Before Justin Trudeau was prime minister of Canada, right winger Stephen Harper held the position. A loud-mouthed, somewhat boorish right-winger, he attacked immigrants, the indigenous nations of Canada, working people, the environment and everyone to his left. Millions of Canadians breathed a huge sigh of relief when Harper was defeated in the 2012 elections. The overall attitude was that Justin Trudeau and his redesigned Liberal party would turn the clock back on Harper’s right-wing politics and consequently move the nation forward. Imagine their surprise, then, when Trudeau and the Liberals barely altered Harper’s most egregious policies. They did, however, try to make them seem friendlier. If that didn’t work and most Canadians were still opposed, the Liberals either ignored the opposition or lied to them and the rest of the nation.
This is the essence of journalist Martin Lukacs’ 2019 book The Trudeau Formula: Seduction and Betrayal in an Age of Discontent. It is also the essence of every liberal (and most social democratic) parties in the world. These parties and politicians tend to be so entwined in the web of modern capitalism; their imagination does not allow them to invent—much less consider—remedies to the current ills of the world that do not make profit the centerpiece of their agenda. This is what is called a contradiction. Since capitalism is the fundamental cause of these ills, there is no way a capitalist solution exists. Yet, political parties and their governments continue to pretend that there is. Many, if not most, of their subjects seem to agree. Those that don’t are pushed to the margins, denied a forum, attacked or ignored by the mainstream media and occasionally brutalized and jailed by the law enforcement agents of the state.
Most readers will remember when Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister of Canada in 2015. Mainstream media fawned over him like he was Prince Harry of England. Like his father Pierre, who served as Canadian Prime Minister for all but two years between 1968 and 1984, Justin’s attractive features and easygoing media-friendly approach took precedent over the substance of his politics. As Lukacs makes clear, the difference between what Trudeau said during his campaigns and what he actually did in office was stark. Those US residents who were politically aware during the Obama presidency can certainly relate. In other words, campaigns filled with hope dissolved into years of disappointment. Unless, of course, one is a member of the capitalist class.
Lukacs’ text is a fine piece of journalism. He dissects Trudeau’s Liberal Party and its obeisance to capital, documenting its links to Canadian industry and finance while quoting Trudeau’s speeches and interviews where he tells the captains of capital that his handsome face and his party will facilitate their continued domination of Canada. Instead of the racist and misogynist bluster identified with Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party, Trudeau and his Liberals could smooth the way for even greater profits. In other words, Trudeau knows how to use the media to distract the progressive population of Canada from the ongoing destruction of their resources and their lives. It’s a skill any successful liberal in any nation learns early on. Trudeau, like Barack Obama in the United States, has honed that skill to perfection. Hopefully, most of us who live in the United States and are relieved to see Donald Trump head out the door will not let Joe Biden and the Democrats continue Obama’s masquerade. Remember, Joe Biden told a group of billionaires that “nothing would fundamentally change” under his governance.
In that regard, Lukacs ends the text with a blueprint US resident could learn from. In the final chapter, he discusses the battle to implement a Green New Deal for Canada. Originally known as the Leap Manifesto, this proposal was tossed around in Canadian politics for most of the 2010s. Its call for “a Canada based on caring for each other and the planet, moving swiftly to a post-carbon future, upholding Indigenous rights, and pursuing economic justice for all” did not sit well with Canada’s financial elites. However, it was popularly supported by the Canadian public in polls. This presented a dilemma for the politicians around Trudeau, especially when the left-leaning New Democrats adopted the Leap manifesto. As Lukacs writes: (The Green New Deal) was like kryptonite to their politics: by offering a roadmap to everything that Justin Trudeau has claimed to champion, it exposes him as the establishment defender of the status quo that he is.” (251) If that didn’t, then his party’s support for the Trans Mountain pipeline certainly does.
Lukacs also discusses the duplicity of Trudeau’s immigration policy, telling readers how most refugees are kept out of Canada, despite Trudeau’s harsh words for Trump’s Muslim ban and southern wall. Likewise, he points out how Ontario’s foreign policy is nothing but an adjunct to the wars and arrogance of its southern neighbor. Another recently released text by a former Canadian resident makes this latter truth even more apparent. Recently, the New York Times reported that the nation of Iraq was unable to pay for the electricity it imports. The article did not remind its readers that the nation of Iraq used to provide inexpensive electricity to almost all of its citizens until the US government destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure via sanctions, war and occupation.
A recently published book by Mohammed Javed does what the Times failed to do. His book, titled The Broken Silence, is the journal of one man’s campaign to end the sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s and early 2000s before the second US led invasion of that country. It is also a catalog of the imperial rationales used by the west (Javed writes as a Canadian resident in this text) to justify the sanctions and their cruelty. The arrogance therein is explicit and depraved. The fact that it is a Canadian arrogance does not diminish either of those aspects. Javed’s letter and op-ed writing campaign is reminiscent of the campaign of Otto and Elise Hempel against the Nazis fictionalized in Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone, albeit slightly more effective.
Between Javed’s slender journal and Lukacs’ exposition of liberal duplicity, we are reminded of just how much of what the regular man or woman sees when it comes to politics in North America is not what they are told. It’s not that we necessarily needed that reminder, but it’s good to know that there are those out there documenting this truth.