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Editorial: Trudeau and the Caribbean

Published:Thursday | October 22, 2015 | 12:00 AM

We all still liked the Canadians, even if some of us may have grown a bit uneasy with some of their recent behaviour. It was like the normally reserved neighbours becoming too much like our other friends, the outgoing, and sometimes too garrulous, set next door.

In that regard, Caribbean leaders are likely to welcome the resurgence of Canada's Liberal party and its election to government this week after nearly a decade of Stephen Harper's hectoring conservatives. Part of the allure of the Liberals, especially in Jamaica, will be nostalgic, wrapped up in the Trudeau name of the new prime minister, Justin Trudeau. Indeed, many older Jamaicans will recall his father, who led Canada for 15 years into the early 1980s, and his relationship with Jamaica, and especially with his contemporary, Michael Manley.

Peter Phillips, the finance minister, often tells of the tough, and, at times, humiliating bailout negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) four years ago when Jamaica faced a deep fiscal crisis. The fund insisted on harsh prior measures by the Government before agreeing to a deal.

Jamaica was in a similar situation 38 years ago and negotiating an extended fund facility with the IMF. Manley led a democratic socialist government, which was on bad terms with the United States, which was believed to have exerted its influence on the Fund to be tough with Jamaica. Mr Trudeau intervened on Jamaica's behalf. Mr Trudeau joined Norway's Odvar Nordli, Germany's Willie Brandt, and Nigeria's Olusegun Obasnajo at a summit hosted by the Jamaican leader to explore Mr Manley's search for new global economic arrangements.

Pierre Trudeau's unmuscular foreign policy gave expression to a notion of Canada that was distinct from that of its powerful neighbour to the south. Canada's membership in the Commonwealth helped to foster an affinity with the Caribbean. Much of that perception of Canada has eroded over the past two decades, and certainly during Mr Harper's premiership. At least in form and Caribbean policymakers hope in substance, too Justin Trudeau does not cut Mr Harper's figure of a neo-Cold War bruiser.

His decision, for instance, to withdraw Canada's participation in bombing raids against the Islamic State shows Ottawa pursuing foreign policy independent of Washington's and strengthens those who, notwithstanding their admiration of the United States, are uncomfortable with the idea of a unipolar world.

If Mr Trudeau's promises for global engagement hold, he will add to the purchase of soft power in international relations, and, perhaps, help to strengthen Barack Obama against those on the American right who reject the value or efficacy of this approach.

The Caribbean will look to Mr Trudeau to rekindle what both sides have in the past called a special relationship, to which his father gave tangible meaning. Among the matters for attention is this regard is a resumption of stalled negotiations for a trade agreement between Canada and the Caribbean Community to replace the non-reciprocal CARIBCAN trade pact.

But the region should not have naive expectations of Justin Trudeau. What has occurred is not a reincarnation. The global environment has changed since Pierre Trudeau's time. A Canada led by Justin Trudeau may be more understanding of the concerns of small, poor indebted countries like those in the region, but is also likely to be tough and pragmatic in any negotiations.