Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in Washington for the first visit by a Canadian leader to the White House in two decades. Trudeau came into office with many comparing him to President Obama. Loud & Clear's Brian Becker speaks with Christopher Black, an international human rights lawyer and Toronto-based political journalist, about what to expect from the Trudeau administration.
What does this visit portend?
"It portends more of the same in foreign policy," Black tells Loud & Clear. "I don't see much of a difference between his party's policies in the past and the Harper regime that came before him that was very willing in the imperialist adventures overseas — in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and everywhere else."
Expectations for Trudeau aren't very high in Canada. Rather, for Canadians, it is good enough that he simply ‘isn't Stephen Harper.’
"Justin is seen in Canada as a nicer fellow because everybody detested Harper, but the Liberal Party will probably have quite close ties to the American administration," says Black.
He adds, "Canada over the years, even under Stephen Harper, has gone along with whatever Washington wanted, and you won't see too much of a difference with Trudeau, except in tone."
Trudeau said that he will send fewer Canadian airplanes into Syria; doesn’t that show a difference?
"It did show something and it is part of the reason why a lot of people voted for him," remarks Black. "But the fact is that even though he said he would pull Canada's forces out of there, he has not."
In fact, the Trudeau administration has recently called for deploying ground troops in the region which, Black says, "is illegal under the Canadian Constitution, the constitution prevents the government from sending forces into a civil war."
Notwithstanding the legal implications, Black suggests that Canada will continue to send ground troops into Syria because the United States wants them to.
"They are doing it anyways to serve American interests, it has nothing to do with Canada," Black says, adding that planes are only being pulled because of economic challenges faced by Canada. "The currency is plummeting like a stone, so it is only natural that they would pull some planes out.”
Will Canada resume the position of minor junior partner for America's foreign policy?
"Under the administration of Pierre Trudeau, Justin Trudeau's father, Canada was very independent in foreign policy," explains Black. "He was a very progressive, very popular, very intelligent man."
Black suggests that the Canadian people don't have ambitious hopes for the junior Trudeau. "He is not his father, the joke around here is that he is much more like his mother who was more concerned with hanging around celebrities." Despite not expecting much out of the Trudeau administration, Black says, "everyone is very happy, everybody detested Harper so much."
Unlike Harper, who was "very militaristic," it is viewed as possible that "Justin may come through with a softer foreign policy." However, Black states, "his remarks about Putin so far, Ukraine, and everywhere else aren't very encouraging."
There is anti-refugee backlash across the world, but Trudeau has been very welcoming. Why?
"To me the welcoming of refugees was really a big propaganda effort, a big chance to spotlight on how bad things have been in Syria and that the problem needs to be solved," suggests Black. While Black argues that the Trudeau government may be using refugees to justify sending troops into Syria, he observes that "a lot of Canadians do feel sympathetic to the plight of these people."
What impression do Canadians have of the United States?
"There is a lot of resentment of 'America the Power,'" said Black. "You talk to people on the streets and they talk about it all the time how frustrated they are with Canada playing court jester to the United States imperialistic throne."
Black asserts that, despite common sentiment, the Canadian media functions as a propaganda arm, masking the population’s dissent to US-led foreign policy.
"The media puts out the image that the United States is our ally, should be our ally, and will always be our ally. When people protest, it isn't covered by the media at all."
Still, Black says that the Canadian people understand their parallels to Americans and do not harbor resentment against citizens, just against the leadership. "It is actually like the United States in a lot of ways, where the people think one way and the financial, military elites think another way. So, Canadians like the American people."
He went on to say that the struggling economy is stripping away the kind of independent political thought that Canadians are known for. "Also like the United States, the economy is suffering, people are working longer hours and struggling, and they don't really have a lot of time to pay attention so they go along with what they see on TV, unfortunately."
Is Justin Trudeau just Canada's Obama — high hopes giving way to more of the same?
"[The comparison] doesn't hold in Canada because, while Trudeau comes across as a nice guy, nobody is under the illusion that they are going to get something different from him as opposed to the former Liberal governments or the Conservative governments that came after," comments Black.
Black explains that the reason Trudeau won wasn't because people expected something new, but rather because the powerful socialist left, in the form of the New Democratic Party, collapsed after rolling out austerity policies.
"The socialists looked more right wing than the right wing, so Justin started promising more left wing policies than the socialists." But, Black says, "we aren't really expecting anything like that from Trudeau."
Whereas the Canadian people are resigned to more of the same, "when Obama came around it was more like Beatlemania, where everybody expected a miracle from this guy and it never happened."
Canada, suggests Black, is just happy that "Trudeau is a nicer guy and we got rid of the guy we really hate."