Saturday October 24, 2015

Climate change talks 'crucial' priority for Trudeau, advises former PM Paul Martin

Justin Trudeau holds his first news conference as prime minister-designate at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015

Justin Trudeau holds his first news conference as prime minister-designate at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015 (Susana Mas/CBC)

Listen 10:04

Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau has a hefty list of commitments facing him in his first months in office, but the most important priority should be the United Nations climate change conference next month, says former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin.

"I think the climate change meeting is absolutely crucial," Martin told host Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House in an interview airing Saturday. 

There are several major international meetings quickly approaching, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the Philippines Nov. 7–20, the G20 Leaders' Summit in Turkey Nov. 15–16, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta Nov. 27–29 and the climate change talks in Paris Nov. 30 – Dec. 11. 

"It would be preferable if [Trudeau] was able to go to all of them," Martin said. "I think people would understand if he couldn't, but clearly the climate meeting is critical. I think it's important that he indicate that's where his priorities lay."

Martin said "real decisions" will be made at the conference in Paris, and that it's essential that Canada be involved from the beginning.

Trudeau and Martin in Montreal

Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, left, joined Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on the campaign trail in the 2015 election. (Catherine Cullen/CBC)

"Canada, up to now, has been a bit of a pariah in this area," he said. 

"I think there's going to be an enormous amount done on climate change following the Paris meeting, and I think that for Canada, given our record unfortunately over the last decade, the Prime Minister has to be there. I think he's got to show that we really do believe that climate change is very much a human problem."

In a separate interview on The House, re-elected Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland confirmed the climate change conference is "an absolute priority" and that Trudeau has reached out to the premiers to join him in Paris for the summit.

"I think that's going to send a tremendous signal to the world about a new Canada, a Canada that understands we need to work with the rest of the world on climate change," she said.

"You're going to see the full force of Canada, the premiers and the Prime Minister, energetically addressing this issue."

Trudeau must show 'Canada is back in the G20'

Another can't-miss international engagement in Martin's opinion is the G20 Leaders' Summit. 

"I think it's very important when Mr. Trudeau is there that he indicate that Canada is back in the G20, and is here to stay and to play," he said, adding that he believes Trudeau's campaign commitments to run deficits and increase infrastructure spending will be warmly received by his G20 counterparts.

"There's a real recognition, in fact, that austerity is not going to get the world out of the funk in which it now is, and that governments are going to have to play an active role," Martin said. "So his message is going to be very well-taken."

Trudeau's immediate focus internationally should be on defining the role Canada intends to play on the world stage, Martin said.

"I think the most important thing is the tone that the new Prime Minister is going to set at these meetings," he said.

"And I think that new tone will be very much welcome."

Aboriginal issues a priority at home

Closer to home, the new Liberal government should be ready to act swiftly on its commitments to Canada's indigenous peoples, Martin said.

"It's going to be very important that the government indicate it's prepared to move on the shortfalls for funding for Aboriginal education, health care and welfare," he said, adding that he hadn't spoken with Trudeau yet since the election but that the two have "extensively" discussed Aboriginal issues.

Martin, who founded the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative, an organization aimed at helping to boost the graduation rates of aboriginal Canadians and to improve their education system, also discussed the role indigenous MPs may play in the new government.

10 indigenous candidates were elected in the 2015 election, including eight new Liberal MPs.

"They will certainly be given prominent roles," Martin said. "I've had the opportunity over the years to talk to the majority of them. These are really outstanding people."

"They're going to have a broader view than simply Aboriginal issues, but clearly their first focus is going to be the issues from the communities from which they've come," he added. 

"One of the good things about having so many [Aboriginal candidates] elected is that it's going to give Canadians a real opportunity to see the quality of the people who have been elected, and the quality of these people who are in these communities right across the country. I think that's going to be very helpful in terms of the Canadian perspective."

Three things to watch for from the new government

Freeland said Canadians can expect the new government to move "with alacrity and with care" on their campaign promises, including commitments to indigenous peoples.

In its first 100 days, the Toronto MP said the Liberal government's top domestic priority will be the middle-class tax cut that will reduce the tax rate from 22.5 per cent to 20 per cent for individuals earning between $44,700 and $89,401 a year. 

But Canadians can also expect "to see from us a real embrace of a multicultural Canada," Freeland said.

"They should also expect to see from us a Canada which is an enthusiastic and engaged participant in the world community, in all the multilateral organizations."

"For me personally, my commitment is equally strong to the people who didn't vote for me," she added.

"We heard from Justin Trudeau that approach on Monday night. We're really going to work hard to be a government for all Canadians."