April 14, 2014

Canada’s potential influence in East Asia

Filed under: Cancon, China, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

In The Diplomat, Anthony V. Rinna looks at Canada’s rather history of diplomatic and cultural exchanges with China:

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has noticeably changed his stance toward China. Previously, the Conservative prime minister maintained a hard line against the PRC based on what he perceived as a poor human rights record. That position has softened over recent years. This seems to be part of a broader strategy aimed at transforming Canada, traditionally Atlanticist in its political leanings, into a leading actor in the Asia-Pacific. Specifically there is ample opportunity for Canada and China to enter into a symbiotic energy relationship. China of course desperately needs energy, and wants a diverse base of suppliers. Canada, in turn, is a major energy producer and exporter and would find a very willing customer in China.

Among the Western democracies, Canada has something of a history as a catalyst vis-à-vis the West’s relations with China. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was the first Western leader to open up to China, starting in 1970 when Canada officially recognized the government in Beijing as the legitimate government of the land (and the stage had been set for this by Trudeau’s predecessor, John Diefenbaker). Although Hugh Stevens of TransPacific Connections attributes Canada’s renewed interest in strengthening ties with China in part to following the lead of the U.S. “pivot” toward Asia, Canada has the potential to again be a leader and innovator in its own right. Canada’s own unthreatening position can only help.

While Canada’s relationship with China is largely based on trade and investment, military relations between Canada and China continue to develop apace, well beyond the conventional placement of military attachés at each country’s respective embassies in Beijing and Ottawa. In March 2012, then-Canadian Chief of Staff General Walter Natyncyk participated in a high-level visit to China and met with top brass from the People’s Liberation Army. In August 2013, Robert Nicholson, who had become Canada’s Minister of Defence only a month earlier, held talks with his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan on deepening Sino-Canadian military cooperation.


Canada has used its position to ease Asia-Pacific tensions in the past, for instance during the South China Sea Dialogues in the mid-1990s. James Manicom of the Centre for International Governance Innovation argues that the Track II-style of Canadian involvement in the 1990s may no longer be appropriate or effective given the rise in regional tensions. Nevertheless, as Canada’s military engagement with China increases, this still leaves the possibility of Canada playing a role in soothing regional tensions on an official level.

Ottawa has positive relations with the other states with territorial interests and disputes in the South China Sea. For instance, 49 percent of Indonesians say they have a positive view of Canada (and only 16 percent express a negative view). In line with its progressive stance toward China in the 1970s, Canada also recognized Vietnam diplomatically toward the end of the U.S.-led Vietnam War (whereas the U.S. only normalized relations with that country late in the administration of President Bill Clinton). Thus, Canada may be in a position to assist not only as a third node in a Canada-China-U.S. strategic triangle, but also to use its own diplomatic clout hand-in-hand with its growing military ties to China to work between China, the U.S. and U.S. partners in the region, many of whom have called for American assistance in counterbalancing China.

March 31, 2014

Dimitri Soudas departs, Tories now looking for fourth executive director in six months

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:45

Paul Wells exhausted his supply of italics and exclamation marks in this breathless tale of inside baseball the federal Tory party:

“Today I am writing to direct your full attention to the Confidential Memo I received today from Dimitri Soudas, the dynamic new Executive Director of the Conservative Party hand-picked by Prime Minister Harper,” Sen. Irving Gerstein wrote in a letter to Conservative donors dated 16 days ago.

Soudas had written to Gerstein — Confidentially! — to make a “new, urgent and pressing request” to raise $1.23 million within 90 days, a “critical need” that was “essential in keeping our Conservative Majority in power — and keeping Stephen Harper as Canada’s Prime Minister.” Well, like you, I’m sure Gerstein dropped everything upon receiving this Confidential Memo from dynamic hand-picked Dimitri — or DHPD as he’s known in tippy-top Conservative circles — so he could rush that memo out to donors. Nancy! Cancel lunch at the wading pool. We’ve got a red-ball from Hand-Picked Dimitri! Start licking the envelopes — this one’s a Code Seven!

And barely two weeks later it has all turned to ashes, because three days after Hand-Picked Dimitri sent his Confidential Memo to Irv describing the urgent, pressing, critical, essential crisis menacing Stephen Harper’s very future and — as if this even needed saying! — the Commonwealth’s along with it, Hand-Picked Dimitri reportedly drove his life partner Eve Adams to a riding-association meeting in Oakville-North Burlington, where Adams is not the incumbent MP, and waited outside in the hall while she made enough of a scene to get herself kicked out. Then he fired the guy who wrote to the party complaining about her behaviour. What a coincidence.


This latest uproar is more of a sensation in the Queensway bubble than in the real world, where most people had the luxury of not knowing who Soudas is. It contributes to the feeling that Harper’s majority mandate has been snakebit. Lately when the PM sticks in his thumb he has not managed to handpick many plums: Mike Duffy, Nigel Wright, Marc Nadon, Soudas. Tonight it emerged that Justin Trudeau swore at a charity boxing match. The PM’s spokesman said the incident spoke poorly of Trudeau’s judgment.

March 29, 2014

A Conservative reading of Canadian history

Filed under: Cancon, History, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:33

David Akin notes that Stephen Harper’s self-appointed task — to change the narrative from a Liberal view of Canada to a Conservative one — is still underway. He points to a recent speech by John Baird as proof:

Both his fans and his critics agree on one thing about Stephen Harper. He wants to transform the country, so Canadians will come to see his Conservatives and not the Liberals as the natural governing party.

By the election of 2015, he will have done much in that regard.

But to make that work endure, the Conservatives need history on their side. They need a narrative of Canada in which Conservative Party values are integral to the story. Voters who buy this history will then turn to Conservative leaders as the default choice in this century the way Canadians turned to Liberal leaders by default in the last century.


“As I reflect on Diefenbaker’s legacy,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said this week, “I realise that our past makes me optimistic about our future. What we can offer the world is more important, not less. More relevant, not less. I think that it is fair to say our country has defied the low expectations of ‘middle power’. We have defied it with the ambition of leading rather than following.”

Baird’s 2,000-word speech was a neat encapsulation of this Conservative view of our history. There was a brief mention of Dief’s Bill of Rights, but much talk about how the Chief stood up to Soviet communism, just as Harper is standing up to Russian imperialism today.

“We are builders and pioneers,” Baird said. “We are warriors when war is thrust upon us, and we are compassionate when confronted by catastrophe.”

Professional historians have been taking issue with Conservatives for this reading of history but their argument is a column for another day.

Today, it’s worth marking Baird’s speech as a manifesto, a rationale for the Harper government’s decision to spend millions marking the War of 1812, and millions more for upcoming First World War commemorations.

It is through the re-telling of these stories that Harper hopes Conservatives will be able to displace Liberals as Canada’s “natural governing party”.

March 12, 2014

Quebec federalist leader calls for more concessions to Quebec (of course)

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:55

It’s apparently come to the attention of even soi disant federalists in Quebec that the rest of Canada is still taking advantage of Quebec and that concessions will be needed to begin to make amends for all our exploitation of that downtrodden province:

The leader of federalist forces in the Quebec election says Canadians from coast to coast should be prepared to make concessions to the province if there is any hope dealing once and for all with the recurring threats to national unity.

With an ascendant Parti Québécois seeking re-election and speaking bullishly about a new push for independence, angst outside of the province’s borders is noticeably higher in this election than in previous campaigns since the failed 1995 referendum on sovereignty.

The surprise candidacy for the PQ of multi-millionaire media titan Pierre Karl Péladeau, majority shareholder of Quebecor and the Sun newspaper chain, has only ratcheted up that tension, a rare across-the-board endorsement in an open letter signed by leading sovereigntists, including former PQ leaders Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry as well as ex-Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe.


Couillard raised the spectre of a new push for a constitutional amendment that would recognized Quebec as a “distinct” society in Canada. This after two failed attempts at Meech Lake in 1987 and Charlottetown in 1992 and the refusal of former PQ premier René Levesque to sign the repatriated Canadian Constitution in 1982.

The federal government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused the idea of re-opening the Constitution to introduce an elected Senate or to set term limits for Senators. The federal Conservative leader has said repeatedly there is no willingness in the country for another heart-wrenching round of talks that, if they fail, could breathe new life into the grievances of those who want an independent Quebec.

Harper contented himself with passing a 2006 motion in the House of Commons that recognized “the Quebecois as a nation within a united Canada,” but it carries no specific obligations or responsibilities of Ottawa and affords no new powers to the province.


March 9, 2014

Prime Minister jets off to South Korea for trade deal photo-op

Filed under: Asia, Cancon, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:32

It’s not clear whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper is going to Seoul to actually sign a free trade agreement with South Korea or if it’s just another grip-and-grin photo-op to announce an as-yet-unfinalized deal:

Harper said on his 24 Seven webcast that this would be Canada’s first trade deal in the Asia-Pacific region.

“It adds, obviously, to the important deals we have in the Americas and in Europe now. And it’s really given the Canadian economy as good, if not better, free-trade access than virtually every major developed economy,” he said.

Harper added that South Korea is “a relatively open economy, a relatively, very progressive economy and advanced democracy, and it has trade linkages all through Asia itself.” He said it’s “probably the best gateway you can get into long-term trade agreement access into the Asia-Pacific region.”

NDP trade critic Don Davies said growing trade with South Korea and Asia in general is a good thing. But he was skeptical that the week’s coming ceremonies would amount to much more of a repeat of Brussels.

“Are they going to go just to shake hands, have a photo-op and sign an agreement-in-principle without the actual details or text to be released?”

Davies again assailed the government for a total lack of transparency, and questioned whether the deal would be able to protect jobs in Canada’s auto sector.

“In trade deals, it’s details that matter,” he said.

“The Conservatives have the least transparent trade policy probably in the developed world. They are closed, they are secretive and they don’t involve a lot of stakeholders; they don’t involve the opposition.”

The deal would mark progress toward expanding trade with Asia, a major economic priority of the Harper government. Coming on the heels of the Canada-EU pact, it would allow Prime Minister Stephen Harper to trumpet his first significant free-trade deal in Asia, and give impetus to other negotiations, particularly with Japan.

March 3, 2014

Manning confab surprisingly not a hotbed of anti-Harper conspiracies

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:41

At least, that’s the take of Paul Wells:

It is indeed tempting to see the Manning Networking Conference, an annual mostly conservative group hug whose 2014 edition wrapped up yesterday, as the expression of some fringe opposition to Harperism. Preston Manning himself is too gentle to make such a case himself, but clearly he wants to open up a little room for debate on the right end of Canadian politics.

The theme of this year’s meeting was “Next Steps,” and at times it felt like a beauty contest for potential post-Harper Conservative Party leadership candidates. Jim Prentice was here, and Brad Wall, and Jason Kenney and James Moore speaking simultaneously in different rooms. And there were tantalizing bursts of heterodoxy. Mike Chong showed up to peddle his Reform Act, but Jay Hill, pressed into service to rebut him on behalf of Conservative party orthodoxy as a former chief whip, expressed his own wish that the level of partisanship in the Commons could be reduced through more modest rule changes. Prentice asked Conservatives to be nice to environmentalists and First Nations organizations. Manning was skeptical about Pierre Poilievre’s Fair Elections Act. A pollster said the Trudeau pot ads aren’t working. Brad Wall suggested there’s room for more big thinking in Ottawa, and told me he wishes Stephen Harper would get back to China sooner rather than later. Even staunch loyalists felt free to sing the Conservative song their own way instead of the PMO’s. James Moore argued his is “the party of nation-building;” decried most provinces’ willingness to let Canadian history remain an optional subject in high school; and talked up a program called Ready, Willing and Able that helps working-age Canadians with developmental disabilities find good work.


But you didn’t have to scratch the veneer of anti-Harperism, or even cheerful non-Harperism, hard at all before it came peeling right off. I couldn’t find anyone, even from the more centrist reaches of the party, even speaking on guarantees of anonymity, who felt Harper should be put out to pasture promptly so one of this weekend’s guest speakers could replace him. Wall told me he doesn’t want the job and couldn’t fulfill one of its main requirements — speaking serviceable French — even if he was interested. While Prentice spoke, people came streaming out of the conference hall cradling their heads and remarking on how, well, boring he was. And representatives of down-the-line Harperite orthodoxy, like Pierre Poilievre, showed up with a smile, shook a lot of hands and listened to the discussions, and left without (as far as I could discern) taking down names for later extermination at the hands of the 25-year-olds in short pants. (Fun fact: the average age of PMO staffers today is about what it’s been at every point in my 20 years in Ottawa, and none of them wears short pants to work.)

February 24, 2014

Paul Wells on Justin’s speech, plus Harper in Zombieland

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:11

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells says that as a result of Justin Trudeau’s leadership of the Liberal Party, Canadian politics just got interesting:

“It is a fundamental economic responsibility for the Prime Minister of Canada to help get our resources to global markets,” Trudeau said. “More and more, the way to do that is with a robust environmental policy that gives assurances to our trading partners that those resources are being developed responsibly.”

That bland excerpt drew one of several long standing ovations. I’ve seen earlier Liberal crowds, for longer than I would ever have thought possible, haul themselves to their feet for jarring, overly laboured, awkward or barely comprehensible lines delivered by a succession of over-credentialed stumblebums. This was different. This enthusiasm came more naturally to this audience.

In interviews on my book tour I’ve used a gruesome analogy to explain Stephen Harper’s success at keeping his Conservative base long after Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark started to lose theirs (in Mulroney’s case, through the spectacular defection of thousands of militants and millions of voters to the upstart Reform Party). To people who spend their lives calling themselves conservatives, Clark and Mulroney weren’t conservative. In an early episode of the TV show Walking Dead, post-apocalyptic humans realize that if they smell like zombies they can walk among them. Stephen Harper smells like a conservative to Conservatives. They trust him and will go far with him, even when the direction seems uncertain or confusing.

Justin Trudeau is the first Liberal leader since Jean Chrétien who smells like a Liberal to Liberals. And in the most intriguing part of the speech, he set about doing to Harper what Harper has been so energetically doing to one Liberal leader after another: peeling the party base off the leader.

“Many Canadians who voted Conservative last time are beginning to cast a weary eye on this government,” he said.

“I say this to the grassroots Conservatives out there, in communities across this country. We might not agree all the time on everything. We might disagree about a great many things, but I know we can agree on this: Negativity cannot be this country’s lifeblood. It may be the way of the Conservative Party’s of Canada current leadership, but it is not the way of those Canadians who voted Conservative.”

February 20, 2014

Even when he does nothing, Justin still gets great press

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:18

Paul Wells discusses the upcoming Liberal Party convention in Montreal, and the evergreen topic of Justin Trudeau’s ability to get loving press coverage even when he’s not doing or saying anything at all:

… Justin Trudeau, whose party has led the others in national polls for 10 months. Since Trudeau has been the Liberal leader for the same length of time, he has become a figure of some fascination, not least among the members and supporters of other parties. They are convinced the coltish young man, who first set foot in 24 Sussex Drive at the same moment he first set foot anywhere at all, has been given a free ride by the press gallery. Not just a free ride: a leg up. Perhaps even a leg over. In my own case I’ve gone about it in odd fashion, by publishing a 400-page book about Stephen Harper whose thesis is that the Prime Minister is eternal, but you knew I was devious when you walked in.

The Liberals’ opponents have compensated for the gallery’s failure to give Trudeau proper scrutiny by scruting him as hard as they can. The Conservatives have spent millions of dollars on commercial radio ads — in Punjabi, Cantonese, Mandarin and English — warning parents that Trudeau will give their kids marijuana. The Liberals have spent large sums rebutting the Conservative ads with their own. This fight has been going on for four months and may now stand as the most sustained bout of pre-writ campaign advertising in your lifetime. Newspaper reporters, who do not listen to commercial radio and are not sure they believe it exists, have covered almost none of it.

But if the Conservatives attack Trudeau for four months on the radio — and every day in the Commons, and almost as often in email blasts to Conservative donors — and the Liberals still lead, are the Conservative attacks failing? Hard to know. Maybe the Liberals would be less popular if the Conservative back bench and Ezra Levant stopped talking about him. Or maybe they’d be riding even higher, carried aloft on the praise of complacent scribes. Politics rarely lets us test counterfactuals properly.

But if Trudeau’s big mouth reliably gets him into trouble — a proposition routinely argued by his opponents while they are on breaks from trying to get him into trouble — then the Liberals’ Montreal convention is a risky proposition for him. He has two big speeches scheduled there, one on Thursday and a second on Saturday. If his jaw is a shovel custom-built to dig his political grave, he will have two chances to dig deep.

I must commend whoever it was in the Liberal war room that suggested the Tories get “Justin”-themed rolling papers printed up. Even the Conservatives — who have been known for generations for laughably bad political notions — might not have come up with something so dumb without help.

January 28, 2014

CETA provisions still secret, even though the deal is agreed

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:13

It’s an odd day that I find myself in full agreement with anything the Council of Canadians pushes, but as Glyn Moody explains, this is not the way to get Canadians to buy in to a new trade deal:

Back in November, we reported that the EU and Canada were claiming that “a political agreement” on the key elements of the Canada-EU trade agreement, CETA, had been reached. One of the supposed reasons why the negotiations were being conducted in secret was that it was “obviously” not possible to release texts while talks were still going on — even though that is precisely how WIPO operates. So, now that key parts of the CETA have been agreed upon, presumably the public will finally get to see at least those sections of the text, right? Apparently not, as the Council of Canadians found when it put in a freedom of information request to the Canadian government:

    The federal government has denied an access to information request from the Council of Canadians for the working text of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The grassroots public advocacy organization is accusing the Conservative government of unnecessarily depriving Canadians of the information they need to pass judgement on CETA, and of any opportunity to alter the deal before it is signed.

    “It’s a new year, but we’re seeing the same old secrecy from the Harper government. How is anyone expected to say yes or no to this EU deal if Ottawa is not prepared to release it publicly before CETA is signed, sealed and delivered?” asks Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “The Prime Minister is misleading Canadians by claiming the CETA negotiations are the most transparent in Canadian history. A fully redacted copy of the text would be more transparent than this.”

This exposes nicely the dishonesty of governments around the world when they claim that regrettably they “have” to keep texts secret, but will release them just as soon as they can. Here, we have major parts of CETA that have been agreed upon and where there is no need to keep them secret — apart, that is, from the real reason why there is no transparency: because the governments concerned know that once the public find out how they have been let down by their representatives, there will be widespread outrage. In a blatant attempt to stifle democratic debate, it has become standard practice with these trade agreements only to release the texts after they have been passed, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

January 13, 2014

The book burnings – “Ottawa is not quite 15th-century Florence or Nazi-era Berlin”

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:46

Even the Toronto Star — never a friend of Stephen Harper or his government — expresses some skepticism about the widely discussed “book burnings”:

Rumours of book burnings in Ottawa have been greatly exaggerated. And the unfortunate effect has been to distract from real concerns about the preservation of our scientific heritage.

The hyperbole seems to have grown out of early reports on the ongoing closure of seven of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ 11 libraries. At least one scientist, concerned that rare and valuable literature would be lost, likened the move to the book-burnings of totalitarian European governments of the 1930s. This comparison was literalized in later stories, which had DFO employees actually burning manuscripts from the dismantled collections.

But the government denies that any books have been incinerated; there are no eye-witness accounts; and, frankly, the story lacks the ring of truth. What government with a modicum of sense would choose to dispose of books in such a cartoonishly fascistic manner?

Yet while Ottawa is not quite 15th-century Florence or Nazi-era Berlin, the government’s approach to the closures does raise disquieting questions.

The decision to shut the libraries may make sense. The physical collections in question received an average of 5 to 12 in-person visits last year, and the department says consolidation will save roughly $440,000. But many scientists are rightly concerned that some of the hundreds of thousands of documents in DFO’s collection – many of them rare, some one-of-a-kind – will not be preserved. “It’s not clear what will be kept and what will be lost,” Jeff Hutchings, a renowned marine biologist, told the CBC.

H/T to Colby Cosh, who commented:

November 7, 2013

Harper’s convention speech – no wonder he ignored the senate scandal

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:21

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells explains why Stephen Harper decided not to say anything substantive about the senate scandal in his big speech at the Conservative convention. In short, it would be all drawbacks and no benefits to say any more than he did:

Some commentators hoped Harper would use his speech to the Conservatives to explain why any of this makes sense. Perhaps we should not be surprised that Harper decided not to rise to that challenge.

The Prime Minister’s twists and turns on the Senate affair would break a snake’s back. There is no explaining them. In the insane hypothesis that Harper had tried to explain them in Calgary, the first question we would have asked afterward is why he waited from May until November to do it. So essaying an explanation now would not really have helped. It’s just a mess, a sinkhole of judgment whose radius is very much larger than the distance between Harper’s office and the one Wright used to occupy. As another former Harper spokesman once said, more than a decade ago and in very different circumstances, “This turd won’t polish.”

So why bother? For a man whose goal is to endure as prime minister long enough to change the country, this question would have occurred to Harper very early. One can imagine him thinking something like this:

“I could try to explain away the behaviour of my appointees and the zigzags in my own response to it. I could spend the next few months talking about the terrible judgment of my plutocrat fixer-in-chief and my TV-star Senate appointee. I could air, in public, questions that will probably be tried in courts of law later, and make spotting the contradictions a national parlour game.

“Or I could talk about some other stuff.”

Easy to see why he decided to talk about other stuff.

The other big talking point of the convention was how the Conservatives kept the press cordoned off from pretty much any opportunity to talk to delegates or cover any of the events. The press collectively found themselves held in the same contempt that so many of them express for the Tories in general and Harper in particular:

Reporters were cooped up in a filing room without potable water or free WiFi. Three of the convention’s four halls were closed to reporters for the duration, and when we ventured past an imaginary line on the floor of the fourth, volunteers in blue pushed us back. After his speech, Harper and his band played classic-rock hits at a casino next to the convention centre; reporters were barred.

In its details, this cheerful contempt was an extension and refinement of the treatment Harper used to reserve for the press corps. As late as 2011, I could walk around on the floor of a Conservative party convention at leisure and unharassed. The Conservative party had meetings to decide how much further to tighten the cordon sanitaire, appointed staffers to enforce it who might have been given other tasks. A few Harper supporters will be delighted to hear we were denied our “perks,” as if water and freedom of association are luxuries. Here again, Harper was just being Harper. It’s worked for him for nearly a decade. He won’t stop now.

October 23, 2013

Perhaps the “starve the beast” plan is working

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:05

In Maclean’s, Stephen Gordon provides an updated look at the Harper government’s ongoing “starve the beast” policy:

Canadian federal government revenues and expenditure, 1960-2013

Canadian federal government revenues and expenditure, 1960-2013

As I’ve written before, the Conservatives have applied the “starve the beast strategy“: First, cut taxes; second, cut spending in order to match lower revenues; third, obtain a balanced-budget for a smaller government. As the red line in the chart shows, the Harper government was temporarily thrown off this past by the financial crisis, which required emergency stimulus spending. They are, however, back on track.

Once again though, we need to be careful to see that the government’s revenues are back above expenditures (so the yearly deficit has been reduced over time), but the government’s outstanding debts are still quite substantial: $892 billion for 2012-13. As long as interest rates stay low, the debt should start to decline, but if-and-when interest rates rise, so will that big pile of accumulated debt.

October 19, 2013

CETA as a lever to (finally) loosen rules on inter-provincial trade

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:18

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells thinks that the new free trade deal between Canada and the European Union will be one of the historical successes of Stephen Harper’s career, but also notes it has a potentially great domestic influence:

Flip it around. Every delay in reaching an agreement with the EU on freer trade in goods and services has been merrily mocked by a few critics in the gallery, yours truly first among them. And if Stephen Harper had failed to conclude this deal, having taken negotiations this far, he would have durably wrecked Canada’s reputation as a serious trading nation.

(That goes doubly so now that Canada and the EU have reached an agreement in principle. Could it still fall apart? It could, although my test on this, for reasons I explained long ago, is the reaction of the Europeans. I’m told there is no love lost between Harper and José Manuel Barroso; Barroso would not waste time in Brussels on an empty dog and pony show so Harper could duck a few questions about Mike Duffy. The Europeans think this is real. For now we should take today’s announcement at face value. The Council of Canadians sure does.)

Well, if delay was worth criticism and failure would have been read as a career-threatening personal defeat, success must be counted as a personal triumph for Stephen Harper. When his political career ends, this is one of the first three things the newspapers will mention.

But as he notes, there’s a long-term, nagging domestic trade issue that might also improve under the new international agreement:

Best of all, any advantage offered by any province and its municipalities to European importers must, in simple logic, be made available to businesses from other Canadian provinces. This accord will act powerfully to deepen the still fragmented internal Canadian market. In a week when some cabinet ministers were turning cartwheels because it will now be legal to drive from Hull to Ottawa with a bottle of wine, that’s an overdue change. I’m on the record being skeptical Harper couldn’t close this deal, and I’m happy to eat crow. This CETA deal will be the most powerful pro-market accomplishment of any Canadian government in a quarter century.

As Wells correctly notes, this isn’t a true free trade deal but it’s a “free-r trade” agreement that moves us a few notches closer to actual free trade with the EU. Regulators and bureaucrats of all stripes will still have a lot of say in what goods and services are actually exchanged between the signatories, but that will still be less than the influence they currently wield.

October 17, 2013

Yesterday’s throne speech

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:13

The big news from yesterday’s throne speech appears to be that there was no big news. In Maclean’s, John Geddes sounds underwhelmed:

To my ear, the pro-consumer rhetoric is flat. The job-creation talk is slightly better, but still pretty prosaic. I think these Conservatives know what they want to say, and how they want to say it, much better when it comes to Canadian history and the Canadian military.

So the opposition parties should be worried when they hear the revving of the 2017 Anniversary of Confederation engines. That’s a huge political marketing opportunity. Next year’s centennial of the start of World War I isn’t bad either. I was surprised, however, that the Tories risked tarnishing the history-commemoration theme by linking it closely to, of all things, the Senate. “The road to 2017 is a fitting time to strengthen our institutions and democratic processes,” the throne speech said, segueing awkwardly from great moments in Canadian history to the depressing present reality of Parliament’s upper chamber.

On the military, the throne speech hit some effectively brassy notes. For instance, touting their purchase of transport aircraft for the air force, it said: “No longer does Canada have to hitch a ride with out allies. Our serving men and women can now carry out their vital missions.” That’s good, straightforward material. The challenge will be sustaining that tone as the Department of National Defence moves from expanding to cutting.

Paul Wells considers this the government’s moment to “seize Canada’s moment, and suffocate it”:

In an excellent season for Canadian literature, the Prime Minister will pay personal tribute to Stephen Leacock by riding madly off in all directions.

He will introduce balanced-budget legislation as reliable and airtight as his fixed-election legislation. He will sell off federal assets, if he feels like it. He will encourage foreign investment, if he likes it. He will, by state fiat, find the Franklin Expedition. He’ll release a new science strategy. He’ll “crack down on predatory payday lenders,” something he already did once this year when he fired Nigel Wright. He’ll implement the Leslie Report on moving military resources from National Defence Headquarters to someplace more useful — not because the report’s ideas were self-evidently useful, but because Andrew Leslie is now in the business of giving ideas to Justin Trudeau. He’ll make Malala a Canadian citizen. He will celebrate the hell out of Canada’s 150th birthday.

Somewhere in there, at about the point where Tom Hanks would be starting to feel mighty thirsty if this had been a screening of Captain Phillips, there are a few paragraphs about consumer rights. Far less than there is about the 150th birthday celebrations. And far, far less than there is about continuing to crack down on criminals, people who look like criminals, people who might be criminals, and people who might know where there are some criminals. But the PMO assiduously leaked these table scraps about consumer protections for days before the big read, and everyone played the consumer stuff up big in the pre-throne-speech stories, and the CBC spent two hours talking nonstop about the “consumer agenda” after the speech as though there had actually been one in it. The great thing about leaking news is that you can create news where there is none, durably, long after your ruse should have been noticed. No wonder it’s so addictive.

September 27, 2013

Harper and climate change … spending

Filed under: Cancon, Environment, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:07

David Akin points out that all the major federal parties believe the same thing about climate change, except that the Tories are the ones who’ve been chucking around the money on climate change programs:

The simple fact of Canadian politics here is that, if you do not believe in climate change, there is no federal political party that shares your view. There almost was one in Alberta in its last provincial election but, boy, did that idea get shouted down.

But back to what [former environment minister Peter] Kent said to me in that interview:

“There is no question that since the Industrial Revolution there have been anthropogenic, man-made effects on our global climate. The argument continues in the scientific community how much is evolution and how much is man-made but there is certainly something we can do.”

So what is the something that the Harper government has been doing? Well, truth be told, the Harper Conservatives, like the Martin and Chretien Liberals before them, have not been doing very much. None of them, in fact, got the job done. Which might, come to think of it, be a good reason — if climate change is the only thing you’re voting on — to consider choosing the NDP or the Greens next time around. Not to say they’d actually get it done but it’s pretty clear the other two parties, while they talk a good game, just don’t have the political stomach for the job. Those New Democrats brought us universal health care. Maybe they can fix the environment, too.

Still, that doesn’t mean Conservatives aren’t prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars — billions even — on a problem they are accused of not admitting even exists. Take biofuels, for example. Early on, the Harper government got the idea that if corn- or plant-based ethanol displaced enough fossil fuels, we’d easily roll back greenhouse gas emissions. Apparently no one bothered to point out that there is serious doubt that corn-based ethanol is actually a lower-emission alternative to fossil fuels but why complicate things? Ethanol is a good, solid, job-creating green story!

In the long run, the subsidies and outright gifts of government money to green-ish sounding companies will likely be the only reminders of the great global warming panic of the last decade. Certainly little or no actual environmental improvements will be traced to the billions of dollars doled out to cronies under this government.

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