Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

The Rise of the Center-Left in Canada: What Does It Mean for the U.S. and the Rest of the Hemisphere?

Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

The Rise of the Center-Left in Canada: What Does It Mean for the U.S. and the Rest of the Hemisphere?

Article excerpt

October 19, 2015, may go down as the begin-ning of a major new chapter in Canada, representing a dramatic political shift. On that federal Election Day, 43-year-old Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party was elected prime minister to end the 10 years of di-visive rule of the Conservative Party's Stephen Harper. Just months after taking office on November 4, the former member of Parliament (and first son of a former prime minister to win the post) has started changing the direction of Canada's policies on several issues. They include: reversing the nation's anti-Muslim policy by welcoming 25,000 Syrian refugees to the country; establishing gender equality quotas in his Cabinet; and taking action to reduce taxes to the middle class. At the international level, Trudeau has ended Canada's bombing mission against ISIS fight-ers.

Trudeau's progressive domestic policies and some of his foreign policies have been widely ap-plauded, but his lack of commitment to social justice in southern neighboring countries has been equally criticized. Civil society organizations did not welcome Canada's tepid response to recent killings of indige-nous human rights and environmental activists in Honduras, most notably the murder of Berta Cárceres on March 3. More than 120 national and regional or-ganizations called on the Canadian government to condemn the murders and ask the Honduran govern-ment to support an independent, international inves- tigation into the crimes, but Trudeau's government would only vow to "support ... projects and Honduran organizations" that promote the protection of human rights in the country. This raised concerns, given that Ottawa seems to be giving higher priority to its eco-nomic interests over human rights protection. Cana-dian companies have in particular, major mining pro-jects in Honduras and other Latin American coun-tries where they could adversely affect indigenous communities (See COHA's August 11, 2014 article "Canada's Controversial Engagement in Honduras").

Short of defending human rights throughout the region, Trudeau has only explicitly expressed in-tentions to strengthen Canadian relations with the United States and Mexico. During his electoral cam-paign, he said he was determined to promote closer ties with these two North American countries and end the antagonism that his predecessor was foster-ing by imposing visa requirements for Mexicans and avoiding a constructive partnership with Washington. Trudeau pledged to advance free trade, liftthe Mexi-can visa requirement, and host a trilateral summit with the United States and Mexico, which will take place this summer. He also wants to work with Can-ada's allies in the North American Free Trade Agree-ment to develop a continent-wide clean-energy pro-gram and environmental agreement. In regard to other countries in the region, Canada may "reinforce its support for the Colombian peace process and deepen its diplomatic profile in Cuba," according to Ken-neth Frankel, president of the Ca-nadian Council for the Americas (CCA).

Caribbean nations expect a deeper collaboration with Canada. Although perceived as a "special friend" in the region, particularly to other Commonwealth member countries because of their cultural and social ties, Canada has unfin-ished businesses with them. There are pending negotiations for a free trade agreement, an issue that Car-ibbean Community (CARICOM) countries hope to reopen. Canada is CARICOM's third largest export market, home to more than two million Caribbean descendants, and a major source of tourism, so there is potential for deeper partnership.

Trudeau has suggested that Canada's engage-ment in the region will consist largely of North American trade-related issues and rely heavily on more collaboration with the United States, thus limit-ing its margins of independent action in the rest of the hemisphere and ignoring the humanitarian role it could play by urgently pressing for human rights pro-tections. …

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