Last week, while everyone was busy looking at that nice picture of Obama and Trudeau amiably chatting it up in Little Burgundy, the government dropped Canada’s new “deliberately ambitious” National Defense Strategy. This includes a 73% increase of the military defense budget over the next ten years and replacement of the CF-18 fleet with 88 advanced fighter aircraft (instead of the 65 planes promised by the Conservatives).

Among all the usual reasons presented by the government for this rather dramatic hike, two stood out: the need to respond to NATO pressure and the need to assume more of a leading role on the international stage in response to the Trump administration’s isolationism.

Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau dining at Liverpool House in Little Burgundy last Tuesday

NATO requests that member states devote 2% of their GDP to national defense and Canada spends little more than half of that. By 2027, Canada’s defense spending will have jumped from $18.9 Billion to $32.7 Billion, which will be 1.4% of the GDP – still too little for NATO, but enough to significantly improve its status.

To be fair, in 2016, only five of the 28 members (The UK, the US, Greece, Poland and Estonia) actually reached NATO’s target. To be quite clear, the pressure to increase spending is coming from the US in particular. Donald Trump scolded NATO leaders last month for not committing more funds.

On the other hand, Trump’s unpredictable behaviour on diplomatic matters is a factor in and of itself.

“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” said the minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.

On Tuesday, while Obama was speaking in Montreal, Freeland presented the new policy to the House of Commons. And just like Obama spoke for an hour and a half about everything wrong with Trump without mentioning him, the Minister clearly depicted Canada’s new defense strategy as a countermeasure to Trump’s unreliability without saying so. This brilliantly written part of her discourse is a perfect example:

“Imagine a Canadian view that says we are safe on our continent, and we have things to do at home, so let’s turn inward. Let’s say Canada first. Here’s why that would be wrong…”

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland

She then went on to argue that Canada is facing many threats on the international front, mentioning climate change, but also, the dictatorship in North Korea, “crimes against humanity in Syria, the monstrous extremists of Daesh, and Russian military adventurism.”

Freeland also warned that relying on the umbrella of protection provided by the US would turn us into a client state.

Foreign and security policy analyst Srdjan Vucetic believes Canada increasing its defense spending is inevitable.

“While the demand for spending precedes Trump-induced uncertainties,” he argued, “the latter amplifies, especially in light of Freeland’s speech on Tuesday.”

Vucetic rather liked hearing Freeland admit “that the world is different now that there are no adults in the White House.”

Selling military spending to the Left

The Liberals aren’t forgetting the votes they got on the left of the spectrum in this rightward shift towards militarism. That’s why they’re packaging it as a soft criticism of the Trump Administration, something that is hard for progressives not to support.

Freeland also talked a fair amount about another popular topic on the left: fighting climate change, taking the opportunity to say that “Canada is deeply disappointed by the decision by the US Federal Government to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate.”

It’s logical that increased military spending will improve Canada’s pull on the diplomatic world which is necessary to influence the fight against climate change. However, the Liberal government has given us no reason to believe that they would ever use it to that effect. Despite talking a big game about the environment, they have done just as much for it as the Conservatives.

It wasn’t the only part of the Minister’s discourse that seemed like a diversion tactic meant to appease the Left.

“Now, it is clearly not our role to impose our values around the world. No one appointed us the world’s policeman,” Freeland assured the House of Commons, preemptively echoing potential critics. The statement is a little bit at odds with the very first paragraph of the official policy document praising Canadian military for “working tirelessly to (…) promote Canadian values and interests abroad” and the fact that her own discourse cares to point out how good and honorable Canadian values are.

While “impose” and “promote” are two distinct concepts, they have a way of blending in this particular context, considering no one actually fears Canada “imposing” its values through some sort of coercive force. All this to say that, as nicely as this statement plays to popular criticism, it is again devoid of actual significance.

The Liberals won the elections by playing up the contrast between them and the Conservatives. Instead of acting on that contrast, it looks like they’ve decided to play up their differences with Trump instead.

* Featured image: Canadian CF-18 via WikiMedia Commons

I’m a progressive who is generally skeptical of the prospect of real, positive change coming from the Liberals, Canada’s so-called “natural governing party.” So far, Justin Trudeau has made it hard for me to maintain that skepticism. With Wednesday’s announcement of who would be the first people to sit in his Cabinet as our federal ministers, he’s made it damn near impossible to object and criticise.

Let’s have a look:

No Bill Blair

It’s not just about who Trudeau picked – it’s about who he didn’t. In particular, former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair was left out of the mix in the first round. The man who was responsible for reprehensible police tactics against protestors at the G20 summit won’t sit at the Cabinet table.

I was so sure he would have been included and be tasked with a portfolio like Defense or Public Safety that I had written a rant condemning this hypothetical choice. Fortunately I won’t have to publish it.

For Public Safety, Trudeau tapped longtime MP and former Cabinet Minister Ralph Goodale. For defense we have Harjit Sajjan, the new “badass” fave of many online. He’s a former soldier in the Canadian Forces, a former Vancouver Police detective, and a Sikh who proudly wears a turban.

Logical and Representative

Sajjan exemplifies the choices Trudeau made with his Cabinet. They are both logical and representative of Canada’s diversity.

We’ve got a soldier for Defense and a doctor, Jane Philpott, for Health. We also have a First Nations woman and former prosecutor Jody Wilson-Raybould heading up Justice. If Trudeau is serious about an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, she will be the person running it.

Catherine McKenna is the new Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Yes, you read that right; climate change is part of her title. She is a former lawyer who focused on international trade and competition. While I would have preferred an environmental activist, her experience may help at the UN Conference on Climate Change taking place very soon in Paris.

We also now have a Minister for Sport and Persons with a Disability. Carla Qualtrough, who got this portfolio, is a three-time Paralympic Games medalist.

Trudeau’s Cabinet is ethnically diverse and regionally representative. Also, as everyone knows by now, it has gender parity:

Montreal Represent!

My fellow Montrealers can rejoice. For the first time in a long time, Canada’s second-largest city is represented at the Cabinet table.

New Heritage Minister Melanie Joly during her campaign for Mayor of Montreal (photo Valeria Bismar)
New Heritage Minister Melanie Joly during her campaign for Mayor of Montreal (photo Valeria Bismar)

Melanie Joly who was elected in Ahuntsic-Cartierville is our new Heritage Minister. Trudeau recruited her and helped her win the nomination, so it was clear she would get something.

Judging by her campaign for Mayor of Montreal, her main areas of interest were culture and transport. Since Bus Rapid Transit lanes on the Trans-Canada just aren’t going to happen, a portfolio which includes Canada’s culture industries makes sense.

Transport went to Marc Garneau. The one-time astronaut and Liberal leadership contender returns to Parliament representing the newly created riding of NDG-Westmount.

Garneau won’t even have to leave his riding to find a transport issue that needs fixing. Bus service in NDG has been a bit of a nightmare lately.

Stephane Dion is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs, now known as Global Affairs Canada. As Canada’s face to the world, Dion is responsible for a huge portfolio.

It makes sense that he would get such an important role. Not only was he just a Harper proroguement away from being Prime Minister, he also managed to hold onto his seat in Saint-Laurent when his party was routed in Montreal, and Quebec overall, during the 2011 Orange Wave.

The new Minister of Youth and Intergovernmental Affairs was also elected in a Montreal riding, Papineau. Though I’m pretty sure he’ll be focused on his larger portfolio, being Prime Minister of Canada.

The Downside

Looking at this Cabinet, there is only one glaringly problematic choice for progressives and it’s in a pretty crucial area: finance. Trudeau picked Bay Street multi-millionaire Bill Morneau to head the department.

It’s not really that surprising. The Liberals are generally progressive on social issues and downright neo-con when it comes to money.

So what does this choice mean, given Trudeau’s play to the left with his election promise to run deficits and raise taxes on the 1%? To his credit, Morneau has expressed interest in income equality and said the tax code needs to be fixed, but, really, only time will tell.

The only other eyebrow-raising choice was Chrystia Freeland as Minister of International Trade. She oversaw two dozen layoffs at Reuters and helped ship those jobs to India, but it is possible to chalk that up to just following orders.

Grasping at Straws

There really isn’t much else to criticize. That hasn’t stopped some from trying, though.

First, there was a story about how five of Trudeau’s female ministers were considered Ministers of State, meaning less pay, while none of his male ministers were in that boat. Now, it seems like that situation will be rectified.

Now there is an issue raised by Kim Campbell, of all people, but shared by some on the left, about the fact that Defense Minister Sajjan is still technically in the Canadian Forces, as a reservist. The problem being that, as a Lieutenant-Colonel, he is part of the chain of command which he, as the Minister of Defense, is supposed to be above. The thing is, Sajjan is already in the process of getting his release from the military, the paperwork just takes time.

As someone who didn’t vote Liberal and are generally skeptical of the party, I’ve been looking for fault as much as anyone. There really is none to be found in his cabinet choices. Trudeau is starting off on the right foot, or rather, the left foot.

Yes, the other shoe will drop. His continued support for the Keystone XL pipeline and his “disappointment” expressed to President Obama when the US rejected the plan is an indication of where progressives will find fault with the Trudeau regime.

For now, though, it is all smiles and roses. I think we should make the most of this moment and get the most out of our new government. If Trudeau is playing to the left, we should support him. The moment he switches, we should call him on it.

The C-51 debate is coming up and there are plenty of issues Trudeau has promised change on and could well deliver. This is the time to get practical, and that means accepting the line that there is hope for change with the new government and encourage it to happen.

There will be plenty of reasons to criticize the Trudeau regime in the next four years. His Cabinet choices, at this point, aren’t among them.

The other day I got an email from Chrystia Freeland. At first, I thought that it must be part of a new strategy by the Liberal Party to reach bloggers and other online media.

“Fair play,” I thought. I get quite a bit of unsolicited emails from various groups, promoters and artists – all part of the game when you have a publicly listed email. This was the first one from a political party.  So, the Liberals added me before the others, good job! At least that’s what I thought at first.

Then I opened the email. It wasn’t sent to my Forget the Box account, but rather to my personal email. Also, it wasn’t a press release, but rather a fundraising plea. I’ve received similar emails from the NDP, quite a few in fact. But that makes sense, because I was, at one time, a member of the party. That has since lapsed, but I never told them to stop sending me stuff.

I have never been a member of the Liberal Party or even voted for them – well, once, but I was young and didn’t know any better. I live nowhere near Freeland’s riding, either. There’s no other word for this email but… SPAM!

I took to Facebook almost immediately, asking how such a thing may even be possible. The response I got was that I had probably signed a petition that was CCed to Justin Trudeau. That’s got to be it!

But why am I not getting the same crap from the Conservatives? After all, if the petition was CCed to Trudeau, it was probably sent to Harper. Well, let’s say it was the petition demanding an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Native Women. The Conservatives clearly know, that my signing that petition clearly means I’m not a potential supporter or a source of cash.

The Liberals, on the other hand, do support such an inquiry – though not as strongly as the NDP, but that’s besides the point. So, someone like me, who signs that petition, may be someone who could end up supporting them. I can think of a good way they could have followed up: By sending a message to all those who signed, thanking them, stressing that they, as a party, agreed with them, and providing them with a link to sign up for LPC emails. They could even have kept my email address in a database for future releases on the topic.

Instead, with no warning, I get put on a list of potential donors where all the language assumes that I’m already a party member or supporter. I get email mentioning something about Freeland being a journalist, followed by a money ask with no mention that the Liberals support something that they now know I do too. Instead of thinking “Hmm, Trudeau agrees with me on a particular subject, I wonder what else he agrees with me on?” I’m left wondering how the LPC got my email and what to do about their spam.

Liberal fundraising email

Honestly, I’ll probably do nothing. I could, as another commenter on my Facebook thread suggested, click unsubscribe, but that may only lead to their confirming that my address is legit. Even if it doesn’t, I really couldn’t be bothered. As I said before, I get so many emails already, many that I ignore, what’s a few more?

Sure, for a while I may be intrigued by and open to them, just to get a sense of the party messaging, only to get bored with them and start ignoring them at a later date. I know NDP fundraiser emails generally include a bit of why I should want to give them money, but the ones I received from the Liberals don’t have anything about why I should even vote for them. The one from “Trudeau himself” did have a bit, but only at the bottom, after the ask.

The email I got from them just a few hours ago had as a subject: “This is bad.” What was bad? The way Harper was ruining Canada’s reputation yet again? Something else shady the Cons were doing? No, the horrible thing that needs to be rectified by midnight tonight is the fundraising gap with the Conservatives.

Well, maybe if you had first established whether or not I was interested in your succeeding or at least tried to give me a reason to be interested, I might have found this situation dire as well. Unfortunately, you didn’t, so I really don’t care.

For every person like me, who has the time to figure out how this happened, write a post about it, and move on, there are probably five or maybe ten people who does not feel that the LPC sees something the way they do and instead feels like the Libs are a bunch of spammers. It’s just not a good tactic.

To be fair, I don’t think the Liberals are the only ones who do this. I get NDP money asks legitimately (and they were also pushing the fundraising deadline of midnight tonight, though less frantically) so there’s no real way for me to tell if they do the same thing, and I don’t think I’ve ever supported anything by Harper & co., so no reason to get anything from them, either.

No matter who’s doing it, though, political spam is just unproductive. I understand the need to raise money, but potential donors need to be wooed, or, at the very least, you have to make sure they show some interest in the ideas you’re selling. Then, and only then, can you justifiably bug them for money.

Oh, and by the way, press releases can be sent to