Quotulatiousness

September 14, 2014

The Franklin Expedition discovery as a tool in Canadian claims to the Arctic

Filed under: Cancon, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:26

Canada has long claimed sovereignty over the Arctic islands and the waterways around them. The United States disputes that claim, saying that the Northwest Passage is an international waterway. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been using the search for the Franklin Expedition to bolster Canadian claims, and the Guardian‘s Nicky Woolf reports disdainfully:

Apart from these findings, the fate of the expedition remained a mystery for almost 170 years – until this week, when the wreckage of one of the ships was found by a Canadian scientific team. Ryan Harris, one of the lead archaeologists on the expedition, said that finding the ship was “like winning the Stanley Cup”.

The official announcement of the find was made by Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada.

“This is truly a historic moment for Canada,” he said, in a bombastic statement to the press. “Franklin’s ships are an important part of Canadian history given that his expeditions, which took place nearly 200 years ago, laid the foundations of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.”

The certainty of the statement was perplexing to Suzanne Lalonde, a professor of international law at the University of Montreal. “I’ve been struggling with it – the way Prime Minister Harper announced the find as if there was a monumental confirmation of Canadian sovereignty,” she told the Guardian.

Canada’s position is that the North-West Passage is already Canadian. In an official statement to the Guardian, Christine Constantin, a spokeswoman for the Canadian embassy in Washington, said: “All waters of the Canadian Arctic archipelago, including the various waterways known as the ‘North-West Passage’, are internal waters of Canada … Canada’s sovereignty over its waters in the Arctic is longstanding and well established.

“No one disputes that the various waterways known as the ‘North-West Passage’ are Canadian waters.”

The routes usually taken to constitute the North-West Passage pass between Canada’s mainland territory and its Arctic islands.

August 31, 2014

Politispeak – describing a slower rate of increase as an absolute cut in funding

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Health, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:20

Paul Wells says the almost forgotten leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition in Parliament is doing his job, but illustrates it with a great example of how political rhetoric sometimes warps reality in favour of a more headline-worthy claim:

Here’s what he said: “After promising to protect all future increases to provincial transfers, Conservatives announced plans to cut $36 billion, starting in 2016,” Mulcair told the CMA. “This spring, Conservatives will announce, with great fanfare, that there is now a budget surplus. I’m here today to tell you that an NDP government would use any such surplus to, first and foremost, cancel those proposed cuts to health care.”

This needs parsing, but first, let’s let Mulcair finish: “Mr. Harper, it’s time to keep your word to protect Canadian health care. After giving Canada’s richest corporations $50 billion in tax breaks, don’t you dare take $36 billion out of health care to pay for them!” He said that part in English, then repeated it in French, which has become the way a Canadian politician delivers a line in italics.

Well. Let’s begin with the $36 billion. In December 2011, Jim Flaherty, then the federal finance minister, met his provincial colleagues to announce his plans for health transfers after a 10-year deal set by Paul Martin ran out in 2013-14. The 2004 Martin deal declared that cash transfers to the provinces for health care would increase by six per cent a year for 10 years. Harper simply kept implementing the Martin scheme after he became Prime Minister.

What Flaherty announced, without consulting with the provinces first, was that health transfers would keep growing at six per cent through 2016-17. Then, they would grow more slowly — how slowly would depend on the economy. The faster GDP grows, the faster transfers would grow. But, if the economy tanked, the rate of growth could fall as low as three per cent per year. Flaherty said this scheme would stay in place through 2023-24.

Add up all the shortfalls between three per cent and six per cent over seven years and you get a cumulative sum of $36 billion. Despite what Mulcair said, this isn’t a “cut,” it’s a deceleration in increases. And $36 billion is the gap’s maximum amount. If the economy shows any health, the gap will be smaller.

We could have fun complaining that Mulcair calls something a “cut” when it extends what is already the longest period of growth in federal transfer payments in Mulcair’s lifetime. But it’s more fun to take him at his word. He promises to spend as much as $6 billion a year in new tax money on health care. Mulcair couldn’t buy much influence over health policy with that money; he would simply send larger cheques to provincial governments. If he has other plans for the federal government, he’d have to pay for them after he’d sent that up-to $6-billion cheque to the provinces.

Emphasis mine.

August 12, 2014

QotD: Jason Kenney as a potential Harper successor

Filed under: Cancon, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

A few [Conservative workers and contributors] are growing frustrated with the categorical abortion truce [Stephen Harper] has imposed on his caucus, and see hope in Jason Kenney, whose activity in recruiting ethnic minorities to the party is attracting increasing attention. Kenney might already be the most influential Canadian politician of the past 20 years, not excluding Harper. Canadian Taxpayers Federation jobs are still seen as attractive largely because Kenney, by some miracle, actually managed to influence policy in Alberta when he had one. His tending of minorities seems superhuman. I am convinced I could start a fake religion tomorrow and within six months Kenney would be sending us excruciatingly correct salutations on precisely the right made-up feast days. “The Conservative party wishes His Excellency the Pooh-Bah a happy and abundant Saskatoon-Picking Day.”

But there are many problems with the sudden agreement on an imminent Kenney succession, starting with the fact that accumulating authority with small ethnic and religious groups is … well, his job. Perhaps it gives him potential leverage in a leadership race, but it is indistinguishable from merely having done excellent work on behalf of Stephen Harper.

Colby Cosh, “Stephen Harper has no reason to quit while he’s ahead”, Maclean’s, 2014-01-10

July 29, 2014

Will Alberta lead the way on legalization?

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:28

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells discusses the (rather amazing) fact that support for marijuana legalization in Alberta just went over 50%:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been hitting hard at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s advocacy of marijuana legalization for about a year now. Really hard: I don’t think the extent of the radio, TV and paper campaign against Trudeau and pot has yet been tallied. Here’s one early effort of mine to provide a partial accounting. The Conservative case against today’s Liberals, in fact, can be summed up as a general argument that they lack judgment and their leader lacks more than most; and a specific case that he’s high and wants to get your children high, too.

My own hunch, discussed at length in this column from last September, was that Harper was onto something. Advocates of pot legalization are a loud and self-impressed bunch, I wrote, but they’re balanced by other people in other parts of the country who still greatly fear the demon weed — and outnumbered by many others who don’t care about the disposition of the law and won’t vote for a party just because of its views on pot.

But views change. One suggestion that they’re changing in Canada comes from Faron Ellis at Lethbridge College, who’s done several waves of public-opinion polling in Alberta on social issues. In 2013, for the first time, Ellis and his colleagues found majority support [PDF] in Alberta for decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use. Support for liberalized laws on recreational pot had grown by more than 10 points in only two years. In Alberta.

[...]

I’m not sure how marijuana will play in a general election, or whether it’s salient enough to make any real difference. A year’s polling on political party preferences suggests it hasn’t exactly been a magic bullet against the Trudeau Liberals. Opposition to same-sex marriage was a strong incentive to form a united Conservative party more than a decade ago and, now, that issue has just about vanished as a differentiator among political parties. That sort of thing could happen again on another issue, and Harper must worry that it is.

I’m suspecting that marijuana will turn out to be a big issue in the next federal election — if only because Harper isn’t likely to give up what he thinks is a great weapon against Justin Trudeau. However, if the trend in popular opinion toward legalization continues, that weapon might well turn in his hand.

As Colby Cosh said a few weeks back:

The consciously libertarian vote in this country is not large, but there is a larger, less intellectually coherent “leave me alone” vote — a fraction of the public that is equally tired of drug laws, overpriced cheese, green boondoggles, housing-market fiddling and all the other familiar species of unkillable state intervention. Feeding and watering the Ron Paul-ish voters would be light work for Conservatives if they weren’t so strategically devoted to exploiting soccer-mom fear of drug dealers and other baddies. Paul himself spent 30 years as a tolerated totem, almost a sort of licensed royal jester, within the Republican party.

When Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced his party’s backing for marijuana legalization, we were told by newspapermen, almost with one voice, that he would rue his radicalism. The pundits all know he is in the right on pot, but they do not trust him to articulate the right position. This might be fair, but his espousal of legalization doesn’t seem to have hurt him in the polls yet. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that is taking an awfully long while to fulfill itself.

I’m not all that pleased to see the rise of Justin Trudeau: I suspect his actual policy positions should he become PM would be informed by the “we know better than you” nanny-staters, do-gooders, and earnest interventionists. His sensible position on marijuana may indicate a latent libertarian streak, but is more likely to be a variant of the stopped-clock phenomenon.

July 13, 2014

Trudeau Junior’s personal popularity lifting Grit fortunes

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:48

He may be just a pretty face with great hair, but he has the Harper Conservatives very worried:

Nationally, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have been running second to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in all but seven of 63 polls published by several different firms in the last 15 months.

The most recent one, published last week by Abacus Data, found the Tories trailing the Grits by three points. Abacus also reported this remarkable statistic: 13% — or better than one in ten — of the 5.8 million Canadians who cast a ballot towards a Harper majority government in 2011 would now cast a ballot for one of Trudeau’s Liberal candidates. (The news is even worse for the New Democrats as nearly one in four of the 4.5 million who voted for Jack Layton would now vote for Trudeau.)

In the nine by-elections since Trudeau won the leadership of his party last summer, the federal Conservatives have held four of the five seats in which they were the incumbent — the only loss was to Trudeau’s candidate — but their share of the popular vote has dropped precipitously in many cases while the share of the Liberal vote has risen in every contest, even in a riding like Scarborough-Agincourt that always and forever votes Liberal.

So more and more Canadians are voting for Trudeau when they get the chance and more and more are telling pollsters they’d vote for Trudeau if they had the chance.

This, despite the fact that the Conservative Party of Canada spent $1.5 million on radio and TV ads — mostly TV — in the last year to encourage Canadians to adopt the same low opinion of Trudeau that Conservative HQ has of him.

The net effect? We turn again to this month’s Abacus Poll to find that 37 per cent of Canadians have a positive impression of Trudeau and that number is up, not down, since Abacus last asked the question in March.

The Abacus poll showed some improvement in the last few months in federal Conservative fortunes in B.C. and in Ontario but that is thin gruel for the blue team.

Could this be Harper’s nemesis?

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 24: Canadian Parliament Liberal Party member Justin Trudeau (L) and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright participate in a panel discussion during a conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Center for American Progress in the Astor Ballroom of the St. Regis Hotel October 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. Co-founded by former Clinton Administration Chief of Staff John Podesta, the liberal public policy research and advocacy organization is a think tank that rivals conservative policy groups, such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

June 26, 2014

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – Canadian government puts F-35 decision on hold (again)

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:53

In the Globe and Mail, Steven Chase reports on the on-again, off-again, [on-again, off-again, ...] federal government decision on replacing our current RCAF fighters:

The Harper government is pressing pause on a decision to buy new jet fighters, including whether to purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II without holding a competition, because it feels ministers need more information on other options before selecting a course of action.

There will be no decision this month on the next step — whether to hold a competition for a new plane or purchase the F-35 outright — and it is very unlikely anything will be announced even by mid-July, The Globe and Mail has learned.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper removed the item from the agenda of a recent meeting of cabinet’s priorities and planning committee to give ministers more time to deliberate and gather information, people familiar with the matter say. Priorities and planning is the main cabinet committee that provides strategic direction.

Sources say the government feels it’s being rushed and pressured by the Canadian Armed Forces and parts of the civil service to purchase the F-35 without a competition. The government, which took a serious credibility hit in 2012 over its poor management of the procurement process, is now concerned only one fully fleshed-out option has been presented for review and that it resembled a decision to be ratified rather than a well-developed option.

H/T to Paul Wells, who put it rather well:

May 29, 2014

Harper’s “starve the beast” policy continues

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:22

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells updates us on the multi-year diet Stephen Harper has been running on the government’s “revenue generating” tools:

If I were the Conservative Party, I’d be using the latest report [PDF] from the office of Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Fréchette to fundraise too. By the standards that motivate Conservative donors, this report is highly motivating.

The report, by PBO analyst Trevor Shaw, examines the reduction in federal revenues resulting from all the major changes to personal income tax and the GST since 2005. It’s an odd choice of starting point — 2005 was the second of Paul Martin’s two calendar years as prime minister — but only a small part of the reduction Shaw measures is attributable to that second Martin budget. Most has happened since.

And the net effect is striking:

    “In total, cumulative changes have reduced federal tax revenue by $30 billion, or 12 per cent. These changes have been progressive, overall. Low and middle income earners have benefited more, in relative terms, than higher income earners.”

Shaw attributes $17.1 billion of the reduction to changes to personal income tax level and structure, and $13.3 billion to changes in GST/HST rates. He doesn’t count revenue reductions from changes to corporate income tax. We’ll get back to that. But on the personal income-tax and GST side, the final number is probably actually a little bigger than $30 billion: Shaw writes that he couldn’t get enough data to make his own estimate of revenue reductions due to Tax Free Savings Accounts, but passes along a Finance Canada estimate that it’s good for $410 million in revenue reductions. So, figure $30 billion and change in the current tax year that Ottawa would have raised if it hadn’t been for the past decade’s worth of tax changes.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is apparently hoping to make up the “shortfall” (from the point of view where any reduction in government spending is bad) by jacking up corporate taxes. This may not work as well as he hopes:

First, Mulcair is fooling himself if he thinks corporate taxes can be increased to make up for the shortfall in personal-tax income Harper has engineered. As the PBO points out, “Personal income tax and the federal portion of the GST/HST account for 75 per cent of federal tax revenues.” There’s way less room to make money off rich fat cats than Mulcair pretends. I mean, he’s welcome to keep pretending, but if he keeps his word an NDP government will remain short of cash. And a Liberal government, more so.

Second, this is why Stephen Harper is in politics. I wrote a book about that. He may one day stop being prime minister, at which point the real fun begins, because his opponents are promising to run a Pierre Trudeau government or a Jack Layton government at John Diefenbaker prices. It can’t be done. Their inability to do it will be Harper’s legacy.

May 1, 2014

Stephen Harper moves to 9th on the longest-serving PM list

Filed under: Cancon, History — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:42

It hasn’t been a banner year so far for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. David Akin notes that it’s Harper’s birthday today and that he’s now our 9th longest-serving PM:

Today is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 55th birthday. It is also is his 3,005th day in office. (The Library of Parliament counts his first day as Feb. 6, 2006, the day he and his first cabinet were sworn in.)

At 3,005 days in office, the country’s 22nd prime minister is its 9th longest-serving prime minister.

Here’s the top 14 as of today:

  1. William Lyon Mackenzie King: 7,824 days in office
  2. John A. Macdonald: 6,934 days
  3. Pierre Elliott Trudeau: 5,620 days
  4. Wilfrid Laurier: 5,565 days
  5. Jean Chrétien: 3,689 days
  6. Brian Mulroney: 3,202 days
  7. Robert Borden: 3,195 days
  8. Louis St. Laurent: 3,139 days
  9. Stephen Harper: 3,005 days
  10. John Diefenbaker: 2,130 days
  11. R.B. Bennett: 1,902 days
  12. Lester Pearson: 1,824 days
  13. Alexander Mackenzie: 1,796 days
  14. Paul Martin: 786 days

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.

Update:

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.”

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