Competence—in Foreign Affairs and Domestic Issues
It was suggested to me during the weekend that competence may be the issue that decides where Canadians will place their votes in October or whenever voting day happens to be. Competence in dealing with foreign affairs and competence when dealing with domestic issues is what is required.
This goes beyond a political party being able to implement its platform promises; it means that those sitting around the cabinet table, those advising them and the caucus as a whole have the ability to deal, not only with planned policy issues, but with those that come at them unexpectedly. At this point the major issues facing the Trudeau government were not included in the Liberal’s 2015 platform.
The competency test is whether those offering themselves up as candidates for a political party have what it takes to implement their own program but deal with those matters that hit without notice, like an oncoming train.
If competence is the touchstone that may garner Canadians’ votes then what are the issues that are on the horizon today that must be addressed to satisfy Canadians that this or that political party, and its leadership, can govern effectively and competently in both good times and times that seem to be the darkest.
Here are a few of those issues.
National unity, but not national unity in the sense it was known in the 1970s through to the 1990s has raised its head again, but this time in relation to western Canada’s oil producing provinces. How will the interconnected issues of energy development, environmental protection and enhancement and Indigenous rights be dealt with? During the past few years there has been a change in how western provinces view their place in the federation. One only has to read Jack Mintz’s latest piece on Alberta in the National Post to see why there is economic frustration coming from Alberta.
Having now been promised a Nation to Nation relationship with the federal government and the implementation of UNDRIP, Canada’s Indigenous people are looking for these promises to be fulfilled. Economic and social policy challenges will face whichever political group is victorious in the fall and it had better be ready to deal with them.
And what is to be done with the promise of the Trans Mountain pipeline?
On the economy, despite Finance Minister Morneau’s optimistic view of the future set out here yesterday, the GDP numbers to be released tomorrow will show that growth has significantly slowed and while the Bank of Canada believes it will pick up this year; will it?
Governing and spending in times of plenty makes for easy policy decisions but when the economy slows, tough choices must be made. They also must be the right choices as a government should not want to put itself in the position of wasting taxpayers’ hard earned cash on vanity projects.
Canada as Minister Morneau has told us developed trade agreements with all G7 countries and with the CPTPP, CETA and the new NAFTA agreement, should it be ratified, has put Canada in an enviable position, but to date the take up on CETA has not been great. Competence will be demonstrated through the ability to make the right choices in difficult times.
Perhaps it is in relation to handling the issues around immigration, refugees and asylum seekers where competence will be severely tested. These matters, fundamental to the economic growth and strength of Canada, cannot be dealt with productively by name calling or attempting to brand those who disagree as racists.
Immigration has been and still is accepted and celebrated by Canadians but it won’t continue to be without a rules based system where queue jumping is not allowed. This should be something that the three major parties can work out amongst themselves, because if they don’t, that underlying support may fade away and the country will be the poorer for it.
Keeping Canadians safe, at home and abroad is one of the fundamental roles of government. Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland has spoken about living in turbulent and disruptive times. The question for Canadians this year is which political party do they believe is competent to manage the many, varied issues that fall within keeping Canada and therefore Canadians safe? This is the policy area, perhaps along with the economy where that light at the end of the tunnel is usually an oncoming train.
Canadians will have to judge which party can best navigate the troubled waters of foreign affairs and national defence in order to keep them safe and espouse their views on the world stage.
This gets us to two matters that are before the federal government right now, neither matter contemplated in the 2015 Liberal party platform. The issues are, of course, the possible extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to the United States, securing the return of Canadian hostages held by China and the commutation of the death sentence facing Robert Schellenberg. Then there is the decision that has to be made regarding Huawei and Canada’s 5G network.
The other matter is the adoption of the recently signed USMCA and removal of the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the Trump administration.
One of the many challenges surrounding these two matters is that competence of the Trudeau government may be measured by the electorate depending on how these matters are addressed and hopefully resolved between now and voting day. Whether the government likes it or not Canadians may lose patience should both of these subjects drag on with no resolution.
Dealing with the extradition matter first, and leaving aside the situation with former ambassador McCallum which the Globe’s Campbell Clark has referred to as “bumbling”, the government has a legal process to watch over, hostages to deal with, and a new ambassador to appoint. It also has to take the time to, as David Mulroney has said, “ think about the kind of relationship we will have with China.” Mulroney in an interview on Monday on Power and Politics said that Canada must get away from the idea that China is just like us. In fact he believes that parliamentary exchanges should be discouraged “because China does not have a parliament.”
It is Mulroney’s view that we don’t need to appoint someone now, but Canada has to in its dealings, recognized that “China has committed a serious wrong.”
Given that the extradition process has begun there is not going to be a deal between China and the U.S. and as Campbell Clark points out in his recent article “Ottawa is firmly stuck in the middle.” But regardless of where Ottawa is stuck, Canadians will expect their government to arrange the freedom of the hostages and do it sooner than later.
On the other matter of the USMCA and the steel and aluminum tariffs, the Trudeau government should recognize that Canadians want those tariffs and Canada’s retaliatory tariffs removed and the trade deal ratified. At a recent trade conference in Washington as reported by CP’s Jim McCarten, the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, Kevin Brady said that there was a consensus that the tariffs must go and not be replaced by quotas.
There is concern among Democrats that the agreement lacks enforcement mechanisms for its labour and environmental provisions. There is also concern about the six year renewal clause and the erosion of the investor-state provision.
It was suggested that perhaps Canada and Mexico approve the agreement ahead of the U.S. as this would put pressure on Congress to act and also make it harder to reopen the agreement.
Whatever the Trudeau government does in this matter it has limited time to do it. Tariffs removed and the trade deal ratified is something that Canadians will expect from their government which celebrated this agreement as a great accomplishment.
As with the issues with China there is limited time to get this done before an election but Canadians will view this as a test of competence and if this government can’t get it done, perhaps some other one might be given that opportunity.
The next few months are obviously crucial on a number of fronts for political parties but nowhere more crucial than displaying competence on these two matters. “Bumbling” as described above is not acceptable or a winning strategy.
--today, U.S. Fed reports on interest rates and the state of the U.S. economy
--today, provincial byelection in Nanaimo, B.C.
--January 31, Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada Carolyn Wilkins delivers a speech to the Greater Toronto Board of Trade
--January 31, GDP numbers for November to be released
--January 31, CMHC housing market assessment to be released
--February 4, Lima Group to meet in Ottawa to discuss Venezuela
--February 5, international trade numbers for December to be released
--February 8, job numbers for January to be released--bc