By John Geddes - Friday, May 24, 2013 - 0 Comments
John Geddes explains why Wright and Duffy are just the beginning
Springtime in New York has much to recommend it, but for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the fact that Sen. Mike Duffy is unknown there must have been its most charming quality when he visited the city last week. Interviewed in front of a well-connected crowd at the Council on Foreign Relations by the CFR’s co-chairman, former U.S. treasury secretary Robert Rubin, Harper looked at ease—perhaps deceptively so—fielding polite questions about oil pipelines, the economy and Middle Eastern strife. Rubin and the CFR’s opinion-elite guests naturally didn’t know or care enough to ask about the controversy exploding back in Ottawa—ignited by the revelation that Nigel Wright, Harper’s trusted chief of staff, had dipped into his personal wealth to give Duffy about $90,000, allowing the beleaguered senator to pay back improperly claimed Senate housing allowances and other expenses.
Of course, Harper couldn’t have guessed when he scheduled his CFR event that it would conveniently whisk him away, if only briefly, from such turmoil. Even in the placid confines of the Upper East Side beaux-arts mansion that houses the think tank, though, the enormous pressures building up on him weren’t quite banished. After all, Harper’s main mission in Manhattan was to pitch influential Americans on the job-creating upside of Keystone XL, the highly contentious proposed pipeline that would take Alberta’s oil-sands crude to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. President Barack Obama is expected to make a decision on Keystone this summer, and its rejection on environmental grounds would deliver a bruising blow to Harper’s signature economic goal of building up Canada as an “energy superpower.”
By John Geddes - Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 4:47 PM - 0 Comments
Finding your name in the index of a real, honest-to-goodness, hardcover book, especially if you toil making short-lived works of journalism, is generally an ego-replenishing moment. So it was for me—if only fleetingly—when I saw a little something I’d written cited in Bob Plamandon’s The Truth About Trudeau, the Conservative commentator’s newly published bid to “set the record straight” about Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Plamondon touches on a blog post I dashed off for the Maclean’s website one morning back in the fall of 2011. With my coffee that day, as I recall, I read a David Frum piece in the paper about what a terrible failure Trudeau had been, and I found his arguments flimsy. To sum up very briefly, Frum slammed Trudeau for mismanaging the economy and fomenting national disunity. But hadn’t governments all over, I thought, struggled in much the same way Trudeau did with 1970s stagflation? And wasn’t Trudeau the guy who held off René Levesque’s compelling brand of separatism in the anxious 1976-1980 period?
By John Geddes - Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 10:15 AM - 0 Comments
Nigel Wright’s resignation from his position as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff suggests two possible paths ahead for the story of Wright’s strange decision to cut Sen. Mike Duffy a $90,000 cheque.
The first path starts from the perspective, best expressed in Scott Reid’s insightful column in yeterday’s Ottawa Citizen, that Wright dipped into his personal wealth to pay off Duffy’s illegitimately collected Senate expenses out of a perhaps overly developed sense of a dutiful political aide’s responsibility to stamp out fires before they threaten to engulf the boss.
By John Geddes - Friday, May 17, 2013 at 11:46 AM - 0 Comments
Andrew MacDougall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s director of communications, spoke with reporters today in the National Press Theatre, just off Parliament Hill, about the unusual decision of Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, to cut Sen. Mike Duffy a cheque for about $90,000.
As most Canadians know by now, Duffy resigned yesterday from the Conservative caucus, which puts some distance between the controversy-plagued senator and the government. But Wright’s decision to dip into his personal wealth to give Duffy the money he needed to repay improperly claimed Senate expenses has brought the issue to the very heart of Harper’s own political operation.
MacDougall’s responses today offer three key indications about how the Tories hope to contain the damage from this controversy. Here are the main points that emerged from his exchange with reporters:
By John Geddes - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 5:36 PM - 0 Comments
It is tempting to frame the news that Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, took the extraordinary step of personally giving more than $90,000 to Mike Duffy, the senator from (ostensibly) Prince Edward Island, strictly in terms of the stark contrast between the two main characters.
The story—broken over at CTV by Robert Fife—has Wright giving Duffy a fat cheque to allow him to repay improperly claimed Senate housing allowances. The gift-giver could hardly be a more guardedly low-profile public office holder; the recipient is about the most outsized character in the Upper Chamber.
If Duffy’s fame as a longtime TV news personality, before his Senate appointment, was once a boon to the Conservatives, allowing him to serve as a party fundraising draw, that same notoriety now makes this unwelcome story that much bigger. And if Wright’s reticence was previously seen as an exemplary attribute in a Harper-era political aide, that same discretion might make him seem, in this new context, a rather shadowy figure.
By John Geddes - Friday, May 10, 2013 at 3:20 PM - 0 Comments
Among the many fine things about a classic summer family road trip is the way history often becomes part of the holiday. Pull the car over at that historic plaque. Drag the kids through another museum. Then, ice cream—perfect balance achieved.
So I look forward to tourist season on Parliament Hill. For those of us who work here year-round, it’s good to be reminded every spring by all those happy visitors of the history represented by the old neo-gothic buildings, which never disappoint.
This is the sort of popular connection with Canada’s past that the Conservative government seems eager to foster. There’s much to be said for framing our history in the way Heritage Minister James Moore proposed last year, when he announced that the Canadian Museum of Civilization will be rebranded the Canadian Museum of History, with a revised mandate to “highlight the national achievements and accomplishments that have shaped our country.”
By John Geddes - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 10:34 AM - 0 Comments
High-profile leaks of private bank data raise new questions about the widespread use of offshore accounts
Back in early 2010, a meeting in Paris between ministers of the Canadian and French governments led to authorities in Canada getting their hands on an extraordinary list of potential tax cheats. The Canadian revenue minister at the time, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, met with Eric Woerth, then the French budget minister. According to a Canadian government memo on what transpired, Woerth “invited” Blackburn to “make a formal request” for information on Canadians whose Swiss bank-account records were among thousands from various countries itemized in pilfered data that had been turned over to the French by a whistle-blower.
That informant was Hervé Falciani, a former IT employee of HSBC Private Bank in Geneva. Falciani is a citizen of France and Italy, but he’s now in Spain facing possible extradition back to Switzerland, where police regard him as a thief of HSBC’s information. Among advocates of greater global co-operation to catch rich tax-dodgers, though, he’s something of a hero. But exactly how the Canada Revenue Agency has made use of the roughly 1,700 Canadian names reportedly contained in his digital trove of HSBC account-holders is impossible to find out. Revenue Minister Gail Shea won’t say, citing both the privacy rights of taxpayers, which the CRA is bound to respect, and a bilateral confidentiality deal between Canada and France.
Still, pressed by Maclean’s for some indication of results, the CRA did provide figures that suggest what some jittery Canadian HSBC customers did after the Falciani story hit the news in 2009. Under a CRA “voluntary disclosure” program, taxpayers can come clean on undeclared income, as long as they do so before the federal agency begins to audit them. They must cough up the tax owing, plus interest, but can avoid penalties and charges. In the case of HSBC, as of March 22, the CRA says 208 voluntary disclosures had been made. Of those, the agency had finished processing 177 files, and discovered that the accounts in question sheltered $89.9 million in previously unreported income—or nearly $510,000 on average for each HSBC client who suddenly decided to be more forthcoming.
By John Geddes - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 7:31 PM - 0 Comments
On Stephen Poloz’s big day, as he basks in the media attention that comes with being named the next Governor of the Bank of Canada, let’s not resort to words like “dull.” There’s no need for that sort of talk. “Stolid” serves and doesn’t sound nearly as harsh.
Still, there sat Poloz in the National Press Theatre this afternoon, right beside the departing Mark Carney. It was impossible not to sag a bit at the thought of Ottawa reverting to being just a bit more its own cliché. You judge me shallow for dwelling on Carney’s performance style? Show a little pity. Consider those of us who jobs entail listening regularly to what’s intoned by the less, shall we say, dynamic of our current federal cabinet ministers.
And Carney’s ability to command willing attention—whether on stage in Davos or in studio with Strombo—wasn’t merely diverting. Because it was the charismatic Carney talking, we paid a tad more attention to, for instance, dire warnings about consumer debt loads. Even policy issues that touch that so intimately on the financial lives of most Canadians can’t compete for public attention unless leaders show at least a bit of flare.
Typically, we’d look for those skills in elected politicians. But there aren’t many in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Ottawa with that sort of knack. And now there will be one fewer in the senior ranks of the Canadian public service—though one more at the Bank of England, where Carney takes over next month.
In fact, Poloz lands the top job at the Bank of Canada in the wake of, not just one unusually watchable performer, but two in a row. If Carney was all cool urbanity, his raspy-voiced predecessor, David Dodge, projected an avuncular quality that was powerfully reassuring—a pretty handy trick for a central bank gov.
Now, Poloz, 57, is no slouch. He’s not a Harvard and Oxford man like Carney, but is a respected economist with a PhD from University of Western Ontario. He has deep Bank of Canada roots, having worked there for 14 years, including a stint in the 1990s as chief of research, running the shop Carney calls the bank’s “engine room.” Poloz later joined the federal Export Development Corporation as its chief economist in 1999, before taking over as EDC’s president and CEO in 2011. That put him in close contact with the CEOs of many Canadian exporting companies.
Not surprisingly, he was ultra-cautious at today’s news conference, laughing off some questions until he’s had time to settle into the job, or just avowing that he likes the way Carney has run things. Perhaps his most emphatic answer came late, when Poloz drew on his recent EDC experience to highlight the prime importance of a U.S. recovery, and the resulting boost in demand for Canadian exports, in Canada’s outlook.
“What we’re looking for is that the engine of growth on the demand side gradually shifts into the export side of the economy,” Poloz said, citing the EDC’s recent global export forecast. “It shows pretty strong growth in Canadian exports for next year, on the back of the recovery that we are seeing in the United States in particular, which has been the lacking bit in the story until recently.”
That explicit reference to the perspective he brings from his last job served as a no doubt unintentional reminder that Poloz is an outsider, chosen to succeed Carney over a strong internal Bank of Canada candidate—senior deputy governor Tiff Macklem. Carney was, to my ear at least, at his polished best today fielding the awkward question of whether Macklem will stay on. “Tiff is very much looking forward to working with Steve,” he said in part, lapsing into first names since these are, you know, old pals who get along famously.
Financial market insiders will be arguing for days over what it means that the Conservative government picked Poloz over Macklem. Was it mainly a matter of policy bent, a preference for Poloz’s export orientation? Was it an Ottawa culture issue, a sign that the Harper crew saw Macklem as too much the consummate mandarin?
These can be interesting questions, if you like that sort of thing. (I do.) But for most Canadians, the noticeable part of today’s handoff won’t really be about monetary policy, much less about Ottawa’s arcane inner workings. The change that matters will be how a face and voice, which sometimes, against all odds, actually captured the attention of those who are susceptible to paying attention between elections to the way the country is run, isn’t going to be around anymore.
That’s not the new guy’s fault. He’s there to do a job, and he has the credentials to do it. But with a government in power that controls its own message (and messengers) so tightly, Carney’s ability and willingness not to be boring is certain to be sorely missed.
By John Geddes - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
The new Liberal leader is being portrayed as not manly enough–which won’t hurt his polling numbers at all
Those early Conservative attack ads against Justin Trudeau are being widely interpreted as not-so-subtly casting doubt on the new Liberal leader’s manliness. Among other telltale elements, they end with Trudeau’s name unscrolling across TV screens—with a fairy-tale spray of animated sparkles—in a rather feminine, cursive script. As well, the ads were aired heavily during sports shows, suggesting the target viewer was the hockey-loving male.
But how susceptible is he to being portrayed as not man enough? To make that case, Conservative strategists must overcome the image of Trudeau pummelling then-Tory Sen. Patrick Brazeau (since kicked out of the party’s caucus after being charged with assault and sexual assault) in a charity boxing brawl last year. And then there’s the factor documented by the photos here. The throngs of women Trudeau often attracts, despite his being a married man with two young children, do not appear to be pressing close to him in order to demand that he flesh out his economic policy.
Might male voters be impressed, or will they resent his effect on their wives and girlfriends? The sexes do seem to perceive him differently. An EKOS poll found that 20 per cent of men who’d seen one of the Tory attack ads found it fair, compared to just 10 per cent of women. (Most of both sexes, however, about 70 per cent, thought the ad was unfair, with the rest not sure.)
By John Geddes - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 9:53 AM - 0 Comments
My first thought on seeing Justin Trudeau’s new ad was that he’s not wandering in a sun-dappled glade.
I refer, as aficionados of Liberal rebuttals to Conservative attack ads will instantly have realized, to the fall 2009 Michael Ignatieff spot, in which Liberal mad men concocted a scene in which their besieged leader held forth in a sylvan setting, variously described by amused pundits as a leafy glen, a copse, Sherwood Forest and Narnia.
Back then, Liberals compounded the confusion about why Ignatieff was speaking to Canadians from the wildwood by declining to say exactly what thicket served as their set. They wanted it to be seen as Anywhere, Canada, with photosynthesis. But the mystery inevitably fed the growing impression that Ignatieff was lost.
By John Geddes - Monday, April 22, 2013 at 7:15 PM - 0 Comments
The timing was, to say the least, a stroke of luck for the Conservatives—and, according to government officials, nothing more.
On the very day when the RCMP was dominating national news by announcing that it had arrested two men in an alleged al-Qaida-linked plot against VIA Rail, the Conservatives had hastily scheduled a House debate on anti-terrorism legislation.
It’s called the Combating Terrorism Act, or Bill S-7, and would bring back a raft of anti-terrorism measures, first brought in as temporary powers by the Liberal government after the 9/11 attacks, which lapsed in 2007.
By John Geddes - Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
The new Liberal leader’s biggest rivalry may not be with Harper, but fellow progressive Mulcair
The House of Commons is laid out to create confrontations, classically a prime minister and an opposition leader glaring at one another across the wide centre aisle. So when Justin Trudeau entered the chamber this week for the first time as Liberal leader, interest naturally focused on how he would fare against Stephen Harper. (Their initial exchange was disappointingly low-key.) But there is another equally intriguing, though less obvious, way to size up the House scene. If Trudeau takes a sidelong glance from his new front-bench seat, he’s liable to catch sight of the brooding profile of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair—potentially his even more important adversary in the next election.
Neither Mulcair nor Trudeau seems eager to publicly emphasize his rivalry with the other, at least not nearly as much as his desire to bring down Harper. Yet in key election battlegrounds—notably Quebec, home province of both—their success in the expected 2015 campaign will depend largely on which left-of-centre party comes out on top and by how much. “It really comes down to trying to eliminate the other progressive option,” says Ipsos Reid pollster Darrell Bricker. Recent polls show the Liberals surging past the NDP on the strength of the excitement Trudeau generated cruising to victory in the party’s leadership race. That sort of bounce for a new leader is typical, but not easy to sustain. Still, the opinion shift provides a glimpse of how Trudeau’s rise, if he doesn’t falter, might change the next election’s outcome.
Wilfrid Laurier University’s Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy blended the findings of five national polls, conducted in late March and early April, and projected that if those voter preferences prevailed on election day, the Tories would be reduced to a minority, 138 seats down from 164. The Liberals would vault into second place, rising to 93 MPs from today’s 35, while the NDP would be relegated back to third, dropping to 89 seats from 100. Barry Kay, a political science professor at the university and an associate at the institute, says projected Liberal gains in Quebec—from today’s eight seats to a respectable 23—would come mainly from the NDP. In Atlantic Canada and Ontario, Trudeau would pick up ridings primarily from the Tories—sometimes as a result, not so much of the Conservative vote slipping, but of NDP support shifting to the Liberals.
By John Geddes - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 5:10 PM - 0 Comments
There’s been so much discussion about Justin Trudeau’s answer when CBC’s Peter Mansbridge asked him about the Boston bombings, in this interview, that I went back, listened carefully another time, and typed up what Trudeau said. My transcript is below, in case anyone finds it helpful.
It’s better to listen, though, since hearing Trudeau’s voice helps when it comes to catching his nuance. His tone takes on an insistent quality on the need to consider “root causes” and, later, on not fostering a “culture of fear and mistrust,” as if while he spoke he already anticipated objections.
By John Geddes - Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 8:10 PM - 0 Comments
If you were listening for hints of policy in Justin Trudeau’s acceptance speech in Ottawa as he won the Liberal leadership today, then you must not have been paying attention to his campaign.
Still, there was content of a sort. Three strategic aims, all well worth keeping in mind, stood out in Trudeau’s generally low-key text. He framed Liberalism as the sunny alternative to gloomy Conservatism; asked Quebecers to think of themselves as builders of Canada; and scolded Liberals for letting their intramural squabbles undermine their electability.
1. Here was a key moment as he tried to draw that advantageous Liberal-vs.-Conservative contrast (throwing in the NDP for good measure):
“Canadians want to be led, not ruled. They are tired of the negative, divisive politics of Mr. Harper’s Conservatives, and unimpressed that the NDP under Mr. Mulcair have decided that if you can’t beat them you might as well join them. Well, we are fed up with leaders who pit Canadians against Canadians, West against East, rich against poor, Quebec against the rest of the country, urban against rural.”
By John Geddes - Friday, April 12, 2013 at 10:43 AM - 0 Comments
The new leader of the Liberals revealed more during the race than anyone expected
It’s hard not to think of what the Liberal leadership race might have been. If Bob Rae had sought the job, Justin Trudeau’s skills as a debater and orator would have been tested against those of a past master. If Mark Carney had heeded the blandishments of Liberals who asked him to leave central banking and run, Trudeau’s status as the campaign’s unrivaled media star would have been seriously challenged.
But even without such top-tier rivals to press him, Trudeau revealed more during the race than might have been expected from a front-runner’s campaign. It’s not that he risked mapping out anything like a full platform. In an early strategy session, a member of his core team, veteran Liberal policy adviser Mike McNair, set the tone by digging up this bit of advice from the memoirs of Brian Mulroney: “You cannot defend an entire detailed program if you want to be a serious contender for a party’s leadership. If you try, you won’t win.”
And Trudeau certainly followed the former prime minister’s advice that a leadership aspirant should offer only a “general approach,” particularly on unavoidable topics like the economy and national unity. But if he wouldn’t be pinned down on exactly what he wants to do, Trudeau left little doubt about who he is trying to reach. His target groups include middle-class voters drawn in recent elections to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s economic message; new Canadians susceptible to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s ethnic outreach efforts; younger voters who might lean NDP or Green, or not cast ballots at all; and Quebecers who abandoned the Liberals in droves over the past four elections.
By John Geddes - Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 12:22 PM - 0 Comments
It’s fascinating to see controversy stirred up over an old blog post by NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice in which he called World War I “a purely capitalist war” and lamented how, at the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, “thousands of poor wretches were slaughtered to take possession of a hill.”
Conservatives, led by Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, have expressed outrage and demanded Boulerice apologize. So far, he hasn’t. For the record, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair had already released a statement praising the legendary efforts of Canadians soldiers in the landmark battle. [I've clarified this sentence since an earlier version might have left the impression Mulcair issued the statement only after the Boulerice blog became an issue.]
I’m not sure how reflecting on the tragedy of thousands dying to capture a height of land would be inconsistent with acknowledging their military prowess in doing so, much less insulting to veterans. More interesting, I think, is the strangeness of how World War I can remain a politically fraught subject nearly a century on.
By John Geddes - Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 4:06 PM - 0 Comments
Brian Mulroney came to know Margaret Thatcher, who died yesterday at age 87, when they were both Conservative prime ministers. They remained friends after leaving politics. The former Canadian PM spoke with me about Thatcher from his law office in Montréal. This is an edited transcript of the conversation:
Q: Given Margaret Thatcher’s age and health, were you braced for her death?
A: No, frankly, I was shocked. While I knew Margaret had been in decline, I certainly didn’t think it was going to happen this quickly.
Q: You were friends, but you also famously clashed with her over South Africa, back when you were championing tougher sanctions against the apartheid regime and she was resisting the move. How did your personal relationship survive that strain?
A: She could dish it out, but she could take it. And I saw in her other qualities and other leadership dimensions beyond this serious policy difference that we had on South Africa. We used that to build our way back to commonalities of approach. We agreed on the economy. We basically agreed on Europe—not on the unification of Germany, on which we were in disagreement—but on the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact.
Q: Beyond her personal presence, what was it about her record, her policies, that made her such a watershed figure?
A: She inherited the sick man of Europe in 1979 and transformed it into a powerhouse. When she left office, it was Britain redefined. And of course the frosting on the cake was her action in the Falklands, where she gave Britain back some of its pizzazz, addressed some past yearning and great memories. So she gave them back their pride. That was the first great thing she did.
Q: Beyond how she changed Britain, though, what stands out for you about her impact internationally?
A: I was there watching as she played a very key role with President Reagan and Chancellor Kohl, others at the G7 and NATO, in terms of the decapitation of the Soviet Union. In her case, she was fully consistent. Every argument that she ever made internationally didn’t have a great deal to do with her contempt for Communism—she never really got into that. What she talked about was giving freedom to tens of millions of people in Central and Eastern Europe. She was an inspirational leader when it came to discussing her belief in freedom. More visceral and moral.
Q: You wrote in your memoirs that you saw other dimensions, not just the Iron Lady persona.
A: Like all of us, there were many facets to Margaret Thatcher’s personality. In private she was kind, thoughtful, charming. Very attentive to her interlocutors. She took time to be concerned—she knew all about my children and [wife] Mila and so on.
Q: And you kept in touch with her after you were both out of office.
A: Oh yes. I’ve told the story of Mila and I being with her and [her husband] Denis, and Nancy Reagan, as guests of Carroll Petrie in Southampton outside of New York. This would have been, I’m going to say, 1998, 1999. After dinner on a Saturday night, Peter Duchin sat down at the piano and started to play, Margaret got up and sang “The White Cliffs of Dover.” She had a lovely contralto voice. And I’m sitting there and I’m saying to myself, here’s one of the greatest prime ministers in history, after Churchill, singing the song that kept the Brit morale alive during the war. So obviously I got up and sang the second verse with her.
Q: In her heyday, the fact that she was a woman must have made her stand out at any summit of political leaders. Were you very conscious of that?
A: She was the only woman. Always perfectly coiffed, splendidly dressed—beautiful maroon or dark blue suits. That lovely diamond brooch. She would never speak to an issue without having absolutely exhausted the research on the file. She spoke very confidently because of it.
Q: That description of complete mastery of files will fit with the public impression of her as disciplined and unflappable. Was she always like that?
A: I saw some doubt and hesitation in her only after she was overthrown and left office.
Q On the subject of her being overthrown, you were with her in Paris on Nov. 20, 1990, the day many of her own MPs had turned against her. What do you recall about that dramatic moment?
A: I’m leaving to go to the [Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe] summit in Paris, and Robert Maxwell [the British Labour MP and newspaper baron], of all people, asks to see me at the Ritz in Montréal. He tells me that Margaret Thatcher is going to be overthrown. I think he’s nuts. But because he’s told me that, I pay attention. When I arrive in Paris, I’m seated across from Margaret at the conference table. I make detailed notes—what she’s wearing, what she says, just on the off chance that for once in his life Maxwell turns out to be right. Well, by God, he was.
Q: When did you realize his tip was correct?
A: That night, when the vote count [of Thatcher’s caucus] was in, and we met for dinner in Versailles, and she came to me and said, ‘Brian, tonight I need a friend.’ She was as courageous as they come, but she was badly, badly shaken. She conveyed that to Mila and me. But when she went back to the official dinner, 35 heads of government, she put on that smile. Yet when the dinner was over she came to me and said, ‘Will you walk me out?’ So she was on my arm, I walked her to her car. She flew back to London and resigned the next day.
By John Geddes - Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 6:06 PM - 0 Comments
Today’s Liberal showcase event in Toronto is over, so the next big date for Justin Trudeau to mark on your calendar would be Sunday, April 14, when the winner of the Liberal leadership race is to be announced in Ottawa.
Unless you are among those—and you wouldn’t be entirely alone—who think that outcome is a foregone conclusion, in which case maybe the next big day for Trudeau is Monday, April 15, when he is expected to debut in the House of Commons as Liberal leader.
Which promises to be interesting. Trudeau proved himself a more than competent campaigner in this leadership race. But of course the crowds have been friendly, even adoring, and the atmosphere lends itself to Trudeau’s conversational, unthreatening style.
By John Geddes - Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 10:04 AM - 0 Comments
The scoffing term for what’s about to happen to Justin Trudeau, in case you haven’t picked up on it, is “coronation.” The implication being that the dauphin strolled unimpeded through the Liberal leadership race, which wraps up with presentations today in Toronto from Trudeau and his five remaining—well, I guess they are still to be called—rivals. (The online and telephone balloting by some 127,000 Liberal party members and supporters who signed up to vote runs April 7 to April 14, when the winner will be announced in Ottawa.)
Yet if a crown is to be placed, so to speak, on the most ogled head of hair in Canadian politics—the wavy antithesis of Stephen Harper’s helmet—it’s not like those locks haven’t been mussed a bit along the way. Trudeau’s frontrunner status may never have been threatened, but all his key purported weaknesses—thin experience, a cosseted upbringing, a brittle stance on Quebec, aversion to left-of-centre cooperation—were pointedly highlighted along the way.
At those moments, Conservatives and New Democrats were watching most closely, and so they are worth recapping for signs of whether these tests did more to expose Trudeau’s vulnerabilities or fortify his defences.
By John Geddes - Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 3:01 PM - 0 Comments
Among the most-discussed measures in last week’s federal budget was the government’s plan to create a new “Canada Job Grant.” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Ottawa will contribute up to $5,000 per employee—if the employer and the province both provide matching funding—for short-term skills upgrading in places like community colleges and union training centres.
Flaherty said the plan will “transform” training and touted it as a key step toward improving the chances of workers filling in-demand occupations. But does his plan target the main problem? A report from CIBC World Markets, released late last year, found that most of the jobs facing serious skills shortages in Canada require post-secondary education—including doctors, nurses and dentists, optometrists, chiropractors, pharmacists, dietitians and nutritionists, along with mining, engineering and science occupations.
The report’s author, CIBC deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal, talked with Maclean’s about the real nature of Canada’s mismatch between skills and jobs.
By John Geddes - Monday, March 25, 2013 at 2:04 PM - 0 Comments
Perhaps the biggest unanswered question about the budget Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled last week was how he planned to cut a whopping $4 billion out of the government’s operating expenses in the coming year. As it turns out, though, that might just be the easiest part of Flaherty’s budget-balancing task ahead.
The planned cut in question falls under the heading “direct program expenses,” which means it’s a saving that must be found in what Ottawa spends directly, not what it transfers to people and provinces. After posting $80.5 billion in operating expenses in 2012-13, Flaherty’s new budget allows for just $76.5 billion in 2013-14. And “Economic Action Plan 2013,” as he likes to call the budget, offers scant detail on what is to be slashed to achieve this $4-billion reduction, which led one columnist to say the budget plan shows operating costs “magically dropping” and another reporter to call the cut “something of a mystery.”
By John Geddes - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 6:54 PM - 0 Comments
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair apparently couldn’t think of a verb for the sort of tight-spending policy he perceived in the 2013 federal budget, so he redeployed an adjective, saying, “You cannot austere your way out of a crisis.”
Beyond that novel phrasing, Mulcair’s reaction to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s latest fiscal plan combined criticism of the Tories for being unreliable economic forecasters and some pointed objections to particular budget moves.
On Flaherty’s pledge to balance the books by 2015, the NDP leader noted that the budget assumes 2.5 per cent growth in gross domestic product next year, up from just 1.6 per cent this year, which is, in turn, well below the 2.4 per cent GDP growth projected in last year’s budget.
“His predictions are constantly wrong,” Mulcair said, adding, “”They are making a very high prediction for [GDP growth] next year to come up with their under $20 billion deficit. That will, of course, also be proven to be wrong.”
By John Geddes - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 6:10 PM - 0 Comments
Justin Trudeau, the prohibitive favourite to win the leadership of the federal Liberal party next month, says the new federal budget’s plan for training sets the stage for a friction between the Conservative government and the provinces over job training.
A centrepiece of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget is a plan he says will “transform” the way Canadians are trained, by establishing a new “Canada Jobs Grant.” Under the plan, Ottawa would provide up to $5,000 for an employee being trained on the job, as long as the employer and the province each put up an equal amount.
By John Geddes - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 4:30 PM - 0 Comments
The trick Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tried to pull off in his eighth federal budget was to convey the sense he is taking action while, at the same time, brushing off his old claim to being a non-interventionist Conservative who trusts the economy to do its thing.
In other words, Flaherty set out to send two messages that don’t coexist comfortably in the same budget speech. In the closest thing he attempted at a rhetorical flourish, he asserted that government should be “a benign and silent partner” to Canadians going about their economic lives “and not an overbearing behemoth squeezing them at every turn.”
Yet he also said his plan “takes action” with three major thrusts—introducing a jobs grant that he boasted will “transform the way we provide skills training,” mapping out an infrastructure program that he touted as “the largest and longest” in the country’s history, and a stitching together a new strategy for boosting business innovation.
So he announced action on those three fronts, but returned repeatedly to avowals of old-school fiscal Conservatism, all punctuated by a repeat of his key pledge to balance the books by 2015.
By John Geddes - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 4:30 PM - 0 Comments
The test of Flaherty’s budget? How municipalities greet big numbers and long-term horizons.
The drumbeat of demands for a big federal commitment to infrastructure was a dominant theme in the months leading to Budget 2013, and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s $53-billion answer is arguably the most important single spending element he announced.
Led by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the cities and towns that do the lion’s share of infrastructure spending, a series of influential lobby groups touted federal money for roads and bridges, waterworks and mass transit, as the best way Flaherty could pump some short-term stimulus into the economy and boost long-term competitiveness at the same time.
How those groups receive the scheme he delivered will go a long way to determining the political success or failure of the budget. Flaherty’s plan has four main components: $32.2 billion over 10 years for communities to build everything from roads to arenas; $14 billion to support bigger showpiece project “of national, regional and local significance;” $1.25 billion for so-called P3 projects that involve partnerships with private companies; and $6 billion left over from older infrastructure funds.