Migrants, war and profits: how federal politics touched Canadians this week

By , on February 26, 2017


The federal government is sending in extra resources and still contemplating other options, but it did take some concrete measures this week on another group of migrants: Yazidis. (Photo by Defend International - Defend International Reaches out to Yazidis, CC BY 2.0.)
The federal government is sending in extra resources and still contemplating other options, but it did take some concrete measures this week on another group of migrants: Yazidis. (Photo by Defend International – Defend International Reaches out to Yazidis, CC BY 2.0.)

OTTAWA—Cynicism snaked through the corridors of Parliament Hill this week, lurking behind two competing claims of tolerance.

A Conservative motion to condemn all forms of racism was soundly defeated on Tuesday, brought down amidst accusations the Tories were stealthily stoking anti-Muslim sentiment.

The Liberals—themselves accused of playing dangerous wedge politics — prefer their own version, one that specifically mentions Islamophobia, but the Conservatives won’t vote for it, saying it threatens free speech.

Finger-pointing rhetoric aside, Canadians living along the border with the United States are seeing their tolerance tested.

Dozens of asylum-seekers fleeing Donald Trump’s immigration crackdowns in the United States are still walking across the border in Quebec and Manitoba, straining social services in some towns and prompting a demand for some kind of action from Ottawa.

The federal government is sending in extra resources and still contemplating other options, but it did take some concrete measures this week on another group of migrants: Yazidis.

Along with interesting developments in corporate profits and on how to treat ISIL, here’s how federal politics touched us materially this week:

YAZIDIS

Unlike the bickering over anti-racism motions, the Liberals’ plan to quietly bring in 1,200 of the most vulnerable refugees in the world by the end of the year was also driven by the Conservatives, who have been advocating help for Yazidis since before the last election.

Don’t expect the prime minister to be greeting them at the airport with the press gallery in tow. The refugees, who dwell mainly in northern Iraq, have often been subjected to rape, violence and other unspeakable atrocities that have been recognized as genocidal. So federal officials want to make sure they are brought to Canada gently.

The contingent of 1,200 won’t be limited to women and girls, even though concern about their plight was an inspiration for the move. Nor will the effort be specifically limited to Yazidis, since Ottawa does not want to target refugees by ethnicity. Rather, the policy is aimed at the most desperate refugees fleeing the region.

TAKING ON ISIL

It looks like some of Canada’s senior military stationed in the Middle East didn’t get the memo to tread softly when it comes to taking on the Trump administration.

Trump wants to intensify the efforts to defeat the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, vowing as recently as Friday to “obliterate” them.

But the top Canadian generals on the ground, who are also deeply involved in the international coalition to defeat ISIL, say it’s better to move cautiously. Otherwise, the coalition risks exacerbating the root causes that helped ISIL’s rise in the first place.

Is anyone listening?

POCKETING PROFITS

This week Statistics Canada added up all the money Canadian corporations made in 2016, and while the picture for oil and gas is not pretty, operating profits overall were up 13.2 per cent compared to a year earlier.

That’s good news for the Canadian economy — if the companies reinvest their profits in labour, research and innovation, new equipment and expanding their business interests.

But that’s a big “if.” Corporate Canada has a shaky record on reinvestment to begin with. And now companies are raising the alarm about Trump.

On Friday, auto parts giant Magna International Inc. pointed to American protectionism and talk of a U.S.-imposed border tax as key risks to its outlook — all while raising dividends to disburse its profits to shareholders.

That kind of corporate action is a challenge for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who used a high-profile speech in Germany a week ago to pointedly tell business leaders they need to take some responsibility in keeping the more destructive forces of populism at bay.

But corporations will not invest unless they have confidence in their opportunities and, for now, there is much chaos in calculating the Canada-U.S. business opportunities.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is expected to bring up the border tax and protectionism this week with his new U.S. counterpart, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Will he deliver the confidence-inducing messages that corporate Canada is looking for?