Following on the heels of the unceremonious exit of Finance Minister Bill Morneau from Canadian politics, Justin Trudeau has prorogued Parliament. This is a convenient breathing space for a divided government embroiled in the WE charity corruption scandal and unsure how to chart Canadian capitalism through troubled waters.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called Trudeau’s prorogation of Parliament a “disgusting attempt to make Canadians forget about his corruption.” However, the Conservatives are no better. Lets not forget that the Harper Conservatives prorogued Parliament four times. Two of these times were used to avoid accountability: once in 2008 to avoid a confidence vote and again in 2009 to avoid the fallout from the Afghan torture scandal.
In fact, Trudeau’s rise to power was partially based on opposition to the Harper regime’s use of such anti-democratic measures. Trudeau famously said in 2015: “I hope that future prime ministers … will not resort to prorogation to avoid problematic situations.” In addition, the Liberal party platform that year states “Stephen Harper has used prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances. We will not.”
However, it should be no surprise that Trudeau has now used the very same anti-democratic manoeuvre which he gained popularity criticizing. We’ve seen these types of broken promises before from the Liberals on electoral reform and Indigenous rights, to mention a few. Hypocrisy is the Liberals’ modus operandi.
What does this mean?
Yet it appears that there is much more going on here than a simple use of prorogation to avoid a corruption scandal. Tied up in both Morneau’s resignation and the prorogation is the question of the recovery of the economy which has only been sustained by injections of unprecedented amounts of government stimulus.
According to Morneau, the reason he is resigning is to seek the position of secretary general for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This excuse has gone unnoticed and forgotten because everyone knows something else was going on. Finance ministers, who are effectively second-in-charge, don’t simply have an epiphany and leave a government faced with the most difficult economic challenge ever.
Indeed, prior to Morneau’s resignation, there were rumors of a conflict between Trudeau and Morneau with Morneau being more fiscally prudent and critical of the big spending plans. It is not hard to believe that Morneau, a Bay Street capitalist, would be naturally skeptical of things like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). As the Financial Times reported, Morneau argued for a smaller cash benefit so that it would act as less of a barrier for workers to return to low-wage jobs which are essential for capitalism to function.
However, Trudeau had other plans. The future is unchartered territory and there is currently an intense debate going on in bourgeois circles about what to do. Capitalist governments around the world are conducting a delicate balancing act, trying to relaunch the economy without provoking a social explosion. In the Liberals’ search for an economic recovery plan, Bill Morneau seems to be collateral damage. And Morneau more or less said just that: “Like any job there’s a time where you’re the appropriate person, and the time where you have to decide when you’re not the appropriate person in the role.”
But there is also another political calculation happening here. The last thing the capitalist system needs now is to provoke a mass movement like we have seen to the south of the border. Even within Canada, Alberta and Manitoba premiers Jason Kenney and Brian Pallister have both implemented austerity measures during the pandemic and have unsurprisingly plummeted in the polls. Trudeau has taken note of this, and for the foreseeable future may just be content to turn on the taps in an attempt to avoid a social explosion.
Who will save the government?
According to Trudeau, the prorogation will allow the government to return on Sept. 23 and present their plan to recover from the global pandemic to Parliament. With a weak minority government, the Liberals need to court political support of one of the other parties. This is unlikely to be the Bloc or the Conservatives as they both have been playing hardball, and recently were calling for Trudeau and Morneau’s resignation.
Furthermore, if the Liberals were to ally with the Conservatives, the Tories would surely demand all manner of political concessions and power positions in government. Such an agreement between the two parties and the resulting austerity would provoke precisely the social explosion Trudeau wants to avoid.
So that leaves us with the NDP. Trudeau knows he can outflank the NDP to the left and probably get their support for a program of limited social spending, with no strings attached. This has actually already been happening. The NDP has been selling its soul for peanuts by propping up the Liberal government for virtually nothing in return. In fact, the Liberals are currently doling out the biggest corporate bailouts in the history of the country, all with tacit support from the NDP.
As good political opportunists, the Liberals seem to be leaning towards further loosening the purse strings by talking about a “green recovery” and “transformative change.” New finance minister Chrystia Freeland said, “I think all Canadians understand that the restart of our economy needs to be green. It also needs to be equitable.” Trudeau added to this by saying: “We need to get through this pandemic in a way that gives everyone a real and fair chance at success, not just the wealthiest one per cent.” This is not Bernie Sanders, this is not Jagmeet Singh, this is Justin Trudeau.
On top of this, the Liberals have continually made performative statements about “racial justice” and how the recovery needs to include Indigenous people. Freeland has emphasized her role as a woman and a mother stating: “It’s about time that we broke that glass ceiling.” The Liberals have successfully bent their speeches so far to the left that it makes the NDP seem irrelevant.
But can we trust the Liberals? Anyone who has had their eyes open since the Trudeau Liberals were elected in 2015 should not be fooled by this song and dance. The son of a Liberal prime minister, Trudeau grew up learning the value of saying one thing while doing another. As we have seen with other policies of the Trudeau government, the end result of this rumoured “transformative change” will be very different from what we are told and will undoubtedly favour the rich at the expense of working people and the poor.
No support for the Liberals!
The Liberals and Conservatives like to pretend to disagree on major issues, harshly criticizing each other and even denouncing each other at times. However, the truth remains that these are both capitalist parties who always defend the best interests of the ruling class and the capitalist system. Both criticize the use of anti-democratic manoeuvres like prorogation to avoid accountability only to use the exact same measures when in power. Both implement austerity measures and both run up the debt when capitalism needs to be bailed out. Don’t be fooled by the charade.
The Liberals are the main bosses’ party in Canada and have stewarded Canadian capitalism through many of its most difficult moments. The economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus represents an existential threat to the capitalist system and the Liberals are going to do whatever it takes to save their system.
And this is exactly what they are doing. The vast majority of all of the measures that the Liberal government has implemented have taken the form of corporate support. Scandalously, some of these were even proposed by the NDP!
But as the Liberals are trying to bail out capitalism, millions of Canadian workers have seen their living standards take a big hit. The NDP and the labour movement can take absolutely no responsibility for this government. It is likely that the Liberals may offer some small cosmetic concessions to attract the support of the NDP—but this would be a poison pill which would associate the NDP with this corrupt capitalist government and would only lead to the Conservatives being strengthened, as they would be able to pose as the only real opposition.
There is a coming storm of class struggle unlike anything we have seen before. Corporate bailouts, deficit spending and Keynesian policies cannot solve this crisis. The massive amount of debt that the government has taken on will have to be paid back, and as quickly as they turned on the taps to save the system, the Liberals will turn them off and exact concessions from the masses.
More and more people realize that capitalism has failed. In the current crisis, there is no middle road. Either you support bailouts and whatever it takes to save capitalism, or you defend nationalization, workers’ control and an end to this system based on the profit motive. The labour movement and the NDP need to oppose the Liberals with bold socialist policies as the only way out of this blind alley.