What do leaders around the world do when faced with the threat of an important issue that has the potential to have politically fatal consequences? They look for distraction. R. Kent Weaver says in “Politics of Blame Avoidance” that “in bad times, the economy becomes a major issue” and politicians find ways to mitigate its impact on their chances of staying in power.
Throughout the last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears to have deftly employed a tried-and-tested political strategy of avoiding blame and steering clear of important matters.
Weeks before he traveled to New Delhi for the G20 summit on September 9th and 10th, Trudeau was under intense political pressure at home. The Conservatives had been lashing out at the Prime Minister over the affordability crisis, or simply put, food inflation in Canada. The Trudeau government has been criticized by the opposition for making food expensive while grocery chains made killer profits.
Food inflation wasn’t the only issue he struggled with. A housing crisis—shortages of inventory and high rents—had not just begun to weigh on the public, but was set to have a snowball effect on the economy as a whole. With the population’s purchasing power plummeting, Canada was on the verge of a recession after avoiding recession in the last quarter, according to economists.
Michael Davenport of Oxford Economics said: “As of April, our Canada Leading Recession Model (CLRM) suggests an 84 per cent chance of a recession in the next two quarters. This is the highest value since 1981 and is well above the 60 percent threshold that was previously exceeded in four of the last five recessions. The CLRM has now been above this critical threshold for nine consecutive months. On average, recessions begin four months after our recession model rises above 60%, suggesting a recession is imminent.”
As Trudeau prepared for the House of Commons session in September, he hinted at countering looming domestic challenges with an international theme. After his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in which India’s Foreign Ministry said Prime Minister Modi had expressed “strong concern about the ongoing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada,” Trudeau countered by saying, “Canadians in the diaspora are making a big deal Part of our country and they should be able to speak out and make their decisions without interference from any of the many countries that we know are involved in challenges of interference.”
Interference was the operative word in his India statement, presented to the Canadian Parliament a week later on the first day, September 18. It is a word that the West has been open and extremely wary of since the US sounded the alarm about possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The word has also found favor in Canada, but in relation to China. A report entitled “China/Canada: Interference in the Chinese-Canadian Community” prepared by the Federal Intelligence Advisory Committee was widely reported in the Canadian media.
CBC News reported that the 1986 intelligence report had “warned that Beijing was using overt political tactics and clandestine operations to influence and exploit the Chinese diaspora in Canada.”
The media revelations that had leaked in this context had already created local opinion that Canada must build defenses to protect its sovereignty and should be vigilant against such attempts.
By accusing India of “interference,” Trudeau brought Delhi into conflict with Beijing. He intensified the charge and even warned his voters about the “external threats” to Canada. In doing so, he created a problem that even opposition leader Pierre Poilievre initially prioritized over the affordability crisis, which he had promised would come first. Although Poilievre said Trudeau had not presented evidence in Parliament to support his claim, he too had to tread carefully because the issue Trudeau raised concerned Canada’s sovereignty.
In diplomacy, an issue like the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar would probably have been raised and investigated behind closed doors between India and Canada for as long as possible. As a politician, Trudeau could have made the accusation outside of Parliament to avoid being held accountable for his words. However, he chose to make the statement in Parliament. This was probably intended to raise the stakes to a level where the issue would eclipse all others; Recognition of parliamentary sanctity makes it an extremely serious matter.
Every Prime Minister is well aware of the consequences of such a claim in Parliament and the diplomatic consequences, and of course Trudeau is too. The accusation in parliament and the diplomatic escalation were perhaps all a calculated risk. What may have given him some confidence is the fact that the Five Eyes (US, Australia, UK and New Zealand, as well as Canada) were aware of the matter when it came to light.
The US has also said it will not make concessions to any country. American National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said this was a US concern and that it would continue to work on the matter regardless of the country. In his exact quotes reported by Reuters, he said: “There is no specific exception for actions like this. No matter the country, we will stand up and defend our core principles, and we will also consult closely with allies like Canada in pursuing their law enforcement and diplomatic process.”
Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong expressed concern about the allegations and was asked by the media about the concerns in Australia. The Minister reportedly said Australia is a robust democracy, the Indian diaspora has diverse views and in the context of the democratic debate in Australia, it has been made clear that the peaceful expression of diverse views is an essential part of Australian democracy.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also said his government “takes the things Canada says very seriously.” Diplomatic relations between India and Britain were also strained in March when the Indian High Commission was attacked by pro-Khalistan groups. India expressed anger over lax security at India House in London and in turn reduced security at the British High Commissioner’s residence in New Delhi. Meanwhile, Avtar Singh Khanda, the face of the violence in March and the person who tried to bring down the Indian tricolor at the High Commission, died in a Birmingham hospital in June.
Britain and Australia also faced New Delhi’s displeasure over the Khalistan referendum, which was conducted in both countries by Sikhs for Justice, an organization banned by India.
At a time when the US, Australia and the UK are significantly increasing their engagement with India as a counter to China, Trudeau’s claim should have made it uncomfortable for them to face questions about India. However, no one has tried to dismiss Trudeau’s claims because he himself has commented on the alleged interference of various countries from Russia to China in the past. And this appears to have created a safe zone for Trudeau to operate from while facing challenges at home.
(Maha Siddiqui is a journalist who has reported extensively on public policy and global affairs.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.
Source : www.ndtv.com