With the 41st session of Parliament restarting this week, we in the political blogo-sphere couldn’t be happier. Not only is our bread and butter back but this time around we can expect the epic pissing contest that passes for parliamentary debate, more ruthless now than under any previous government, to reach new heights of depravity. This is on account that we’re roughly a year away from the next writ and we have three parties (Sorry Bloc and Greens) in the most competitive political horse race of my lifetime. In other words, attache ta tuque (put your tuque on folks) , because the home stretch in Ottawa promises plenty of twists and turns for all concerned. In fact, if you’re already faint-hearted about partisan games, vicious character assassinations and relentless political one-upmanship, maybe you should skip the remainder of this session altogether.
Here are the five themes that I think will define the atmosphere in the capital city (where, as the song goes, a bum feels like a king and a “king feels like a crazy, nutty, super-king”).
Theme number 1, the billion dollar budget surplus. Expect Finance Minister Joe Oliver to announce a decent surplus in his upcoming budget speech along with the inevitable hand-outs to loyal conservative ridings, constituencies and Ministers. As well as a telegraphing of the electoral platform that will either deliver another mandate for Stephen Harper (more on this later) his fourth since 2006, or send Harper and his party back to the opposition benches, something they are loath to even contemplate. To that end, Minister Oliver will announce a break for small businesses on their Employment Insurance premiums, and less taxes for those beloved middle-class Canadians that every party covets more than life itself. All of this will be part of the conservative strategy to bombard Canadians with so much good news that they forget Trudeau’s hair, dismal polling results for the government and Harper, and, above all else, the large number of legal woes that drag this PM down like a ball and chain before the start of the next election. On the other hand, the NDP has made it clear that they would like to see the restoration of Veteran affaires services, a return to the retirement age of 65 for CPP, and increased funding for health care. As for Team Trudeau, well, they, ummm, I guess ‘to be announced’ is the best way of putting it.
Which bring us to theme two, what I like to call Tory crimes. The rap sheet on this government and some of its former caucus members and staffers, is nearly as long as my arm (note to the reader: I’m 6’5”). It’s worth noting that this summer alone, former conservative parliamentary secretary Dean Del Mastro has been on trial for election fraud. Former Tory staffer Michael Sona has been convicted of engaging in voter suppression tactics in Guelph during the 2011 Federal Election, and the judge hinted that this crime was part of a larger conspiracy. And finally, the biggest rotten-egg of the bunch, indeed the Humpty-Dumpty of Canadian politics, former Conservative party bagman and Harper crony, Senator Mike Duffy, whose own trial for defrauding the tax payer then covering it up with a loan issued by the Prime Minster’s former Chief of Staff Nigel Wright, will soon be getting underway and should provide endless fodder for QP exchanges between opposition and government benches.
Theme three, Harper’s fate. A perennial topic of the Hill folk is the future of the Prime Minister. Stephen Harper is going into this last phase of the Parliamentary session and the fate and legacy of this PM has never been hotter. With large numbers of MPs dropping out of the next election in advance (20, so far, including the latest Rob Merrifield), the Cons consistently lagging behind Trudeau-mania, and a particularly acidic tongue lashing from former Conservative Prime Minister Mulroney (who seems awfully fond of Trudeau the younger) over Harper’s handling of the Supreme Court, the UN, and his relationship with Barak Obama, many pundits are wondering how much longer Harper can maintain his iron-fisted rule of the caucus.
Brian Muldoon’s not wrong about the volatile nature of the electorate, who after nearly 10 years of Harpocracy, are longing for a change. And with polls indicating that many of them slightly prefer the new kid as a potential PM, many within the conservative base and in the halls of power, must be quietly agreeing with Mulroney’s analysis. But no one is writing Harper’s obituary just yet. He’s still the all-powerful leader of his party, and more importantly, there are virtually no other members of his cabinet or party’s leadership, elected or otherwise, that can match his visibility, status and respect in politics.
A related theme (4) is the question of the 30 new Federal ridings, a hot topic among sitting MPs and a major cause of anxiety among those that decided to sit out the next election. These ridings are distributed throughout Canada, but the lion share (15) are in Toronto and the surrounding region. This means that opposition and especially government priorities will be focused on these new ridings, as Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair, fall over themselves in their attempts to curry favour with these largely suburban, middle class voters
Finally, we have the theme of foreign policy. This is a no brainer, when you consider the hottest topic for many at the moment is the question what role should Canada play in the international campaign being led by (surprise!) the American’s in yet another Iraq war, this time with the objective of degrading and destroying the so called Islamic State. Harper has already caused a minor controversy with the announcement that he is sending Canadian special forces and financial and technical support to Iraq in aide of the Iraqi and Kurdish military. This controversy can only gain momentum with the return of Canada’s parliament and the PM’s determination to circumvent parliamentary debate on the matter.
Further, Harper has invited the presidents of the European Commission and South Korea for major publicity blitzes designed to make the PM look statesmanlike and score major points with the Canadian electorate over ‘getting the job done” on two substantial free trade treaties with well regarded Canadian trading partners. These will naturally serve as key evidence of the government and Harper’s supposed mastery of the trade file, come election time.
Less publicized is the FIPA treaty. No doubt because Canadians are far more weary of getting into bed with the Chinese government, as result of what was essentially secretly negotiated by the Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast and announced as fait accompli by the government last week, without any public scrutiny, parliamentary debate, or even notice. But the NDP trade critic and others have made it clear that they will continue to rail against it. The Liberals, however, apart from deploring the opaque process used by the government and expressing a few vague concerns about the consequences of such a long-term binding agreement, voted with the government to defeat a motion put forward by the NDP last April calling for the treaty to be cancelled before it was ratified.
So there you have it. The last gasp of session 41 in a thorny little nutshell.
Other articles by David DesBaillets
Harper misses the point on calls for public inquiry into missing aboriginal women
New book and Scottish separatism resurrects the ghosts of the 1995 Quebec Referendum
Canadians are being kept in the dark by Harper government on CETA negotiations
Has the Harper government declared war on Canadian charities
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