OTTAWA – Well, it’s been three weeks since Donald Trump was sworn in as U.S. president, and so far, nothing terrible has happened to Canada.
That’s the nature of the strained attempt at optimism coursing through the national capital these days as policy makers muddle through the Trump-inspired confusion that is spilling around the world. With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set to have his first tete-a-tete with the president on Monday, political Ottawa has been working at full tilt all week to make sure the visit to Washington does more good than harm.
Even as three of Trudeau’s most powerful cabinet ministers trekked to Washington to till the soil for Monday’s visit, there were developments here in Canada that will touch everyday lives — on opioid addiction, on Arctic sovereignty and on government subsidies for Canadian companies.
Here’s how politics touched us this week:
After years of political wrangling, the federal government has announced approval for three safe-injection sites for drug addicts.
All three of them will be in Montreal, but there are 10 others waiting for government approval for Toronto, Vancouver, Surrey, B.C., Victoria, Ottawa and another in Montreal. There are already two in operation in Vancouver.
At the same time, the federal Liberals and the NDP are working together to amend legislation in order to make it easier to open up new supervised sites.
The sites are a key part of the federal government’s nascent approach to dealing with an alarming escalating of drug abuse and deaths linked to opioids. The RCMP is working with China to curb the flow of opioids into Canada. And the government says it is building a fuller strategy set to be rolled out soon.
Trudeau made his first prime ministerial trip to the Arctic this week, accompanied by his social development minister, his indigenous affairs minister and his health minister.
While the Liberals have not really set out a full-fledged Arctic policy, there are hints emerging about the federal government’s approach. In the long-running debate about whether sovereignty in the Arctic is best established through military presence or socio-economic development, Trudeau’s entourage suggests he favours the latter approach — although any government would officially say both approaches are required.
(Former prime minister Stephen Harper made a habit of visiting the Arctic once a year, his trips often coinciding with military exercises and shows of strength.)
Northern populations, especially indigenous peoples, face high rates of poor health and poverty, and are also on the front lines of global warming — climate changes that are having direct effects on lifestyle and development.
In Iqaluit, the ministers promised to make amends for how tuberculosis victims of the past were treated, and said they would focus on education and community development. They also committed to regular meetings with Inuit officials to address health, suicide prevention, housing shortages and persistent problems with TB.
Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains finally announced how the federal government would address the long-standing request for $1 billion in aid for Bombardier Inc. He announced repayable loans worth $372.5 million for the Montreal aerospace giant in order to support the Global 7000 and CSeries aircraft projects.
The suspense may be over, but the politics are still in full swing. In the absence of a clear policy that sets out when and how government should subsidize business, the Liberals were hammered with alternating criticisms of picking favourites, helping Quebec at the expense of others and/or not helping Quebec enough and stirring up sovereigntist sentiment.
How will the money help the broader Canadian public? Bains says the funding will secure 4000 jobs.
But he did not produce the iron-clad assurances from Bombardier that he had insisted on earlier in the negotiations. The government had been asking for a revamping of the company’s share structure to make it more sustainable and competitive, as well as a promise that Bombardier would keep its head office and jobs connected to research and development activities in Canada over the long term.