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Canadians Oust Stephen Harper, Right-Wing PM Who Ignored Climate Change & Shunned First Nations

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Canadian voters have unseated right-wing Prime Minister Stephen Harper after nearly a decade in office. In a surprise result following the closest election campaign in recent history, the centrist Liberals jumped from third place to a parliamentary majority. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will become Canada’s next prime minister. Harper’s loss ends a tenure that saw him take three elections despite his Conservative Party never winning more than 40 percent of the vote. For a hostile stance on the environment and other signature right-wing policies, a recent headline in The Guardian called him “the last remnant of George W Bush in North America.” Monday’s result is also a major loss for the traditionally leftist New Democratic Party, which fell from holding Official Opposition status to third place. The NDP led the polls in August but lost momentum as its leadership drifted toward the middle. Trudeau has pledged to reverse some of Harper’s key policies while backing others, including the C-51 surveillance law — known as “Canada’s Patriot Act” — and the Keystone XL pipeline. We discuss the Canadian elections with two guests: indigenous attorney and law professor Pamela Palmater, and Judy Rebick, founder of, one of Canada’s leading independent news websites.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today in Canada, where voters have unseated right-wing Prime Minister Stephen Harper after nearly a decade in office. In a surprise result following the closest election campaign in recent history, the centrist Liberals jumped from third place to a parliamentary majority. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will become Canada’s next prime minister. He’s the son of the late Pierre Trudeau, who served in the same post for 16 years until 1984. Justin Trudeau celebrated his win Monday night.

PRIME MINISTER-ELECT JUSTIN TRUDEAU: My friends, we beat fear with hope. We beat cynicism with hard work. We beat negative, divisive politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together. Most of all, we defeated the idea that Canadians should be satisfied with less, that good enough is good enough, and that better just isn’t possible. Well, my friends, this is Canada. And in Canada, better is always possible! Thank you. Thank you very much. Merci. Merci.

AMY GOODMAN: Canada’s Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau. Stephen Harper’s loss ends a tenure that saw him take three elections, despite his Conservative Party never winning more than 40 percent of the vote. Harper addressed supporters Monday night.

PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: Our country is one of the most enduring democracies in the world today. And today, for the 42nd time in 148 years, Canadians have chosen a national Parliament. Well, tonight’s result is certainly not the one we had hoped for. The people are never wrong. … Canadians have accepted a Liberal—have elected a Liberal government, a result we accept without hesitation. I have spoken, friends, to Mr. Trudeau and offered him my congratulations, all of our congratulations, on his successful campaign. And I have assured him of my full cooperation during the process of transition in the coming days.

AMY GOODMAN: A recent headline in The Guardian dubbed Harper, quote, “the last remnant of George W Bush in North America.” Under Stephen Harper, Canada became the only country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement setting reduction targets on carbon emissions. Harper slashed the funding of Environmental Canada and scores of environmental programs. Federal scientists were barred from speaking publicly without permission, an edict that especially muzzled discussions of climate change. A series of water laws were gutted as the government heavily promoted the expansion of carbon-intensive energy pipelines, including the Keystone XL that would deliver Alberta tar sands oil to the United States.

The Harper government was also riddled by corruption scandals, voter fraud allegations, a struggling economy and accusations of race-baiting. Harper made a campaign issue out of banning Muslim women from covering their faces with the niqab, or veil, while taking their Canadian citizenship oath. The actual number of cases where this happened was just two. Harper was also criticized for his handling of First Nations issues, including staunchly opposing an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

Monday’s result is also a major loss for the traditionally leftist New Democratic Party, the NDP, which fell from holding Official Opposition status to third place. The NDP led the polls in August but lost momentum as its leadership drifted toward the middle. In some areas, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair adopted a more right-wing stance than the Liberals. On the economy, Mulcair ruled out deficit spending to build infrastructure and create jobs.

In a reversal of Harper policies, Trudeau has pledged to end Canada’s anti-ISIL combat missions in Syria and Iraq, while restoring ties to Iran. But he also backs some of Harper’s most controversial initiatives, including the C-51 surveillance law, known as “Canada’s Patriot Act,” and the Keystone XL pipeline, the fate of which remains in President Obama’s hands.

For more, we’re going to Toronto to speak with two guests. Pamela Palmater is a lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. She teaches indigenous law, politics and governance at Ryerson University and heads their Centre for Indigenous Governance. And Judy Rebick is with us, Canadian activist and writer, founder of, one of Canada’s leading independent news websites.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Judy Rebick, let’s begin with you. Your assessment of this upset victory? Did you predict that Justin Trudeau would win? And tell us who he is.

JUDY REBICK: Yeah, well, actually, I did. I wrote a column on Rabble on Saturday, and I kind of warned that this liberal rise that we just saw happen very quickly—as you pointed out, the three parties were very, very close until about two weeks ago, and then we started to see a slow rise, and then, in the last week, we saw a rapid rise, especially in Quebec, where the Liberals haven’t won in Quebec in 20 years, since, in fact, Justin’s father won there. So, I actually did warn of a Liberal majority. And the reason I say that is that although we’re all happy to see the back end of Harper—really, actually, kind of giddy about it this morning—nevertheless, the Liberals have a long history of running on the left and governing from the right, and so I would have preferred to see a minority Liberal government.

Now, who Trudeau is, is, as we all know, he’s the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. And we don’t—in a way, we don’t really know very much about him, except that he ran a magnificent campaign. And I have to say, even his opponents admit that the Liberal campaign was quite brilliant, the way they stepped into—as you pointed out, when the NDP, which seems to have this illness of doing the same thing over and over again even though it’s failed now three times in the last three elections, they said they were going have a balanced budget, so they stepped into the center, or even the center-right, the Liberals very deftly saw the opening there to define themselves as the party of change, because this election was about Stephen Harper. The ballot question was: How can we defeat Stephen Harper? Whatever party is best to defeat Stephen Harper, we’re going to vote for. And that was right across the country. And the Liberals managed to get themselves from not just third-party status—they only had 30 seats in the last Parliament, they were barely present there at all—to a majority by answering that question: The Liberal Party is the party of real change. And so they succeeded in that. But other than his ability to campaign, we really don’t know very much about what kind of prime minister he’s going to be, because we haven’t seen him in a governmental sense at all. He was barely in the House of Commons. He spent the last few years traveling the country and really campaigning for this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: He was a—

JUDY REBICK: So he’s a great campaigner. Sorry, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: The son of Pierre Trudeau, he was a high school drama teacher?

JUDY REBICK: That’s right, he was a high school drama teacher. Yeah, that’s his past history. And he’s been in Parliament for a while, but he hasn’t—you know, Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the NDP, was a very, very good politician, parliamentarian, as we say. He was the one who kept Harper’s feet to the fire as much as he could. Trudeau had very little role in Parliament, really. He was barely there. So we don’t know very much about what kind of prime minister he’ll be, I’d say.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Trudeau said, “We’re not about balancing the budget, we’re about investing in infrastructure.” He was rejecting austerity politics.

JUDY REBICK: That’s right. That’s right. He was, in the campaign. But as I said, we’ve had other Liberal leaders who campaigned against wage controls, then got elected and brought in wage control, who campaigned against free trade and then came in and brought in free trade. So I’m a little skeptical. You know, maybe I’m—you know, over the years of experience. People say he’s a new generation, and that’s true. And he certainly reflects a new generation. You know, in his speech, he talked a lot about citizen engagement and the importance of engaged citizens and how he’ll be a prime minister who listens. And I think that’s probably true.

You know, it’s hard to describe how Canada has changed under Stephen Harper. Internationally, our reputation is shot. But also, as a country, we’ve always been able to pressure our governments. You know, we’ve always seen—even under Conservative government. Like I said, the one thing I could never forgive Stephen Harper for is he made Brian Mulroney look good, and that was a former Conservative—that was a former Conservative prime minister that we all hated in the ’80s. But at least you could pressure him, you could change his mind on things. Harper was very authoritarian.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Judy Rebick, the issue of pulling out of the anti-ISIS coalition that Justin Trudeau says he will be doing, what does that mean?

JUDY REBICK: Well, it means we wouldn’t have fighting troops in the Middle East, in that area of the Middle East. What he wants to do is he wants to just do troop training of the opposition in Syria, the non-ISIS opposition. You know, it’s all very murky there, as I’m sure you know better than I do. And so, Harper—another thing that Harper has done is create this very—try to create Canada as a militarist state, which he didn’t really succeed very much in doing, but, you know, all kinds of statues and all kinds of big celebrations of wars, this kind of thing that we never had before, and his policy in the Middle East, even though Canada plays a very small role, nevertheless joining the U.S.'s military adventures in the Middle East, where Canada in the past has sort of taken a quite—often taken an independent role. For example, we didn't support Bush’s war in Iraq under Chrétien, who was the previous Liberal, and Harper did.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, during his victory speech last night, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau addressed indigenous issues.

PRIME MINISTER-ELECT JUSTIN TRUDEAU: You want a prime minister that knows that a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples that respects rights and honors treaties must be the basis for how we work to close the gap and walk forward together.

AMY GOODMAN: That is the new Canadian prime minister-elect, Justin Trudeau. Pamela Palmater is with us also, a Mi’kmaw lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. Talk about who Justin Trudeau—what he represents for you. Talk about his victory and the issues that you feel are most important to understand right now.

PAMELA PALMATER: Well, I think, you know, for most First Nations, there’s a collective sigh of relief that Harper’s gone. I mean, like you said, he’s been the worst environmental disaster, democratic right disaster, and he was the, you know, epic enemy of First Nations. And so, what you have with Prime Minister Trudeau is the possibility for change. He really has an opportunity to be a leader in First Nation issues, environmental issues and democratic rights and freedoms, versus a politician. So, he has the opportunity. We have to give him a little time to see if he’s going to do it.

However, he does come from a very problematic Liberal legacy. His father was the one who introduced the 1969 White Paper, which would have essentially annihilated Indians and reserves and treaty rights and all of that, which was—you know, brought about massive national protests by First Nation leaders. And, I mean, but to his credit, he has distanced himself from his father’s policy, and he’s saying he wants to do it differently, a nation-to-nation relationship, which is key for First Nations, because First Nations consider themselves to be sovereign, with their own laws and jurisdictions. So, he has an opportunity here to really talk about, you know, decision making and sharing of lawmaking and things like that.

But he also talked about very specific things. For example, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s initial report had 94 recommendations. He was telling First Nations during the campaign that, if elected, he would implement those recommendations. He was also in support of an inquiry for murdered and missing indigenous women. And importantly for many First Nations and environmentalists, he was also saying that he would respect the requirement that government has to consult, accommodate and get the consent of First Nations before anything happens in our territory, and that in order to do that, he would remedy some of the laws that were abolished by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Now, he didn’t have a lot of specifics on that, but he has at least indicated that he’s willing to look at those things, like water protections and land protections and things like that. So that’s very key for First Nations.

On the program side of things, he’s indicated a commitment to provide a couple billion dollars for First Nation education, which was a huge issue. Under the Harper government, he had only—Harper had only promised money if we had agreed to very paternalistic, controlling legislation that violated treaty rights. There’s no such condition on the new prime minister’s promises. And he’s also promised money for things like schools and to address the—all of the water issues in First Nations. We currently have about 120 First Nations without clean drinking water in Canada at any point in time, on boil-water advisories, and he’s actually committed that—within a five-year period, to eliminate First Nations without clean drinking water. So that would be something that’s pretty significant.

However, we have to keep in mind—and this is why I’m very cautious about this government—that under the Liberal government, they’re the ones who put the 2 percent cap on education and created this crisis in First Nation education. Under the Liberal government, they’re the ones who allowed First Nations to go without clean water, some of them for decades. And murdered and missing indigenous women is a problem that has been going on for decades, clearly unaddressed by the Liberal government. So while, you know, there’s hope and there’s possibility here for Prime Minister Trudeau if he really takes this and goes forward, we still have a lot of concerns, just based on Liberal history.

AMY GOODMAN: During a debate in August, Justin Trudeau expressed support for the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2015, known as the C-51 surveillance law. It’s called “Canada’s Patriot Act.”

JUSTIN TRUDEAU: The government of Canada and the prime minister is expected to do two things by Canadians. The first one is to keep us safe. The second is to uphold and defend our rights and freedoms. Now, Mr. Harper doesn’t think we need to do anything more to protect our rights and freedoms, and Mr. Mulcair, with his position on counterterrorism laws, doesn’t think we need to do anything more on security. The Liberal Party has been very clear: We need to do both of them together.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Justin Trudeau in a debate in August. Pamela Palmater, talk about the C-51 surveillance act.

PAMELA PALMATER: So, that was one of the biggest criticisms of the Liberal Party, when Justin Trudeau was running, was his support for Bill C-51. And some of the people that were running for the Liberal Party were viciously defensive of Bill C-51, whereas other Liberal candidates were saying, “Look, once we get in, we’re going to make amendments to make sure democratic rights and freedoms are protected, to make sure that First Nations aren’t particularly targeted.” So, it’s going to depend where he goes from here with this legislation. So if he just supports the legislation as is, which is a clear violation of our Constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that his father brought in, all First Nation aboriginal and treaty rights and international human rights—I mean, it’s really the most offensive legislation Canada has ever enacted in this country. If he does something about it, then I think he could really build some goodwill that he’s committed to protecting democratic rights and freedoms, as well as First Nation rights.

JUDY REBICK: And if I could just add to that, he voted for it in Parliament. It is a law now. It’s not


JUDY REBICK: So it wasn’t something just discussed in the election. The Liberals supported it in Parliament. They tried to amend it, but, of course, the Conservatives had a majority. And this is very concerning, because there’s nothing in Bill C-51 that’s needed to protect Canada’s security.


JUDY REBICK: The only reason they voted for it was because at the time it was very popular. And then groups like Open Democracy campaigned against it, lots of groups campaigned against it, and public opinion shifted. So by the beginning of the election campaign, it was no longer popular, but the Liberals had already voted for it. So this is what I mean about what the concern is about the Liberals, is they’re willing to do anything—not anything, they’re willing to move and shift to do what’s popular, but when push comes to shove, they’re still a corporate party. They’re a party that’s mostly supported by corporations financially, or have been in the past. And, you know, they have a bad history. Now, maybe Trudeau can change that. And I’m with Pam: I’d like to be hopeful. But it’s kind of hard when you know that history. And C-51 is a good example of it.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the NDP, the New Democratic Party, the traditionally leftist party, which placed third in the election, winning just 44 seats. Party leader Thomas Mulcair addressed supporters last night.

THOMAS MULCAIR: We will be unwavering in our pursuit of better healthcare for Canadians. We will stand strong in our fight against climate change and to protect our land, air and water. And we will be resolute in our efforts to build a true nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. It’s on these priorities and on many more that New Democrats will make real and lasting progress in this new Parliament. With this election, Canadians have asked us all to work for them. We will not let them down.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Judy Rebick, talk about this stunning defeat for the NDP. I mean, this was astounding. In 2011, they had come in second. At the beginning of this—it was considered the longest presidential race ever, right? Something like 78 days. And the Conservatives thought it would benefit them. In the end, it benefited Justin Trudeau, so people could meet Justin Trudeau across Canada. I mean, people in the United States must laugh when they hear 78 days is long; we’re talking about, you know, a year-and-a-half presidential campaign. But can you talk about how the NDP fell back? And are there lessons here for people in the United States?

JUDY REBICK: Yes. I’d say this is a few—three factors, in my view. At one point in the election campaign, in fact, the NDP was significantly ahead. That’s that they were leading. It looked like people were saying Mulcair is the one to beat Harper. But two—three things happened. The first thing is, as you pointed out in your introduction, the NDP moved to the right on fiscal policy. That is, they said they were going to balance the budget. Now, the reason they did that, I don’t think it was an actual complete move to the right, that we saw in Ontario and B.C., where the NDP did that and lost; I think it was just on that—in that area, but that’s a pretty big area, and it’s where the media tends to define politics, is in economic policy. So they moved to the right on that so that they wouldn’t get attacked, as they usually do, as tax-and-spend socialists, is what the attack against them is. So, that demoralized some of the base, I think. And also, as I said, the Liberals used that to their advantage by stepping to the left and campaigning, saying they would use a deficit to fight austerity.

But the real shift in the campaign happened after the first French debate in Quebec, and it was on the issue of the niqab. You know, it’s kind of complicated, but in Quebec, the majority—there’s a real visceral hatred of the niqab and any face covering. And I think it comes—there’s a bit—there’s Islamophobia in it, but it also comes from a kind of French republican notion of rights, and that is that the no religious—no religious force should have any effect on public life. And in Quebec, the church controlled public life for many, many decades. So, for example, in the rest of Canada, women had the vote in 1919; in Quebec, women didn’t get to vote 'til 1940. That's the influence of the church, of the Catholic Church. So there’s a real visceral hatred of any kind of religion in public life in Quebec. And the niqab had come to symbolize that. Harper used that. In the end, it defeated him, which is sort of poetic justice, in my view, because Harper deliberately stimulated xenophobia toward Muslims with the niqab, with the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which passed, and now they’re going to have a tip line for that. But Mulcair was very principled. He defended the niqab, but—the right to wear the niqab in the citizenship—citizenship. But it was—he did it in his scrappy way. He’s a real scrapper, Mulcair. And so he wasn’t sensitive to the fact that a lot of people in Quebec were uncomfortable with the niqab. Trudeau, on the other hand, he also defended the right to wear the niqab, but he did it in a much defter way. And so he wasn’t—so the people in Quebec basically stopped supporting Mulcair over this. And the NDP went, literally—like it’s very dramatic—their support went down, and Quebec was where they had the most support, and then people started to say, “Uh-oh, it looks like Mulcair is not going to beat Harper,” and shifted to the Liberals. And as I said, as the campaign went on, Trudeau looked better and better. That was the second.

And I said—what was the third? I can’t remember. OK, that’s enough, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask Pamela Palmater, as we wrap up—we have 30 seconds.

JUDY REBICK: Oh, sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: Why was Stephen Harper so hated? And what do you think are the lessons for your next-door neighbor, in the United States, which is going through an election?

PAMELA PALMATER: Well, I think Stephen Harper was hated for three primary things. One, his stance on First Nation issues. To look at Canadians and say, “Murdered and missing indigenous women and little girls, who cares? It’s not high on our radar,” that doesn’t reflect the values of Canadians. The fact he is the worst environmental disaster to ever happen to this country certainly doesn’t, you know, resonate with the majority of Canadians, either. And his ongoing, very public attack on basic democratic rights and freedoms, and the way he flaunted it as if he didn’t have to speak to Canadians or First Nations, was just something that Canadians weren’t going to take anymore. And you’ve seen the ground-up swell. He is the reason for Idle No More. He’s the reason for all of these NGOs coming together and protesting across Canada. I mean, he really inspired Canadians to wake up and take their government back.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. I want to thank you all for both being with us, Pamela Palmater, lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick, and Judy Rebick, Canadian activist and writer, founder of, the leading Canadian news website.

This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in Oxford, Mississippi, to talk about the vote that will be taking place in the student government today to take down the Mississippi flag off the grounds of the campus, because in that flag is the Confederate flag. Stay with us.

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