The prime minister defended his government’s record as it nears the middle of its mandate, saying many goals would take time or more willingness or “capacity” in others to realize.
OTTAWA—As he heads into a summer of glad-handing and hosting Canada 150 celebrations, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set his eyes squarely on mid- to long-term economic progress with the government’s trade, climate change and defence agenda stalled in the face of an unpredictable U.S. partner.
In a wide-ranging news conference in the National Press Theatre, his first in six months, Trudeau said he is looking at longer “trend lines” and predicted job creation and economic growth as well as progress for Indigenous communities.
Trudeau defended his government’s record as it nears its mid-mandate point, saying many of his campaign goals, such as boosting infrastructure and public transit, or boosting innovation as Canadian industries reach for broader markets, would take time or more willingness or “capacity” on the part of others to realize. In that category, Trudeau counted long-awaited improvements in the life of Indigenous communities.
He was defiant over a number of broken promises, including a promise to cap the deficit at $10 billion a year, offering no date for when he’d achieve a balanced budget. He said he campaigned on making “investments,” not on “balancing the books arbitrarily and at all costs.”
Trudeau blamed the previous Conservative government for failing to leave a balanced budget as promised. He said that left the Liberals with an $18-billion hole, as they went ahead with the spending of their own they had pledged.
On his broken vow to reform the way Canadians vote, a signature pledge during the last election, Trudeau said he had been “hopeful” change was possible and had preferred a ranked ballot where people would mark first, second and third choices. But he placed blame for this at the feet of the opposition parties, saying the Conservatives wanted the status quo no matter what, and adding that proportional representation, as advocated by New Democrats, would not be in the country’s interest.
“I think creating fragmentation amongst political parties as opposed to having larger political parties that include Canada’s diversity within them would weaken our country.”
Trudeau was unapologetic about rejecting a national referendum on electoral reform as divisive. “So it was a very difficult decision for me to make the determination that, even given my own hopes that we would be able to move forward on reforming the electoral system, there was no path to do that.
“There was no openness to compromise in the other parties, and I wasn’t going to use my majority to bring in a system just to tick off a box on an election platform.”
As for immediate challenges on the international front, Trudeau said his government had expected the Trump administration’s move Monday to add more duties onto Canadian softwood lumber exporters.
He said $867 million in federal aid already announced for the Canadian industry had included those calculations. Trudeau predicted Canada would ultimately win the fight to reject the new duties. He said his government would look to resolve the dispute at the negotiating table, under a new softwood agreement, and not engage in punitive trade measures against the U.S.
Trudeau cast his relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, and between officials at various levels of Canadian and American government as “positive and constructive.” He dismissed suggestions that his government, with its targeted outreach to U.S. business leaders, state politicians and congressional representatives, was attempting to go around the White House.
“We’re working simultaneously at multiple levels, but the back-and-forth between my office and the President’s office continues in a constructive and productive way, and, indeed, is part of the relationship that Canadians expect me to have with the President.”
Asked whether he is interested in pursuing a Trans-Pacific Partnership deal with Asia-Pacific nations now that the U.S. has pulled out, Trudeau was non-committal.
“We are an unabashedly pro-trade country and a pro-trade government, but we’re always going to make sure that the trade deals are in the interests of Canadian workers and Canadian jobs, and that’s the open mind with which we’ll look at any negotiations or any offers of trade deals.”
However, it is clear Trudeau is attempting to walk a fine line with the Trump Administration on the international stage, where Trudeau’s vow to fight climate change is at odds with the president’s vow to withdraw from the Paris accord to reduce global greenhouse gases.
Trudeau’s aides had complained about inaccuracies in a report by Der Spiegel magazine that Trudeau asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel to drop a reference to the Paris accord in a draft communiqué for next week’s G20 summit in Hamburg.
But, on Tuesday, Trudeau appeared to confirm he had intervened to ensure a consensus would be achievable.
“I told her that Canada continues to stand very strongly with the international community on the Paris Agreement, that we truly believe that moving forward we have to stand strong. I told her what it turned out President Trump had also said in public, that he was still interested in looking forward on moving clean energy, on environmental issues, but not within (the) Paris (accord). And I impressed upon her the importance of making sure that we all stood together, including in the communiqué moving forward.”
Trudeau’s discussed a number of other issues during his morning conference:
He dismissed an Internet broadband levy as an unacceptable tax on the middle class, but hinted his government is still pondering how to aid media industries “in transition”.
“We know that a healthy independent media that succeeds is essential to our democracy and we are always open to conversations on how we are going to aid an industry in transition which is so important for the public, for our institutions, for our democracy. But it won’t be by increasing taxes for Canadians.”
Asked how Canada’s non-combat mission squares with the Canadian special forces sniper, who made a record-making shot in Iraq to kill a Daesh militant 3.5 kilometres away, Trudeau praised the shooter. He defended the action as aid to coalition troops, well within the bounds of the approved mission to advise and assist “local troops.”
“What happened there is, first of all, something to be celebrated for the excellence of the Canadian Forces in their training, in their performance of their duties, but also something to be understood as being entirely consistent with what Canada is expected, and Canadians expect our forces, to be doing as part of the coalition against Daesh.”
The prime minister said his government still intends to deploy Canadian troops on peacekeeping operations under the United Nations leadership. But, as months pass, with no destination announced, Trudeau repeated that the government is still studying where and how to best use Canadian assets.
He pointed to the “problematic history” of failed Canadian peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Rwanda, and said Canadians understand any intervention has to be done in the right way, and “worthy of the quality of service offered by Canadian armed forces.”
Trudeau insisted his government took the necessary steps to review a controversial sale of Vancouver-based Norsat to China’s Hytera industries, saying national security agencies looked into the technology and implications of the sale, consulted with allies, including the U.S., and followed the agencies’ recommendation that the sale could go ahead without risking national security.
“It doesn’t matter what country it’s from. It doesn’t matter what deal it is. If there’s a risk to national security, we won’t move forward,” said Trudeau.
“Our very effective national security agencies made a professional determination that there were no significant national security concerns about this particular transaction, and that it didn’t need to go through further reviews,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau also defended his moves to transform the Senate into a less partisan body, even though it could mean hurdles in advancing the government’s legislation. While in opposition, Trudeau kicked out Liberal senators from the caucus. Since taking office, he has appointed 27 new senators who sit in an independent caucus.
Although much of the opposition to his bills has come from these two groups, Trudeau blamed Conservative senators for blocking bills out of pure partisanship. “We are on the right track in having removed the knee-jerk partisanship from what is now the majority of the Senate.”
Article written on the Metro News Website. Link to the original article here.