“Expect the unexpected.”
For many cynics that cautionary warning is particularly important to keep in mind, especially when dealing with politicians, including self-proclaimed idealistic reformers.
The current controversy over the explosive allegations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was implicated in efforts to assist SNC-Lavalin avoid being charged with alleged large-scale financial bribery with Libyan officials stunned many Canadians, including even foreign press and media which had generally portrayed Trudeau as a breath of fresh air in a politically polluted world.
Not surprisingly, such controversial allegations against Trudeau were contrary to his carefully crafted image as a highly ethical and well-intentioned politician, a leader who emphasized his personal commitment to increasing the role of women in society, safeguarding the environment and improving the lives of Canada’s Indigenous people.
If anything, many in Canada and elsewhere, regarded Trudeau as a refreshing change after the decade-long rule of Conservative Party leader Steven Harper and the perception that he undermined constitutional legal rights of Canadians.
But one person who quickly questioned such a positive untested view of the young Canadian politician’s actual concrete performance since assuming power was Jane Fonda, the well-known American movie actress and prominent environmental activist.
She publicly criticized Trudeau in 2017 for abandoning his seemingly firm commitment to the environment by approving the proposed Trans Mountain oil pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, a highly contentious issue, particularly in environment-conscious British Columbia.
Speaking to the media, Fonda said, “He talked so beautifully about needing to meet the requirement of the climate treaty and to respect and hold to the treaties with Indigenous people.” She added, “Such a heroic stance he took there, and yet he has betrayed every one of the things he committed to in Paris.”
“I guess the lesson is we shouldn’t be fooled by good looking liberals no matter how well spoken they are,” Fonda concluded.
A journalist from Time reported that “Jane Fonda is hopping off the Justin Trudeau Train.”
Jane Fonda isn't alone
While some in Canada may share Fonda’s unflattering view of Trudeau’s true commitment to environmental issues, the extent won’t be clear until Canadians vote in October.
Will the more dedicated environmentalists in British Columbia and elsewhere vote for Liberal candidates in October? One militant environmentalist who spent countless hours actively campaigning for Trudeau during the last election angrily denounced him as a sellout and insisted he would not help the Liberals again.
But will voters disappointed in Trudeau’s commitment to the environment actually do nothing in an election to help the Liberals? Will some even be tempted to gravitate to New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh and the NDP’s enticing commitment to implement an affordable housing and universal pharmacare program?
Or will they turn around and back the Green Party which is showing signs of increasing voter support under Elizabeth May, especially in British Columbia?
While Trudeau may hope the current split among conservative voters may help the Liberals in some ridings, the possibility that the NDP’s prospects may improve under their new leader could negatively affect the Liberals.
For his part, Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer’s electoral prospects vis-a-vis the Liberals may be less than previously thought if Maxine Bernier’s recent breakaway populist People’s Party of Canada steals some traditional right-wing voters.
In any event, Trudeau’s environmental policies are not his only problem. Despite his efforts to reach out to Canada’s Indigenous people, there too he may also be vulnerable.
Growing numbers within the Indigenous community have become less supportive of Trudeau, especially since his government has not moved quickly enough to meet the obvious needs of such communities in a significant way. Among those needs are greater funding for housing, transportation, more medical facilities and schools, including safe water supplies.
Many Indigenous people say they’re tired of Trudeau’s predictable high-sounding verbal support. They want concrete changes, not merely lofty promises.
The fact that during the SNC-Lavalin controversy Trudeau removed Jody Wilson-Raybould, a First Nation MP, as attorney-general, may cost the Liberal Party votes. Support may be lost among women across Canada, who, though later than Jane Fonda, discovered that lofty and inspiring intentions are no substitute for actual concrete actions.
Harry Sterling, a former diplomat, once served as the Canadian Government Representative to the International Joint Commission dealing with Canada-US transboundary environmental issues.