TORONTO - By virtually any barometer, Italy is a major player for Canada. It is the 9th largest economy in the world; a significant trading partner for us (one in need of our valuable natural resources); the 4th most popular destination place for tourism; a centre for culture, innovation, design and cutting edge manufacturing, and, now most significantly, given our interests in having the CETA ratified, the 3rd largest economy in Europe (about 50% bigger than Canada by GDP).
Italy’s Diaspora comprises 5% of Canada’s population, one that continues to distinguish itself for its fierce attachment to Canada, its progressive forward-looking sense of nation-building, its self-reliance and its global perspectives.
Building on those assets, over the last several years, Canada’s relatively youthful leadership had begun to foster closer ties to their Italian counterpart. This was until recently, most notable in the relationship that was developing between the two Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau and his younger colleague, Matteo Renzi.
Alas, things have not been going well for that alliance and convergence of interests lately. Renzi, once (and still) a dynamic agent for change, is being challenged by the public and his Party, the ruling Democratic Party.
Italy, despite its culture and refinement, may well be home to the most unruly of populations. It is a characteristic cultivated over the millennia as the Peninsula became subjected to one invader after another. Over the latter part of 2016, dissatisfaction with Renzi gave birth to a slogan his political enemies used to “malign” the youthful Renzi: authority yes, but not authoritarianism.
It seemed that Nature and International events joined in a conspiracy to undermine his “decisiveness”.
The surprise Brexit outcome, and later the improbable victory of Trump, gave new life to the objections of an ever-intemperate Opposition. It claimed that Europe was of little use to Italy’s growing problems: a stagnant economy; unheard of levels of unemployment among women and millennials – approaching 55% in some regions of the South; 300,000 refugees literally “fished out of the waters” of the Mediterranean in the last two years (Canada has accommodated 30,000 in the last 16 months).
In August (and September), earthquakes levelled several towns and caused hundreds of casualties. That would test any leadership. Last week the price tag for rescue, reconstruction and restoration came in at a staggering 32 billion Canadian dollars.
Then, in December, he lost his bid to transform the political architecture of the Italian government, when the YES side suffered defeat in a national referendum. Some of the Leaders in his own Party urged on the NO vote. Italians, initially pleased to see Renzi as potentially the lead player in the remaking of Europe, turned the Referendum vote into a proxy battle against globalism and immigration.
Renzi resigned the Premiership, installed one of his loyalists as Prime Minister, shuffled his Cabinet and initiated the process for restructuring his Party. But, “it never rains unless it pours”. One of his close associates lost the vote to become President of the European Commission, to another Italian with Centre-Right background, in January.
During a PD convention to determine the party’s future last weekend, Renzi became the punching bag for every one who had a bone or a nit to pick with him. Renzi gave better than he got.
Practitioners of political science in Italy are artists in oratory and professionals in ideology and philosophy. It is a potent mixture that masks an otherwise naked thirst for power. There are “public intellectuals” by the dozens, none of them political waifs or ingénues.
Italians prefer their political strife to be resolved in the open. It makes for great theatre. But the PD is weakened and in tatters. Italy’s value to Canada as an ally in Europe and the World stage will suffer a temporary setback, at least until there is a political reset.