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BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Justin Trudeau’s new Canada


TONY BEST

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Justin Trudeau’s new Canada

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The old Canada beckons. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s new 43-year=old leader, who ousted Stephen Harper and the conservatives from leadership in Ottawa when his Liberal Party won a decisive majority in the House of Commons in last Monday’s general election, has made that clear to Canadians, telling them that a major shift in domestic and international economic policies was on the cards.

It promises to be a significant shift from right wing conservatism to a more internationalist progressive style of government, one that views the Caribbean and other emerging countries as useful economic and social partners. When it materialises, the dramatic change is bound to stir memories of the days when Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, dominated parliamentary life in a fashion that stretched across Canada and was felt in almost every Caribbean nation.

Called the era of “Trudeaumania”, beginning in the 1960s and going well into the 1980s, it was a bright period of Canadian participation in global economic and political affairs especially in the Caribbean. As Senator Anne Cool, a Bajan who became the first black woman to serve in Canada’s Senate saw it, it was a period when Pierre Trudeau had a “special fondness for the Caribbean nations and believed the region, Barbados including, was among the most beautiful places” on earth”.

Dr. Cecil Foster, political science professor and novelist in North America, put it differently. Canada, he said, “was very big on the Commonwealth, the United Nations, the Caribbean and developing countries generally. Back then, Canada helped to build Barbados’ international airport, encouraged an expansion of trade and other economic ties with the various island nations and the North America economic collossus; signed a variety of technical and other important agreements; changed its immigration policies that opened Canada’s doors to more West Indians; and offered a significant financial and economic helping hand to the region.”

Just as important, the elder Trudeau established strong and personal ties with Michael Manley of Jamaica, Errol Barrow of Barbados, Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana’s Forbes Burnham and used those relationships for the Caribbean’s economic and social benefit.

“Mr. Trudeau had a feeling for the Commonwealth and he had a sense of Canada’s positive role,” said Cools. That explains why the Liberal Party’s victory under Justin Trudeau resonates with Foster, who teaches at the State University of New York in Buffalo.

“It was refreshing to hear Justin Trudeau say the ‘old Canada is back’ because we know that under the old Canada the notion of a just society enabled Canada to play a key role in Commonwealth and Caribbean development,” said Foster. “Canada under Pierre Trudeau was very big in terms of Commonwealth affairs. It was very big in terms of the United Nations. It was very big in terms of seeing Canada as the big sister to the Caribbean and even under Brian Mulroney (a conservative prime minister) Canada had a special relationship with the Caribbean.”

Unfortunately, though, many elements of that partnership were either dismantled or allowed to wither on the vine under Harper. In essence, the election of Trudeau’s Liberals to leadership of the House of Commons can turn out to be a breath of fresh air for the Caribbean.

What makes the situation so intriguing is that several newly elected parliamentarians with West Indian roots can emerge as an effective lobbying force for the Caribbean. One such person is Frank Baylis, a Barbadian-Canadian entrepreneur who won a seat in a Montreal riding.

“CARICOM countries now have members of the ruling party’s caucus who trace their family ties to the West Indies and who they can lobby,” said Foster. Already, they have the Canadian-Caribbean Association in the Commons. Then, there is broader Commonwealth reach. With three Caribbean candidates, including Baroness Scotland of Dominica and Sir Ronald Sanders of Antigua and Barbuda seeking to become the next Commonwealth Secretary General, there is the real prospect of the Canada playing a vital role once again in Commonwealth affairs.

That’s not all. The new government can be encouraged to open the Canadian markets to more Caribbean made products.

“In a sense, Caribbean governments should look at the past ten years under Stephen Harper as an aberration that has come to an end,” asserted Foster.

Many Canadians view the Harper era as a “lost” period and the Caribbean should take advantage of future economic prospects. The prospects for a different approach to immigration are also healthy. Harper spent a considerable amount of time erecting immigration barriers but Trudeau promises a fresh start for immigrants.

“I am optimistic for Canada-Caribbean releations,” said Cools. “I am hopeful for a renewed and robust relationship. The future is bright.”

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