In the dying minutes of 2019’s inaugural question period, Erin Weir, former New Democrat MP sitting in exile, mocked the Canadian government for recognizing “an opposition MP declaring himself President of Venezuela.”
“I wish I had thought of that,” said Weir tongue-in-cheek. “I am going to resist the temptation to declare myself Prime Minister of Canada.”
Already in economic tailspin, Venezuela has been in political turmoil since May of 2018 following a protested election that saw late-President Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked successor Nicolas Maduro win nearly 70 per cent of the vote.
Skyrocketing inflation and mass unemployment have made millions of Venezuelans their country’s primary export, after oil. For those who hadn’t yet fled, Maduro’s swear-in on January 10th was cause for mass protests, some of which gave way to street battles with authorities.
After nearly two weeks of unrest, on January 22nd Canada joined Australia, United States and the Lima Group of 12 South and Central American nations in backing Juan Guaido, National Assembly president, as interim leader, “supporting his commitment to lead Venezuela to free and fair presidential elections.”
Predictably, a host of authoritarian regimes including Russia, China, Cuba and Iran have backed Maduro.
“Is Canadian government policy now to endorse coups?” asked Weir of the government.
A week ago, in condemning the violence of the Maduro regime NDP leader Jagmeet Singh provided a milquetoast advisory – by New Democrat standards – against supporting American interventionism.
“Canada should not simply follow the U.S.’s foreign policy, particularly given its history of self-interested interference in the region,” Singh said in a statement amidst ambiguities like leaving leadership decisions “in the hands of Venezuelans,” while “advocat(ing) for the United Nations to be involved.”
But Weir, who still wants back into the NDP after being punted last year under a cloud of unproven harassment allegations, just cut to the chase.
In the process, however, he handed the ruling party another opportunity to differentiate itself from the NDP – on a range of issues, the Liberals appear nearly indistinguishable from New Democrats; whether it be support for the Iran nuclear deal; immigration policy or plugging Canada into IPCC global warming/carbon tax sinkholes.
With her government neck deep in another diplomatic crisis with China, Foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland seized on Weir’s question. “If the NDP members cannot take a firm and clear stance on the fight of the people of Venezuela for democracy, I do not know what they can take a clear position on.” Freeland proclaimed, bashing the third party for “defence of a dictatorship that has killed hundreds and injured thousands of peaceful protesters.
And even within the confines of Liberals’ and New Democrats’ shared distaste of U.S. President Donald J. Trump, Freeland found room for nuance prefacing her onslaught by urging Weir to ask former colleague Niki Ashton, “the member from Churchill” for an apology to Canadians for tweeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau now supported ‘Trump’s regime change agenda and Brazil’s fascist President’.
After their Commons exchange, Weir clarrified his remarks in an interview.
“I did not say that Guaidó declaring himself president was a coup. I did ask whether the Canadian government would support coups against all the other governments around the world whose democratic legitimacy could be questioned,” he said. “It’s one thing to challenge or criticize foreign governments. It’s quite another to start recognizing alternative governments of foreign countries. Where does that end?”
If the purported end game were a total annihilation of the Venezuelan economy, six years of Maduro’s transitional rule following Chavez’s death the country has practically reached that point.
Through Chavez’s 14 years in power and the quasi-dictatorship of Maduro, Venezuela’s sovereign debt grew to $150 billion while the government printed currency to cover increased costs of providing enhanced domestic services.
In 2018, inflation hit 80,000 per cent as prices doubled every five days on average.
Following question period Freeland strode into the Commons’ lobby and doubled down on the tough talk, describing the Maduro regime as “illegitimate” while announcing talks with the Lima Group in Ottawa on Monday, February 4th, to search for a political solution.
Meanwhile, the United States has implemented sanctions against the South American petrol-state, and has warned the Maduro government against jailing political opponents and closing bank accounts belonging to Guaido; threats Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek Saab has already made.
Late yesterday the Venezualan courts slapped a travel ban on Guaido.