VIDEO & TRANSCRIPT
Dimitri Lascaris speaks with Nora Loreto and Yves Engler on the day after the Canada election about the prospect that a Liberal minority government will be obliged to pursue a more progressive agenda.
Published on TRNN, Oct 23, 2019
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News Network from Montreal, Canada.
Yesterday Canada held its 43rd election, and the results are in. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party has been returned to power, at this time with a minority of the seats in Canada’s parliament. The Liberals won 157 of the 338 seats that were up for grabs, meaning that they are 13 seats short of the threshold of 170 needed for a majority government. The Conservative Party, led by Andrew Scheer, won 121 seats, or 26 seats less than the Liberals, and did so despite winning a slightly higher percentage of the popular vote. The Conservatives gained 34.4% of the popular vote, while the Liberals earned 33.1%. As happens routinely in Canada’s federal elections, the Conservatives nearly swept the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where Canada’s fossil fuels industry is centered. In the rest of the country, however, their support was not strong enough to carry them to victory last night.
The third place winner was the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois, which runs candidates only in the province of Quebec. The Bloc won 32 seats, a dramatic increase from its result in the last election of 10 seats. The social democratic, NDP, picked up 24 seats. This means that, with the support of either the Bloc or the NDP, the Liberals would control a majority of seats in parliament. Rounding out the results were the Green Party of Canada, which won three seats for the first time in Canadian political history. And finally, Canada’s formerly Liberal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould won her current seat, but this time as an independent. As The Real News has previously reported, Ms. Wilson-Raybould was removed from her position as justice minister in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government after she resisted Mr. Trudeau’s pressure to avoid subjecting a major Canadian corporation SNC-Lavalin to a criminal conviction on corruption charges.
And now, here to unpack all of these results for us are Nora Loreto and Yves Engler. Nora is editor of the Canadian Association of Labour Media and a freelance writer who has written for the National Observer and the Washington Post. Yves is a Canadian commentator and author of numerous books. His most recent one is Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada, and he joins us today from the city where I am, Montreal, Canada. Thank you, both of you, for coming back on The Real News.
NORA LORETO: Thanks.
YVES ENGLER: Thanks for having me.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So my first question is for both of you. How do you think the millions of progressive voters who cast their votes in this election should feel about this outcome? And what kind of policy shifts of a progressive nature, if any, do you expect to emerge from this election? And why don’t we start with Nora.
NORA LORETO: Yeah. I think that it’s pretty clear that people rejected the Liberal majority, which is what we just had. And that’s a rejection of the way that the Liberals do politics, because the Liberals often promise from the left and govern from the right. And so with this minority government, there’s going to be an opportunity for the other parties and also for Canadians to push the Liberals to do what they’ve promised. And what I’m watching for is the space that’s going to be opened up as they negotiate their coalition government, because they’re going to need to govern in coalition.
And I suspect that we’ll see a lot of attention on electoral reform, which was a promise that the Liberals had made in 2015 that they completely broke. And that disappointed a lot of progressive voters. But also the environment, because the rest of the parties that have been elected that they’re going to need to be able to pass bills–the Bloc, the NDP, and the Greens–they all have good environmental policies. I mean, they all need to be better, but the pressure from the NDP, and the Bloc, and the Greens will force the Liberals to do better on the environment, and that will allow Canadians to actually have the ability to push the Liberals to have better progressive environmental policy over the next how many years, because we don’t know how long this minority will last for.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Indeed. Just to hone in on some of the points that Nora made and before I turn it over to you on this question, last night when Jagmeet Singh delivered a speech, I had the opportunity to listen to that, he mentioned a number of his progressive priorities, including pharma care. That’s a big one. He did talk in general terms about tackling the climate crisis more responsibly. He specifically mentioned fossil fuels subsidies, but I didn’t hear him mention the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which, as we all know, has been a matter of considerable controversy in this country for some time. Do you think that, on that issue in particular, Mr. Singh is going to draw a line in the sand and say no new pipelines, including no Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion?
YVES ENGLER: No. I don’t think Jagmeet Singh will put a line in the sand on the Trans Mountain Pipeline, partly because he can’t. The Liberals would get support from the Conservatives for that, and the number of seats they need, or number of votes they need is pretty small, 13. So the Liberals have a fair bit of power with regards to negotiating votes in the House of Commons. More generally, I do think this is a very good election result. The fact that Maxime Bernier’s xenophobic party didn’t win a seat and only won 1.6% of the vote is a positive. The fact that it’s a minority government is a positive. The fact that slight increase in the Green Party vote, I think this election should be viewed as a much better situation now than we were two months ago. So progresses should be happy about that, but I don’t think we should expect any sort of fundamental changes here because the NDP, and even for that matter the Greens, weren’t really putting forward sort of radical changes to the political and economic system.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And Nora, what’s your take on this? do you think that Trans Mountain is going to become a line in the sand for Jagmeet Singh?
NORA LORETO: No. During the election it was pretty clear that the NDP didn’t actually know what they would do with the pipeline because of course it’s already been purchased. And so the discussion around how do you unpurchase or what are they going to do with this was very weak. And there is support for other pipeline projects that the NDP has had to be allied or in line politically with the provincial NDP and British Columbia, but the Bloc has been very, very strong opposing pipelines. So I think that the line in the sand will really be Liberal and Conservative on one side and the rest of the parties on the other, as Yves said.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now what do you both make of the meteoric rise of the Bloc Québécois? Has the project of Quebec’s separatism been revived in your view? And let’s start with Yves on that one.
YVES ENGLER: Well the project of Quebec independence has never disappeared. I mean that polls show there still, at the low points, has been about a third of the public in Quebec that’s supportive of independence and at times it’s risen up to about 50% of the population. So I don’t think that the Bloc’s rise is indicative of some major transformation on that issue. I think the Bloc’s rise, in large part, is tied to the climate strike on September 27th, when there was 300 plus thousand people in Montreal protesting for climate action. And that really hits Conservative support in Quebec. And it also, I think, weakened the Liberals in Quebec.
So the Bloc’s rise is maybe partly tied to Jagmeet Singh, and the discomfort that many people in Quebec have shown around his turban and some sort of xenophobia and racism percolating below with the whole secularism movements in this province at the provincial level. So the Bloc’s rise; I think it’s a kind of a contradictory one where there’s much to the Bloc’s positions that are xenophobic that make me uncomfortable. But in practice, I think the Bloc acts as a social democratic, fairly pro-environment party. That’s how they will operate at the federal level in negotiations with the Liberals.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And Nora, do you think that this represents some kind of a sea change in the project of Quebec separatism or can we anticipate more of the same?
NORA LORETO: No. I think that the Bloc–they’re always there. This has not surprised anybody in Quebec who watches Quebec politics. And they exist so that can Quebecers can feel like the will of the national assembly, our legislative body at the provincial level, can have expression at the federal level. And so we had 15 years of Liberal rule throughout that time. The Bloc kind of collapsed. They cycled through many leaders in the last couple of years and so the stars kind of came together this year for them to really have the result that we had last night. They have a very skilled leader in Yves-François Blanchet, who most Quebecers know because he’s been abundant now on TV for a couple of years and was previously the minister of the environment for the very short minority government of the Parti Québécois.
But it’s also a question of, I think, the support of the CAC, and the power of the CAC, our provincial party, because the popularity that the CAC enjoys, I’m personally confused by it, but there’s no question that they still are a popular party. They were only elected a year ago. And I think that the attention on ethnic nationalism that we saw in this campaign from the Bloc was pretty just crass politics based on what had worked very well for the CAC. I think the good news is that this is time limited, and there will be a backlash to this, and how that backlash plays out is I think what a lot of progressive people are thinking about in Quebec, how do we organize, how do we educate, and how do we make sure that this is an error that we look back on in Quebec with a lot of shame and embarrassment.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now after the results came in last night, some voters to the west of us began musing about another separatist project; one that has never really taken off and one that is talked about to a far lesser extent than Quebec separatism. And that is the whole notion of a Wexit–or a separation of Alberta, the oil rich province, from Canada. Some voters were musing last night–and then some people in the Canadian media were observing this this morning–that the new government will include no ministers from Alberta or Saskatchewan and that it will be perceived by many in those provinces, particularly Alberta, as being even more hostile to the fossil fuels industry than the prior government; assuming that that government was in fact hostile to the fossil fuels industry.
Some also have complained–some Alberta based voters–on social media about the fact that the Conservatives won a larger share of the popular vote than the Liberals, yet substantially fewer seats. In light of these results and these facts, Yves, do you think there’s any real prospect of separatism in Alberta becoming a significant risk for the Canadian Confederation?
YVES ENGLER: No. I don’t think there’s that prospect. I think that basically what the media feeds this Alberta discontent, Saskatchewan discontent to the point where they’ve now defined the west, cutting out the actual most western province of BC, which is not necessarily as on board in this, pro Conservative as Alberta and Saskatchewan. No, I mean watching the CBC commentators last night and bemoaning Alberta, the alienation, and I mean let’s get down to it. This is about the fact that there are forces that want to move forward with extracting tar sands in a way that is going to guarantee the collapse of human civilization. And people in Alberta need to be told that, very clearly, those oil reserves, those heavy bitumen needs to keep in the ground.
And the problem has been that there are forces in this country that are refusing to call a spade a spade, including Justin Trudeau, who made that declaration to oil executives in Houston two years ago about how if you found 170 billion barrels of oil that no country would not extract that. That is what needs to happen. And this business about western alienation, people in Alberta are still wealthier than anywhere else in the country. The stories about the negativity, the downturn in Alberta; the wage is still higher, the standards are still higher than the rest of the country. And this is really about we have to tell the… we have to go in a different direction. And if people in Alberta are going to threaten to leave Canada over a destroying human civilization, well I think the chips need to be put down to the people of Alberta if they want to go in that direction.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And Nora, I’d like to talk to you about the Green Party result last night. This was perceived by many to be a rather fortuitous set of circumstances, electoral circumstances, for the Green Party because of the heightened concern, I think it’s fair to say unprecedented level of concern amongst Canadian voters for the climate crisis. Also, the fact that Justin Trudeau’s government had proven over the past four years, to many people in the progressive community, that it wasn’t serious about resolving that crisis, dealing responsibly with that crisis. And other scandals, of course, effected the electability of Justin Trudeau, including the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
So the Greens were presented with this extraordinary opportunity. Elizabeth May has been the leader of the Green Party for 13 years. I believe this was her fourth election. At the outset, the polling indicated that they were at historically high levels in terms of popular sport, and yet they ended up with three seats and really not enough seats. It’s only one more seat than they had going into the election, and not enough seats to really be a power player in this minority government situation. How would you characterize the result last night for the Green Party? Was at a disappointment? Was it a major advance? And if it was a disappointment, what do you think is going wrong there?
NORA LORETO: Yeah, I expected this result based on their campaign. They had a stronger campaign than normal. They had a lot of national attention, and they fell flat in a lot of the election. I mean they did start to get overshadowed by Jagmeet Singh’s kind of flamboyant campaign and exciting campaign. But had The Green’s been able to capitalize on the excitement around the climate strikes on the 27th of September, I think we would have seen more excitement for the Green Party. And so going forward, what does this mean? I think any party that cannot survive a leadership race is a party that is not going to last very long. And so how much longer does Elizabeth May stay the leader of the Green Party? Should there be someone else taking the reigns? I would argue probably, I think 13 years is quite a long time to be in that position.
And quite frankly, on the left, the problem that’s posed by the existence of the Green Party and the NDP for progressives, it’s extremely confusing. During the election, I read the platforms, I analyzed them, I wrote about them, I podcast about them. And I still couldn’t tell an average person on the street what the difference between the NDP and the Greens platforms are because the environment is such a technical issue when we’re talking about targets, and years that we’re going to reach these targets or whatever. And so, if there’s a movement of environmentalists that want to see themselves represented in the political parties, I honestly don’t see how the NDP and the Greens are going to continue to coexist as separate parties. And I think that moving in the next couple of years, and perhaps under the guise of working together with a minority government, we actually might see convergence forced by the grassroots of both parties for there to be a merger. That’s a guess.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Right. And finally, Yves, last question. You’ve written extensively about Canadian government support for American imperialist projects and the near perfect alignment of Canadian foreign policy with U.S. foreign policy, and I’ve talked to you about that on The Real News previously. And I think you’d agree that foreign policy was a subject that got precious little attention from the leaders and the Canadian media in this particular election. Do you nonetheless anticipate that the new government–given it is a minority government that will rely on the support of parties like the NDP and the Bloc, perhaps the Green Party–do you think that there’s going to be a significant shift in the direction of greater independence on the part of the Canadian government when it comes to foreign policy?
YVES ENGLER: Well, the election debates showed that nobody seems to care about the fact that Canada’s trying to overthrow the government of Venezuela, propping up a highly repressive, illegitimate, unpopular government in Haiti. Mining companies are pursuing aggressive policies with Canadian support around the world, and innumerable, Canada’s low-level war against [inaudible 00:17:53] and on, and on, and on. And these foreign policy positions that the Liberal government have taken, that I think are quite clearly anti-internationalists and anti-human. And that just doesn’t get any discussion in the election debates. Now I would be surprised that the NDP or the Greens would try to force the Liberals’ hands on any of these issues if they’re not ever willing to bring it up in the election debate.
But beyond just foreign policy issue, the military question; the fact that Canada’s spending $70 billion in the 2020s on new Naval vessels. I tried to ask Elizabeth May, the head of the Green Party, at her press conference in Montreal about that and about her support for military spending; and not the use of Canadian Naval vessels and how they’re used for gunboat diplomacy in many parts of the world, but tried to ask her just about the climate question and how much resources, fossil fuels, go into build them, and how many fossil fuels are used in Naval vessels and fighter jets. And she basically refused to answer the question because the Green Party is saying they support military spending. So, no. I think when it comes to foreign policy and when it comes to military policy, it’s a very depressing situation in terms of official politics. And unfortunately, I don’t expect that to significantly change unless there’s a real push from below in coming months. And Canada will continue to align with the U.S. empire and Canadian corporations abroad.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, I’ve been speaking to Nora Loreto and Yves Engler about Canada’s election last night, in which the Liberal government emerged with the minority. Thank you very much, Nora and Yves, for joining us today.