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U of C professors weigh in on Liberal promises

By Fabian Mayer, November 3 2015 —

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet will be sworn into office in Ottawa on Nov. 4.

During the election campaign, Trudeau’s Liberal party made promises ranging from legalizing marijuana to deficit-funded infrastructure spending.

We spoke to five University of Calgary professors on the impact the new Liberal government might have on issues in their
areas of expertise.

Indigenous relations: PhD student Dustin Louie researches aboriginal education.

The Gauntlet: From what they said in their platform, how do you see the Liberal’s election impacting indigenous issues in Canada?

Dustin Louie: I could respond in terms of education because that’s where I focus on the most. The promises of additional funding for on-reserve schools in particular are really important because right now the schools are funded about 75 per cent compared to non-aboriginal schools in the same district. The discrepancy between the funds available to schools makes it very difficult for them to function effectively.

One of the most important things is the relationship between the government and First Nations communities and leaders. I think that’s one of the things that was an oversight in the previous government.

There’s some optimism in First Nations communities and leadership that the relationship between the current government and aboriginal people is going to begin to shift and that’s going to create an arena where it’s possible to see some of the changes that we’re hoping for.

G: What are your thoughts on the Liberals’ promise for an inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls?

DL: The specific research that I do in the university is on preventative education for aboriginal girls vulnerable to the sex trade, so it’s really important to the research that I’m looking at. It’s finally acknowledging basic human rights. Previously the government discussed that they thought it was a police matter, but that’s ignoring the systemic reasons why this is happening in the first place. An inquiry is the least the government can do.

Energy policy: Dr. Sarah Jordaan teaches energy politics and policy at the U of C.

The Gauntlet: How might the change in government affect the energy industry?

Sarah Jordaan: The largest challenges the new government is going to face are external. In many cases, the largest challenges to the industry are the price of oil and the shale oil and gas revolution in the United States. Regardless of the change in government, any of the leaders that are coming in are facing a really challenging environment.

That said, I think one of the largest international impacts is that if Prime Minister Trudeau follows through and talks some action on climate change. I think it could have a significant impact on our international image, which could help support further development of our energy industry.

In terms of his overall platform, it does include a lot more in terms of looking at renewable energy and that can also help support improving international image.

G: Does the election of Trudeau make Keystone XL more or less likely?

SJ: That’s a very large political issue in the United States and we know that Hillary Clinton has already come out in opposition to the Keystone. That being said, we know there are a variety of alternative shipping routes so, because of that, there is still potential for growth in the sector.

G: Where might there be some changes in federal energy policy?

SJ: Previously under the Harper government you would not have seen any resistance to any of the development of pipelines and we know that with the new federal government Trudeau may not support some of the other proposed pipelines [like] Northern Gateway, where there could be significant impacts to particular ecological regions.

Climate change: Dr. Ann-Lise Norman is the environmental science program director.

The Gauntlet: What influence might the new government have on environmental policy?

Ann-Lise Norman: Committing to our international agreements to monitor in the Arctic for ozone, species, etc., I think those are more secure now. We don’t have to worry about funding cuts coming down through the pipe because they’ve made a commitment that this is important and this is a priority. We are going to see less dramatic changes in those areas than we have in the past eight years or so.

G: Are there any particular promises that strike you?

AN: Climate. Making climate a central issue that we need to pay attention to and we need to use science to inform policy.

G: How quickly do you think this can be accomplished?

AN: I think it will probably need several years before we’re back at the state where scientists feel comfortable because so much funding has been cut. The research base [needs] to move individuals who are experienced in doing environmental research forward. That’s all been lost in certain areas in particular. To build that back up is going to take some time.

G: How big of a difference will a different government realistically make?

AN: I suspect there will be a very big difference. Government scientists not being able to speak has been a very big issue across Canada and I think that’s a central theme that almost everyone within the scientific community can relate to. That change in itself and making policies that are informed by science is going to be a very big change across Canada.

Electoral reform: Dr. David Stewart specializes in Canadian electoral politics.

The Gauntlet: Trudeau promised this would be the last election under the first-past-the-post system. How do you see the system changing?

David Stewart: It’s been misconstrued a bit in terms of it being a promise to institute proportional representation, which it wasn’t. [It was] to have an all-party committee look at it and make recommendations. What’s somewhat problematic about it is we’ve had referenda on changing the electoral system in three provinces and it’s always been defeated. There might be some kind of expectation from Canadians that they get a voice in the change.

G: Is a referendum necessary?

DS: It’s certainly not constitutionally necessary but if you’ve already given British Columbians and Ontarians opportunity to pass judgement on a referendum, then not letting Canadians decide which system they want might be problematic. Changing the electoral system could have incredible consequences for the political system so it seems to me it’s not a bad idea to let people have a say.

G: What do you make of Trudeau’s promise to reform the Senate?

DS: He had said he wanted to move to a kind of merit-based system in which an advisory committee would make recommendations to place people in the Senate. That actually could be highly problematic. The Senate currently has basically the same powers as the House of Commons — it just chooses not to exercise it because it recognizes a certain lack of legitimacy. If we move to a kind of merit-based system, the people who are appointed to the Senate might feel they have legitimacy to start engaging more directly in voting against decisions that the elected House of Commons prefers. That would be a fascinating turn of events.

Foreign policy: Dr. Doreen Barrie researches international relations at the U of C.

The Gauntlet: What does the election of Trudeau mean for Canada-U.S. relations?

Doreen Barrie: There’s a misconception that Canada-U.S. relations depend on a friendship between the President and the Prime Minister. It’s institutional factors that drive the relationship more than anything else. It’s congress that passes legislation that could hurt Canada, and even though the President might be willing to influence passage of legislation, it’s quite unlikely that the President would spend his political capital to help Canada.

G: So you don’t see it having a big impact?

DB: I don’t see it having a big impact. It’s always nicer when there’s a cordial relationship so there are nice photo-ops and so on. But at the most basic level, Canada-U.S. relations remain the same.

G: How do you see Canada’s foreign policy changing more generally as a result of the election?

DB: I think internationally Canada is going to revert to its traditional role as an honest broker that’s trusted by many countries. We’ve punched above our weight for more than half a century. We described ourselves as a middle power and played a role as a mediator and peacekeeper, though much less so with peacekeeping recently. And Canada played a significant role in the establishment of multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the World Bank. But Harper regularly passed on the annual opening of the UN and generally didn’t hold it in high esteem.

Edited for clarity and brevity

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