The Conservatives were in office for nine years, during which time Canada was one of the few developed economies not to suffer serious economic slowdown and remained immune to the financial crisis which ravaged its neighbour, the United States.
They were ousted by the Liberal Party led for just two years by the fresh and charismatic Justin Trudeau, son of the flamboyant Pierre Trudeau who was prime minister in the 1970s and who is fondly remembered by older Jamaicans for his friendly policies towards the Third World in general and our late prime minister Michael Manley.
Obviously, the Trudeau brand was an asset but Canada was ready for a new approach.
The prime minister-designate has been given a clear and strong mandate to change a wide range of policies. Canadians appear tired of the fiscal conservatism of the Harper government. Central to realizing his new outlook for the country, Trudeau has pledged to have an annual budget deficit of $10 billion for three years.
The purpose of this is to boost investment in infrastructure and thereby stimulate Canada’s economic growth. While the U.S. is Canada’s main trading partner, a new impetus will be given to trade with Asia and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
In foreign policy, Trudeau has indicated that, while maintaining Canada’s traditional “independence” from the U.S., he will seek to strengthen relations with the Obama Administration. He will, however, withdraw Canada from the air strikes in Syria and Iraq and opt instead for providing humanitarian aid and training, in fulfillment of a campaign pledge. A major change will be Canada’s approach to climate change.
The initial sounds auger well for the Caribbean as they seem to portend a new impetus for development aid and for an activist policy on climate change issues, both of which are major concerns for the region. The Caribbean, of course, must not presume too much on the long-standing friendship of benevolent big brother, Canada. Canadian goodwill exists and this will not change but Canadians want a proactive, forward-looking partnership.
The CARICOM agenda cannot be more aid, debt relief and increased migrant quotas. If the region is to engage Canada and be part of the new foreign policy agenda of the new government, then it must have a constructive agenda which could be built around a new approach to the mothballed trade agreement with Canada. The current CARICOM approach and negotiators would have to be changed.
Friendship is a good starting point for Canada-Caribbean relations but there has to be an agenda in which both sides are interested.
Pierre Trudeau and Manley worked closely because they both believed in the same philosophy of global development and had a common agenda – the new international economic order.
We have a new Trudeau in Canada but the Caribbean does not have a new “Manley”.