Have a walk to your favourite bookstore and take a look at the new release section under ‘politics’. After that, I suggest you avoid any liquor stores, and that nagging feeling that you’re in need of a drink. That’s the kind of year it’s been in politics. A year that has caused scribes to feverishly publish on just how bad things are. From Russian collusion, to warnings about fascism, the bookshelves are full. It’s 2018, and it seems the body politic needs reminding that fascism and electoral tampering are things to be taken seriously. Not a good sign for 2019.
Looking first to Canada’s political landscape at the end of 2018, long gone are the ‘sunny ways’ of 2015. The Trudeau government, in attempting to be all things to all people, now finds itself facing a hostile electorate, and an even more hostile relationship with the provinces. Coming to Ottawa promising a new vision for climate change, Trudeau is best known in environmental circles as a buyer of pipelines and a continuation of the status-quo stasis with regards to climate policy. This despite climate scientists the world over telling us that continuing the status-quo is the equivalent of introducing a new form of the M.A.D doctrine (for those unfamiliar with Cold War lingo, MAD stands for Mutually Assured Destruction).
What’s worse, the ongoing economic situation in Alberta brought on by the slump in Western Canadian crude has created rifts in the country’s national unity. A nasty fight between B.C and Alberta erupted in view of the Trans-Mountain expansion, and Quebec’s new Premier, Francois Legault, has only added to the discord in recent weeks – commenting that Quebec has little appetite in seeing Alberta get it’s ‘dirty oil’ to tide water. The stark reality is that meaningful climate change will come at the expense of continued tar sands production, and vis-a-versa. In attempting to appease both sides, Trudeau has only succeeded in isolating the federal government as a body attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole.
Come April, Alberta’s NDP will find itself in a fight with Jason Kenny’s Conservatives. The result for Ottawa could be yet another provincial conservative government to contend with. Not ideal given that it’s an election year. On that score, there is hope for Trudeau – but it’s more a result of dumb luck than any brilliant Liberal strategy. Both Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh can be best described as – pathetic.
It’s hard to believe that the Conservatives could find a leader even less inspiring and charismatic than Stephen Harper, but they have truly out done themselves with Scheer. The very definition of a company man, Scheer first rose to the headlines when then Prime Minister Harper appointed him as the youngest Speaker of the House. Since taking the helm of the Conservative party, Scheer has struggled to become known. The guy who lost to Scheer, Maxime Bernier, has had greater success – publicly breaking with the Conservatives to found the populist People’s Party of Canada.
On the left, Trudeau squares off against Jagmeet Singh, a man whose claim to fame is a grainy video of him responding to a heckler with messages of love and forgiveness. That may give everyone the warm and fuzzies for now, but imagine that heckler is Vladimir Putin and Singh the PM. I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I’m not all that comfortable with a Prime Minister who’s first response to aggression is busting out the acoustic and belting out some cumbia. In an international state system of realpolitik – that kind of shit just won’t fly.
Not even elected to the House, Singh plans to run in the NDP stronghold of Burnaby South. The optics aren’t the best. Singh hails from Ontario, and has spent the majority of his political career as an MPP at Queen’s Park. The Liberal Government’s decision to buy the Trans-Mountain pipeline is a gift to the NDP leader. The move was highly unpopular in BC, and especially Burnaby – the coastal end point of the project. If Singh can capitalize on that discontent, he may win his seat – but the PMO would be a stretch.
Internationally, things aren’t looking any sunnier. At the time of writing, the U.S federal government is in a partial shut-down. Trump’s unilateral decision to withdraw troops from Syria may as well be an early Christmas present for both Turkey and Russia. Personally, I am always weary of U.S policy and intervention in the Middle East, but the decision in Syria could mean disaster for Kurds in the region. Trump seems to find common ground not with the world’s liberal democracies, but it’s dictators. The hard-line government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long wished for a free hand to deal with the Kurds – a group it deems a threat to it’s national security. Despite fighting along side the U.S against ISIS, and acting as the Western coalition’s ‘boots on the ground’, Trump’s decision leaves the Kurds alone – sending a message about what it means to ally yourself with the West. Who needs enemies, and all that.
The decision to leave Syria also abandons this strategically important region to Russia. I’ve long held that Western influence in the region has been historically misguided, but taking ones ball and going home is rarely a sound geopolitical call. Especially when that call is made against the advice of national security advisors and without consulting allies. Trump’s thinking is either astonishingly short-sighted, or a deliberate act of treason in disregarding America’s international interests.
Moving on from the Middle East, 2019 will prove pivotal for Europe in light of Brexit. Currently, the British parliament is in turmoil. There is no consensus on a Brexit deal, and as such, the UK approaches the March 29 deadline facing the very real possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit – something that would leave markets at a loss. There is some kind of poetic irony in the fact that the main sticking point is Northern Ireland. As a full member of the EU, the Republic of Ireland’s Leo Varadkar has made it clear that there will be no renegotiating the Irish backstop – something British MP’s desperately want.
All this being said, an EU court has recently ruled that the UK could stop Brexit and withdraw from the process. It’s an outcome I would not be surprised to see. Facing a no-deal Brexit, an Irish government refusing to give ground on the Northern Irish border, and an EU needing to hold ground for it’s own political viability, it may be Britain’s only chance to stop what was from the start, a bad idea. Then again, one should never underestimate England’s capacity for arrogance.
As the Brexit debate rages in Western Europe, the situation in Eastern Europe is even more dire. Russia continues to literally rock the boat in Ukraine. In Hungary, the right-wing government of Viktor Orban faces popular protests against what Hungarians deem to be new ‘slave’ legislation. The result could be a crackdown reminiscent of Kiev in 2014. The result of all the turmoil is a highly volatile Eastern Europe, something that historically bodes ill for European peace and security.
We are entering a period in which liberal democratic values are being called into question. Not since the 1930s has there been such a shift in political thought, and action. Not even the Neo-con revolution of the 1980s can compare. Despite domestic woes, the Trudeau Liberals may still be our best bet in such a divided world. The government has been able to hold it’s own against an antagonist Trump administration during intense trade negotiations. Even now, Foreign Affairs Canada continues to demonstrate a steady hand in dealing with recent detentions of Canadians in China. While Trudeau would do well to spend New Years contemplating how best to manage affairs on the domestic front – at least on the international stage he’s avoided major gaffs. Well, there was that time in India…
Ultimately, the world needs less reactionary and divisive political leaders. As the only major contender in next year’s election, Andrew Scheer has be unable to demonstrate an ability to shoulder the responsibility of 24 Sussex. At the conservative convention, the party faithful voted on a policy to follow Trump’s lead and relocate Canada’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Such thinking demonstrates a clear disconnect with political reality. Scheer’s silence demonstrates an unwillingness to confront his base on key issues – this we cannot afford.
Politics, and the international state game, are at their best when they’re predictable. As 2019 dawns, the future is anything but predictable. With an infant in the White House, a surge in right-wing ideology, and traditional liberal democratic strongholds breaking down (France and the UK, I’m looking at you) I cannot say what books we’ll be perusing at the end of 2019. Let’s hope a few titles include the word ‘impeached’.