Harper Defeated, the Next Fight Begins

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Jeremie Bedard-Wien of Ricochet, Kelly Dowdell of Leadnow, Sandy Hudson of Black Lives Matter, discuss the progressive movements and the lack of faith in the Trudeau led Liberals

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s election night in Canada, and you’re live on the Real News Network. As we go on air, CBC is projecting a Liberal majority government led by Justin Trudeau defeating the Harper Conservatives. NDP is trailing behind them. Bloc and Green are further behind.

Now joining me to discuss what the future holds for Canadians, three panelists. Joining me from Montreal is Jeremie Bedard-Wien. He’s an activist in Montreal and co-founder of the progressive media outlet Ricochet. Also joining me is Kelly Dowdell. She’s joining me from Toronto. She’s a campaign manager with Leadnow. Leadnow has become famous in this election season for their strategic voting campaign. Also joining me is Sandy Hudson. She’s a founder of Black Lives Matter. Let me say it again–Black Lives Matter, Toronto, and is currently a graduate student at the University of Toronto studying social justice education. Thank you all for joining me.

JEREMIE BEDARD-WIEN: Thank you.

KELLY DOWDELL: Thanks.

SANDY HUDSON: Thanks for having us.

PERIES: Sandy, let me go to you. This has been a hard and long struggle this past year for Black Lives Matter, campaigning across not only Canada but the United States as well. What does this political change mean for Black Lives Matter?

HUDSON: Absolutely nothing. It is not much of a political change at all, in fact. One of our major concerns with respect to this election was the Bill C-51, and as we know, Justin Trudeau’s party is in favor of Bill C-51. And on issues of immigration and migrant justice he is not much better than Harper. So I just tweeted out that instead of being criminalized under Harper I can look forward to being criminalized under Trudeau, and this doesn’t make much of a difference for us at Black Lives Matter at all.

PERIES: And of the candidates running for prime minister, did you support any of them? Did any of them have a better position on equality, justice, racial justice in Canada?

HUDSON: I was, I was happy to see that Mulcair did talk about establishing a nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations. However, the discussion on race and matters that are primary to racialized communities wasn’t very strong in this election. But to be honest the two establishment parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, are the worst on that. And of course I would have liked to see change there. But that doesn’t mean that that would have led to some sort of liberation for our communities, where we’d be able to stop doing the work that we always do.

PERIES: And Jeremie, you have been a long-standing student activist with class, prior to Ricochet. Give us a sense of what these results mean for the student movement, and did you support a Liberal Justin Trudeau candidacy? And if not, where do you think he will take the country, as far as student rights and tuition, and all the things that you struggled for these past five years on the front line?

BEDARD-WIEN: Well, Justin Trudeau’s victory doesn’t change much for the student movement here. First of all, of course education is a provincial responsibility. And so the parameters of our tuition fees are set by the Quebec government. But furthermore, post-secondary education has been absent from this general election campaign. It has seldom bee discussed. The proposals from the different parties have been very disappointing. We’re a far cry from a party that promises to tackle the crisis in higher education accessibility, and Justin Trudeau’s government, from what we’ve seen so far, will not be able to do that.

PERIES: Right. Jeremie, isn’t it a misnomer that higher education is a provincial matter alone? You rely on federal transfer payments and [equation] in terms of funding, don’t you?

BEDARD-WIEN: Well, yes. But the policies are set by the provincial government. There has seldom been interventions from the federal government in the way that the provinces set tuition thresholds for their students. And so we’ll see if this government intends impeding on the province’s rights to tackle the issue of higher education accessibility. But I don’t think Justin Trudeau’s government will do that.

PERIES: And did the student movement in Quebec support any one party running up to this election?

BEDARD-WIEN: No. to be fair, for progressive Canadians and especially for progressive Quebecers, this election campaign seldom talked about the issues that we’ve fought so hard to bring on the top of the federal agenda. There’s been very–there’s appointing pledges from all parties. No party has put forward a plan to get ourselves out of petroleum, of our dependence on petroleum. And to be fair, the Quebec student movement as I know it would not find itself very well represented by any of the federal parties in Canada. What little change we hope to see is probably going to come from provincial politics.

PERIES: And Kelly Dowdell, Leadnow played a very important and critical role in now electing Justin Trudeau as prime minister. How is the organization, and how are you feeling about all of this?

DOWDELL: I think we are looking at some of the ridings where we were working really hard in, where we had large teams of volunteers really mobilizing people on the ground. This campaign has always been about defeating Stephen Harper. We are an issue-based organization to start. We have run campaigns on really important issues like C-51, which Sandra mentioned, as well as issues around climate change and looking at how we can move forward and building a more fair economy. And so we saw zero progress, really, as being an option for us under the Harper Conservatives, under that government, which is why we undertook this campaign to defeat them, and to elect a new government. What we’re really looking forward to now is getting back to the issues, starting I hope with C-51 if not some of the other really important things that are going on, and hold this new government’s feet to the fire.

PERIES: And Leadnow is also under a great deal of criticism in some of the ridings where there were very progressive candidates running, but because of the strategic voting they actually didn’t get into parliament, which could seriously hamper some of the very serious issues that Leadnow is doing advocacy around. The environment, for example. How are you going to deal with that going forward?

DOWDELL: We’re still waiting on some of the results, especially from out west. But certainly one of the key components of this campaign from the very, very start has been that it has been up to the Leadnow community to help design the campaign to figure out exactly what kind of strategies and tactics we wanted to use to look at the issue of vote splitting and address it with an effort to unite voters behind candidates that could defeat the Harper Conservatives riding by riding. And we are really interested to see what that means, and where we do have the impact, or can have the impact, like I said, in terms of holding the new government accountable.

PERIES: And Sandy, let me go back to you. Now, one of the issues around particularly graduate students, and you’re one of them, you are on a fairly heavy and tough strike this year. And one of the things that Harper has actually done in his ten-year reign is really roll back on labor rights. And so now you have Justin Trudeau. You think he’ll make a difference when it comes to bargaining and student, rights of student teachers and part-time teachers and faculty?

HUDSON: Sorry, was that for me? There was a bit of cutting out.

PERIES: Yeah, that’s for you, Sandy.

HUDSON: Okay. I think I got the gist of the question, which was about labor rights and specifically for graduate students, was that correct?

PERIES: Yes.

HUDSON: No, I don’t think there’s going to be much change. The post-secondary part of the Liberal platform did not focus much on any funding differences, and with respect to support for workers at all I didn’t think he was very strong on that at all, the Liberals. Personally, I think–I’ve been very frustrated by the way that the Liberals have been portrayed in this campaign as almost a progressive alternative to Harper, when I see them emulating a lot of what the Conservatives have done rather than coming up with their own inspiring message. To me the Liberals have no principles. So I don’t imagine that there will be any change there with respect to post-secondary education. We’re stuck with a four-year Liberal government as well in Ontario. And I am not optimistic about what’s to come for post-secondary education or for workers.

PERIES: And Kelly, your final thoughts on the upcoming challenges ahead for the issues that you deal with?

DOWDELL: Yeah. I think on all of the issues we still have a lot of work to do. I think there are serious issues with past performance of the Liberal governments, on climate, on the environment, and on the economy. On issues like trade, like I said, on issues like C-51. And so it’s the end of the Harper era, but it really is the beginning of a new era where we can’t let up, we can’t, you know, wash our hands of it or say, you know, what’s done is done. We all know that there’s a lot more work to do starting tomorrow.

PERIES: And Jeremie, a lot of people are saying the work has just begun. What are your thoughts, and what will you be working on in the next months to come?

BEDARD-WIEN: Well, I think what Kelly said is critically important. The mobilization should not, and with the end of the Harper government, I’ve been very critical of the focus of certain organizations, progressive organizations in Canada, on defeating Harper. And on personalizing what Harper represents. In fact, many Liberals do have regressive positions on the economy, regressive positions on the environment. We will have to keep them to accounts.

It’s important to note that the Liberals are not a fundamentally progressive party. It’s the way that they’ve chosen to portray themselves in order to differentiate themselves from the NDP, who have run from the center, to the center. And now that they’re in government we’ll see if that mask holds on. We’ll see if they will keep their promises. We’ll see if they actually do run deficits to invest in our economy, invest in clean jobs. I’m not very optimistic that they will. And for that we’ll have to continue mobilizing.

PERIES: And do you feel that the NDP and Green here, and Bloc as well, has a role to play in terms of representing the issues you’re working on, and who would be, that party you would be supporting in that endeavor?

BEDARD-WIEN: Well, we’ll see whether the Bloc and the Greens will be in effective a position. I think the NDP also has a role to play in countering any Liberal moves that go against what we fought so hard to accomplish and what we fought so hard within the Harper agenda. I’m hoping that they’ll be able to come to terms with the difficult results of these elections and work together to continue fighting for positive change in this country.

PERIES: Jeremie Bedard-Wien, Kelly Dowdell, and Sandy Hudson, thank you so much for joining us.

BEDARD-WIEN: Thank you.

DOWDELL: Thank you.

HUDSON: No problem. The work never ends.

BEDARD-WIEN: Indeed.

DOWDELL: Onwards.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.