Thursday, 5 November 2015

CANADA: Justin Trudeau's ''Pledges''

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has sworn into office as Canada's 23rd prime minister, promising a more optimistic government after a decade of Conservative rule. Trudeau, the first son of a prime minister to take office in Canada and the second-youngest in the country's history, has grabbed international attention for his good looks and retail approach to politics.

Trudeau, 43, kicked off his majority government with some controversy by naming an equal number of men and women to a slimmed-down Cabinet, the first time gender parity has been achieved in Canada's team of ministers. 

Trudeau has already laid out the major planks of his economic plan, which includes running three years of budget deficits, boosting infrastructure spending in a bid to stimulate Canada's flagging economy. The new government has also pledged to raise taxes for the richest Canadians and cut taxes for the middle class.Will Trudeau now following through on his campaign promises?

Overall, a change in the Canadian government's political discourse is expected, in particular a departure from the fear-mongering narrative often deployed by Harper's government. The Liberal Party ran what is described as an optimistic, ambitious and hopeful campaign based on ''positive politics'' promising real change. A number of campaign pledges suggest what the new Liberal government's approach to other key issues will be.

Trudeau's decision to pull Canada's fighter jets from the U.S.-led coalition against self proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and focus on humanitarian support instead has already been well-covered. Removing half dozen CF-18 Hornets is unlikely to have a debilitating effect on operations against the Islamic State, but it may denote an important rebalancing toward the more compassionate and constructive approach.

Internationally, the Liberals campaigned on reviving Canada's efforts in international peace operations under a United nations framework, including through providing well trained personnel that can be quickly deployed and prioritizing assistance for civilian police training operations. Military contributions are likely to focus on multilateral missions under U.N. Security Council mandates, at the expense of ad hoc coalitions like the one currently fighting the Islamic State.

During the campaign, Trudeau and his fellow Liberals also pledged to immediately welcome an additional 25,000 refugees from Syria through the direct sponsorship of the Canadian government. They promised to work with private sponsors to intake even more refugees: invest at least $100 million Canadian dollars ( about $75 million) to improve the capacity of refugee processing, sponsoring and settlement services; and boost aid to the U.N.'s refugee agency by $100 million Canadian dollars. 

In contrast, fewer than 2,500 Syrian refugees were resettled in Canada between 2013 and last month, when Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced that the December 2017 deadline for the resettlement of 10,000 Syrian refugees would be moved up to September 2016.

The Liberal Party campaigned on reversing Canada's decline in foreign aid spending and increasing the government's focus on poverty reduction worldwide-but has not made clear promises on the matter.Canada's foreign aid spending has declined in recent years, to 0.24 percent of the country's GDP in 2014, far from the U.N.'s spending target of 0.7 percent for wealthy countries and even below the average for members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Agency ( CIDA) with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, $125 million budgeted for foreign aid to low-income countries went unspent. 

Domestically, terrorism has been the focus of Harper's last few months in office, leading to several controversial new laws. The broadest and most divisive is the Anti-Terrorism Act-known as C-51-passed in June. The law significantly increases the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), despite a relatively low terrorist threat in the country, and without strengthening review and oversight. 

The Liberal Party struggled with its response to the bill's introduction in parliament. Its lawmakers criticized its key tenets, promised voters they would amend if if elected but eventually voted for it, even after some of their main amendments-including requiring the Communications Security Establishment, Canada's electronic intelligence agency, to get a judge's warrant to access Canadians' personal information-were rejected. Immediate reforms to the law are expected under Trudeau's government.

But Canada's new prime minister and his party have more emphatically condemned another new law, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, or C-24, which came info effect in May and allows the government to strip dual citizens, naturalized Canadians and Canadian-born citizens who are eligible to obtain dual citizenship of their Canadian citizenship if they are convicted of terrorism offences. 

This measure is problematic in that it is retroactive, sets a precedent for further infringements on basic rights, merely transfers problems to other countries and gives the impression that terrorism is largely about foreigners-even though over 90 percent of all terrorists attack worldwide since 1971 have actually been domestic, according to the Global Terrorism Database. During the campaign, the Liberals also dismissed Harper's suggestion of travel ban to terrorism hotspots-a disproportionate, ineffective and potentially  counterproductive measure. 

Canada's new government faces many challenges ahead when it comes to national and international security. But following through on campaign promises could result in a Liberal government with a more open, accountable and measured approach to many problems, which would go a long way toward tangible progress.

By Gulain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AFP-Trudeau is sworn in as Canada's 23rd Prime Minister at Rideau Hall, Ottawa