COMMENT: Why Justin Trudeau may be more dangerous than Stephen Harper
Justin Trudeau just may be Canada’s most dangerous man.
He of the throngs of adoring supporters, the pretty new face that promises to resurrect “Canada’s party”.
The key positions he’s taken thus far – supporting the sellout of our strategic energy resources to the Chinese Government, giving away our sovereignty through the Canada-China Trade deal, new pipelines to expand the Tar Sands – hardly vary from those of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They just look and sound far more attractive coming from Canada’s prodigal son.
And that’s what scares me.
Trudeau’s latest decision to out-Harper Mr. Harper on boosting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to Texas give us a sobering sense of where the young Liberal leader is headed. Perhaps more troubling is the question of what he actually believes – or whether these positions derive from polling data, focus groups, and a cynical drive to get elected at all costs (more on that in a moment).
In his first swing out west following a successful leadership bid, Trudeau took the time to praise Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s efforts to secure access for Keystone by talking up improved “environmental sustainability” in the Tar Sands (exactly how, we’re left to wonder, beyond a carbon tax proposed by Redford).
“I’m very hopeful despite the political games being played by the NDP…that we will see the Keystone pipeline approved soon,” Trudeau proclaimed.
If Bay Street and the energy sector see that Trudeau is prepared to fulfill the same key objectives as Harper, they will not think twice about swinging their support back to the Liberals. This latest statement on Keystone signals that Mr. Trudeau is truly open for business. For this reason, while backing Keystone may be unpopular with certain segments of the Canadian public, it could prove a shrewd political move in the long-run.
Harper is uncharacteristically weak at the moment. There is the infighting within his usually locked-down caucus, the cratering polling figures (a recent Nanos poll has the Liberals leading the Conservatives for the first time in years, at 34 to 31% support), and an authoritarian image that is becoming increasingly problematic. He and his embattled foot soldiers, the likes of Joe Oliver and Jason Kenney, have had a very bad month.
Oliver overplayed his hand a couple of weeks ago when he attacked the world’s most respected climate scientist, the recently retired James Hansen of NASA, while on a “diplomatic” mission to Washington to build support for Keystone.
The tone-deaf Oliver ranted that Hansen should be “ashamed” of “exaggerating” the effects of climate change and impacts of the Tar Sands, apparently missing the irony of attacking his hosts while trying win them over. The comments, which backfired severely, were picked up by everyone from the New York Times to the UK’s Guardian. Hansen shot back, aptly branding Oliver a “Neanderthal”.
On this score, Trudeau seems to understand something his Conservative opponents don’t – i.e. cultivating buy-in for Keystone requires more sophisticated framing and at least a modicum of tact with our southern neighbours.
Meanwhile, the most likeable and politically adept figure in the Harper Government, Immigration Minister Kenney, finds himself embroiled in the growing scandal over his government’s foreign temporary worker program. The seriousness of this political pitfall is evident in the unusual backtracking Harper is doing on the program.
He’s right to do so. The problem for Harper with issues like this one, the buyout of Canadian energy company Nexen by Chinese state-owned CNOOC, and the botched fighter jet program, is the way they rile his base. Unpopular with small “c” conservatives, they drive division within Harper’s tenuous right-wing alliance.
With these troubles brewing on the home front and attack ads aimed at Trudeau falling short of the effect they had on his predecessors – Michael Ignatieff and Sétphane Dion – things are shaping up nicely for Harper’s young challenger.
The question is, what does this mean for Canada?
If all Mr. Trudeau represents is a better-packaged version of Harper’s economic vision, then how will the Canadian public and environment – not to mention the planet – be any better off?
The thing that has always bothered me about Justin – ever since his entry onto the public scene at his famous father’s funeral – is that he’s never appeared to stand for anything real. Years later, even following a lengthy leadership race and literally thousands of media clips and public appearances, I still don’t know what core principles motivate his drive to lead the country. He speaks in platitudes, clever but meaningless tweets – which is partly what makes him so effective with social media and our soundbite-obsessed mainstream press.
He is our version of Robert Redford’s character in The Candidate.
Evidently, if Justin stands for anything, it’s selling out Canada’s strategic resources and exploiting the climate-destroying Tar Sands. Where his father tried and failed to build a made-in-Canada energy policy, the younger Trudeau is going in the opposite direction.
Even that, though, I suspect, is more a reflection of his willingness to shape-shift his policies into whatever form advisers tell him will track best politically.
With Harper, by contrast, we have a sense that his zeal for expanding Canada’s fossil fuel industries through foreign ownership is something in which he believes on a deep, ideological level. I’m not sure which is better – the guy who believes in something I and many other Canadians patently don’t, or the guy who probably doesn’t but is willing to say he does, just to get elected. If these are our two choices, then I’m ready for a third.
Real leadership means fighting for real principles, even when they’re unpopular. Great politicians find a way to sell good ideas to the public and media.
Justin Trudeau does none of these things. But, boy, does he look good not doing them.
Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues – especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada’s wild salmon. This column originally appeared in the Common Sense Canadian. Reprinted with permission.