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As difficult as the coronavirus pandemic has been for many of us, it will eventually end.  It's obviously impossible to predict when this moment will happen.  We have no idea whether a vaccine will be created, or herd immunity will be achieved.  Regardless, it will reach a formal conclusion in some way, shape or form.

Equating a return to normalcy with a return to the society we once knew is, with apologies to Charles Dickens, far too great an expectation.

Yes, quite a few things will go back to exactly the way they were.  But others won't, either due to modifications to existing models or permanent societal changes.  Between the effects of COVID-19 and the anti-racism/Black Lives Matter protests, many things are up in air and we don't exactly know where they'll land.

Canada faces this period of indecision and reflection, too.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spent an enormous amount of taxpayer money on emergency aid programs for individuals and companies to stay afloat during COVID-19.  While these announcements were understandable, and other left-leaning and right-leaning governments around the world were forced to do the same thing, it's also put us in a massive financial sinkhole.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer's June 18 report has suggested the federal deficit could hit a staggering $256 billion.  This is a combination of the federal Liberal government's COVID-19 emergency measures, which is estimated at $169 billion, plus the huge dip in economic output.

This figure could end up being lower, of course.  It could also end up being much higher.

What's Trudeau doing about it?  There's been no indication he has a short-term or long-term plan to stop the economic bleeding.  Like most left-leaning politicians, he prefers to spend taxpayer dollars like a drunken sailor.  CBC News also reported on June 4 that Ottawa plans to spend $88.7 million on communications and marketing for COVID-19 which really should have been used to help pay down the ballooning deficit.

None of this is surprising.  The current PM has never expressed any interest in developing proper political/communication skills and policy knowledge.  He prefers to dole out money and make every feel good with a touchy-feely progressive message.  Those are his true strengths, and they don't mask his mountains of weaknesses.

Yet, there are several policy initiatives that Trudeau could consider implementing if he was willing to look briefly across the political aisle.

Former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, who has sung Trudeau's praises in the past, could serve as motivation with his recent contribution to the Globe and Mail's Zero Canada project.

Mulroney proposed an "Agenda for Canadian Greatness" for the post-COVID 19 period in his June 25 Globe op-ed.  This would include "full Indigenous justice by implementation of the Erasmus-Dussault Royal Commission report," along with "greater fairness and opportunities for our Black, Indigenous and people of colour together with a national commitment to the eradication of systemic racism and anti-Semitism in Canada," and for our country to "navigate smartly and more nimbly to advance Canadian interests in what promises to be a more tumultuous, unpredictable world."

The former PM also suggested further study of Conservative political strategist Hugh Segal's basic income proposal, dismantling interprovincial trade barriers, greater support for the energy sector and pipelines, and building a "Free Trade Area of the Americas," among other things.

"Incrementalism builds increments," Mulroney wrote in his concluding paragraph.  "Bold initiatives build nations."

Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, who looks at the world differently than Trudeau, also recently crafted a piece that examines the other side of the coin: fiscal prudence.

"What has happened in this crisis so far is not an indicator of the future," Harper wrote in a May 13 Wall Street Journal op-ed.  "A new era of big government in the economy is unlikely, undesirable and far from inevitable."

The former PM recognized that "modern monetary theorists' will prattle on about how with low interest rates and monetary expansion…does not matter."  That's fairly commonplace, but in his view, "their core belief that governments can never really run out of money is nonsensical."

Hence, he wants to reinvigorate the strategy of deconstructing Big Government and returning to the emphasis of promoting the model of smaller government.  This won't be easy to accomplish in our COVID-19 world.  Domestic and international governments face intense scrutiny from small business owners, public sector unions and the general public to keep doling out money and avoid raising taxes.

"Governments that resist restoring free enterprise and fiscal responsibility will experience recession and stagnation," Harper wrote.  "Those that do the right things will lead their countries to a far more prosperous future."

It's not difficult to figure out which political/economic model would immediately appeal to Trudeau's policies and personality.  But he would be wise to consider and implement sections of Mulroney and Harper's strategies to deal with COVID-19.  They've both come up with something tangible, after all.

Photo Credit: Jeff Burney, Loonie Politics

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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There is a lot to unpack in the Alberta government's economic recovery package.

There's a 40 percent boost in infrastructure spending over the $7 billion or so already in the provincial budget.  There's a quick acceleration of the UCP's promised corporate tax cut, dropping the rate immediately to eight per cent and possibly costing the treasury up to $500 million in foregone revenue over the next two years.

There's a gaggle of incentive programs for innovation and tech and a new agency to market the province to companies looking for fresh opportunities.

There are restrictions on temporary foreign workers and immigration to keep jobs open for Albertans.  Apparently there are sector by sector initiatives coming "in days to come" as the government reveals details on its reboot.

It's all a broad brush, somewhat scatter shot initiative aimed at hard-starting an economy that is barely on life-support.

And it is a long-awaited admission on the part of the UCP government that oil and gas is not the only game in town and not the respirator that will pull the province out of this Covid-driven recession.

Premier Jason Kenney mentioned pipelines and petrochemicals in passing on Monday when he unveiled the recovery plan.  There will be a plan to attract investments in petrochemicals and there has already been the announcement of a $1.5 billion investment in the Keystone XL pipeline.  But unlike virtually every other economic pronouncement Kenney has made as premier, the energy sector did not take centre stage.

In fact there was a refreshing change in tone and vocabulary.  There was no bellicose blaming and shaming of Ottawa or environmentalists bent on destroying the provincial economy.

Suddenly diversification is the watchword of the day.  Mixed in with old-school corporate tax cuts, a hotly debated stimulus which may or may not lure a company or two to the province, were some surprising new directions.

Finance Minister Travis Toews, despite facing a ballooning deficit, said there is "good debt and bad debt."  Borrowing for targeted infrastructure is good debt, apparently —a declaration which could have comfortably been uttered by NDP finance minister Joe Ceci five years ago.

Kenney served notice he will be gunning for Bay Street, with a plan to attract "FinTech" companies to repopulate Calgary's empty downtown towers.  Low taxes, low lease rates and lower cost of living all make Alberta the only responsible choice for corporate head offices, the premier suggested.

There's even mention of money for music and the performing arts.

There's little doubt economic recovery is desperately needed immediately for the province.  Alberta is currently wallowing in an "official" unemployment rate of 15 per cent but the true figure is somewhere in the 20 to 25 per cent neighbourhood when job seekers who have given up are added in.

The economic recovery plan is targeted to create 50,000 jobs, says the premier.

The devil, of course, is in the details.

The jobs which can be assured from the recovery plan are short term or low income.  Construction jobs from the big infrastructure boost don't last forever.

Toews pointed out one of the sectors which will be affected by the shutting down of temporary foreign workers is hospitality.  So Albertans will be required to fill vacancies in an industry not known for generous wage rates as tourism and restaurants reopen post-Covid.

The creation of permanent high paying jobs and meaningful diversification of the economy are dependent on factors that can't be guaranteed.  The corporate tax cut is not tied to performance guarantees.  It does nothing for the many companies in Alberta which are far from making a profit this year on which they will have to pay taxes.

The details are scant on the Innovation Employment Grant, the program which replaces a popular pair of tax credits from the previous NDP government to kickstart tech and digital industries.  Toews pegged the cost of the UCP initiative at $60 million, not a giant sum when compared to handouts in the oil and gas sector.

But at least a pandemic and an acceleration in the decline of the global metro-economy have driven home to the Alberta government that the future requires some thinking out of the usual box.

Now the question is whether Kenney's package contains some strategic treasures or it's just full of foam rhetorical packing peanuts.

Photo Credit: CBC News

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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Politics is like rock'n'roll: everything has been done before.

Take the Conservative Party, for example (please).  Their leadership contest is ripping their party apart.

The Liberals did it first, however.  Jean Chrétien won the Liberal leadership in 1990, and he won majority governments in 1993, 1997 and 2000, too.  But Paul Martin and his cabal didn't care.

They wanted Chrétien gone.  So when Chrétien had a minor health scare, Martin's minions hissed to compliant reporters that Chrétien was dying.  When he didn't die, they pounced on every misstep and there weren't many of those, frankly and muttered darkly to compliant reporters.

When the sponsorship mess happened, Chrétien called in the cops.  He cleaned house.  His government was supported, as a result, by 60 per cent of Canadians.

Again, the Martinites didn't care.  Once Chrétien retired, they decided to hold an inquiry into sponsorships.  One of them now, amusingly, a "political analyst" for Bell Media said: "This public inquiry is going to pin it all on them."

Instead, Chrétien fired off a few golf balls into the epicentre of the inquiry and Martin's PMO, collapsing both.  The Liberal Party of Canada would thereafter spend a decade in the political wilderness because Paul Martin and Co. called in the cops on their own political party.

Some 16 years later, Erin O'Toole has decided to do the same thing.  A few days ago, the Conservative leadership candidate's team made a formal complaint to the RCMP.

Alleging criminal conduct by Peter MacKay's leadership campaign.

The allegation is that some factotums in MacKay's operation got access to top-secret recordings of meetings in O'Toole's operation.  Super-duper secret stuff was purloined, it is alleged.

To regard this as a crime, of course, we would need to first believe that the O'Toole leadership campaign had ideas that were worth stealing.  That is a big assumption, we know, but let's assume they did and they do.

So, the RCMP, as they always do, confirmed they'd received the criminal complaint.  As they always do, the Mounties said they were talking to some people about the allegations.  And, as always, they haven't said anything else, because the RCMP don't like to be used as political pawns.

But let's also assume, for a minute, that the Mounties actually charge members of MacKay's inner circle.  Does that mean the former Nova Scotia cabinet minister couldn't still win the Tory leadership?

No.  He could still win it, and he'd thereafter be pursuing a scorched-Earth campaign against all things O'Toole.  And the beneficiary would be Justin Trudeau.

Or, let's imagine that O'Toole's gambit doesn't work, and MacKay's team are exonerated.  The above scenario would be the same: a bloody purge of O'Toole and his gang by the victorious MacKay folks, and Justin Trudeau riding the resulting Conservative civil war to another majority victory.

Or, try to imagine that O'Toole somehow wins.  (Hard, we know, but try.)  MacKay and Co. will remain on the sidelines, for years, sabotaging everything O'Toole tries to do.  Winner?  Justin Trudeau.

Take it from a veteran of the Chrétien-Martin leadership wars whose nadir, as now, was one camp calling the other camp criminals these things never end well.  Back then, the main beneficiary was Stephen Harper.  This time, whichever way it goes, it'll be Justin Trudeau.

When the Martin guys did what they did, we Chrétien guys commenced hating their guts.  Some of us still do.  Deeply.  That tends to be the reaction when someone falsely accuses you of a crime.

Anyway: if a crime has been committed, let the cops do their job.  But don't use the criminal law as a political club.

Erin O'Toole could have saved himself a lot of trouble by simply calling Jean Chrétien and asking for advice.  I know what le petit gars would've said, too.

He would've said this: politicize your differences, Erin.

Don't criminalize them.

Photo Credit: CBC News

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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Here in Quebec, Canada Day is a bit different, which I'm sure won't come as much of a surprise.

July 1 is not so much a patriotic holiday for having beers and setting off fireworks — that's the Fête nationale, a week before — instead, it's Moving Day.  At one point, leases were mandated to start and end on a single date.

It's one of the quirks of the province, that stretches back to New France, originally designed to prevent feudal landlords from evicting their tenant farmers before spring.  Eventually, moving day moved from May 1 to July 1 to accommodate the school year, and the weather.

Since the 70s, it hasn't actually been the law that leases renew on July 1, but it continues as something of a tradition.

As federal holidays go, it adds an interesting layer of tension.  Particularly this year.

Montreal is in the midst of a housing crisis.  Rents across the island are shooting up, and supply is dwindling.  Vacancies in many neighbourhoods are at or near one percent.  "Renovicitons" have become a popular way to turn over residents, forcing people out to renovate an apartment, then substantially increasing rent for the next person.

Add to that the pandemic and its good friend economic collapse and things are bad.

So bad, that in my neighbourhood multilingual signs saying "At risk of being homeless?  Options are available to you.  Call 311," have been put up by the city in the last couple weeks.  This was new, something that hadn't happened in the six or so years I've lived here.

At least 450 people had reached out to the city for help as of July 1, according to the Montreal Gazette, and some 170 of those are households where people have nowhere to go.  It's part of an ongoing crisis, and people are left without homes every year, but this year the number of households being unable to find somewhere to live has doubled, according to the story in the Gazette.

The province finally put in place some emergency rent assistance for those in need in the first few weeks of June, amounting to an extra $21.5 million.

It's not nothing, but it seems hardly enough.  While the federal government has offered general supports for people losing jobs, its support for renters has been focused on paying commercial landlords, not keeping people from being thrown out of their homes.

People who rent their homes — and they make up a particularly large portion of the residents of Montreal — have been left out in the cold.  Or, I guess, the heat.

Which is perhaps why I didn't feel that wholesome Canada Day spirit this year.  Having been bashed in the head, over and over, since March how we're all in this together, I have to wonder how many other neighbourhoods are filled with signs for people worried about not having a place to live.

Given the signs are in six languages other than English and French, you get some idea who the city believes to be the most at risk.

From the start of the crisis, every announced support problem has come with massive holes, leaving some of the people most in need hanging in the balance while the government continually recalibrates.  Small businesses with rent and payroll obligations had to wait.  Self-employed people* had to wait.  People making some money, but not enough money, had to wait.  And so on.

Look last week at the massive outbreak at a farm outside of Windsor, Ont.  There, 191 cases were found at the one farm in a single weekend.  How could this happen?  Well, surely it had nothing to do with the province allowing farm workers to continue on the job if they had tested positive for COVID-19, but showed no symptoms.  And it definitely had nothing to do with the awful conditions farmers are permitted to house their temporary foreign workers in.

Or look to how both Ontario and Quebec essentially abandoned our elderly in long-term care homes, until they literally had to call in the army to assist with the problem.  More than 80 percent of the people who have died of COVID-19 have died in residential care homes, according to the independent count by Nora Loreto.  How different would things have been if those two provinces had acted more like British Columbia, where LTC workers were forbidden from working at multiple homes in the early stages of the pandemic, rather than weeks after things had spiralled out of control.

If that's not your speed, perhaps look at the ways different benefit recipients will be treated.  On one hand, people getting CERB benefits could face huge fines and even jail time for inappropriately receiving assistance.  On the other hand, you have corporations being eligible for benefits unless they've been convicted of tax fraud, which no company ever has.  It also doesn't matter if they're registered in a tax haven, thereby dodging taxes, because governments both Conservative and Liberal have shown that Canada doesn't really care about tax cheating, as long as you're doing it in volume.

It was like that here with renters.  Announcing a rental assistance program with less than a month to go before the big moving day — where in a typical year more than 100,000 people will be shuffling between apartments across the province — isn't the sign of a government looking out for people.

It's just one more reminder who this country is for.  If you're a weird charity personally supported by the prime minister and his wife, you'll inexplicably get to manage a nearly $1-billion federal program.  If you've lost your job and your landlord is pushing you out the door to put in some tile floor and jack up the rent, you get to grind your teeth to dust worrying about what you'll do when the lease runs out until the last minute.

But all the same, Happy Canada Day!

***

*Which includes me.  Though, as yet, I've been fortunate enough not to need any benefits.

Photo Credit: Cult Montreal

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.