Tom Mulcair: Trudeau has to get serious. The time for bluffing and emoting is over.
Published Wednesday, September 29, 2021 7:45AM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, September 29, 2021 6:37PM EDT
SAINT-SAUVEUR, QUEBEC -- In the waning days of the campaign, Trudeau went all out to convince voters in the Greater Toronto Area that he was a “progressive,” a term that he hardly ever used to describe himself before.
It was a word intentionally chosen to hive off as many NDP votes as possible especially in Canada’s largest cities. It worked. Trudeau ran the table in the GTA.
Now, it’s put up or shut up time in several key files that help define progressive politics in Canada: women’s rights, climate, justice and minority rights.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has been an abject failure in dealing with the issue of sexual misconduct in the military. Women who have courageously come forward have felt betrayed. Senior military officers, some swept up by a broom intended for others, have felt a dispiriting lack of respect from their civilian bosses. Morale is at an all-time low and there is now no excuse for continued failure.
Trudeau has always talked a good game when it came to his “gender balanced” cabinet but, as journalist Elizabeth Thompson pointed out soon after the swearing in of his first government, women were actually paid on average less than men because they’d been confined to more junior roles that paid less. Trudeau’s fix was to give everyone the same pay but that couldn’t hide that fact that women had been kept on the lower rungs of the power ladder in his cabinet.
This is the right time to name a competent, independent woman to the job as defence minister. With Trudeau, “competent” is less of a problem than “independent.”
Ask Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Tough luck. Trudeau and his inner circle are going to have to learn that his PMO cannot continue to try to control everything, then duck, as they did on the sexual misconduct file, the minute the going gets tough. It’s a tall order but the talent is there. It will be a welcome, bold move.
Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson embarrassed himself by parroting the absurd line prepared by the Trudeau campaign, claiming that they had to buy an oil pipeline because (wait for it…) that way they could have the money to fight climate change! It was an insult to the intelligence of Canadians who care about climate change and who know that it’s been one of Trudeau’s biggest failures.
There is one person in Trudeau’s cabinet who could give him instant credibility on climate change: Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault. Guilbeault has a sterling reputation as an environmentalist who knows the file, knows the players, knows what has to be done and can’t be bought.
His appointment would cause some ripples in the oil patch, no question about it. But, hey, even the Conservatives ran on a platform that endorsed the need to reduce greenhouse gases and achieve results to fight climate change. Six years on, Trudeau has the worst record in the G7 and we’ve seen greenhouse gases increase every year he’s been there. As former Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Julie Gelfand underscored, there was no plan to meet our Paris obligations.
The time for bluffing and emoting is over. Canada has to get serious, Trudeau has to get serious. He has the makings of a marvellous plan, he just has to start enforcing it.
Guilbeault will get the job done but won’t accept to be a potted plant, no matter how green.
Minority rights are under attack in Canada and we all remember strong justice ministers like Irwin Cotler for whom ensuring respect for human rights was a lifelong vocation.
When Wilson-Raybould stood strong against Trudeau for alleged interference in the prosecution process and eventually quit, a “call for tenders” must’ve gone out from the PMO: to find a lawyer who will do what we tell him to do.
David Lametti found his way into cabinet. By all appearances, he has always toed the PMO’s political decisions on cases involving Charter rights in Quebec.
When Muslim women had to go to court to fight Quebec’s Bill 21 and obtain the right to become teachers even if they wear a hijab, they were left to fend for themselves. In the past, Canada's justice minister, in his or her role as Attorney General, would be there to fight for and defend rights in these defining cases. Not Lametti. He’s stood on the sidelines and it’s been painful to watch.
Another Québec law, Bill 96, is currently being studied in Québec City. Lametti claims to have a legal opinion backing the right of Québec to unilaterally amend the B.N.A. Act to remove the equality of English and French in legislation and before the courts in Québec. He refuses to release it and I don’t believe it exists. As one senior Trudeau cabinet minister confided to me, they know the Bill is manifestly unconstitutional but are afraid to fight Quebec Premier Francois Legault.
That Trudeau would continue to abandon rights flies in the face of the Liberals’ avowed attachment to the Charter.
Trudeau has a spotty track record on progressive issues. He got re-elected on a promise of actually being a progressive. Forming his new cabinet will be his first real test.
Tom Mulcair was the former leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017.