Last week’s byelections burst the Ottawa bubble

No Comments 17 January 2018

Mid-term report cards on the governing Liberals have been flagging. They were unanimous in predicting the honeymoon was over. But four byelections in other parts of the country told a different story.


First published on Monday, December 18, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Byelections burst the Ottawa bubble last week.

Mid-term report cards on the governing Liberals have been flagging. They were unanimous in predicting the honeymoon was over.

But four byelections in other parts of the country told a different story.

The Liberals made surprising gains in British Columbia, while the Conservatives lost a seat but gained in popular vote. The New Democrat Party ended in deep trouble.

Losses by both opposition parties are interrelated.

A Tory general election victory could not happen without a hike in NDP support to peel votes away Liberal votes.

Just as Jean Chrétien’s government benefited from a right-wing split to win three successive majorities, Stephen Harper’s Conservative three-peat was spawned by splits on the left.

Most concerning for the New Democrats must be that their new leader underperformed in the very areas where his singular attributes were supposed to grow the vote.

Born in Scarborough, Jagmeet Singh was tagged to increase NDP support in suburban GTA, and in the Surrey-White Rock riding adjacent to one of the largest Indo-Canadian populations in the country.

After Singh was chosen leader of the NDP, most pundits predicted his charisma and unique visible minority status would dip into potential Liberal support in key battlegrounds like Toronto and Vancouver.

After all, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau enjoyed strong support amongst women and minorities, and his diverse cabinet reflected those successes.

Being a minister is one thing. Being leader is a more compelling story. Most believed support from diverse populations in places like Surrey and Scarborough would bleed away from the Liberals in favour of Singh.

The byelections put that myth to rest. Singh needs to take a long, hard look at these results and revisit his current absence from the House of Commons.

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AFN throws wrinkle into rollout of legalizing pot

No Comments 10 January 2018

Last week, the AFN announced the formation of a committee to study how aboriginal territories will implement their own regulations.


First published on Monday, December 11, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—As the date for legal pot nears, the Assembly of First Nations has thrown a new wrinkle into the rollout.

Last week, the AFN announced the formation of a committee to study how aboriginal territories will implement their own regulations. Regional chiefs from Quebec and Ontario share committee duties, and are expected to report on all aspects of their own proposals for legalization of cannabis.

Ontario chief Isadore Day suggested the committee may want to raise the age for legal consumption on their own territories, based on studies that show young brains are still being formed into the early twenties.

As with the provinces, there is no unanimity on how the new laws will apply. But there is unanimity on one issue, First Nations say that they will determine the rules around the use and sale of marijuana on reserves and will not be governed by any federal or provincial laws.

Many of the points raised at the AFN annual meeting last week are certainly worthy of consideration.

If the Government of Canada is committed to a nation-to-nation approach, then any move which has a direct impact on Indigenous communities needs to be based on some form of agreement.

But when push comes to shove, just which government will take precedence?

Another sticking point, which has also been the main bone of contention with the provinces, is around revenue sharing.

Currently, cigarettes manufactured and sold on multiple reserves across Canada are free of tax, ostensibly to be available to those on the territory who enjoy tax-free status. In reality, many points of sale are adjacent to large urban areas, and cigarettes are also sold to those who come to the reserve to avoid the hefty “sin” taxes currently levied on tobacco by all governments.

Presumably, on-reserve marijuana dispensaries would enjoy similar tax treatment, and the temptation to sell the product to neighbouring residents who do not enjoy tax-exempt status would be huge.

The current proposed patchwork of provincial regulations appears seamless in relation to the multiple regulatory changes that could be involved when laws are developed by more than 600 First Nations and 3,000 reserves across the country.

It seems unlikely that the outcome of any AFN committee findings will be implemented before the July 1 deadline set for legal pot.

But aboriginal business leaders are already moving in to take advantage of the potential pot of gold expected to materialize with legalization.

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Blue-blood finance minister merely adds to class struggle theme consuming Parliament

No Comments 03 January 2018

As long as Bill Morneau is holding the reins at finance, the questions about his personal wealth and (now divested) family earnings will keep coming. The minister is a moving target for the Conservatives and the NDP.


Published on Monday, December 4, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—The Conservative Party may have gone too far in fanning finance disclosure flames last week.

But the Tories certainly threw the government off-message on the messy issue of Morneau money.

By calling for the resignation of Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer was vaulted to the front of the news cycle during a time when the Liberals were hoping for potential positive coverage.

By suggesting that Morneau benefitted from insider knowledge when he sold family shares, finance critic Pierre Poilievre ventured dangerously close to libel territory.

He must have been betting that Morneau would be loathe to proceed with legal action when a suit would simply spawn more negative media.

Poilievre, an expert in precisely worded prevarication, was careful not to repeat his allegations outside the House. But he did manage to keep the questions coming about the personal financial situation of the minister.

These interventions achieved precisely what the Conservative Party was seeking, an opportunity to keep the Morneau money story from going away.

The New Democratic Party moved away from personal attacks on the minister’s family wealth, but it is still pursuing the potential for conflict in financial decision-making.

No one, not even the Conservatives, really believe that Morneau got into politics in order to fatten his own wallet.

If anything, the revelations of family wealth on both sides make it patently clear that the minister actually stands to lose significantly by choosing public service over private gain.

Morneau was informed by the conflict of interest commissioner of the actions to take to when he became a minister. He followed her advice, and when that changed, he followed it again. He donated $5-million of his own money to assuage any notion of benefit from family share increases during his time in office.

We cannot set the bar so high for public life that no one in their right mind would accept the challenge.

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© 2018 Sheila Copps.