Daycare, a UN declaration and EI: 3 ways politics touched us this week

OTTAWA – While this week’s water-cooler chatter on Parliament Hill was all about the Trudeau family and whether Sophie Gregoire Trudeau should have more taxpayer-funded staff, policy-makers were quietly wrestling with bread-and-butter issues.

Will the signing of an obscure United Nations declaration make a tangible difference in the quality of life for aboriginal Canadians and open the door for more efficient resource development?

Will enhanced employment insurance provisions, meant to offset the fallout of low oil prices, now become a more permanent vehicle?

Will the Liberals’ inclination to help with Gregoire Trudeau’s workload spur enthusiasm for making it easier for women everywhere to get to work?

Here’s how politics affected Canadians in their everyday lives this week:

WOMEN’S WORK: Gregoire Trudeau’s plea for more staff to help with her mountain of invitations for public engagement made sense to a lot of Liberals — although not to the opposition.

As spouse of the prime minister with three young children on hand, she should be supported in her promotion of worthy projects, government ministers argued. There was a feminist tone to some of the defence — that the work of a prime minister’s wife, or anyone’s wife, should not be undervalued.

Support for other families and their workloads is proceeding at a slower pace. The federal government has promised $400 million next year for the provinces and territories to put towards a national child care agreement. Word came this week that the broad strokes of the agreement would be shaped by this summer, setting the stage for bilateral agreements between Ottawa and each province to eventually create quality, affordable child-care spaces.

Still up in the air is whether Ottawa will — or should — impose national standards in the spending of the daycare money, or whether a province-by-province patchwork of daycare systems will suffice.

The government’s hope is two-fold: that more and better daycare eases problems for many families; and that more women will enter the workforce, bolstering Canada’s growth at a time when the country could really use a boost.

UNDRIP: Canada officially adopted the non-binding United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples this week — a move long-sought by Aboriginal Peoples across the country and even welcomed by the oil and gas sector as a path towards moving ahead with resource development.

Government ministers were immediately asked what it would actually mean in real terms. They talked about “breathing life” into constitutional protections for Aboriginal Peoples, and involving them in government decision-making.

But the Assembly of First Nations says the declaration should give First Nations the right to say No to pipelines, resource developments or other projects that take place on their traditional lands.

The declaration can’t be ignored. Aboriginal leaders have frequently turned to the United Nations for support when they run into trouble with the federal government. At a time when the federal government is lobbying for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, a UN declaration takes on added significance — even if it has no legal weight all by itself.

EI ON THE FLY: Alberta was perplexed by the federal budget’s measure to extend employment insurance to certain struggling oil communities in the province, but not others — such as Edmonton, where large numbers of workers connected to the oil industry live. This week, we’ve learned the formula used to determine who should get the EI-plus package, which gives five weeks of extra benefits to unemployed workers in regions hurt by a prolonged downturn.

It turns out that Edmonton, along with southern Saskatchewan and B.C.’s southern interior, now qualify. Struggling St. Catharines, Ont., is on the cusp of following suit, even though the EI measures were initially intended for the oilpatch.

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau toured the devastated areas of Fort McMurray on Friday, the costs of the double hit to Canada’s richest province were still sinking in. With the wildfire coming at the same time as depressed prices for commodities, pressure on Ottawa to help is still mounting.