One line from Vice news sums it up perfectly, "Justin Trudeau is one of the few world leaders still trumpeting the pre-2016 dream that everything will be hunky dory in the mad world of global politics if we can strike up a few more free trade deals."
Vice columnist Drew Brown skips the debate over whether Trudeau is wise or an utter fool to think he can or should entangle Canada in a trade pact with China. Instead he focuses on Trudeau's claim that a Canada-China free trade deal with help defuze the reactionary populist politics spreading around the world.
It is a very nice story but, as we now know, it leaves out a few loose ends. Whenever newly unfettered capital starts freely crossing borders, it is usually accompanied by a cast of somewhat less savory characters: community dislocation, deindustrialization, declining environmental and labour regulations, degraded national sovereignty, and the occasional financial meltdown. (For what it’s worth, Trudeau deserves credit for making more progressive environmental, labour, and gender regulations a sticking point in negotiations.)
Free trade might be a win-win on paper for the countries involved, but within those countries themselves it’s very often a win-lose arrangement for the rich and the non-rich, respectively. In other words, it tends to create its own problems, one of which appears to be right-wing, nationalist reaction. (It’s a convention to just call this ‘populism’, which is sort of true, but also sort of not true, and something we should probably talk about later.)
In the case of Chinese-Canadian trade in particular, there are reasons to suspect that even a successful bilateral free trade agreement might do more to inflame reactionary populism at home than put it out. Wells observes that Canadian access to the Chinese market also entails China’s further access to the Canadian market. This risks further inflating urban real estate values (particularly on the west coast), as well as hollowing out communities based around agriculture and manufacturing. And as a general rule, people who lose a good job and/or get priced out of their home tend to become rather politically agitated.
It’s not clear whether or not the prime minister and his team genuinely believe more free trade will fix the problems it simultaneously causes, or if this is just a reflexive talking point he threw to the media after a long day of trade talks that amounted to fruitlessly banging his head against a wall in Beijing.
My take is that the school marm is still the school marm, short on both the experience and intellectual depth to tackle a hydra such as free trade with China. He can't even make any serious inroads on climate change, the gravest threat facing the Canadian people. That's something that will take a truly Herculean effort over many years, perhaps decades, and Trudeau won't even get near the starting blocks. In difficult and dangerous times it takes more than posing for selfies and making apologies, no matter how deserved, to lead a country. Going by his track record from his first two years in power, this son of Margaret does not seem to pass muster on leadership.