OTTAWA – MPs aren’t officially back in Ottawa until next week, but politics in the dwindling days of the summer reprieve gave us some heavy hints about the season to come.
As interest groups and experts traipsed to Parliament Hill to discuss legislation to legalize cannabis, and as cabinet ministers gathered in St. John’s for an end-of-summer retreat wrapped their meeting on the defensive, it was clear the Liberals are wrestling with the tough work of turning plans and promises into real accomplishments before the next election.
The Conservatives, now that they have a new leader, are turning their attention to sharpening their attacks on the governing party and refining the public image of Andrew Scheer.
And the leaderless NDP, which begins voting for a new leader on Monday, is gearing up to decide how best to position itself on the left of the Liberals with enough panache to capture the public imagination.
Beyond positioning, there were some interesting material developments over the past week — on the government’s attempts to lure high-tech investment, on the defence of Canada in the face of North Korean aggression and on dealing with income inequality.
Here’s how politics mattered this week:
The federal Liberals, like governments before them, have made a show of trying to attract foreign investment to Canada, especially in the realm of high-tech and artificial intelligence.
So it was no surprise that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was on hand when Facebook announced Friday it was opening an artificial intelligence lab in Montreal.
The lab will employ 10 experts to start, hoping to triple that within a year — a step towards the government goal of turning Canada into an AI magnet that will benefit the whole country’s economy over the long run.
But the summer brought far larger investment decisions that the PM was not photo-opping. In July, Malaysia’s Petronas pulled the plug on a $36-billion liquefied natural gas project in British Columbia. And earlier this month, TransCanada Corp. announced it would suspend its application to build the $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline to connect the oilsands in Alberta to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick.
Both those projects have been controversial for environmentalists and Indigenous Peoples, but the Liberals have struggled to show how new foreign investment in the high-tech sector, while less controversial, will make up for losses in natural resource development.
Just hours before North Korea fired yet another missile over Japan on Thursday night, Canadians found out that the U.S. would not be obliged to come to their defence in the event of a ballistic missile attack.
That news bomb came from Canada’s top officer at the North American Aerospace Defence Command speaking to MPs who are studying how ready Canada is to deal with North Korea. He said U.S. policy directs American military not to defend Canada — although officials could ultimately decide to intervene “in the heat of the moment.”
Canada has resisted joining the U.S. ballistic missile defence shield, despite the fact recent calls to join — especially given an increasingly belligerent North Korea — have been met with vague responses.
Vagueness seems to be the order of the day on defence policy. Peacekeeping, once the centrepiece of Liberal plans to remake Canada’s image in the world, has not yet received any kind of commitment either. That’s despite Canada hosting a major pledging conference this fall, where the price of admission is anteing up on peacekeeping missions.
THE CENSUS, TAXES AND INEQUALITY
The latest data dump from the 2016 census shows that Canadian households were making about 10 per cent more in 2015 than they were a decade earlier. The increase was much larger in provinces rich in oil and gas. Ontario, on the other hand, saw household income barely budge over the decade.
Stagnant incomes are thought to be behind some of the populism driving U.S. President Donald Trump, and they have long been on the minds of the federal Liberals, resulting in their relentless focus on the middle class.
Their most substantive response to date was their early-mandate rejigging of income tax which saw higher taxes on the rich to pay for a middle-class tax cut.
Their most recent response has been to argue that wealthy entrepreneurs who use “loopholes” to shop for lower tax rates need to start paying tax like the rest of us. But that argument seems to be losing oomph each passing day.