OTTAWA—Federal politicians were scarce on Parliament Hill this week, taking advantage of the last few days before Parliament returns to kick up their heels and work the barbecue circuit one last time in other parts of the country.
The Conservatives decamped to Halifax for a caucus retreat, while the NDP went whitewater rafting on the St. Lawrence before a similar retreat in Montreal. The Liberals rubbed elbows with Bay Street types and some global economy thinkers in Toronto, and then moved on to Montreal to shmooz and brainstorm with other so-called progressives from around the world.
Beyond all that socializing, however, divisions deepened over how the country’s economy should be run; the Liberals’ approach to Aboriginal Peoples drew newfound scrutiny; and questions about how to wrestle climate change to the ground intensified.
Here’s how federal political developments affected Canadians’ lives this week.
The left-wingers of the IMF
IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, popping up in Toronto and then Ottawa this week with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, praised Canada for embracing the IMF’s recipe for economic growth: invest in infrastructure using government borrowing and deficits. Fiscal policy needs to replace monetary policy to give economies a boost, the argument goes, because lowering interest rates doesn’t have the oomph it once did.
The Conservatives, however, accused Lagarde of “spouting left-wing ideology” for backing the reckless Trudeau plan of running up deficits in the naive hope the Canadian economy would blossom. Instead, Tories are urging a more constrictive path of constraining deficits and aiming for a balanced budget.
What’s not spelled out is how a would-be Conservative government would actually bolster growth. Data released this week showed Canadians are paying the price of monetary policy gone awry: household debt burdens are the highest ever, and consumer borrowing has driven house prices beyond the reach of many buyers. But economic growth, despite the low interest rates, remains paltry. If not fiscal policy, then what?
Is the symbiotic relationship between the Trudeau government and First Nations in trouble? Two developments this week point to discord.
Trudeau has made much of the need to improve the lot of Aboriginal Peoples, saying repeatedly that the relationship is his top priority. He won accolades by launching an inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women, and by allocating $8 billion in the federal budget, including $635 million over five years for child welfare.
But now the Assembly of First Nations’ national chief is speaking out against the government’s decision earlier this summer to pave the way for construction of the huge Site C dam in British Columbia. Perry Bellegarde’s comments — accusing the government of betraying the constitution and a UN agreement to respect First Nations’ rights — preceded protests in Ottawa and Montreal, where the matter is in court.
Plus, the country’s human rights tribunal had to issue a notice telling Ottawa it needs to stop discriminating against child welfare services for 163,000 First Nations kids on reserves — the second such order to comply with a ruling issued by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal last winter.
First Nations children on reserve are among the most under-privileged in Canada.
China and the United States seized the world by the lapels in August when the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases announced they were ready to ratify the international Paris climate accord to deal with global warming. Canada, meanwhile, looked on, with Trudeau saying he wasn’t yet ready because he still had to talk to the provinces.
But now, sources tell The Canadian Press that Canada wants to quickly ratify the Paris deal too — even though the federal government is not yet close to forging a workable deal with the provinces to meet Canada’s international commitments.
The two levels of government have been talking for months, but they can’t quite figure out how to make all their systems mesh, let alone settle on a carbon-pricing scheme that would actually take a big bite out of our emissions without imposing economy-destroying taxes and regulations on consumers and businesses.
How Trudeau can ratify Paris and also make good on Canada’s commitments with the provinces at his side may not become clear until later this fall when he meets with the premiers.