No, Canada’s economy will not collapse if Trudeau stands up to Trump

Trudeau met Trump on Monday but voiced no criticism. He stayed mum on Trump’s racist travel bans for Muslims and refugees—silent even about Canadian Muslims being arbitrarily denied entry at the US border. Many commentators in the media were quick to jump to Trudeau’s defense, excusing his total lack of spine with considerations of real economik: Canada’s trading relationship with the US is too valuable for us to go even mildly criticizing Trump.

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Of course, Canada’s economy does rely heavily on the United States. But while over 75% of Canada’s exports go to the US, our trade relationship looks different than what many imagine it to be. And, in fact, the economy is much less of an excuse for Trudeau’s cowardice than it seems at first glance.

Here’s how Canada’s exports to the US break down:

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Trudeau’s Growth Council is back with more bad ideas

Justin Trudeau’s friends in finance, consulting and big business dominate the grandly named Advisory Council on Economic Growth. A few months after recommending a giant privatization scheme, the gang is back with more ideas, many very good for them but very bad for you and me.

The biggest news: a recommendation to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67. Trudeau has been breaking promises and sticking with Stephen Harper’s policies left, right and centre, so it’s no surprise to see his economic advisors raising another Conservative corpse from the dead—despite the fact that Trudeau actually rolled back Harper’s shift of the retirement age up to 67 in his first budget. Of course, when Harper proposed it, it was mean-spirited, when Bay St. wants it, it’s the bleeding edge of innovative growth strategy!

Beyond this one terrible idea, the Council’s report is full of warmed-over buzzwords and overblown market-speak. Recommendations will “re-imagine the role of government (specifically, as a convener/catalyst and as an investor)” and “catalyze the formation of business-led ‘innovation marketplaces.'” There’s a bit of Sheryl Sandberg feminism for the 1%: gender inequality ameliorated via “a corporate gender diversity challenge.” Yet elsewhere the ideological bent is more transparent: “much of our potential is untapped, held back due to policies (e.g., excessive regulations).” Chamber of Commerce talking points shouldn’t be a surprise in a document prepared in the C-suite, but they’re being sold as “inclusive growth.”

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Learning from the rise of the right in the global South

With only two days left until Donald Trump’s inauguration, today’s two guests look at the turn to the right that’s already well under way across parts of the global South.

First, I speak with the historian, journalist and author Vijay Prashad about the nationalist Narendra Modi’s economic agenda in India. Vijay’s books include The Darker Nations A People’s History of the Third World and The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South. He teaches history in the northeastern US.

My second guest is Sabrina Fernandez, who discusses the permanent austerity being implemented in Brazil by the draconian Temer government. Sabrian is an activist on the radical left in Brazil and she recently completed a PhD in sociology focusing on the left in Brazilian politics from Carleton University. She spoke with me from Brasilia.

I finished each interview by asking what lessons the lefts of their countries hold for those of us battling an empowered right in the North.

As always, remember to subscribe using the links below the player to get new episodes as they appear (you can also donate to help keep the show going).

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#RealChange wearing thin: A look back at Trudeau’s first year

We’re one year into Justin Trudeau’s government of #RealChange, yet it’s mostly the rhetoric not the policies that have changed. Some of the shine is finally wearing off. Whether approving pipelines, settting electoral reform up to fail or privatizing airports and transit, the Liberals are showing themselves to be the good capitalist managers they’ve always been, not the anti-austerity crusaders of the last election campaign.

Today, three guests—Derrick O’Keefe, Clayton Thomas-Müller and Luke Savage—take a look back at this first year of the Liberal government and look forward to how opposition to it can develop. Derrick is a journalist, author and editor at Ricochet Media. He’s based in Vancouver and currently working on a book on BC politics and history. Clayton Thomas Muller is a climate campaigner with 350.org based in Winnipeg. Luke Savage works for the Broadbent Institute at its Press Progress media outfit and writes frequently on US and Canadian politics.

All the best to you and yours! Back in the New Year!

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The road tolls for thee

Last week, Toronto mayor Join Tory announced a plan to toll two major Toronto highways, the Gardiner and the DVP. The city is starved for cash with huge shortfalls for both infrastructure (new housing, new transit lines) and even everyday operating expenses. Tolls are supposed to help close this gap. But despite the absolutely huge revenue needs of this city, there a case to be made against tolls from the left.

There is a simple practical argument against the proposed tolls: they won’t raise very much money and any revenue is years away. City planners calculate about $200 million per year of new money once tolls are in place. That may sound like much but Toronto needs are in the vicinity of $30 billion just to catch up with a growing population and ageing infrastructure. And the city needs the money now.

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John Tory has challenged those who oppose the tolls to spell out the alternative. Taxing parking spaces would raise $500 million and could be done right away. Getting residential and commercial property taxes to at least match long-term inflation and beat it, even with the necessary rebates for those house-rich, income-poor, would raise another huge chunk of cash. This isn’t even getting to more creative options—many of them included in an appendix to a KPMG report commissioned by Metrolinx.

Given the revenue crisis, lefties could easily come up with a viable, progressive money-raising plan even from a list prepared by the market-friendly consultants at KPMG. A municipal income tax? Why not since the province and the feds are raising less then they used to through this measure. Even a municipal sales tax with hefty rebates for low-income and working-class folks. It’s not a question of options but political strategy.

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No shortcuts: Jane McAlevey on organizing that can transform unions and society

Today’s epsiode was recorded live at an event with union organizer and author Jane McAlevey in Toronto last week to launch her new book, No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age. I was honoured to share the stage with Jane and Stephanie Ross, who teaches in labour studies at McMaster, to discuss this important and very readable book that lays out the organizing approach that can save today’s ossified and crumbling labour movement. Stephanie and I took turns asking questions and before we knew it an hour was up!

This is my second interview with Jane; the first is available both as a podcast and transcribed. As always, remember to subscribe using the links below the player to get new episodes as they appear (you can also donate to help keep the show going).

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Don’t mourn, organize! Sarah Jaffe on organizing before and after Trump

You could almost hear the whole world hold its breath as the night of November 8th dragged on and Donald Trump’s march towards the presidency became clearer. While it may be trite, Joe Hill’s famous dictum “Don’t mourn; organize!” rings true today. My guest, journalist and author Sarah Jaffe, is very well placed to help us start thinking about how to do this in the age of Trump.

Her book Necessary Trouble, released just a few months ago, catalogues in great journalistic detail the post-crisis rise of oppositional movements in the US from Occupy Wall Street to the Fight for 15 to Black Lives Matter. The necessary trouble she writes about just took on a new urgency. Sarah gives her account of the present and possible future for nascent left movements and organizations in the US.

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Trudeau’s economic model is clear and it is not good

Last week gave us a good idea of the economic model that Trudeau’s Liberals are gradually putting forward and it is business-friendly to the core. The infrastructure bank privatization scheme was the big news item in the fall fiscal upate (see my post from last week), but there are far more goodies to make business happy tucked away in the update and in news from recent weeks. The Liberals plans for the economy are not just about being business-friendly today but about integrating government with business ever further, in ways harder for future governments to unwind. Theirs is a tweaked neoliberalism for an age of stagnation. The mantra remains the market and the state is there to support it.

Here’s the broad strokes of how the Liberals’ plans are shaping up on economics.

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The great rentier give-away

With today’s fiscal update, the Trudeau government has really shown itself to be at the forefront of global left neoliberalism. Taking nearly all his cues from his business-dominated Advisory Council on Economic Growth, the Finance Minister announced a new Canada Infrastructure Bank as the centerpiece of the fiscal update and the Liberals’ economic strategy. Don’t believe the fanfare that is bound to come from the Canadian and international press, this isn’t anything progressive. It’s a new elite consensus that might become one of our main exports, pumped via virtual pipelines across the globe.

Here’s how Dominic Barton, the managing director of McKinsey Global, one of the world’s largest business consulting firms and head of the Advisory Council, framed the impetus behind the new bank:

Barton said infrastructure aimed at improving productivity will be of huge interest to foreign investors in search of steady returns with record low or negative interest rates in many parts of the world. “Infrastructure is the new fixed income,” Barton said in a speech over dinner at the conference. The mix of public and private capital has the potential to “jolt the system.”

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Focus on Latin America: Colombia’s rejected peace and the Pink Tide in trouble

Political Eh-conomy Radio returns with a new logo, new life and a new episode focused on Latin America. First up: Aaron Tauss, assistant professor of International Political Economy at the Universidad National in Medellin, Colombia. I spoke with Aaron to better understand the devastating and unexpected “No” vote in Colombia’s referendum on a peace deal that would have ended 50 years of civil war. His analysis is deeply rooted in the broader economic forces shaping contemporary Colombia.

Second, I speak with Kyla Sankey, a researcher from the UK who wrote a terrific article for Jacobin on the state of the Pink Tide of left governments that swept Latin America in the early 2000s. Kyla looks at the present problems and future prospects of a Pink Tide limping along as the right has returned to power in Argentina and Brazil, while Venezuela remains mired in political and economic crisis.

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