The headlong rush of Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government to the right was on full display this past week as Canada’s House of Commons met for the first time in 2020.
Reflecting the fact that Canada’s ruling class is coming into ever more direct conflict with a resurgent working class at home and is aggressively asserting its predatory interests on the world stage, Trudeau announced that his government’s top priority is adopting the United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement (USMCA), and welcomed to Ottawa Juan Guaidó, the US-backed Venezuelan coup leader.
On Wednesday, the Liberals introduced legislation to ratify USMCA. The agreement, signed into law by US President Donald Trump the same day, aims to consolidate a US-dominated trade bloc in North America to confront the global commercial and strategic rivals of American and Canadian imperialism. It strengthens Trump’s hand in his trade war with China, while also accelerating the general breakdown of the global economy into competing trade blocs.
The deal, which effectively prevents Canada and Mexico from concluding free trade agreements with “non-market economies,” a euphemism for China, and increases North American production requirements to gain tariff-free access to the USMCA market, was negotiated by the Trudeau Liberals in close cooperation with the trade unions. Jerry Dias and Hassan Yussuff, respectively the presidents of Unifor and the Canadian Labour Congress, functioned as close advisers to the government during the talks, prompting Trudeau to remark that his Liberals—the Canadian bourgeoisie’s preferred party of government for over a century—enjoy a “special partnership” with the unions.
The New Democrats voted with the Liberals, Conservatives and Greens in favour of considering the USMCA legislation, leaving the Bloc Quebecois to cast the only dissenting votes. The NDP’s pro-USMCA vote was meant as a clear signal from the social democrats to Trudeau that he can rely on them in securing a parliamentary majority on issues critical to the interests of Canadian imperialism. After failing to win a majority in last October’s federal election, Trudeau’s Liberals require the support of at least 13 opposition MPs for a parliamentary majority.
One day prior to tabling the USMCA bill, Trudeau took the provocative step of meeting with Guaidó, whose self-proclamation as interim president in January 2019 was orchestrated by Washington, with Ottawa providing ground support. Guaidó has served as the front-man for the North American imperialist powers’ drive to oust Venezuela’s democratically-elected president, Nicolás Maduro. Underscoring the crucial role played by Canada in the US-led campaign of military threats, sanctions and bullying against Maduro, Guaidó made a point of thanking Trudeau when they met for “Canada’s leading international role.”
Canada’s “international role” has been to act as co-chair of the Lima Group, which has provided “democratic” cover for the US regime-change operation, while regularly offering a platform for leading Trump administration officials to deliver bellicose threats of US military action against Venezuela. In November, the Trudeau government also backed a coup in Bolivia which brought to power far-right fascistic forces.
Backing “regime change” operations like these with “hard power” is a key motivation for the Liberals’ plan to hike military spending by more than 70 percent by 2026. Under conditions of deepening great power conflicts, Trudeau has also expanded Canadian military involvement in US imperialism’s major strategic offensives around the world, including against nuclear-armed Russia and China.
Trump’s “America First” agenda has cut across the interests of the Canadian bourgeoisie. It has found itself the target of US tariffs and threats, and increasingly internationally isolated, as multilateral institutions crumble. All this has only strengthened the resolve of the Trudeau government and the entire ruling class to safeguard and enhance Canada’s military-strategic partnership with Washington, the foundation from which Canadian imperialism has advanced its interests around the world for the past eight decades.
To this end, the Trudeau government welcomed Trump’s illegal assassination of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani in early January. One month earlier, Trudeau had emerged as one of the leading defenders of NATO’s continued relevance after French President Emmanuel Macron described the US-led military alliance as “brain dead.”
On the domestic front, Trudeau responded to ruling class demands following the Oct. 21 election that he conciliate the hard-right premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan by proclaiming his commitment to “national unity” and by appointing the war-hawk Chrystia Freeland as Deputy Prime Minister and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister.
The Liberals’ embrace of Alberta’s Jason Kenney, Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe and Ontario’s right-wing populist premier Doug Ford, with whom Trudeau had an early post-election “kiss and make-up” session, is bound up with the fact that they intend to pursue similar pro-business policies at the federal level.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau has warned that Canada must prepare for a possible global downturn by reining in government spending. Meanwhile, the Trudeau government has pushed through an income-tax cut, similar to that advocated by Andrew Scheer and his Conservatives in the fall election campaign. The Liberals have touted their tax cut as a boon for those with low-incomes, but the poorest Canadians will get nothing, and much of the “tax savings” will go to the upper middle class and rich. Moreover, the cut, which will cost more than $6 billion annually when fully implemented, will soon be cited by the government and opposition alike as a further argument for public-spending austerity.
The Trudeau government has also again displayed its readiness to enforce anti-worker measures directly. When 3,000 CN Rail workers went on strike in late November in protest at intolerable working conditions, the Liberals made clear that if the Teamsters didn’t soon call off the strike, they would intervene with back-to-work legislation. That this was no idle threat is shown by the Liberals’ outlawing in November 2018 of a campaign of rotating strikes by 50,000 postal workers.
In the end, the Teamsters shut down the strike without informing their members as to the details of the proposed contract settlement, let alone allowing them to vote on it, and thanked the Trudeau government for helping broker the deal.
Workers must be warned: under conditions of a resurgence of the class struggle in Canada and internationally, the unions and NDP are deepening their collaboration with the pro-austerity, pro-war Liberal government.
Recent weeks have seen close to 200,000 Ontario teachers stage walkouts to fight the Ford government’s education cuts, a bitter two-month lockout of oil refinery workers in Regina, Saskatchewan, and protests in Alberta against Kenney’s spending cuts and demands for wage rollbacks. Leaders of unions that suppressed the class struggle for decades have begun voicing the fear that mounting worker militancy could escape their control and result in a challenge to bourgeois rule. This was summed up recently by Alberta Union of Public Employees President Guy Smith, who warned Kenney, “The anger that has built up is now in danger of spilling out into the streets.”
This makes the role of the nominally “left” NDP all the more vital for the Canadian bourgeoisie. Like social democracy and the trade unions the world over, the NDP acts as the most loyal defender of the capitalist order, using “progressive” bluster to defuse working-class opposition and harness it to Parliament and the political establishment. The NDP’s latest initiatives in this regard are a pledge to introduce a national Pharmacare bill that is tailored to the Liberals’ own proposal, and a proposed anti-scab bill that the social democrats know has no chance of being adopted.
Much more significant than this posturing was NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s statement that the NDP was prepared to “proceed in the right manner” on USMCA, a promise they swiftly fulfilled by voting with the government to initiate debate on adopting the protectionist, anti-China trade deal; and the social-democrats’ support for other key elements in Canadian imperialism’s agenda. These include the NDP’s full-throated backing of the Liberal government’s plans to spend tens of billions on purchasing new fleets of warships and fighter jets; and their rallying behind the Canadian elite’s increasingly bellicose anti-China campaign.
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