Media

Five byelections will be first real test for Liberal government

No Comments 28 March 2017

Ottawa-Vanier has never voted anything but Grit. However, large margins have a way of evaporating in by-elections where voters can register dissatisfaction without turfing a government. That is what makes byelections so tricky.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published in The Hill Times on Monday, February 27, 2017.

OTTAWA—Five byelections across three provinces will be the first real test for the Liberal government.

With vacancies in former Liberal ridings, the pressure will be on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to grow his majority.

Whatever happens, the outcome will likely result in a rise in diversity, as all ridings were formerly held by white men and several byelection frontrunners are women.

At the moment, the Liberal nominee in the riding of Ottawa-Vanier, appears to have the edge. Mona Fortier served as an assistant to Mauril Bélanger, who lost his battle against ALS last August.

Fortier was endorsed by Bélanger’s widow in a hotly contested nomination which recruited 6,500 new members into what has been described as Canada’s safest Liberal riding.

Ottawa-Vanier has never voted anything but Grit. However, large margins have a way of evaporating in by-elections where voters can register dissatisfaction without turfing a government.

That is what makes byelections so tricky. In the case of Ottawa-Vanier, the ruling party does not seem to be in any real danger.

In the heart of the nation’s capital, the riding includes many public servants who are still breathing a sigh of relief that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are no longer in power. By comparison, the Liberals are supportive of the role played by the bureaucracy in developing evidence-based policies.

The population is highly diverse, and supportive of the government’s strong stand in favour of refugee resettlement.

Controversy surrounding identity questions could loom large in the Quebec by-election called to replace former leader and foreign minister Stéphane Dion.

Star Liberal candidate and former Quebec immigration minister Yolande James has changed her position on the niqab, and her nomination opponents are zeroing in on this discrepancy.

While Quebec minister of immigration, James refused to allow a niqab-wearing woman to take French language classes.

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Media

Ongoing chaos in Washington could actually work in Canada’s favour

No Comments 20 March 2017

While Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington praising up Trump on the art of the deal, Trudeau was actually getting a bigger deal done.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published in The Hill Times on Monday, February 20, 2017.

OTTAWA—It was Canada’s hour in the European Parliament last week.

Even those parties who voted against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement were compelled to proclaim their affection for our country with hand-held signs that said, “Yes to Canada. No to CETA.”

In the end, the vote was not even close, even though parties on the left and the right were opposed.

Some 58 per cent of European parliamentarians endorsed the deal, which sets the stage for speedy implementation.

In one sense, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau has U.S. President Donald Trump to thank for the solid show of support.

Since the new American president’s inauguration a month ago, the United States administration has been systemically threatening to close borders, round up refugees and cancel international commercial agreements.

Even though American courts have slowed down some of the initiatives, the obvious message of closed America borders has not been lost on the rest of the world.

Contrary to the core group of Trump supporters, most other jurisdictions feel alienated and confused by the administration’s early direction.

European support for the free trade deal with Canada actually grew because the agreement became synonymous with an anti-Trump approach. One European parliamentarian, Artis Pabriks from the European People’s Party made an oblique reference to the plan to wall off Mexico. “Together we can build bridges, instead of a wall, for the prosperity of our citizens. CETA will be a lighthouse for future trade deals all over the world.”

While Trump vows to close borders and keep foreigners out, the Canadian prime minister is welcoming refugees and signing trade deals with Europe and beyond.

Perhaps the ongoing chaos in Washington could actually work in Canada’s favour.

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Media

There’s considerable risk attached to Trudeau’s meeting with Trump in Washington

No Comments 16 March 2017

If Justin Trudeau is too aggressive, he could become another high-profile target in Donald Trump’s world tweet war. If Trudeau is too accommodating, he risks facing the ire of a considerable number of citizens back home who want the prime minister to fight back. The Monday meeting requires a delicate balance.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published on Monday, February 13, 2017 with The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Canada shares the longest open border in the world with the United States. Canadians would obviously like to keep it that way.

The Monday meeting between the prime minister and U.S. President Donald Trump will be key to that outcome.

At first blush, the two leaders are very different. Not only are they separated by age. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s political values are very different to Trump’s.

But Trudeau grew up with considerable family wealth and notoriety, in circumstances similar to Trump. Trudeau also spent much of his life in the public eye.

The Trudeau brand has been widely known around the world, rivalling that of the Trump brand.

Pierre Trudeau made a name for himself as a leader willing to break with tradition. He built new alliances, from early recognition of the People’s Republic of China to north-south political emphasis on Cuba and Latin America.

Political leaders still positively remember the influence of Pierre Trudeau on international public policy and will be watching this meeting closely.

As for Trump, his first weeks in office have not been well-received internationally. First came Trump’s fight with Mexico, then his disdain for China and two weeks ago was dominated by reports of a nasty telephone call with the prime minister of Australia.

To date, Trump’s strongest relationships appear to be with Russian president Vladimir Putin, and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Thus far, Canada has not been on Trump’s radar. Trudeau’s visit will be an exercise in keeping it that way.

There is considerable risk attached to the outcome of the meeting.

Most of the risk is on Canadian shoulders. With our small population and integrated economy, Canada stands to lose the most in a trade war with Trump. Much of our interconnection, from the beginnings of the auto pact, to bilateral steel and lumber agreements, is dependent on stable political relationships between the two leaders.

Prime ministers and presidents do not have to like each other, but they need to be able to work together for the benefit of both countries.

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Media

Sometimes ambiguity can be a blueprint for survival

No Comments 07 March 2017

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau displayed no such ambiguity when he launched a plan for electoral reform during the last election, boldly proclaiming that 2015 would be the last vote under the current system.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published on Monday, February 6, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—In politics, ambiguity is usually considered a sign of weak leadership. But it can sometimes be a blueprint for survival.

When the Government of France weighed in on the question of an independent Quebec back in 1977, they coined a phrase that epitomizes political ambiguity. The “non-indifference” policy was their explanation to support but not to interfere in the move for Quebec separation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau displayed no such ambiguity when he launched a plan for electoral reform during the last election, boldly proclaiming that 2015 would be the last vote under the current system.

Today, he probably wishes that he had been a little less categorical. In the heat of a campaign, certainty is a lot more attractive than ambiguity.

Explaining his about-face in the House of Commons last week, the prime minister appeared uncomfortably resolute. Without consensus on electoral change, it would be folly to change the system.

Predictably, the New Democrats attacked Trudeau viciously. NDP spokesperson Nathan Cullen admonished himself publicly to choose his words carefully. He then proceeded to call the prime minister a “liar” and “the most cynical variety of politician” who “spit in the face” of hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

Cullen’s response was angry, because his party stands to lose the most without proportional representation.

His party is also to blame for the impasse. They chaired the parliamentary committee which effectively set up the Liberal exit strategy.

By endorsing only one alternative system, that of proportional representation, committee members effectively signed the death warrant for electoral reform. The Conservatives said little last week, because they oppose reform. Their insistence on a national referendum on the matter was intended to scuttle any change.

By recommending only one system, and then agreeing to a national referendum, the NDP killed its own goose.

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Media

Trump’s only venture into theatre was a bust

No Comments 02 March 2017

Donald Trump is preparing to use an extraordinarily powerful bully pulpit to promote the Trump legacy as a blue-collar billionaire. What better way to drain the swamp than hitting out at left-wing media and cultural elites.

Published on Monday, January 30, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Donald Trump’s only venture into theatre was a bust.

So it stands to reason that one of his first acts as president could be to cut all funding to the only two federal agencies with a mandate for arts and culture. Last week The Hill, a congressional news source, reported on a plan to eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

The NEA, established by an Act of Congress back in 1964, currently receives only $150-million in federal government funds. That represents a pittance of the $10.5-trillion in cuts proposed by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing organization providing the blueprint for administration budget direction. As for the CPB, its total annual funding from public coffers is less than $450-million.

Both sums are chump change. By contrast, the Canada Council for the Arts is currently funded at a rate of $220-million Canadian dollars annually, almost $20-million more than the congressional allocation for the NEA, in a country with one-tenth the population. The last federal budget boosted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation budget by $675-million over five years.
 
But it is obvious that Trump’s political agenda is not about simply balancing the country’s books. He is preparing to use an extraordinarily powerful bully pulpit to promote the Trump legacy as a blue-collar billionaire. What better way to drain the swamp than hitting out at left-wing media and cultural elites.

It may also be payback time for ancient grievances.

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