Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

What Will Trudeau & the Liberals Bring to Canada?

Canada’s Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, on Oct. 19 swept to victory in the country’s general election, ending nearly a decade of Conservative Party rule. The Liberals’ victory was unexpectedly decisive, with the party winning 184 of the 338 seats in Parliament. To what can the Liberal Party attribute its victory? What are the biggest changes Canadians can expect in terms of domestic policy and foreign policy, including relations with Latin America and the Caribbean? What do the results mean for businesses in Canada, and which sectors will be most affected?

Kenneth Frankel, president of the Canadian Council for the Americas (CCA) and adjunct professor of law at American University Washington College of Law: "Prime Minister-elect Trudeau promises a significant change in tone, style and substance in Canada’s domestic and international portfolios. The Conservative government made deepening political and business relations with Latin America and the Caribbean a pillar of its foreign policy. It championed regional bilateral and multilateral trade deals and gradually learned that it should engage with governments and leaders that it adjudged offside with ‘Canadian values.’ Despite its distaste for multilateralism, it generously supported multilateral regional institutions, only recently reducing its funding of the OAS after several years of growing disillusionment—a sentiment shared by the Liberals. The Liberal platform did not mention LAC. Mr. Trudeau’s only campaign reference to LAC was a call to strengthen NAFTA. The party is on record, however, on a number of issues relevant to the hemisphere. Mr. Trudeau supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership in principle but is withholding support pending his review of the text. He’ll relax the Conservatives’ strict visa rules that became an abrasion for the business community and an open wound with the Mexican government. Changes in domestic policy will lead to substantive changes in Canadian hemispheric policy in at least two areas: drugs and the environment. Mr. Trudeau supports the legalization of marijuana. He won’t rag the puck on hemispheric efforts to collectively consider alternatives to current drug policies, nor on changing Canada’s slack record on environmental stewardship. Canadian diplomats will have leeway to craft more nuanced policy on a broader range of hemispheric issues with a wider range of players. We might expect Canada to publicly re-enforce its support for the Colombian peace process and to deepen its diplomatic profile in Cuba, a country whose retired revolutionary leader was an honorary pallbearer at the funeral of Mr. Trudeau’s father."

Arturo Sarukhan, board member of the Inter-American Dialogue and former Mexican ambassador to the United States: "In recent years, Canada has been punching below its weight in the Americas and has had a complete lack of appetite and vision for widening the North American agenda. Ottawa has offered few contributions to the global debate on climate change or peacekeeping, or solutions to an issue near and dear to Mexico, the imposition of visas for Mexican travelers. For those reasons, Monday’s electoral results are to be welcomed by those of us who believe in a Canada committed to its North American partners and to being a key builder of a 21st Century rules-based international system. Few governments can stay in power for as long as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s without voter backlash and discontent. The election in many ways became something of a referendum on Mr. Harper’s approach to government, which has often focused on issues important to core Conservative supporters, mostly in the West, rather than to the majority of the population. For those of us in North America who believe in a strong and committed Canadian partner, many of the steps that the Harper administration took on regional and global issues sadly took the country backwards. The proof, as always, will be in the pudding, but Justin Trudeau has a unique opportunity to rejuvenate Canadian foreign policy and re-engage with Canada’s partners in the Americas and elsewhere."

Carlo Dade, director of the Centre for Trade and Investment Policy at the Canada West Foundation and non-resident senior associate in the Americas Program at CSIS: "The liberal party sweep was a rebalancing of Canadian politics. The Conservatives, who are a distinct minority in Canada, had governed for a decade thanks to vote splitting on the left by the Liberals and the NDP and to a lesser degree the Greens. On Monday, that ended as the electorate on the left decided to unite behind the Liberals. We can expect three major changes that will affect this hemisphere. First, there will be a completely different style of Canadian government. The Harper government was essentially a one-man show. With only one superstar in the defense minister, two or three strong members of cabinet and the rest of the caucus needing to be kept on a short leash lest they embarrass or derail the government, micromanagement by the prime minister was good and necessary. This micromanagement in turn prevented the Conservatives from attracting strong candidates. Trudeau on the other hand comes to office with a strong slate of candidates for his cabinet. Second, those who deal with the Canadian bureaucracy will notice a distinct improvement in mood as, rightly or wrongly, they see their 10 years in purgatory under the Conservatives ending. But the biggest change will be in Canada’s relations with its neighbors in North America. Trudeau was the only leadership candidate to offer a major policy address on North America during the campaign in which he also emphasized the importance of the relationship with Mexico—not an everyday occurrence in Canada. This was a clear signal to our neighbors to the south and should be taken as such. An international calendar that is more than full with a G20, APEC and commonwealth summit in addition to the Paris climate change talks will mean the ‘three amigos’ meeting probably gets pushed back. However, when the new prime minister does engage, we should expect to see new ideas and new energy for North America."

Paul Durand, former Canadian ambassador to the Organization of American States, Chile and Costa Rica: "The Canadian election produced a stunning result —a massive defeat for Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party. But observers shouldn’t be surprised; the Conservatives’ nine-year rule under Harper was simply out of sync with Canadian instincts and values. That it lasted so long is attributable to the split of the progressive vote between the Liberal and New Democratic parties; the Liberals’ decisive victory under Justin Trudeau (the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) has put an end to that. Domestically, Harper led a government focused on division rather than unity, pitting Canadians against each other through ideological rigidity, vindictiveness and the cynical promotion of ‘wedge’ issues. He undermined democratic institutions, imposed rigid controls on government agencies, and, in a breathtaking act of arrogance, impugned the integrity of the Supreme Court Chief Justice. As a result of these and other excesses, the prime minister was found in contempt of Parliament—a first in Canadian history. Internationally, Harper reduced Canada from a position of respect and constructive engagement to international insignificance, unrecognized and then ignored by its former friends and allies. In the Americas, he was unable to get along with the major leaders, including those of the United States, Mexico and Brazil. He spurned multilateral institutions and distorted Canada’s foreign policy through ‘diaspora’ politics, pandering to the narrow interests of immigrant groups. Here, too, there were consequences—for the first time, Canada’s bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council was massively rejected by member nations. Canada and Canadians can now begin to repair their international image, and work toward playing a positive role once again in world affairs. The Americas should be among the first beneficiaries of this positive approach, and the Caribbean, in particular, should get renewed attention after years of neglect."

Maxwell A. Cameron, director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia: "The election result was a clear repudiation of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and an expression of a desire for change that Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party channeled better than the New Democratic Party’s Tom Mulcair. The collapse of the vote for the NDP and the growth of the Liberals in the second half of the campaign were two sides of the same coin: the collective decision of the electorate to rally behind the party best able to unseat Harper. The new Liberal government is likely to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to place more emphasis on North America. It will extricate Canada from a military role in Syria, and attend COP21 in Paris with promises of action on climate change. It will be less beholden to oil and gas and more focused on public, green and social infrastructure."

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