Delivering continuous deficit budgets is like spinning your wheels in mud; it’s inevitable that you will eventually get stuck. That common sense is beginning to creep into the conversations about the federal Liberal deficit spending as more Canadians are starting to appreciate what it means to be sinking in a quagmire of debt.
The Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau recently provided an update of Canada’s finances in which he reported the government’s projected deficit is $26.6 billion for this 2019-20 fiscal year – a total of almost $7 billion more than originally planned for in his budget of last March. Finance Minister Morneau went on to project next year’s deficit would be even higher. He pegged a budget deficit of $28.1 billion for 2020-21, but that is not accounting for several costly campaign promises – and the spending orgy the Liberals are expected to make in advance of the next election.
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau forewarned Canadians this week about the Liberals’ first budget of this minority Parliament. It will be a budget that will focus on the environment and climate change. It is to trumpet policies aimed at curbing energy consumption and planning for future climate emergencies. In launching the government’s pre-budget consultations, the Finance Minister framed the government’s priority saying, “We think that we have a mandate, together with other parties, in government to move forward on issues around environment and climate change.”
In questions after his announcement, Morneau stated, “We will be thinking of other ways to change energy consumption habits, and change our carbon intensity.” Yet in subsequent interviews the Finance Ministers has left little doubt that the primary carbon-reducing initiative in the upcoming budget will be adjustments to the federal carbon tax rates.
There are a few key MPs whose performances in the 43rd Parliament will have a direct impact on their respective Party’s fortunes in the next election. Last week five Liberal MPs were highlighted and this week, let’s consider five MPs from the Opposition benches.
Parliament resumed this week, however it will not be until the last week of January, after a Christmas break, that MPs will actually get down to their substantive business in the House of Commons. With the realities of the new minority parliament, all elected representatives will be functioning with the pressure that they are but one vote away from the next federal election.
As mentioned in last week’s column, National Post columnist John Ivison punted aside the list of newly appointed cabinet ministers with his insightful commentary “Who’s in Trudeau’s cabinet? It doesn’t matter, political power lies elsewhere.” Ivison observed that nothing really has changed as a result of the election because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “has surrounded himself with advisors of like mind and experience who act like a political praetorian guard.” With the Trudeau’s old guard again ensconced in the Prime Minister’s Office one cannot expect that there will be a change of direction with his second Government.
With all the traditional pomp and ceremony, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week announced his Cabinet to guide the minority government in the 43rd Parliament. The PM has increased the number of ministers on his front bench to three dozen. A great many of these ministers were members in Trudeau’s pre-election Cabinet, and eleven ministers maintain the same portfolios. And yet, there were a few noteworthy appointments in this executive council that provide Canadians with a hint of what can be expected in the months ahead.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The federal parliament convenes on Dec. 5 and there is great trepidation across the country as the next act in “The Great Canadian Standoff” is about to begin. With the divisiveness of the federal election campaign still on everyone’s mind, the “sunny ways” of the central-Canadian-backed […]
It is perhaps our country’s dirtiest secret – the export of Canadian and American coal through the Port of Vancouver.
Operating in the very heartland of Canada’s green movement, what is occurring at this B.C. coast port is criminal by any environmental standard. And what is so startling about this secret, getting dirtier year-over-year, is that it is being supported by both the federal Liberal and provincial NDP Governments. Given the vilification of the prairies’ oil and gas industry by these same self-proclaimed environmental stewards, the silence surrounding the Port of Vancouver’s coal exports shouts out Canadians’ very own definition of hypocrisy.
On election night, Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet repeated a message he had asserted throughout the campaign that he obstinately opposes the construction of any new pipeline from Western Canada. For months Blanchet has been crowing that the Bloc helped cancel the Energy East pipeline and they are the only Party to stand against new pipelines on Quebec soil. Whether it is political doublespeak or intentional deception, this rhetoric in no way reflects the reality in La Belle Province.
For politicos and pundits, inspecting and dissecting the results of a vote provides endless hours of amusement. Canada’s 43rd general election results have not disappointed – and in fact they have produced a few political firsts.
Consider this political first. The Trudeau Liberals will form government with the lowest share of popular vote in Canadian history. The Liberals recorded 33 percent of the vote and one needs to go back to the country’s confederation to find anything comparable. The last and only time a party formed government with less than 35 percent of the national popular vote was Sir John A. Macdonald in 1867 with 34.8 percent.
As Canadians brace themselves for Monday’s vote results, we have learned a great deal about ourselves through this federal election campaign. Canadian politics is dirtier and more divisive than in the past; yet, the campaign has exposed (for good and bad) the warring visions of our country’s economy. On one side there are the political parties representing a progressive viewpoint: globalists who are working towards a post-national state with no borders, driven to underwrite U.N. missions and causes, and prepared to make grand promises regardless of financial costs. On the other side there are those espousing a nationalist perspective with a focus on Canadian interests, fostering a set of traditional values, and managing a bridled fiscal plan to live within one’s means.
It remains to be seen whether the country’s economy and pocketbook issues will be the determining ballot box question this election. Judging from the little attention the mainstream media (and the Party Leaders) have paid to the country’s economy, it is unlikely voters will consider Canada’s economic future when casting their vote. That being said, what happens Oct. 21 could determine the economic fate of the country for decades to come.
So, what of Canada’s economic future? Here are three factors requiring a greater discussion before the vote: the country’s fiscal plan, taxes, and growing the economy.
Climate change (a.k.a. global warming) is one of the key issues on the federal campaign trail — and three of the major parties are posturing to frame it as the 2019 ballot box question. For four years the Liberals have attempted to sensitize Canadians to “paying for pollution” with a carbon tax that will reportedly reduce carbon emissions. Recently Green Leader Elizabeth May captured the attention of a segment of Canadians with her claim that the country must act immediately lest the world be lost in an inferno.
Can any discussion about immigration and refugees take place in Canada today without the person who raises the topic being labelled a racist, bigoted, white-privileged, or anti-immigrant? There is a recent Ipsos poll revealing that one in seven Canadians consider immigration concerns as one of the key issues when determining their vote on Oct. 21. Yet, our public discourse, prone to political correctness as it is, has muted Party Leaders on the election trail to debating the facts of Canada’s immigration and refugee policies.
In that Ipsos poll, of those saying immigration is a top concern, there were two specific issues cited: one in two (49 percent) Canadians thought Canada accepts too many newcomers, and one in three Canadians (31 percent) worry about the increase in asylum seekers crossing the border.
American publication Time Magazine first broke the story with a shocking photo of Justin Trudeau in blackface wearing a turban, with one of his hands placed across a woman’s chest. This photo was published in a 2000-01 yearbook of the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in Vancouver, taken at an “Arabian Nights” themed gala. It was obtained by the American magazine from a Vancouver businessman who thought it should be made public.
Later Wednesday evening, Globe and Mail reporter Robert Fife tweeted out another photo with Trudeau in blackface from his Jean Brebeuf high school year book. Then Thursday morning, Global News released a video of Justin Trudeau in blackface and his body darkened, jumping up and down with his tongue out. And, it now appears, other photos are being released…
The dark clouds of the SNC-Lavalin scandal rolled in once again, the day the Prime Minister officially called the federal election. Canadians were informed by Globe & Mail headlines that the government was thwarting the efforts of the police to investigate wrong doings of the Prime Minister’s Office. So, on the launch day of the campaign, Canadians were prompted to query the infallibility of Canada’s democratic institutions and the country’s rule of law. Are Justin Trudeau and his PMO insiders above the law?
On the eve of the call of the Canadian federal election, here is a snapshot of polling numbers and trends on voter intention, compiled on Labour Day from available public opinion data.
Liberals enjoy a lead based on support in Ontario and Quebec
Politicking through the summer barbecue season made the election race even tighter between the Trudeau Liberals and Scheer Conservatives. Most national polls show a dead heat between the two parties. The five-point lead the Conservatives held on Canada Day has evaporated. Popular support for the NDP has dipped and support for the other parties remained steady.
In 2015 the Liberals successful election campaign was energized with the images of Justin Trudeau. Indeed, many unknown Liberal candidates rode the Leaders’ popularity to victory and to their seat in Ottawa. But this is 2019 and today the image of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prompts more grimaces and frowns than it does smiles.
A slew of national opinion polls report that the Canadian electorate is divided between the Liberal and Conservative parties. However, the same polling suggests there is a growing consensus of distrust in and dislike for Trudeau.
Can Canadians trust their media regarding its coverage of national politics? Based on a string of events over the past few months this is a legitimate and worrying question.
Consider the latest federal budget where the government set forth a fund of $600 million to be paid to selected Canadian newsrooms. At the same time, the government selected “an independent panel” to dole out its largesse, which includes the journalists’ union Unifor. Conservative MP and former newsman Peter Kent was very troubled that the governing Liberals would potentially undermine the freedom of the press: “Getting involved in this sort of direct subsidy to what is supposed to be an independent estate. From top to bottom it smells. It’s simply unacceptable.” National Post columnist Andrew Coyne perhaps put it best stating the government cheques will “irrevocably politicize the press.”
It was an explosive spectacle this week when Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion made public his findings on the conduct of the Prime Minister and his Office respecting their obstruction of justice in the SNC Lavalin scandal. It was as if all of Ottawa was caught up in some WWE SmackDown extravaganza. Though the core issue may be a question of ethical leadership and a non-partisan judiciary, it was raw politics that overshadowed every public statement on the Commissioner’s work.
The Ethics Commissioner report found the Prime Minister violated Canadian law by attempting to influence the former Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould. The PM and his Office exerted continuous pressure on the former minister to advance a deferred prosecution agreement for Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin. The Commissioner concluded: “The evidence showed there were many ways in which Mr. Trudeau, either directly or through the actions of those under his direction, sought to influence the attorney general.”
The Fraser Institute published its annual tax study recently and it shows the tax burden on Canadians has risen again through the past year.
It is a fact in our country that an average family will spend more on their taxes than any other single expense. Given that the rise in taxes has outpaced income increases through the last decade, it is possible that the cost of living and rising taxes will become a topic of debate, if not the ballot box issue in the 2019 federal election.
As surmised in the February 22, 2019 Niagara Independent column, “There’s much more to this Gerald Butts story.” And it now appears, perhaps, the puppet master never truly left the Liberal Party’s backrooms.
Liberal Party “insiders” recently leaked that the former PMO Principal Secretary and Justin Trudeau’s best friend Gerald Butts is back and ensconced on the PM’s campaign team in an attempt to guide the Liberals to victory in the October federal election. Butts has returned as a senior political strategist and it is learned he has been advising the Liberal campaign for several weeks.
Perhaps this news item did not register beyond Ottawa’s political corridors and the national press corps, but to those in the epicenter of national politics Professor Amir Attaran caused quite a stir this week.
On Saturday, Liberal-friendly polling firm Abacus Data released a new poll stating the “tight race between Conservatives and Liberals continues as voter fluidity remains high.” Abacus numbers report that if an election were held tomorrow, 33% would vote Conservative, 32% Liberal, 16% NDP, and 11% Green. Abacus declares “it’s a toss-up.”
Over the next three and a half months leading up to the election, this column will periodically review the polling numbers and voter intention trends by way of a snapshot. This particular snapshot has been taken with the available public opinion statistics and data compiled on Canada Day. It is a reflection of Canadians’ thoughts as MPs recess from their parliamentary session and launch themselves onto the campaign barbeque circuit.
In Canada it is now common practice for media, polling firms and political pundits to cover an election campaign much like a caller announces a horse race. Election coverage often features the “leading horses” and which pony/Party is “making the move.” With the Election Campaign Snapshot, the objective will be to dig a little deeper to provide some context to the mainstream media headlines.
The Liberal Government has passed Bill C-69, which revamps the federal environmental assessment process for major resource projects, and Bill C-48, which places a moratorium on oil tanker activity along the BC coast. Western Canadians and industry leaders have forewarned that these Bills will bury the oil and gas industry in a regulatory quagmire and kill investment in resource development projects. Even more worrisome than this is the thought that these new laws have spurred raw, regional tensions that could result in the busting apart of Canada itself.
The universal reaction from the Canadian oil and gas industry is that these two Bills combined will damage investor confidence in future resource development, which in turn will weaken the broader Canadian economy. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) proclaimed the new regulations “make an already complex system more complicated while ultimately raising uncertainty and the potential for litigation.” Tim McMillan, CAPP president and CEO observed: “The impacts of a flawed Bill C-69 go well beyond hurting Canada’s oil and natural gas industry. Every Canadian will be hurt by driving investment out of the country and preventing important nation-building projects from being developed.”
In the dying days of this 42nd Parliament of Canada, the Trudeau Government has passed two major pieces of legislation that could possibly sound the death knell for Canadian resource development. Liberals hail their new measures as a major step towards a greener country. Critics view these measures as the final step to closing down Canada’s oil and gas industries.
In the legislative whirlwind of the final days of this spring Session, Parliament passed two controversial initiatives that the Government identified as priority: 1) Bill C-69 revamps the federal environmental assessment process for major resource projects; and 2) Bill C-48 places a moratorium on oil tanker activity along the BC coast.
Niagara Falls MP Rob Nicholson will not seek reelection in October. Having recently announced he will not seek re-election this October, Niagara Falls MP Rob Nicholson sat down with me in his Ottawa office to discuss his views of the Canadian Parliament. This is the second of two columns from that interview. As you leave […]
Rob Nicholson is the longest serving MP in the Conservative caucus, having first been elected 35 years ago in the 1984 federal election – and serving a total of 24 years in the Parliament of Canada. Mr. Nicholson has served under three Prime Ministers and the veteran parliamentarian has held cabinet positions of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of National Defence, Minister of Justice and the Attorney General and the Government House Leader.
Fellow Niagara parliamentarian MP Dean Allison describes his longtime friend: “Rob is someone everyone respects in caucus – everybody respects in the House. He is always approachable and gives such great advice. What I admire most is he always takes the high road and is always calm and reasonable in the House. I had someone new in politics say to me that they wanted to be like Rob as a MP because of his approach to his job, his work ethic and how he treated people. The endearing respect for the man is a testament to Rob’s character. This guy is going to be missed.”
The final report of the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) was made public this week. Though this report is a voluminous 1,200 pages, filled with heart-wrenching personal accounts, and includes 231 recommendations for government, lawyers and police, it appears it may be summed up (or dismissed) with one word: genocide.
It took more than three years, dozens of community meetings across Canada, testimony from more than 2,000 Canadians, and a four hour ceremony unveiling the final report; and, it is remarkably insulting to think it took all of this to be wholly eclipsed by a single, unnecessarily controversial word.
Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister, had a Twitter moment this week. She tweeted out a candid video of herself – then deleted it. Most Canadians will likely never know about her moment because it has gone unreported and Ottawa’s political pundits have been silent about it. This Minister, who has made a career of using her social media platforms to ridicule her political opponents, has slipped away from her Twitter faux pas with nary a mention.
Catherine McKenna’s tweet is a remarkable subject in Canadian politics for what it tells us about the Minister and, most disturbingly, what it tells us about the national press corps and its apparent partisan double standard with what (and who) it chooses to pursue.
What will “freedom of the press” mean in his country if two media-related initiatives recently announcement by the Trudeau government be implemented? Originally introduced in the federal budget, this week the government has provided details of how they will fund the news rooms of our major newspapers. Also this week, the Trudeau government provided further ideas on how and what they intend to censor in social media in the run up to the election.
The federal budget set forth a fund of $600 million to be paid to selected Canadian newspapers. From Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s first mention of this bailout it has been criticized as potentially undermining the freedom of the press and, possibly as Andrew Coyne has forewarned, it will “irrevocably politicize the press.” Conservative MP and former newsman Peter Kent flatly stated the government should not be “getting involved in this sort of direct subsidy to what is supposed to be an independent estate.” Kent says, “From top to bottom it smells. It’s simply unacceptable.”
Now what? For years Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was stuck in a legal quagmire that sullied his reputation, dishonouring his career and character. It appears that the same cast of political operatives who brought us the SNC-Lavalin scandal undermined our Canadian legal process. They consulted with Crown prosecutors and stonewalled Norman’s defence lawyers. Then, at the eleventh hour, as the courtroom showdown was about to commence, the Crown prosecutors walked and the charges were stayed against the Vice-Admiral. So, what does this ordeal mean for Canada’s (supposedly independent?) justice system?
“After Norman, we need to ask what’s happening to our country” muses Jocelyn Bamford, Toronto-area business executive and founder of the Coalition of Concerned Manufacturers and Businesses of Canada. In an erudite commentary, Bamford says that the Norman case is a “most disturbing scandal” as Canadians are left with too many unanswered questions about the investigation, the prosecutors’ tactics, and the PMO involvement. There are also intriguing questions about Liberal MP Andrew Leslie, a former military officer who recently announced he would not run again – and then that he would testify in defence of Norman. Bamford’s core questions surround the Prime Minister, recently retired Minister Scott Brison and a number of PM Trudeau’s senior most PMO advisors (including former Chief Gerald Butts who resigned over the SNC Lavlin scandal). Bamford exclaims, “Is it just me, or does the whole thing suggest to others that we are becoming something of a banana republic?”
The headlines were damaging to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Government: “Norman case collapses” and “Mark Norman’s Vindication.” However, this week’s negative media coverage for the federal Liberals pales with what might have been if this intriguing court case had proceeded. Imagine if Canadians were entertained with weeks of headlines suggesting wrong doing by the Prime Minister and his closest advisors during the Fall election campaign.
On one level it is a straight forward turn of events. The Crown made a charge of breach of trust against an individual when he allegedly leaked confidential contract documents. In preparing for the court case, the Crown factored it did not have the evidence necessary to get a successful prosecution, so it withdrew the charges.
Having just walked down the aisle a week prior, newlywed Elizabeth May reentered the House of Commons this week with a new spring in her step. The Green Party Leader is now looking to the October federal vote with renewed hope that her lengthy courtship with the Canadian public will finally be blessed – that she will be joined with Parliamentary benchmates to advance the Green Party fortunes.
Elizabeth May has been the Green Party of Canada leader for 13 years, and elected as the MP for BC riding Saanich-Gulf Islands for the last eight years. She has seen and experienced a great deal at the helm of this fledgling political movement. Yet, the recent electoral success of the PEI Green Party has reinvigorated this lone national Green crusader with a promise that the impending federal campaign could result in a breakthrough for her Party.
It is a group that politicians like to promote as the focus of their attention, the targeted benefactors of their support initiatives. Yet, Canada’s middle class is not only decreasing in numbers, it is managing worse than past generations. This reality may cause trouble for any political Party posturing as “champions of the middle class” in the coming election campaign.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published an analysis that reveals the middle class is shrinking – squeezed primarily by high housing and education costs, and displaced by automation. The report defines middle class as 75-to-200 per cent of the median income in each nation. For Canada, that means a person living alone would have an income of about $29,432 to $78,485. In the 36 OECD countries, the portion of citizens considered middle class fell in the last 30 years to 61 per cent from 64 per cent. In Canada, middle-class shrinkage was sharper than the OECD average.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was having great fun addressing his supporters at the Liberal Party of Canada convention in Mississauga last weekend. The PM was mocking his opponent, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, suggesting he and Ontario Premier Doug Ford were populist rubes dangerously appealing to the lowest common denominator of the Canadian public.
In his campaign-like speech, the PM revealed the Liberals’ electioneering tact to galvanize their support: dish out a hefty dose of “fear and smear” and label the opponent as “populists,” “climate change deniers,” and “tolerant of alt-right, white nationalists.” In his bid to be re-elected, Justin Trudeau is going toxic. His provocation suggests Canadians should brace for an election campaign of divisive debates and coarser, uncompromising public discourse.
On April 1 the Trudeau government implemented its carbon tax that imposes a $20 tax on every tonne of carbon emissions from any fossil fuel. This tax is scheduled to increase by $10 per year until 2022, when it peaks at $50 a tonne. Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna heralded the new “price on pollution” with the claim the Liberals’ plan will reduce Canadians’ dependence on fossil fuel and lessen Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Opponents to the government’s carbon tax have described it as nothing more than a harmful knock on Canadians who need to drive, adding an immediate 4.4 cents per litre at the pump with an additional 7 cents per litre within the next two years. (Ironically, this week the Provincial NDP Government in BC announced it is seeking some type of relief from the BC carbon taxes as Metro Vancouver gas prices climbed to $1.64.9 cents per litre due to their federal-provincial agreement.) For Canadians heating their homes, the federal carbon tax is expected in 2022 to increase the cost of annual home fuel bills by $235. This carbon tax will not just impact individuals, but all businesses and public institutions. For example, Ontario hospitals must plan for a $27 million tax hit by 2022 because of the new price on carbon.
She was argumentatively the most able of all Trudeau cabinet ministers. Yet the remarkable drama that unfolded between the Prime Minister and his former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould has overshadowed the devastating loss that has occurred to the Government (and now the Liberal Caucus) as a result of casting out Jane Philpott.
Jane Philpott is a learned, principled individual, an accomplished professional and community minded citizen with interests in promoting medical education in Africa. She is not a life-long, card-carrying Liberal Party member. However, she entered the political arena captivated by an energetic Party Leader who stated he was going to do politics differently and that, as a feminist, he was going to ensure females would be at the centre of his government’s decision-making. So, Jane stepped away from her responsibilities at the Markham-Stouffville Hospital to run under the Liberal banner in the riding of Markham-Stouffville.
Last week, the Government of Quebec heralded a budget with a $2.5 billion surplus and featuring increased spending in health care and education. On the other end of our country, Albertans entered into an election campaign feeling agitated about the treatment they are experiencing from the federal government and central Canada. This is the latest in the tale of two regions – and one needs not look too hard to discover the disturbing set of facts that underpin our Canadian paradox.
The 2019-20 Quebec budget highlighted an increased surplus of $2.5 billion from $1.65 billion over last year. On the strength of their books, the Quebec Government is planning for total increased spending of $16.1 billion through 2023-24. In this next year, there is a five per cent increase in spending in health care. There is also a five per cent increase in education budgets, delivered with a 17 per cent reduction overall in school property taxes.
It was described in many different ways. The Liberals characterized their fourth federal budget delivered this past Tuesday as a “pre-election budget designed to ease Canadians’ anxieties.” Political commentators, however, upon learning of its contents, described it as “the predicted pre-election spendathon”; “a testament to the pleasures of endless growth”; and, “a blunt political statement and a dare to their Conservative opponents to cut Liberal spending on social programs.”
The 460-page budget tome is entitled Investing in the Middle Class, but it could be more properly named, “Spending for the Middle Class.” Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s 2019 budget includes $22.8 billion in new spending divided into more than 100 new measures to be spent over the next five years. There is new spending to support first time home buyers, the purchase of electric cars, and broadband services to rural Canada. There are new tax credits for further education and skills training and more money for new indigenous programs. The Liberals are also hiring more bureaucrats and establishing an office to look at a new national prescription drug plan – a promise they will elaborate on, on the campaign hustings.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau will be delivering his fourth federal government budget next Wednesday, March 19. Given the news that the government ran a budgetary surplus of $300 million through the first nine months of the fiscal year, many financial analysts and political pundits are expecting the Finance Minister to increase federal spending – yet again.
Avery Shenfeld, chief economist for CIBC, forecasts in a Canadian Press interview: “I’m expecting cheques to go out somewhere. Remember that in the last election the party that won was the one party not promising to balance the budget… The recent sluggishness of the economy is just one more reason to expect a budget that sends out some goodies.”
While Canadians bear witness to all of the sordid details of the Jody Wilson-Raybould / Gerald Butts / Justin Trudeau / SNC-Lavalin scandal (a.k.a. LavScam), our federal government is lurching from one crisis to another without any clear direction. With the scandal, there are many other issues unfolding unchecked in the nation’s capital.
Canada’s economy is tanking. Statistics Canada reports that the country’s economy has come to a halt in the final three months of 2018, and the data is actually much worse than anyone has reported. The economy grew by just 0.1 per cent in the fourth quarter, the worst quarterly performance in two and a half years. The slowdown has extended well beyond the energy sector. In this quarter, consumption spending grew at the slowest pace in almost four years. Housing prices fell by the most in a decade. Business investment has dropped sharply and domestic demand posted its largest decline since 2015. This has impacted both consumer and business confidence. Bloomberg reports non-residential capital spending is down and residential investment has contracted for a second straight quarter with its biggest drop since 2009. Canadians declaring bankruptcy is up 15 per cent in the last half of 2018. Exports dropped. Imports declined. The loonie has nose-dived. In summary, the economy is a mess.
The resignation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Principal Secretary Gerald Butts has sent shockwaves through the corridors of power in Ottawa. Tendered in the quiet of a long weekend, Butt’s departure from the PMO is recognized as the signal most remarkable event since the 2015 election itself.
His critics have likened Gerald Butts to some shadowy Rasputin or Svengali figure; politicos from all sides agree that he is a busy Wizard of Oz operating the controls behind the doors of the PMO. Butts relationship to the Prime Minister is characterized as puppet master Edgar Bergen to Charlie McCarthy – or Jim Hensen to the Muppets. To state he is close to the Prime Minister and the central architect of this government’s agenda is an understatement.
A week is a long time in politics. For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) staff this past week probably felt like an eternity.
The alleged interference of the PMO with the Canadian judiciary process and the surfacing backstories of how PM Trudeau and his staff pressured the Justice Minister have rocked the corridors of power. The allegation is that the PM wanted his Justice Minister to direct federal prosecutors to make a “deferred prosecution agreement” so that multinational engineering firm SNC-Lavalin could avoid trial on $130 million bribery and fraud charges in relation to contracts in Libya. In short, the PM wanted the Justice Minister to deal a “get out of jail free” card to the Quebec firm.
Here is an excerpt from Ottawa’s Hansard, an official verbatim record of what was said in the House of Commons on Tuesday, February 5th. Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre was in a heated exchange with the Prime Minister about taxes imposed on Canadians. Poilievre questions:
“The Prime Minister says that people who take the bus are too rich and therefore should lose their transit tax credit. Soccer moms and hockey dads, the Prime Minister says are too rich, so he takes away their children’s fitness tax credit. At the same time, he forces these same working-class families to pay for his taxpayer-funded nannies. Will the Prime Minister put aside the hypocritical class warfare and tell us the true cost of his tax increases that he would bring in if he got re-elected?”
This week MPs returned to Ottawa and to the last Parliamentary Session before the fall federal election. All eyes were on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as they traded barbs. The Leaders were practicing new lines, sure to be folded into campaign stump speeches crafted to grab Canadians’ attention and secure their votes.
Through the spring, MPs will be in Ottawa a total of 14 weeks, only 69 legislative days. In that short time, the Government will want to check off some important initiatives: the new environmental assessment process for resource projects, hand gun legislation, and the Finance Minister will look to pass a pre-election budget. At the forefront of the House of Commons agenda, however, will be the spirited exchanges between our national political leaders. Canadians can expect increasingly heated rhetoric and partisan attacks.
This week there was a stark news item from a well-respected financial firm that Canadians must brace for harder economic times. Jim Mylonas of BCA Research Inc. alerted Canadians that the country’s economy is teetering and this year will likely tip into a recession. What is disconcerting is that Canadians are being told to prepare for a recession even though the North American economy is healthy and poised to grow through the year. What’s more is this foreboding warning comes from a learned market analyst, a global macro strategist in a Montreal firm that has been forecasting markets and economies for 70 years.
Bloomberg News found the BCAB Research statement striking: “Canada’s economy may soon endure something it hasn’t faced in 68 years: A recession without the U.S. in the same boat.” In a Bloomberg interview, Mylonas explained that Canadians’ incredibly high household debt combined with rising interest rates will push the country’s economy into recession. That will occur even when, south of the border, the American economy is expanding.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet shuffle on Monday contained a surprise with his appointing of Nova Scotia MP Bernadette Jordan as Minister of Rural Economic Development. This new cabinet portfolio is to create and advance a rural-development strategy. The PMO’s news release stated that the new minister will work with municipalities, provinces, territories, and Indigenous partners to meet the “unique and diverse infrastructure needs of rural communities.”
Bernadette Jordan is relatively unknown outside of Atlantic Canada. Jordan is a first-term MP representing the Nova Scotia riding of South Shore-St. Margarets. Before her time in Ottawa, she worked in the community newspaper industry and was a fundraiser for a local Health Services Foundation in the small maritime town of Bridgewater. With her fellow Atlantic Liberal MPs, Jordan was selected to serve as Chair of the Atlantic Liberal Caucus.
To provide Canadians with a snap shot of our financial health as we head into the New Year, the Canadian public policy thinktank Fraser Institute published a sober assessment of the country’s current economic affairs. The key take-away from the Institute’s review is that Canada’s economy is underperforming and Canadians are just beginning to feel the impact. Although Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s Fall Economic Statement provided us with a reassuring review of our county’s economic prospects, the fact is the Canadian economy expanded by a mere 2.1 per cent in the past year. That is nearly a full percentage point below the United States at 3.0 per cent. As it is, Canada is an unattractive economy; a point of fact – foreign investment in Canada is down 55 per cent over the past five years.
Come the New Year, all eyes will be on Ottawa as Canadians bear witness to a parade of politicians and pollsters, all positioning and pontificating in advance of the October 21, 2019 federal election vote. We can expect dramatic headlines covering the spin and counter-spin of not only the politicians vying for your vote, but also pollsters and pundits who will be commenting on the rhetoric and “the horserace” itself.
Expect conflicting polls feeding opposing commentary. For example, two polls taken a year prior to the fall 2019 vote heralded opposite forecasts. Sun Media trumpeted the federal Conservatives would win a majority government. Meanwhile, CBC reported to Canadians that the national polls are in Trudeau’s favour.
What has the Canadian Government committed to in signing the UN Global Compact for Migration? The document reads that “member states and partners will thus hold each other more accountable on their promises to deliver results for refugees and their hosts.” As detailed in last week’s column, these promises include immediately taking steps to resettle 1.4 million refugees and migrants to willing host countries, promoting the “whole-of-society” benefits of mass migration, and “sensitizing and educating” media that are critical of the UN migration initiative.
Andrew Scheer, Conservative Leader, has been vocal in his criticism of the Compact signing, suggesting it is yet another step towards Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “post-nation”, globalist vision of a world with no borders and no meaningful citizenship. Scheer has argued, in and outside the House of Commons, that Canada must be in control of its immigration policy and its borders – not a faceless UN bureaucracy who cannot be held accountable by the Canadian people. Scheer asserts, “Canadians, and Canadians alone, should make decisions on who comes in our country and under what circumstances.”
The longer title to the “UN Global Compact” document is the United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen will sign this international document on Canada’s behalf on December 11 in Marrakech, Morocco.
Though most Canadians have heard little or nothing of this international initiative, the Canadian government has played a leading role in advancing the UN’s “cooperative framework.” Our country’s diplomats are at the forefront of discussions designed to resettle 1.4 million refugees and migrants to willing host countries, presumably those countries who sign onto the UN Global Compact.
The debate in Ottawa revolves around what the signing of this document commits the Canadian Government to regarding its current and future immigrant policies. Is the UN Global Compact a political statement of humanitarian principles for refugees and migrants? Or is it a UN blueprint for the development of international migration policies?
For months leading up to the Liberals’ fall economic statement, Finance Minister Bill Morneau indicated his statement would respond to the recent U.S. corporate tax cuts that had eliminated any tax advantages for Canadian businesses and investors. Morneau stated he could not reduce corporate tax rates for Canadians, as they would cost the government too much, but he would have measures to address the newfound disadvantages experienced by the Canadian business community.
On Nov. 21, the finance minister brought forward his plan offering $17.6 billion of new investment incentives over six years to the country’s business community – something that he concedes will commit the federal government to an indefinite number of deficit budgets.
MP Pierre Polievre, Conservative finance critic, was quick to criticize the Liberal government’s embrace of long-term deficit financing. “Not only did they break their promise, not only will they fail to balance the budget, as they said, but they now admit that under their plan the budget will never be balanced… in other words, they are putting our future in a reckless state of danger by spending our tomorrow on their today.”
In his fall economic statement, federal finance minister Bill Morneau mused: “We could have ignored the concerns of business leaders, decided not to make the investments and the changes that are part of the fall economic statement, and we would have had a lower deficit as a result. To do so would be neither a rational response, nor a responsible one.”
Minister Morneau summed up his address with the observation, “Because our economy is doing well, we also have the fiscal room to follow through on the commitments we made”; which, in essence, was offering some reassurances to Canadian businesses and to taxpayers that the Liberal government has a firm handle on the country’s finances.
The finance minister announced $17.6 billion of new spending over the next six years to boost Canadian business investment and economic activity. In response to the attractive tax cuts south of the border, the minister’s statement highlighted $16 billion of tax breaks for business. The biggest portion of this commitment is the $14.4 billion earmarked to allow businesses to write off some types of machinery and equipment more quickly.
Parliament Hill is seized with pipeline politics. Our country’s oil and gas sector is pitted against Ottawa’s bureaucracy. Western Canadians are feeling betrayed and victimized by Prime Minister Trudeau. It’s déjà vu all over again!
This drama is unfolding in the Senate of Canada where a piece of legislation is being hotly debated on the floor of the Upper House. Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Act, will establish new federal government environmental assessment processes for the development of all major resources projects in Canada. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna claims it will restore public trust and provide greater transparency in government approval processes, for it ensures greater public input, greater participation by Indigenous peoples, and it is intended to ensure decisions will be informed by scientific evidence.
Recent government announcements and news reports have provided Canadians with an accounting of how much our Canadian governments are in debt. The current federal government, spending hundreds of billions of dollars, seemingly pays no heed to the size of their annual deficits. Add the sum of all provincial governments’ deficit budgets and one soon realizes that our governments are burying us in a deep, dank financial hole; from which no Canadian alive today will likely climb out. The reported numbers are startling.
In Ottawa, the federal government recorded a shortfall of $19 billion for the last fiscal year, repeating the deficit amount of the previous year. The government reports its federal spending continues to rise and is now $332 billion – $332,000,000,000 – the highest amount of government spending ever recorded.
Interest rates are rising and many Canadians will begin to feel the pain. Last week the Bank of Canada hiked its key lending rate and major lending institutions followed suit, raising prime interest rates. This is the fifth time since the summer of 2017 that rates have risen and the Bank of Canada has indicated they are about to become more aggressive in 2019 and 2020. Some financial analysts point to recent comments made by Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz to forecast the rate could climb as high as 3.5 percent.
What does that mean for an average household? Over the past 15 months, the Bank of Canada’s interest rate hikes have added an average of $2,500 in costs for Canadian households. Should the rate go as high as 3.5 percent, the costs would double again. If this were to occur, financial surveys indicate that one in two Canadians’ ability to service their existing debts will be directly affected. Half of Canadian households.
As of Wednesday this week, Canadians can possess and share up to 30 grams of legal cannabis. We can legally buy it and we can grow up to four pot plants per residence for personal use.
Reaction by our national leaders has been rather mellow. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reassured Canadians the country is ready for this drug, admitting he has regularly enjoyed it through the years. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh stated his greatest concern is how fast the federal government can expunge Canadians’ criminal records for pot possession.
Canadians have been reassured by Vancouver police chief Adam Palmer, who is president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Chief Palmer stated emphatically, “I’m here to tell Canadians that police are ready.” (At the same time, he admitted enforcing new laws around legal weed will be “a work in progress.”)
Tuesday morning the CBC ran a headline story: “’Yay!’: How the Canadians won the argument that opened the door to a NAFTA deal” reporting a confident Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying, “There was [on Saturday] a sense things were falling into place.” In most news reports this week Canadians have been reassured that PM Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (dubbed “the warrior princess”) were victorious in wrestling U.S. President Donald Trump to concede to Canadian terms on an improved NAFTA deal.
That is the Canadian story. But, how is this 11th hour deal being received south of the border? (Warning: Americans have a remarkably different take.)
In December, U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled a tax plan that effectively cuts America’s top corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 20 per cent and allows companies to immediately deduct from their tax bills the full cost of capital spending. Proponents of the tax package predict this will boost business investment in the United States and encourage U.S. companies to repatriate money they previously held abroad.
In a recently released economic report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Canadians are warned that the American tax plan will siphon 650,000 jobs from Canada over the next 10 years as businesses shift their activity south of the border.
Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill MP Leona Alleslev surprised everyone on the first day of the Fall Session of Parliament, rising in her place on the government backbenches to announce that she will “cross the floor” to join the Conservative party caucus.
It is remarkable that a MP would leave a government caucus to sit with an opposition caucus. However, what is most startling is what this rookie MP had to say about her Liberal colleagues’ abilities to manage the affairs of the country. Her assessment of the state of Canada was both focused and sobering.
“We find ourselves in a time of unprecedented global instability. We see fundamental shifts in the global economy, while trade relationships, international agreements and defence structures are under threat.
This week, the Liberal Caucus met in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan while the NDP Caucus hunkered down in Surrey BC. News out of both federal caucuses revealed that the MPs have been given their election scripts to begin their long march towards the 2019 vote.
The two caucuses met with a backdrop of contentious Canadian news items dominating the national conscience. Canadians are pre-occupied with the faltering NAFTA negotiations, the fate of the recently nationalized TransMountain pipeline project, the strong provincial opposition that has risen against Ottawa’s planned carbon tax plan, and the seemingly lack of controlling the flow of irregular migrants crossing our Canadian borders.
Headline news from the Nation’s Capital through the summer focused on the fate of NAFTA and the evolving asylum seekers-border issues. A vast majority of Canadians enjoying their summer escapes likely missed any other federal news. Here are six news items (in no particular order) from the month of August that should not pass unnoticed for those interested in the developing stories of our federal government.
When Members of Parliament recess for the summer, they don’t don shorts and sandals to hit a beach like quick-change artists; but instead, the first step they take is to meet their local constituency staff and schedule “the summer break.”
The 2018 summer plans of Niagara West MP Dean Allison are a good example of what our elected representatives organize for themselves when they are not in the Nation’s Capital.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet yesterday, bringing five new ministers to the table and creating a new portfolio for border security, an issue that has become a political vulnerability for the government over the past months.
Political analysts view this shuffle as a political move in advance of the 2019 election. There are additional ministers from Ontario and Quebec, where the Liberals need to maintain and, if possible, grow their seat count. David Moscrop, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University explains “The shuffle gives Trudeau an opportunity to put his best players on the pitch before the campaign.”
To recap the last six weeks: on June 1st, the U.S. imposed hefty levies on Canadian steel and aluminum imports, in response to China, South Korea and Vietnam dumping these products into our country. On July 1st, Canada retaliated by placing tariffs worth a total of $16.6 billion on U.S. goods from ketchup and candles to shaving products and insecticides.
In turn, the U.S. is suing Canada at the World Trade Organization stating that the retaliatory tariffs are “completely without justification.” President Donald Trump has also publicly stated he is considering putting a further 25-per-cent levy on all cars and trucks imported to the U.S.
Not all are supportive of the Trudeau Government’s trade negotiation tactics with the United States.
With Canada’s national election only 16 months away, it is now anticipated that the fate of the trade agreement with our southern neighbor will be a central campaign issue. Lawrence Solomon, policy director for Toronto-based Probe International, suggests Trudeau is using the trade talks to position for a tough re-election year by creating a boogeyman and a crisis: “NAFTA necessarily thus becomes not an economic exercise but a political one.”
In Ottawa, there are two prevailing threads of thought on what has become the never-ending saga of the Canada-U.S. Trade Talks. One is rallying behind Prime Minister Trudeau and supporting the Liberal Government’s attempt to reason with an unpredictable U.S. President. The second is highly critical, suggesting that the Liberals are purposely sabotaging the negotiations for their own domestic political gains. The next three columns will review the political gamesmanship between Canada and the U.S. and assess what all the public posturing may mean for the outcome of the trade talks – and for the 2019 federal election.
For months, Ottawa’s political networks and national press corps have been wholly focused on U.S. President Donald Trump and his every utterance on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Canadians are anxious. Given the magnitude of trade between our two countries, NAFTA has a large impact on our country’s economic growth and maintaining our standard of living.
As Parliament recessed for the summer, news leaked out that the Trudeau Government quietly renewed the current federal equalization formula for provinces through the year 2024.
In the 584-pages of 2018 budget documentation, Finance Minister Bill Morneau had buried a provision that extended the existing equalization formula, providing no formal notices to provinces or the public. With the passage of the omnibus budget legislation, stealthily, Morneau unilaterally assured the renewal of the federal-provincial equalization arrangement — to the huge benefit of Quebec, and over the vocal protests of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the western provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.
On Parliament Hill, time stood stand, or rather any sense of time was lost in the surreal tension of Wednesday, May 2. Members of Parliament were shocked. News travelled in whispers of disbelief. And then there was an oppressive sadness that enveloped the Nation’s Capital and left anguished MPs groping for words, as we all do when faced with a close friend’s passing.
Wednesday morning, Gordon Brown – Gordie to everyone who knew him – had started his day playing hockey with friends at the Ottawa Morning Hockey League. The MP made it to his Hill office and sometime shortly before 10 o’clock he had a heart attack. Paramedics performed emergency resuscitation efforts en route to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The rights of parliamentarians to oversee government spending dates back to 1215 and the signing of the Magna Carta. Since that agreement between the King of England and Lord Barons, parliamentarians have voted on the details of how a government will spend the tax dollars raised from the people of the land. In Canada, expenditure estimates for each of the government’s departments are tabled in parliament so MPs can question the respective ministers on their spending plans.
There are only two weeks left in the House of Commons calendar before Members of Parliament break for their summer recess. Although they may soon be spared the cut and thrust of Parliamentary debates, there will be little relief as MPs are sure to feel the heat – both literally and figuratively.
The recent national polls from Nanos Research and Angus Reid have the Conservatives overtaking the governing Liberals in popular support; the Reid results show the Conservatives with a comfortable 10 percentage point lead (40% – 30%) in popular vote. Yet, what is most unsettling for Liberal MPs is the pollsters’ regional breakdowns that reveal the Liberals would be wiped out west of Quebec. PM Justin Trudeau could lose more than half his Ontario MPs and the Liberals would be annihilated in the western provinces.