Can Justin Trudeau counter anti-globalism discontent?

In year-end chat, Trudeau says middle class success is key to preventing anger from boiling over

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at an event at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Polytechnic and tours a lab there in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at an event at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Polytechnic and tours a lab there in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau says his government’s focus on bolstering the middle class is aimed at insulating Canada from the kind of populist rage that is fuelling political upheaval elsewhere around the globe.

And affordable housing will be central to his approach in the coming year.

In a year-end roundtable interview with The Canadian Press, the prime minister acknowledged that Canadians are not immune to the anxiety that is fuelling anti-globalization, anti-trade, anti-immigration and anti-government sentiment around the world.

Among other things, he said, Canadians are worried about job security, retirement security, and their children’s economic prospects.

Trudeau said that feeling of anxiety is not unique to Canada, pointing to Britain’s impending departure from the European Union, the rise of populist and nationalist parties in Europe, and the turn that the American election took.

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The key to preventing that rage from boiling over here as it has elsewhere, Trudeau said, is to ensure that middle class Canadians feel they’re getting a fair share of the benefits from economic growth.

“In the choices we’re making, that’s the direction we’re taking and it’s a little bit heading off some of the issues being faced around the world right now where there is a lashing out at institutions for having failed. And what we see is when people lash out at policies that create growth, and you eliminate growth, not only do the wealthy suffer, but everyone else suffers even more.

“So there’s a careful line we’re trying to walk to demonstrate that growth that includes the middle class is really the only way to get out of this challenging context around globalization that we’re facing.”

It’s the same message Trudeau delivered almost three years ago at a Liberal convention, long before the impending backlash against globalization was on most political leaders’ radar. At the time, he warned that three decades of support for the “growth agenda” based on free trade would crumble because the original promise of prosperity for all hadn’t materialized.

In his first year in office, Trudeau’s attempt to head off the anti-globalization backlash here included billions in new infrastructure spending in a bid to create jobs and boost the sluggish economy, a more generous child benefit, and a cut in the income tax rate for middle-income earners while simultaneously boosting taxes on income over $200,000.

In the year to come, Trudeau indicated the government’s plan includes investing heavily in affordable housing, including finding ways to drive down the cost of housing for low-income Canadians.

Navigating around the rising tide of anti-globalization and economic anxieties has been top of mind for senior civil servants since before Trudeau took power just over one year ago.

Canadians, especially those in the middle class, have done well based on traditional government markers, reads a report from early 2015 to the deputy ministers’ committee on social policy. After-tax income as of 2011 was at an all-time high, the incidence of low-income was at an all-time low, and the country was also among the world leaders in terms of intergenerational social mobility, a measure that determines the degree to which a child’s earnings can be explained by their parents’ earnings.

But there were signs that all was not well.

The deputy ministers were told Canada’s social safety net — created to meet post-war economic needs — was feeling the strain from a fast-changing economy: fewer full-time jobs, more part-time work, changing family structures and an aging workforce. The documents say younger families were facing “declining returns from work” because of mounting financial pressure from student debts, child care, and the need to save for education and retirement.

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“I believe this is a key source of the angst that has been picked up in public opinion research among the ‘middle class’ and others. It’s less about how they are actually doing and more about the pressure they are feeling and the insecurity coming from the sense that something will have to give,” reads a copy of the speaking notes to the committee chairman.

So where is help to come from? The speaking notes say neither the federal government nor the provinces were particularly well-placed to take on more spending responsibility, and governments couldn’t expect “work or family” to pick up the slack.

The documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act show that officials talked about whether to tweak existing programs or plan for a worst-case scenario.

Asked about the future of the social safety net this week, Trudeau pointed to housing, suggesting that putting and keeping people in homes is a key first step. He called affordable housing a “fundamental building block that leads towards people being able to succeed.”

Trudeau’s social development minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, has also said that the employment insurance system might require an overhaul to become simpler to navigate and more flexible to meet modern demands.


Can Justin Trudeau counter anti-globalism discontent?

  1. The attention to domestic needs is good, but it will be even better when some world leaders realize that neoliberal economics is not a sustainable system and, combined with globalization, is a disaster for national sovereignty and the ability of individual countries to plan their own fiscal and monetary policies. Also, part-time jobs did not just happen, but are the result of corporations deliberately taking, for example, what would have been a full-time salaried position with benefits and some security and turning a given position into two part-time jobs with hourly pay and nothing else. It saves them money, of course, but in the long run it does not really add quality jobs. It is also counter-productive for the corporations because it does not create a viable population of consumers.

  2. All this talk about globalism is making me remember the first time I voted in a Federal Election. I voted for the Liberal party of Jean Chretien. This was the election where the Conservative party got destroyed and won only 2 seats in parliament (Jean Charest and Elsie Wayne). Back then, as a Liberal, there were two policies from the Conservative party that I was supposed to be against, the GST and Free Trade ! Now as a Liberal, not only I am supposed to be for the GST, but also brand new carbon tax. On Free Trade, not only I am supposed to love it, I am supposed to want it to go global. I get the distinct impression that I have been lied to somewhere along the way.

    • I remember that election too. Chretien promised to repeal Mulroney’s GST. When that road started to fall apart they started down the road of a Blended Sales Tax which effectively became known as the B.S. Tax (LOL). That was quickly dropped and eventually all the Provinces signed on for a HST or VST. At least Harper kept his election promise on that one and lowered the GST.

      The NAFTA was another laughable road. Both Chretien and Clinton campaigned that they would NOT sign the NAFTA agreement from Mulroney or Bush. Clinton ended up signing NAFTA with a few changes and Chretien — he ended up NOT changing a single thing — he actually signed Mulroney’s original agreement without a single change. Mind you there were some side deals and extra agreements added — but the original agreement was not changed one bit. Another broken promise.

  3. Justin Trudeau talks about the middle class, but his policies deliver all the benefits to the global elites.

    His so-called tax cut was NOT a middle class tax cut. Most of the cut went to those earning between $100K and $200K.

    His revamped child benefit is NOT indexed to inflation. So it is pre-designed to effectively disappear over time.

  4. So this is the reason for the repressive carbon tax and the apparent disdain for Canadian raw materials. If we show the world a face where we are really environmental hero’s, we can sell our goods reluctantly and do penanace for any emissions we might create, however humble they are. Sadly, that plan might not pan out because environmentalists deal in absolutes. We will always be the enemy and if our GDP is contracting when our dollar is tanking, that is an indication that we aren’t attracting business investment and we aren’t attracting business investment because the operating costs are outrageous due to high taxation. When more business flee this country, what is the plan? Put everyone on welfare sustained by borrowed money?