OTTAWA – The political class was sent reeling again this week with the shock — now sickeningly familiar — of another apparent terrorist attack, this time in Nice, France. Sorrow quickly turned to despair for the state of international relations.
The attack came during a week of soul-searching in Canada’s defence community over the country’s appropriate role in this new world order — where terrorists hide amongst civilians, and where social inequities undermine global stability.
Canadian policy-makers also wrestled this week with the fallout of Brexit and its effects on the Canadian economy.
And domestically, while some of our challenges may seem petty at a time of such ugly global fissures, the positioning of federal and provincial politicians this week on funding health care — the part of government that matters most to people — will eventually have a material effect on everyday life in Canada.
Here are three ways politics mattered this week:
TROOPS, TENSIONS, AFRICA AND RUSSIA: In the space of just a few days, Canada offered up hundreds of troops, equipment, expertise, leadership and credibility to NATO in its deterrence efforts against Russia; and also signalled that we are ready to send peacekeepers to Africa — maybe Mali — to conbat the spread of terrorism. At the same time, the federal government is in the midst of ramping up Canada’s presence in the Middle East in the war against ISIL, with the new Liberal effort to replace the previous Conservative version now taking firm shape.
Is this three-prong escalation a taste of the new Canadian defence policy that will be rolled out towards the end of the year, meant to define Canada’s military and foreign policy for years to come? And will it be effective in keeping modern-day threats to Canadian peace and security at bay? The attack in Nice makes the answers to those questions all the more compelling.
BREXIT: The Bank of Canada has now crunched its numbers and it concludes the economic impact of the U.K. leaving the European Union will be quite “modest”.
But the impact on our psyches is less marginal. From an investment point of view, the uncertainty of the process, the controversy swirling around the new British cabinet that will handle the exit from the European Union, and the effects on global markets will all have a trickle-down impact on Canada.
From a business and trade point of view, Ottawa is still wrapping its head around the implications as well. The government says it can salvage the huge free-trade agreement with Europe even as one of its main proponents prepares to leave the fray.
Probably more worrisome to federal politicians are questions about the public opinion trends that spurred the vote in the first place. What do referenda do to the electorate? How much did social cohesion and income inequality play into the Leave sentiment, and are there such forces lurking in Canada as well? And while Canadians have welcomed thousands of Syrian refugees with open arms, will that feeling last? The Bank of Canada has only scratched the surface.
HEALTH AND BIG BUCKS: A constant in Canadian politics is federal-provincial bickering and weare now fully in the next round of that eternal conflict, this time over funding of health care. Provinces said this week they were getting signals that the annual six-per-cent increase in federal health-care transfer payments would decline dramatically next year, just as the previous Conservative government had planned. There had been provincial hopes it would be otherwise. During last year’s election campaign, the Liberals promised a new health accord with the provinces, $3-billion for home care and made plenty of friendly noises.
And indeed, health ministers are talking about a new health accord, discussing how to drive costs down, sharing ideas on better technology and contemplating the lack of public coverage of drugs, dentistry and mental health care.
But the finance ministers are not at the table. Provinces say they should be. The federal government is resisting.
Now, premiers are set to meet at the end of next week for their annual Council of the Federation meeting, and they will likely find common cause in health funding. There is no other policy area that eats up so much of their budgets and is so important to their voters — unlike at the federal level, where health is a minor portfolio but where fiscal policy looms large. Who will blink?