By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair has gone to Washington and criticized the Harper government’s environmental policies and questioned the benefits of the Keystone XL pipeline and this has upset Brad Wall, Ed Fast, Joe Oliver, James Moore and Michelle Rempel.
The “national interest,” of course, is in the eye of the beholder.
Premier Wall and the Harper government (and the Saskatchewan NDP) believe Canada would be better off with the Keystone XL pipeline. Thus, championing the pipeline is speaking in the national interest. The NDP’s position on Keystone XL, conversely, seems to be that the oil would be better put to use in Canada and that there need to be better policies governing the environmental impacts of the oil sands. Along those lines, Mr. Mulcair would probably argue that he is speaking in the national interest.
So is Keystone XL in the national interest? Shawn McCarthy looks at Mr. Mulcair’s logic on job creation. And Clare Demerse looks at the Harper government’s environmental record. President Obama, meanwhile, allegedly thinks “the Canadians” are going to get rich.
As for how an opposition leader should speak when abroad, that’s also a tricky matter. When Mr. Harper went to Washington in 2005, he criticized the Liberal government for not spending enough on defence, peacekeeping and foreign aid, spoke with the President about the possibility of missile defence and, at a news conference, suggested the Liberals were associating with groups that had terrorist affiliations. He probably could have claimed to have been speaking in the national interest in each case.
By Paul Wells - Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 5:50 AM - 0 Comments
One of the longest-lasting stories in Stephen Harper’s tenure as Prime Minister will end this month. Unless it doesn’t end. But everyone’s going to give it a college try.
While the current issue of Maclean’s is on newsstands, Ed Fast, Canada’s trade minister, will travel to Brussels to meet his approximate counterpart, European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht. The subject is an ambitious trade deal Canada is trying to reach with the European Union. Bureaucrats and negotiators from both sides have been meeting regularly for 3½ years. They left all the hard decisions to the end. This is the end. Fast’s meeting with de Gucht will be the first negotiation among politicians instead of civil servants. It comes six weeks before the New Year, the date Stephen Harper named during the 2011 campaign as the deadline for a deal.
Everybody connected to the negotiations assures me there will be a deal. Every public sign I see makes me think there won’t.
At the end of October, De Gucht, a former Belgian foreign minister, sat down for a webcast interview with an EU journalist about the negotiations. His body language was comical. “I hope that we can finish these negotiations by the end of the year,” he said. “That’s the day after tomorrow, hmm?” Translation: that deadline is really freaking close.
So, he said, Fast would come to Brussels. “But we should have no illusions. There are still a number of difficult issues to tackle. So I’m not promising anything. But we will make a major effort to close the deal before the end of the year. That’s what we are going to do. But there are a number of issues I believe that you can only resolve at the political level. That’s why . . . we will have a ministerial [meeting] to, yeah, to close the deal, I mean to sort it out and do the necessary political arbitration.”
Pro tip: if an automobile salesman describes his product to you in similar halting terms, don’t buy the car.
Two weeks later, De Gucht was sounding far more chipper. “I expect to conclude a comprehensive agreement with Canada very soon,” he told a business audience in Mexico. “Even more crucially, it is possible that we will start talks for a deep free trade agreement with the United States, if our leaders agree on this in the new year.”
But now it was Harper’s turn to sound less than bullish. “There’s a lot of roadblocks out there in all these relationships, China, India, the negotiations with the European Union, the Americas strategy,” he told the Toronto Star. “Frankly, because of all the impediments, my judgment is that we have to go hard on all fronts and see what actually progresses.”
Why does it matter? Because the so-called Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe is the biggest and oldest trade file on the government docket. Jean Charest started pushing European contacts to take the idea seriously during his first term as Quebec premier, in 2006. Harper came on board in early 2007. Negotiations began in 2009, after a preliminary study suggested an agreement could be worth $12 billion a year to Canada. Back then, Stockwell Day was the trade minister and he said he’d like to see negotiations conclude by the end of 2010. They slipped, and slipped again, and slipped some more, and now it’s two years later.
Why is it so hard? A Canada-EU CETA would be much more ambitious in opening markets in services, investment and government procurement than the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement. A broad range of domestic interests on both sides would rather keep those markets closed. And the opponents of CETA have been far more effective at mobilizing opposition than its proponents have been at mobilizing support.
The nationalist Council of Canadians lists more than 70 municipalities and municipal organizations that have debated local resolutions demanding that they be exempted from CETA’s procurement provisions. They want the right to prefer local contractors instead of letting European firms bid. Then there are CETA negotiators’ proposals to extend patent protection on Canadian pharmaceuticals to match European protections, which would tend to drive up the cost of prescription medication. Finally, farmers whose products are supply-managed don’t want to open the Canadian market to an avalanche of European dairy and other products.
I’ve talked to a succession of Harper trade ministers who didn’t buy any of those arguments. Harper devoted several days to pitching CETA on the campaign trail last year because he sees his support for trade as a key contrast with the NDP and other opposition parties.
But Harper has tried to play this file differently from the way Brian Mulroney played the Canada-U.S. free trade wars. He thought he could low-bridge CETA, keep the whole process low-key, avoid ratcheting up the tension. Now the deal’s opponents have outflanked him on every side. He can still storm ahead, reach a deal and pass it with nobody else’s approval.
But Harper has had a rough several weeks over far more obscure trade files than CETA. Something, or a bunch of somethings, has made this negotiation drag on twice as long as the government ﬁrst hoped. All those somethings remain. It’ll be an interesting end to a long year for this Prime Minister.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 11:20 AM - 0 Comments
The minister of international trade talks with Luiza Ch. Savage
Ed Fast, the minister for international trade, is overseeing the Conservative government’s aggressive trade agenda that is opening new markets to Canadian exporters, and raising questions about everything from drug patents to environmental regulations. As Canada and the U.S. mark the 25th anniversary of the bilateral Free Trade Agreement, Ottawa’s strategic focus is shifting to the high-growth countries of Asia and Latin America, and to a new generation of trade agreements that cover services as well as goods.
Q: When I came into the room, I didn’t realize that it was you playing the grand piano. Do you play often?
A: I don’t play as much as I used to because of my schedule. Music has been a part of my life since I was a toddler. There were eight kids in my family and my mother made sure we each played at least two instruments. I play piano, violin and guitar, but piano is the instrument I love. I learned to play it from age 6, and when I became a teenager I learned to improvise. It’s something that’s really freeing. It’s a great stress reliever.
Q: This week marks the 25th anniversary of free trade with the U.S., but you’ve been travelling everywhere from Brazil to Burma. Are our trade patterns shifting? What does the future look like 10 years from now?
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, September 21, 2012 at 2:59 PM - 0 Comments
Among the Conservaties who stood in the House this week and criticized the NDP’s stance on cap-and-trade were Kyle Seeback, Peter Van Loan, Gord Brown, Leon Benoit, Shelly Glover, Chris Warkentin, LaVar Payne, Gerry Ritz, Pierre Poilievre, Christian Paradis, Rick Dykstra, Randy Hoback, Pierre Lemieux, Ed Fast, Tony Clement and Andrew Saxton. These individuals—like Phil McColeman, Joe Preston and Ed Holder, who attacked the NDP last week—were all Conservative candidates in 2008 when the Conservative party platform included a commitment to pursue a continental cap-and-trade system.
Here, again, is everything you need to know about the Conservatives’ carbon tax farce.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, September 17, 2012 at 7:25 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. John Baird pointed at Thomas Mulcair and laughed.
Conservative MP Andrew Saxton was on his feet a couple rows back, claiming that the leader of the opposition had spent the summer promoting the idea of a tax on carbon. Mr. Baird apparently thought this was funny. Mr. Saxton had been preceded by Shelly Glover. And Mr. Saxton and Ms. Glover would be followed by Conservative MP John Williamson, all rising in the moments before Question Period to recite their assigned talking points.
Peter Van Loan had accused Mr. Mulcair of favouring a carbon tax this morning at a news conference to mark the start of the fall sitting. Two hours later, the Conservative party press office had then issued a “fact check” repeating the claim. Veteran Affairs Minister Steven Blaney posted the talking point to Facebook. Tim Uppal, the minister of state for democratic reform, tweeted it. Minister of International Co-operation Julian Fantino tweeted it too.
Last week it was Conservative MPs Phil McColeman, Susan Truppe, Joe Preston and Ed Holder. The week before that it was Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. Back in June, the Conservatives launched television attack ads that repeated the claim.
By Paul Wells - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 5:54 PM - 0 Comments
Today in Halifax, Trade Minister Ed Fast officially received a report from Western University president Amit Chakma and the rest of Chakma’s panel on internationalizing Canadian higher education. Here it is, under the horse-tranquilizer title “International Eduction: A Key Driver of Canada’s Future Prosperity.” It’s worth a read, but here’s the short version.
Chakma and his panel argue, at the government’s request, what Chakma has been arguing anyway for years: that Canada’s universities prosper when they have a large foreign-student component, and that Canadian students also benefit from study abroad.
This works a few different ways. First, travel is broadening, new perspectives, yadda yadda. Impossible to measure but probably true. Second, that some portion of international students who come to Canada stay after study and add to our human capital. People like Amit Chakma. Third, that even if they go home, that’s not a loss because it adds to a global network of highly-talented people who owe Canada a lot and are likely to stay in touch. Finally, that drawing your students and researchers from a wider pool raises the bar for every participant: a university that recruits globally is a better and more challenging university than one which recruits only locally.
So what to do? Continue…
By From the editors - Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 11:43 AM - 0 Comments
This government has been very aggressive about announcing free trade deals–not so much about closing them
Listen to his critics and you’d think a blinding “neo-conservative ideology” is what motivates Prime Minister Stephen Harper these days. Yet in sifting through his six years in power it’s much easier to find evidence of opportunistic pragmatism than any specific ideology.
Regardless of this week’s budget, the Harper government has already proven itself to be the biggest spending government in Canadian history. And while it talks a lot about taxes, Ottawa is actually creating a more complicated and less efficient tax system through its creation of myriad tax credits aimed at tiny slices of the population for such things as children’s dance lessons, team sports, work tools or public transit.
The federal government has also been quick to remove the right to strike from unionized workers—the widespread animosity of the current Air Canada labour dispute is directly attributable to this instinct for control over letting negotiations take their course. It has, as well, interposed itself into deals between interested buyers and sellers, such as with the Potash Corp. decision. None of this is the stuff of standard economics textbooks.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 14, 2011 at 10:31 AM - 30 Comments
The Prime Minister said Canada can “easily meet” the broad strokes of the agreement unveiled Saturday by Mr. Obama, even if it means throwing into the mix a supply management system that forces Canadians to pay higher prices for products like milk, cheese, chicken and eggs…
“We will make an application and I am optimistic we will participate in the future,” he added. “Whenever we enter negotiations, as we’ve done in the past with other countries, as we’re doing right now with Europe, we always say that all matters are on the table. But of course Canada will seek to defend and promote our specific interests in every single sector of the economy.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 21, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 17 Comments
Steven Fletcher, Oct. 19. Mr. Speaker, I reject the premise of the member’s question.
John Baird, Oct. 19. Mr. Speaker, it will not come as any surprise to my friend from northern Ontario that I do not agree with the premise of his question.
Ed Fast, Oct. 19. Mr. Speaker, I do not accept the premise of that question.
Stephen Harper, Oct. 19. Mr. Speaker, I completely disagree with the premise of that question.
Denis Lebel, Oct. 18. Mr. Speaker, I do not accept the premise of that question.
John Baird, Oct. 17. Mr. Speaker, it will not come as any surprise to that member or to the House that I categorically reject the premise of the member’s question.
Brent Rathgeber, Oct. 17. Mr. Speaker, I absolutely disagree with the premise of that question.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 10:43 AM - 65 Comments
Welcome to live coverage of this morning’s cabinet shuffle, wherein we find out which backbenchers we have to pretend to take more seriously for the next little while.
There’s been a steady stream of Conservatives arriving at Rideau Hall and the Prime Minister is due shortly. So far we seem only to know for sure that John Baird will be the next Foreign Affairs Minister. Presumably he will be counted on to bluster away opposition criticism of the government’s international endeavours, charm foreign officials and periodically convene breathless news conferences to report the latest breathtaking developments in our make-believe war with Russia. Presumably he’ll do fine. His image problem notwithstanding.
10:45am. Our Andrew Coyne is already deeply disappointed with all of this. Follow his Twitter feed this morning to watch his head explode repeatedly.
10:52am. The Prime Minister has now arrived. The swearing in is to commence in about 20 minutes.
11:04am. CTV reports a 39-member ministry, which equals an all-time high mark. Welcome to the new era of smaller government.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 6:10 PM - 130 Comments
The Scene. The afternoon culminated in a protracted and passionate debate, the crux of the discussion being perhaps the most profound question facing Western democracy and human discourse as we enter the second decade of this new century: To what extent should one be allowed to stand and publicly accuse another of evil?
In this particular context—within the walls of the House of Commons, members on all sides rising in the moments after Question Period on points of order to vent and plead and attempt reason—it might easily be dismissed as a matter of Parliamentary procedure. But then what happens here is, quite literally, a representation of us—of who we are, and what we become, when taken together. And so here we find ourselves.
Consider the case of Mark Holland, the Liberal member for Ajax—Pickering. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 5:46 PM - 5 Comments
From his Twitter feed.
I’m always amazed by how many special interest micro-issues the opposition raises during QP, rather than issues of general public concern.
The government has been allowed six of its own questions so far this week. Mike Wallace asked about the government’s position on what an American television personality had said about our military. Steven Blaney ridiculed the Liberal leader and asked to hear what the government has done for Quebec. Rodney Weston asked how the government was supporting seal hunters. Ed Fast asked when the government would begin spending its economic stimulus (giving Vic Toews opportunity to allege opposition obstruction). Kevin Sorenson asked the government to clarify its position on Kashmir. And Bev Shipley asked the Human Resources Minister to repeat her announcement from earlier in the day.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, June 23, 2008 at 4:44 PM - 0 Comments
The best, worst and merely laughable of the recently completed Parliamentary session
The Scene. Late last week, at the press conference he’d called to formally reject the Liberal green plan he hadn’t bothered to read, Jason Kenney was asked to account for his government’s tone—the language with which it had chosen to engage the current debate.
“I don’t think that Canadians are so humourless and earnest,” he posited, “that they reject humour in political discourse.”
There are at least two problems with this assessment.
At the outset, it assumes that what Mr. Kenney’s had to say has been particularly funny. This is, by most objective standards, a stretch. His particular line on the Liberal carbon tax relies on the fact that the word “shift” sounds something like a swear. While perhaps uproarious when compared with other discussions around here—so many of them having to do with war and poverty and other sufferings—most of us ceased finding this pun particularly hilarious around the first time we kissed a girl (or boy, as it were).
But, in fairness to Mr. Kenney, let’s pretend his comedic stylings on this front have been the stuff of a night at the Apollo. Even if that were the case, so, er, what? Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 18, 2008 at 6:52 PM - 8,237 Comments
The Government of Canada appeals directly to your most juvenile impulses
The Scene. Question Period had begun and Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh was asking the government to account for the unwieldy matter of Julie Couillard and the upright citizens brigade in the Conservative back row was displeased.
“No one cares!” lamented Dean Del Mastro.
“Let’s talk about policy!” pleaded Ed Fast.
Just moments earlier, their seatmate, the reliably obedient Rick Dykstra, had tried to do just that. Here, from his member statement, was his take on environmental taxation, the politics and practicalities of distributing wealth across civil and economic lines and how best the federal government can balance short-term necessities with long-term social sustainability.
“There is an old saying that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness,” Dykstra reported, “but if the leader of the opposition formed government, if he imposed a carbon tax, our country would face a wall of darkness.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 6:55 PM - 0 Comments
Behold government as a figment of the Prime Minister’s imagination
The Scene. Shortly before Question Period, the Prime Minister strode into the House, looking refreshed after his trip to Halifax to announce… well, to announce what exactly? An announcement? A thought? A theory? An idea? A projection? A notion?
Nominally, yesterday’s do was billed as Canada’s new military strategy for the next two decades. But, as one columnist put it today, “the complete plan is apparently locked inside Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s brain.”
Perhaps then, the opposition could ask that the government table the Prime Minister’s formidable cranium. It’d be interesting to see that thing transcribed. Though no doubt they’d have to black out the sweary bits. Continue…