Is Justin Trudeau really a progressive?

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      When people who are from other countries have asked me about Justin Trudeau, I've sometimes replied this way: "Well, he's not a bigot."

      It's a way to signal that for all of his shortcomings, Canada's prime minister does not divide the country along ethnic, racial, or gender lines.

      That sets him apart from thuggish elected world leaders, like U.S. president Donald Trump, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, or Hungary's Viktor Orbán.

      Trudeau has also dramatically boosted spending on arts and culture and on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. That's very un-Trumpian.

      In return, CBC has, for the most part, given his government a fairly soft ride on the climate.

      Unlike the U.K.-based Guardian or Germany's DW, which devote enormous resources to the biggest threat to human civilization, CBC has not made this nearly as high a priority. Who benefits? Trudeau.

      But is Trudeau really an icon of progressive politics, as he's sometimes portrayed internationally?

      No. He's a conventional establishment leader who's been captured by the corporate elite, much like many Democratic Party politicians in the United States.

      That's reflected in his health, climate, energy, transportation, and labour policies, as well as in his dealings with Indigenous peoples.

      Whereas Trudeau's father and former prime minister Pierre was a public-policy risk taker, the son is risk-averse when it comes to shaking up the status quo politically.

      That's demonstrated by Trudeau's refusal to countenance the decriminalization of hard drugs to save addicts' lives.

      It's also shown by Trudeau's reluctance to make moves against the U.S. digital giants.

      Unlike politicians in some other countries, Trudeau won't impose a Google tax on corporations that shift their profits to lower-taxed jurisdictions.

      The Liberal government has not subjected Netflix or Facebook to regulation by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

      That's created an unlevel playing field for publicly funded broadcasters like B.C.'s Knowledge network and TVO in Ontario.

      Trudeau has also done little for retailers being mowed down by Amazon.

      The Trudeau government's purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline system angered many environmentalists.
      Trans Mountain

      Pipeline reflects corporate priorities

      Moreover, the Trudeau government has demonstrated a tepid response to CBC reporter Erica Johnson's repeated exposés about ethically questionable sales practices by banks and telcom giants.

      In what might be his biggest gift to the corporate sector, the Trudeau government bought the Trans Mountain pipeline system to bail out Texas-based Kinder Morgan.

      Now, this "Liberal" cabinet will likely give a green light to a $9.3-billion pipeline expansion plan.

      This is going to occur even though it will make it far more difficult for Canada to meet its greenhouse-gas reduction obligations under the Paris Agreement.

      The government has tried to deflect attention by offering subsidies of up to $5,000 to Canadians who buy zero-emission vehicles. That's good news for foreign-owned automobile manufacturers.

      To burnish his climate credentials, Trudeau has also pledged many billions of dollars on rapid-transit projects.

      As this is being applauded by urbanists across the country, a side benefit is that it conveniently fattens the bottom line of corporations based in his hometown of Montreal.

      Far less attention is paid to the Trudeau government's refusal to change the former Conservative government's weak greenhouse-gas-emission targets.

      As for Trudeau's much-ballyhooed carbon tax, this is strongly preferred by the oil industry over other forms of regulation.

      Keep in mind that the federal labour code has not been amended by the Trudeau government to ban federally regulated employers from bringing in replacement workers.

      And there's a genuine legal question whether the Trudeau government's legislation ordering postal workers to return to work violated a constitutional guarantee to freedom of association.

      The Trudeau government has come under criticism for the way it responded to a decision from the Supreme Court of Canada around physician-assisted death.
      Colin Rose/Wikimedia Commons

      Constitution not always respected

      Speaking of the constitution, many legal experts believe the Trudeau government's physician-assisted dying legislation fell far short of what was required under Canada's constitution.

      In fact, it spurned parts of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling.

      That's why the B.C. Civil Liberties Association launched a charter challenge against the law only 10 days after it was passed.

      Even Trudeau's justice minister and attorney general, David Lametti, voted against the legislation. Veteran Vancouver Liberal MP Hedy Fry, a doctor, abstained. But it mollified some church groups.

      The Trudeau government has also retained mandatory minimum sentences in the face of criticism from the Canadian Bar Association and various legal experts. 

      Prohibitions on marketing and advertising in the Cannabis Act and its regulation appear to flout the charter guarantee to freedom of expression.

      And this afternoon, Vancouver sex workers and their allies will hold their annual Red Umbrella march to protest Trudeau's inaction in the area that concerns them.

      The demonstration will focus on the Trudeau government's refusal to amend former Conservative government legislation that they feel is putting sex workers' lives in jeopardy. The protest will shine a light on why they believe that this law is unconstitutional because it fails to respect the charter guarantee to "security of the person".

      The red umbrella is the symbol of sex workers' safety.
      Charlie Smith

      Trudeau's feminism cuts both ways

      The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act outlaws the purchase of sexual services, driving the sex trade into the shadows.

      The law also makes it illegal for sex workers to hire security guards, share the proceeds of their earnings with family and friends, and market their services.

      Like Democrats south of the border, Trudeau is strongly in favour of women's right to control their reproductive health.

      This sets him apart from the Christian fundamentalists and helps him brand himself as a "feminist".

      But he doesn't always appear to be in favour of women's right to autonomy over how they may choose to express themselves sexually.

      If he did, he would have instructed his justice ministers to amend the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act after the Liberals formed a majority government.

      In this regard, Trudeau is on the same page as the Christian fundamentalists and the Harper government.

      This reveals that Trudeau's "feminism" is selective, class-based, and tied to political expediency.

      That's why it doesn't impress those sex workers and their feminist allies who will be out in the streets of Vancouver today with their red umbrellas.

      So, is Justin Trudeau a progressive politician?

      I tell people from other countries "No, not really."

      Now you know why.