OTTAWA – It’s been a full year since the 2015 election — an anniversary that was hard to miss this week on Parliament Hill amid all the media-driven assessments, reflections and slide shows, to say nothing of Liberals patting each other on the back.
Cute was the theme of the week. The governing party flogged stickers for their donors, while the NDP issued a tongue-in-cheek report card that found the government and its MP “students” severely lacking.
Far cuter were the Brownies and Girl Guides who held a sing-song Thursday evening around the eternal flame outside the Parliament Buildings.
Not so cute, however: federal-provincial health care talks that ended in acrimony and the collapse of the Canada-Europe free trade agreement.
Here are a few ways politics touched Canadians this week.
The federal and provincial ministers may have emerged together from their day-long meeting in Toronto, but they were far from united.
The provinces and territories accused the federal Liberals of ripping them off by failing to deliver on promises of a more productive relationship and a new health accord. Without a federal commitment to ramp up spending dramatically every year, the provinces say they will fall billions short — and even risk poking the separatist bear in Quebec.
Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott had accusations of her own, suggesting the provinces had not actually been spending ample federal health transfers on health. She apologized, sort of, but insisted that any new money for health care be targeted at specific areas such as home care, and with plenty of accountability strings attached.
So even though Philpott says the ministers all agree that the country’s mental health system, for one, is a mess, they have no agreement on how to deal with it.
They will keep talking, especially as the next budget draws near, with the premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sure to be drawn in to the morass.
Just hours after Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s cabal of expert economic growth advisers announced their first set of solutions for the Canadian economy on Thursday, the anti-growth news started rolling in.
Attempts to salvage the huge Canada-European Union trade and investment agreement had broken down, stymied by a regional group of Walloons in Belgium concerned about giving too much power to corporations.
And Bombardier Inc., the Montreal-based aerospace giant that employs thousands in Ontario and Quebec, announced it was eliminating 7,500 jobs, including 2,000 in Canada. New jobs will come, the company said, but in other countries where labour is cheaper.
Morneau’s advisers want to boost growth in Canada by attracting more foreign investment, pulling in billions for infrastructure from large, global investment funds, and dramatically increasing immigration.
Indeed, Trudeau has been actively highlighting foreign investment opportunities in Canada, this week appearing in Toronto alongside executives announcing a 700-job expansion at Amazon, a multinational online retailer.
Cold comfort, no doubt, for those on the front lines at Bombardier.
Will the federal government soon find a way to fund social housing that would deal with a growing list of applicants and a persistent homelessness problem? Ottawa’s consultations on a national housing strategy wrapped up this week, and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is under a lot of pressure to deliver in a material way.
Researchers and advocates say homelessness is directly tied to a lack of affordable housing, which in turn is a consequence of scaled-back government funding. The federal government dramatically reduced its social housing spending in the early 1990s, replaced with a patchwork in the 2000s. Since then, low-income Canadians have been squeezed in a hot real estate market; now, one out of every five renters spends more than half their pre-tax salary on shelter.
The federal government has only recently begun to explore a larger role in affordable housing as part of its larger investment in infrastructure. Municipalities, meanwhile, are clamouring for a multibillion-dollar fix for dilapidated housing stock and the growing need — to the point where Duclos has had to warn them not to get too excited.
He is expected to roll out his strategy before the next budget.