In the dreary year since his election, Justin Trudeau has seen the popularity of his government and his personal “brand” sink slowly but surely.
At first it was enough to say nice things, take selfies and be not Stephen Harper. Then one by one his happy promises were broke,n leaving no one happy. Well, maybe not no one. The Saudis were happy with their tanks, and the pipeline and tar sands companies were happy not to face new scrutiny of their developments.
Vows—electoral reform, legalization of marijuana, rolling back C-51 (the Secret Policemen’s Law), the promise to get fully informed consent from First Nations before economic development on their territories—were tossed aside like so many losing roll-up-the-rim Tim’s cups. Brief hope dashed, people were left with nothing but the same old shitty coffee.
So Trudeau and his handlers decided it was time to go out among the people with a fresh batch of words. Tie loosened, top button undone, sleeves rolled up, Trudeau went on tour. Things did not go well. “Deeds, not words,” the people said. Some of them said it respectfully, some tearfully, some angrily. Some said it with a selfie. But they kept saying it.
His betrayal of First Nations people and of the environment kept him in the hot seat. He explained again and again how pumping and piping more tar sands bitumen would save the environment and the economy, but the more often he said it the less sense it made. He ended his tour more unpopular than when he began.
But Trudeau has one thing going for him: Donald Trump.
The Trump effect
Unlike Trudeau the one thing Trump cannot be accused of is breaking his campaign promises. He has acted quickly to implement the Islamophobic travel ban, then when the judiciary declared his ban illegal he declared that the courts were a threat to national security. He scuttled the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (his only good decision), scrapped the regulations placed on banks and financial institutions after the 2014 financial crisis, and began to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. He populated his administration with homophobes, big business privatizers, anti-Semites and white-power advocates, and chose shameless liars as his spokespeople.
Polls suggest that Trump’s support is in decline as the extremity and irrationality of his administration becomes clearer. On this side of the border he is viewed with fear and disgust–with the exception of a handful to Tory leadership hopefuls. So Trudeau’s handlers reasoned, probably correctly, that the Prime Minister would look positively majestic standing next to Trump.
Pierre Trudeau was able to accomplish this in his time because he was trickier than Richard Nixon. In public the two expressed dislike for each other; in private they laid the groundwork for the neo-liberal free-trade deals of today. Thanks to Nixon’s penchant for taping all his meetings we know exactly what Trudeau the elder had to say: “If you're going to be protectionist, let's be in it together. I am not a nationalist, I am not a protectionist – if you were going to take a very protectionist trend, our whole economy is so importantly tied to yours, we'd have to make some very fundamental decisions.” Nixon and Kissinger assured him that Canada was on the inside.
Trudeau fils hoped negative power of Trump would do for him what it was able to do for NAFTA. The 24-year old trade deal has been a major factor in the decline of manufacturing jobs, and has made environmental regulations subservient to corporate profits. In a June poll only 25 per cent said NAFTA had benefitted the economy. But in February, after Trump’s promises to scrap it, support for NAFTA surged to 44 per cent. If Trump is against it we must be for it, right?
Trudeau’s objective for his Washington visit was to appear to resist Trump while protecting the corporate interests on both sides of the border, which have thrived under NAFTA just as much as workers have suffered.
Superficial domestic media coverage was an accomplice in Trudeau’s game. After all, when it comes to topping Trump in style and statesmanship, the bar is set mighty low. There was endless coverage and commentary about handshakes and hugs. Look, a leader who speaks in complete sentences; who cares what he’s saying.
So Trudeau used his self-declared “feminist” credentials to score points by initiating the “United States Canada Council for the Advancement of Women Business Leaders–Female Entrepreneurs”. And Trump used the event to deflect charges of misogyny and sexual abuse, and advance his daughter Ivanka. The roundtable was notable for its diversity, not all of the women CEOs in attendance were blonde—at least one was a redhead.
The 1% united
Behind closed door, the two got down to what really unites them: “We have built the world’s largest energy trading relationship. We share the goals of energy security, a robust and secure energy grid, and a strong and resilient energy infrastructure that contributes to energy efficiency in both countries.” Whether the Keystone XL or the Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, both have committed to moving their climate killing petro-projects forward by any means necessary.
The other priority where they diverge in style but not substance is militarism and national security: “We demonstrate daily that security and efficiency go hand-in-hand, and we are building a 21st century border through initiatives such as pre-clearance of people and integrated cross-border law enforcement operations.” In blunt language, this means empowering US law enforcement to operate in Canada.
In words, Trudeau tries to separate himself from Trump. In deeds there isn’t much that separates them. No doubt Trudeau would prefer to be collaborating with a president who had a more conventional approach to the neo-liberal austerity agenda, but he will do what he must do to make do.
Despite Trudeau’s reassurances, when Trump announces that the US and Canadian economies are “completely and totally integrated”, we all have reason to worry.