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BEHIND THE HEADLINES: The return of Trudeaumania?


TONY BEST

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: The return of Trudeaumania?

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IN THE RUN-UP to Canada’s October general election, which Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party won with a clear majority, he promised a new economic and social order. A few days ago, the Canadian leader made good on a key promise. His government introduced a major change in immigration policy that puts the re-unification of families high on his agenda.

Specifically, it opens the door to more children, parents, spouses, partners and even grandparents from more than 190 countries, Barbados among them, so they can enter Canada in greater numbers. As Senator Anne Cools, a Bajan, sees it, the shift was part of a return to the traditions of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the current prime minister’s father, who led Canada decades ago, and who had a broad international outlook for his country. That approach made him popular at home, in the Caribbean, Europe and elsewhere. The elder Trudeau was a good friend of Barbados and its neighbours.

Little wonder, then, that Cools told the BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY: “I think they [Caribbean states] will do better” under the Liberals “than under the previous [Conservative] government” led by Stephen Harper.

But she isn’t alone in visualising a more international outlook for Canada, the world’s tenth largest economy. United States (US) President Barack Obama obviously shares that assessment. Just last Thursday morning America’s head of state firmly welcomed Trudeau to the White House and ended up praising him and his country for their “shared” values and strong commitment to a range of programmes and initiatives. Among them were climate change, Syrian refugees, global trade, Western Hemisphere policy, Cuba and the Zika virus.

At a White House news conference the two leaders vowed to work longer and harder to maintain their strong bonds. The climate change issue is important to the Caribbean because of its economic impact, from drought and floods that have hit many states and floods to hurricanes and other extreme weather patterns which left a trail of death and destruction behind.

The Zika virus which threatens many Western Hemisphere states, Brazil, Columbia, Barbados, Jamaica, the US and Venezuela included, will be a prime focus of Canadian and American scientists in a joint effort designed to help the Caribbean and Latin America grapple with the potential health-related nightmare.

Many of the Canada-US agreements are to be implemented through international bodies, another signal that Canada is returning full throttle to the diplomatic policy roots which were planted in the Pierre Trudeau era. The Caribbean, which maintains a special relationship with Canada that dates back more than 150 years, often saw those ties weakend at the edges in recent years as Harper had pursued a strict conservative agenda that often spurned rigorous cooperation with international organisations to which Caribbean states belong, the United Nations, Organisation of American States and the Commonwealth Secretariat included.

Undoubtedly, Justin Trudeau’s style is stirring memories of “Trudeaumania” that swept the international community and his style should be music to the ears of Baroness Scotland of Dominica, the new Commonwealth Secretary General, who won the race for the job last year despite stiff opposition from several Caribbean states. For its part, Barbados was the helm of Scotland’s election campaign with Teresa Marshall, a retired permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, performing the role of manager.

With the new Canadian Foreign Minister Stephen Dion declaring that international cooperation was a driving force, don’t be surprised if CARICOM undertakes special initiatives designed to take advantage of development opportunities that are bound to arise under Trudeau. Of special interest to Barbados and the other countries with viable financial services sectors is Canada’s cooperation with the US on tax matters.

The US and Barbados, in that order, are the leading offshore centres for Canadian investment running into trillions of dollars. Under Harper, a tax concession enjoyed by Barbados for several years was spread around to other countries, a move that triggered a weakening of Barbados’ financial sector. Now, with the addition of America’s Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) to Washington’s network of laws, Canadian banks, which are the backbone of the Caribbean’s banking system, are facing increasing pressure from the US Internal Revenue Service to comply with FATCA’s reporting demands aimed at American citizens, including naturalised West Indians.

How the Trudeau government, Revenue Canada and the Canadian courts deal with the thorny issue of FATCA will become clear in the months ahead as legal challenges to Washington’s avaricious demands for financial information come before Canadian judges. Of course, none of these issues came up for serious discussion around the table when Obama held a lavish state dinner for Trudeau, the first in 19 years for a Canadian leader, but American and Canadian tax officials may find several areas of closer cooperation now that the frosty atmosphere spawned by the conservatives in Ottawa, is giving way to a warmer environment.

Donville Inniss, Barbados’ highly vocal Minister of International Business, should seek meetings in Ottawa and Toronto with the Trudeau administration and key executives in bankng and investment there to get a first-hand indication of how the financial wind will be blowing under Trudeau. Any planned changes would affect Barbados.

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