OTTAWA – To listen to Justin Trudeau as he trekked across Western Canada this week, one might think nothing of huge significance had happened south of the border. But the world couldn’t look away as Donald Trump made headline after headline in his first days as U.S. president.
There was pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, threatening to do the same with NAFTA and approving — sort of — the Keystone XL pipeline. And Trump wasn’t done, not by a long shot.
From contemplating the use of torture and tightening up immigration to provoking the beginnings of a trade war with Mexico, the week’s decisions were profound, disparate and quick, shocking many a government official into perplexity.
As Trudeau and his federal Liberals tiptoed around him, they began incrementally to define how best to approach the Trump administration — a fixation that all but obscured other key developments on fundraising and how to save the struggling media industry.
Here are a few ways politics touched Canadians this week:
ON TENTERHOOKS OVER TRUMP
As Trudeau gathered with his cabinet in Calgary to prepare for next week’s return to the House of Commons, they hunkered down to strategize and re-evaluate Canadian politics in light of all things Trump.
They heard from Canada’s ambassador to Washington, David MacNaughton, as well as Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of Blackstone and also the head of a business advisory council to U.S. president.
Despite repeated public comments from the ministers about common ground, the federal government did leave a few markers.
On the anti-Trump side of the ledger, Trudeau used Twitter to congratulate and praise the Canadian women who marched last Saturday in solidarity with more than a million people other protesters around the world. But none of his cabinet members were seen marching.
Also, his government reiterated its intention of storming ahead with its climate change plan despite Trump’s stance against the Paris accord to reduce emissions.
On the pro-Trump side, the government has put on hold its plan to send peacekeepers to Africa until it gets a better idea of how Canada can work with Trump’s defence agenda. And federal ministers welcomed Trump’s announcement in favour of Keystone XL.
CASH FOR ACCESS
With the opposition ready to pounce when the House returns next week, and the Liberal caucus feeling anxious about its reputation, the rookie democratic institutions minister, Karina Gould, has been tasked with stifling the cash-for-access fundraising controversy.
On Friday, she announced she would be talking to opposition parties and introducing legislation that would force cabinet ministers and others to be transparent about their schmoozing events — advertising them in advance, and writing up a report about them afterwards.
The opposition parties quickly dismissed the play, saying it was far from an outright ban on the granting of access to top Liberals in return for cash donations to the party.
Any Liberal hope of extinguishing that fire before Monday’s resumption of Parliament seems to be wishful thinking.
MEDIA ON THE VERGE
A new report commissioned in part by the federal government argues that the news industry has deteriorated to such an extent that the health of Canada’s democracy is now in question.
But what to do about it? The government is all ears, but some of the report’s recommendations are deeply controversial.
As widely anticipated, the report seeks a changing of tax measures that would inevitably land heavily on Facebook and Google — non-Canadian companies that have scooped up much of the advertising revenue Canadian newspapers rely on.
But the report also urges government to spend $400 million setting up support funds for journalism in areas where coverage is struggling.
Government financial support for journalism is anathema in Canada, except when it comes to the CBC. And while the report recommends setting up structures to keep the government “at a safe distance” from journalists, there is much skepticism in newsrooms and among tax payers that a government subsidy is appropriate.
In the meantime, the oh-so-precarious Postmedia, which owns newspapers in so many MPs’ hometowns across the country, was not specifically addressed in the report.