I was an adviser to the Canadian government — and I know Trudeau's victory isn't what it seems

This is the ultimate pyrrhic victory and it could pave the way for the most right-wing government in Canada's history

Saqib Qureshi
Toronto, Canada
Tuesday 22 October 2019 21:14
Justin Trudeau delivers speech following win

Trudeau’s narrow victory is also a hollow one. Despite snatching a second term from the jaws of defeat, the Conservatives have inched ahead as the most popular party in Canada among voters, at 34.4 per cent – 1.4 per cent more than the Liberals.

So we should not be too sanguine about the fact that the far-right People's Party of Canada thankfully failed to win any seats at all. Although the right is on the back foot, if Trudeau fails to deliver on the lifeline he has been granted by a disgruntled electorate, Canada’s liberal parties will become unelectable, handing the reins of power over to Andrew Scheer (or worse) in four years.

To avoid this outcome, Trudeau has to fix the ineffectiveness and double standards in his administration. There is an urgent lesson here for progressive parties around the world, and it is this: winning the election is just the beginning – the bigger challenge is reforming democracy itself.

This year saw voter turnout dip to 66 per cent, below the record-breaking turnout that propelled Trudeau to power. This growing disillusionment among Canadians is less about any particular party or person, and more about the economic landscape.

Since 1980, incomes have more than doubled for the top 1 per cent, but shrank for the bottom half, making them reliant on state handouts just to stay afloat.

Last year, there were just 10,840 “ultra-wealthy” people in Canada – defined as those with $30 million or more in assets. This is up by 14 per cent from the previous year. Their collective wealth is worth a colossal $1.2 trillion dollars – that’s equivalent to 70 per cent of Canada’s entire GDP. While the rich are getting richer, ordinary Canadians as a whole saw their net worth in the same period shrink by 0.2 per cent.

Time and again, Trudeau has promised to ensure that the ultra-rich are taxed effectively, with the money spent appropriately on improving the lives of most Canadians. But it just isn’t happening, in no small measure because Canadian civil servants are among the most highly paid in the world, yet operate with little accountability or transparency.

Instead, corporate executives still benefit from a 50 per cent lower tax rate by channelling their wealth through stock options, and Trudeau has backed billions in corporate tax breaks at the expense of the taxpayer.

He fired his female indigenous Attorney General and another outstanding minister, reportedly for trying to speak out about his aims to cut a deal with a company facing corruption charges. And while paying lip-service to climate action, he exempted up to 80 per cent of the worst Canadian polluters from his flagship carbon tax.

Meanwhile, his social programmes are geared toward generating big profits for private finance, rather than delivering key services like childcare and affordable housing. His proposed plan to fix Canada’s healthcare system looks like hot air, ignoring as it does the highest state-paid physicians in the world. And the most vulnerable people in Canada are consistently overlooked by Trudeau’s government – when the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that First Nation people should be compensated for the government’s gross discrimination against indigenous children and families, Trudeau’s response was to fight it.

It would be a mistake to assume that such problems are somehow unique to Trudeau. Far from it – they have been worsening decade by decade under both Conservative and Liberal administrations. The difference is that by promising something different, but choosing not to deliver it, the Liberals are forcing voters to look elsewhere for answers.

Trudeau's “brownface” revelations, in this sense, symbolise the extent to which the Liberals are engaging in one of the biggest acts of political self-sabotage in recent history.

While Canadians clearly don’t want racists in government, if all they see from Liberals is a politics of hypocrisy, they will begin to feel they have little to choice but to go outside the mainstream political system.

When voters believe they have nowhere else to vote, it is the bigots and revolutionaries who pick up what remains as progressive parties cannibalise each other for votes. Those who sell authoritarian fantasies of a return to the “good old days” will inevitably find more traction within the ruins of Liberal collapse.

So unless Trudeau fixes the fundamental flaws at the heart of Canadian democracy — which thus far he has shown little interest in — we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Canada’s liberal honeymoon. The lessons for progressives around the world are palpable.

Dr. Saqib Qureshi is a senior business strategist and expert on democratic policy development who has advised governments in Canada, London, Washington DC and Dubai. His forthcoming book is The Broken Contract: Making Our Democracies Efficient, Representative, and Accountable

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