Embattled leftist Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made his career on apologizing for his country’s alleged “colonialism” and vows to appease the green left. Yet even the threat of war was not enough to get his government to pick up its trash halfway around the world, dumped on an indigenous president.
The Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has spent most of the past two months pleading, urging, and ultimately threatening Trudeau to take back tons of household garbage inexplicably dumped on his country during a prior administration. The trash is rotting in a Manila port, threatening the ecosystem of a stunning tropical nation as part of a diplomatic move that can only be described as a slap in the face to one of the world’s few indigenous presidents. Canadian officials keep claiming they will eventually handle the situation but postponing action, clearly unbothered by the urgency of the country suffering the consequences of this.
In Canada, Trudeau – coronated the “moral leader of the free world” by some of the sadder elements of the American anti-Trump elite – promised, “breaking free from colonial structures is something we’ll do together, with respect for indigenous leadership.” In the Philippines, Trudeau has shown no indication he respects Duterte as a fellow head of state at all – in their last meeting haranguing him over how to properly run his country, according to Duterte – raising questions as to what it is about Duterte and the Philippines that makes his a less worthy government to esteem than, say, Cuba’s.
It is true Trudeau did not give the order to send the trash there. That happened in 2013 and 2014, when the Canadian government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to an agreement with Manila to send over 100 containers of what it claimed to be recyclables to the Philippines. Instead, Ottawa approved the shipment of dozens of giant containers of household trash: rotting food, dirty diapers, styrofoam, and other non-biodegradable materials. The shipment unequivocally violates international law – specifically, the United Nations Basel Convention on shipping garbage, which Canada has both signed and ratified.
“I will declare war against them. I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to,” Dutetre proclaimed in April. “Your garbage is coming home.”
Trudeau promised to find a “Canadian process” to solve the problem but, as of this Wednesday, Duterte is still sitting cross-armed atop a pile of tons of Canadian trash. Canadian Minister of Environment Catherine McKenna announced on Wednesday that Trudeau had hired a private corporation to take the garbage back, essentially once again making it somebody else’s problem, and that the process would not begin until the end of June. Duterte said no.
As with most of Duterte’s bombast not directed at impoverished Filipino citizens, Duterte also walked back his call to arms against the entire nation of Canada, and the trash remains in his hands. By Thursday, Duterte’s presidential office announced that it would hire a private company to send the garbage back immediately, essentially guaranteeing the same outcome as the Canadian plan a little earlier and at the expense of the Filipino taxpayer.
That move would not have been necessary if Trudeau had simply respected Duterte’s call for Canada to stop behaving like a rogue state, disregarding outrage over their flagrant violation of international law. That the law broken is an environmental one serves as a reminder that among the things many on the left loved the most about Trudeau was his alleged commitment to green policies.
“Climate change is an immediate and significant threat to our communities and our economy,” the Liberal Party website proclaims, under a giant photo of Justin Trudeau’s face. “[Former prime minister] Stephen Harper has had nearly a decade to take action on climate change but has failed to do so. His lack of leadership has tarnished Canada’s reputation abroad, making it harder for Canadian businesses to compete.”
McKenna, Trudeau’s Environment Minister, has moved for an official declaration of a “climate emergency” in Canada. Trudeau himself has imposed an economically crippling “carbon tax” on the country intended to reduce emissions.
It should be a priority for an administration like this to stop contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and yet no one in Trudeau’s administration is in any rush on the issue.
In the United States, at least the right has noticed.
“I was shocked that he would send his garbage to the Philippines—a struggling third-world country needs more Canadian garbage?” Fox News host Tucker Carlson noted in April, when Duterte first threatened war. “I mean it just seems so insensitive, and that seemed like … a form of colonialism, garbage colonialism. Why is he sending his hair gel bottles to Manila? It just seems like white privilege to me.”
Duterte had Trudeau’s number years ago. Following what Duterte claimed was a cringeworthy lecture on human rights from Prime Minister Oscar the Grouch in 2017, the Philippine president told reporters, “[I]t is a personal and official insult. … it angers me when you are a foreigner you do not know what is happening in this country.”
“I only answer to the Filipino. I will not answer to any other bullshit, especially foreigners. Lay off,” Duterte said.
Indigenous leaders have grown tired of having their concerns being treated as lesser in Canada, too.
“Why don’t you sit down with my people? Why don’t you talk to them?” a Tsleil-Waututh Nation member, Will George, asked Trudeau during an event on Wednesday in Vancouver, expressing frustration that Trudeau’s government is attempting to push an oil pipeline through indigenous territory with little input from the people who actually live there. “How dare you bring that through our waters?” George asked. “Those are our spiritual highways. You have no right to do that to us.”
Incidentally, the pipeline in question – the Trans Mountain pipeline – would also be an environmental disaster, those who live there allege.
The pattern is clear. Trudeau’s respect for locals’ wishes and the wellbeing of the earth ends where his political interests begin. Those interests have been battered by years of broken promises, condescension, and embarrassment, dimming his 2019 electoral prospects. But until Canada solves its own problems – from taking out their literal trash to cleaning up their halls of power – the rest of the world will be forced to continue to smell it.