to be some highly contested areas, and we understand that some aboriginal and First Nations candidates that are running might be elected in. can you highlight some of those ridings for us?
MINIFIE: Well, we’re still waiting for some of those ridings, actually. There are some aboriginal people who are within the Liberal government that are running that haven’t–like where I’m in right now, the Granville area, it hasn’t really been said so far if they’re in. there are some places that are key places that are going to decide who is going to sit there. Like [kinar], which me and Andrea were just talking about. We don’t know exactly what the results are. It’s a three-way tie there.
But there are places across the nation where indigenous vote did really count. And some of those votes maybe might not have been counted because they seemed to run out of ballots at a lot of the First Nations reserves across Canada. There’s some examples in Moose Factory, in Cache, in other places, that they had to go get other ballots because they’d run out.
PERIES: And Joanne, what’s your reaction to all of this news?
ST. LEWIS: Well, I guess it’s relief, at one level. I’ve got to be totally honest, I really wasn’t prepared to deal with Harper for another minute. So there is that piece that’s happened. I think that I am disappointed by the collapse in some ways, if you want to describe it that way, of the NDP vote. I was really hopeful, and I think we would be better served as a country, with them in opposition bringing on the critical lens that they do to the issues.
And the final sort of response I have to everything is that it says something good about us that the kind of wedge, cynical approach that Harper took, whether it was from the niqab, or ignoring missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. All of these issues where he thought he was playing to a much more cynical and less inclusive Canada. Clearly that didn’t work. And I think that also had a lot to do with defeating him, and it’s evidenced by the loss for people like Chris Alexander.
PERIES: And Joanne, your reaction to Justin Trudeau-led Liberal government?
ST. LEWIS: At one level, for me, campaigns are a lot about promises. Right? And there’s always this gap–the real test for us is how many of those promises are going to come true. There’s certain things that are a problem. For example, their position on the environment that the Liberals have. They need a tremendous amount of pushing in that direction. And so I think it’s going to be a matter of vigilance. I don’t have a view that it’s not going to move us in a somewhat more positive direction. Certainly some of the regressive attitude intentions that Harper had with the Supreme Court and with rule of law kinds of issues, and human rights, I don’t expect to happen under Trudeau. But there’s a lot more content and critical analysis that needs to sort of beef up the platform that they presently have.
PERIES: And Joanne, as you said, in election campaign it’s an election campaign. However, it was very clear that Justin Trudeau was moving as far to the right as possible. And on very critical issues he was–there was a thin line between the Conservatives and the Liberals. How do you think he will be able to go forward, especially with the majority government?
ST. LEWIS: Well you know, that’s the interesting thing about being majority. If he wants to do evidence-based, be more critical, be more consultative, he can actually shift those policies to where they ought to be. He will have the mandate to be able to do that. We’ve watched government after government make promises that we can’t reinforce. It would be nice for a change for a government to be responsive to the critical issues and policies for the people who are going to be served by those policies.
So I actually think that I don’t know enough about the man to know whether he has that level of courage. He’s run an interesting campaign. I watched him build strength over the course of the campaign, and I was impressed by how he handled himself in some of the debates. But the debates aren’t the same as content. So really it’s going to be about the team he puts together, who his cabinet is, how much leadership they’re allowed to actually bring forth, and what their own positions are. It really is not about Justin Trudeau, it’s about the entire Liberal team that’s going to be governing the country.
PERIES: Andrea, your reaction, as the energy and climate campaigner for the Council of Canadians?
ANDREA HARDEN-DONAHU: Well first of all, I have to admit there’s part of me that’s taking a big sigh of relief knowing that, you know, Harper isn’t going to be back as our prime minister. He’s certainly brought our country down a road on climate and energy that we haven’t really seen, and I can’t even think of a Canadian government that was so–you know, we won Fossil Award of the Year every time at the UN Climate Conference. We had a leader that was jamming through pipelines wherever possible. Repealed so much environmental legislation. Demonized First Nations activists and environmental activists.
So there’s part of me that is having that sigh of relief. But a Liberal majority, this could be–this could be a real challenge. In fact, it will be a real challenge for environmental and climate justice activists. I think the recent, the recent controversy with Justin Trudeau’s co-chair actually having to resign because it was discovered that he sent an email to TransCanada–who by the way, he’s on contract with, the same company that’s behind the Energy East pipeline that we’re fighting right now along with many others. He sent an email to them saying, here’s the things that you could do to ensure that the changes we’re going to bring forward to the broken regulatory process, that’s entirely broken for reviewing pipelines, doesn’t delay your project timeline.
Now that, to me, if that’s any indication of where Justin Trudeau is going is a big, big problem. Because any meaningful overhaul of this admittedly broken process, and everybody is saying it’s broken, that is going to require a stop to controversial projects like Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion to Energy East, and putting it back to the drawing board. We’ve got to figure out, make sure it’s publicly accessible, make sure climate is being included, make sure First Nations rights are being respected and they’re being properly consulted. We need to go back to the drawing board with how we approach these pipeline projects that are so controversial. And Justin Trudeau has made a lot of promises, but nothing really concrete. So we’ve got our work cut out.
PERIES: And Andrea, you and some of the environmental movement organizations like Leadnow, for example, called on people to vote strategically in this election. The objective, I guess, was to get Harper out of the way and then real conversation and debate could take place about a progressive agenda moving forward. Just quickly, where did the Council of Canadians sit on that particular issue, and how do you plan to hold the Trudeau government accountable to the very issues you are very passionate about in terms of the environment?
HARDEN-DONAHU: The Council of Canadians had a very lively democracy campaign, and a student campaign. And the focus was on getting out the vote. Because the way we saw this election, there were so many people that didn’t vote. For example, Harper had a majority, but the majority of Canadians did not vote for Harper. So our goal was in bringing out new voters or people who hadn’t voted into the election process. So that is what our campaign was run on.
And in terms of how we’re going to keep this government accountable, I think as social movements we need to come back and have a conversation of what we’re going to do. There’s a number of different tactics. You know, from–you know, there’s clearly lobbying, but there’s also what we do on the ground. There’s community mobilization. There’s different levels of government, different points of pressure that we can be putting on. Certainly that’s a conversation that’s going to be happening over the next couple of days. In terms of energy and climate, Trudeau has basically said that he’s not going to set a national target for emission reductions, which in terms of getting on the right track for climate, which is absolutely what we have to do before the pivotal negotiations happening in Paris, that’s a problem. So I know that’s going to be coming up a lot.
We need to be seeing commitments around freezing tar sands expansion and putting a pause on the pipeline projects like Kinder Morgan’s expansion and Energy East, putting them back to the drawing board under a fair process of review. Those are things I think from energy and climate we’re going to see people starting to talk about and really pushing in various ways in the coming weeks.
PERIES: And Joanne, many equality rights issues had been rolled back under the Harper reign. What do you think should be on Justin Trudeau’s primary agenda moving forward? Here I mean bills like Bill C-51 and others. Where do you think he should be going?
ST. LEWIS: Well, I think we really need to have a government that fully respects the charter and charter values, and has a human rights agenda and lens that permeates everything they do, from their consultations to the policies they advance, et cetera. And that’s a really big place to go, because really, running elections are about promising to everybody. But not all of these things are reconcilable at all, as we can see from the discussion about the pipelines. It’s not reconcilable with aboriginal rights. It’s not reconcilable with communities, the environment, et cetera, et cetera.
So I think the leadership that he could bring would be a focus specifically on these areas. What I would like to see coming out, and one of the ways that’s going to happen, I don’t think it’s about that party. I think the energy that we put together as civil society movements should actually go towards having the same kind of ongoing focus and pressure on the Trudeau government, particularly through this initial state, so that we keep their feet to the fire on their promises and on the manner in which we wish them to implement policy that’s really going to be just.
PERIES: And Leena, let me give you the last word. Where do you think you would be pushing this government, in what direction in terms of aboriginal rights issues?
MINIFIE: Well, Trudeau I guess has stated that he would repeal all of the bills that affected First Nations just recently. It’s going to take a lot of work in order to do that. And the NDP was kind of running on that in order to get First Nations support across, with the progressive vote. So he has to repeal everything. He has to undo the damage that Harper’s done and Harper’s government regime. And I don’t know how long, or what that’s going to look like. But I feel like this is going to be kind of an Obama 2.0, where he’s going to follow up kind of trying to undo everything the former government has done, and it’s not going to take him four years. It’s probably going to take him eight, honestly, in order to see how much damage has been done.
And also trying to readjust his ideas about business pipelines and resorting to fossil fuels as Canada’s only export. That’s going to have to be changed, because aboriginal people are done with that. And we’re the ones who get to see the pollution, the environment, and the first-hand effects to our food sources.
PERIES: Leena Minifie, Joanne St. Lewis, and Andrea Harden-Donahu, thank you so much for joining us today.
ST. LEWIS: Thank you very much.
MINIFIE: Thank you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network. And hang in there, we’ll be back with our second panel momentarily.
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