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Canada's new leader to step out on world stage

04 november 2015, 14:48
0
 Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau. ©AFP
Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau. ©AFP

Justin Trudeau takes over as Canada's prime minister on Wednesday, striking out on the diplomatic stage with a fortnight of back-to-back summits leading up to the UN climate talks in Paris, AFP reports.

The Liberal leader swept to power last month with ambitious pledges to change tack on global warming and return to the multilateralism sometimes shunned by the outgoing conservatives.

But experts warn of an uphill road ahead for the 43-year-old son of Canada's beloved late premier Pierre Trudeau.

"There are clearly a lot of challenges (ahead) for the new government," said University of Ottawa law professor Carissima Mathen.

Between mid-November and early December, Trudeau will travel to the Group of 20 summit in Turkey, the Commonwealth meeting in Malta, the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in the Philippines and the COP 21 climate conference in Paris.

The Liberal government-in-waiting has promised to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees before the end of the year, and to wind down Canada's combat mission against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Foreign policy concerns also include beefing up oversight of Canada's spy agency as it starts operating overseas for the first time, and ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

But tackling climate change will arguably be Trudeau's biggest challenge.

"It's a tough issue for countries like Canada, which is a big energy user and exporter," commented David Runnalls, a visiting climate policy expert at the University of Ottawa.

  Economic engine 

Labeled a "climate laggard" by the UN, Canada under Harper became the first country to pull out of the landmark Kyoto Protocol in 2011, inflicting lasting damage on relations with allies in Europe among others.

Trudeau promised strong measures to curb global warming but has so far offered no firm targets for reducing Canada's carbon emissions. 

His challenge now is to reach a target, together with 10 provinces that have their own objectives and share responsibility for the environment with Ottawa.

What Alberta decides will be key to Canada meeting its targets because greenhouse gases spewed from its oil sands are the biggest source of Canadian emissions -- and they are growing, Runnalls said.

Canada's three biggest provinces -- Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia -- already have or will soon introduce carbon pricing schemes. Alberta is to announce in the coming weeks how it plans to curb emissions without derailing the province's oil sector and the nation's economic engine, which laid off tens of thousands of workers this year amid a slump in oil prices.

  Senate roadblock

At home, Trudeau begins this week by naming a cabinet, which he pledged would represent all regions of the vast country and be split equally between men and women.

Trudeau's priorities for year one of his mandate will be laid out before parliament in what is known as the speech from the throne, expected before the end of the year.

His government-in-waiting has said it would start by lowering taxes on middle income earners.

It is also expected to legalize marijuana, hold a public inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women, and draft legislation permitting medically-assisted suicide.

An obstructive Senate, however, may throw a wrench into its agenda. Historically the unelected Upper Chamber has rarely blocked legislation but that has been changing in the last decade as the assembly has become increasingly partisan.

Currently the Senate is controlled by the Tories. 

There are 22 vacant seats which could tip the balance but Trudeau has said future Senate appointments would be made based on merit, with the help of a new advisory panel.

"The challenge for Justin Trudeau is that he believes partisanship in the Senate damages its legitimacy," Mathen said. "He said appointments would be based on merit and skills, but that invites independence and that could lead to conflict with the Lower House."

"So we're in uncharted territory."


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