Roundup: Concern trolling the NAFTA talks

Amidst all of the other drama around the Trumpocalypse, talk of NAFTA renegotiations have been ramping up again with the next round of talks in Montreal taking place in a couple of weeks. So far, people seem to be backing away from the ramparts and are sounding out extensions to the talks rather than trying to complete them as soon as possible, given the political deadlines of the Mexican federal election this summer and American mid-term elections this fall. Chrystia Freeland herself went out to say that this was good, that artificial deadlines weren’t necessary, and so far, so good. Cabinet ministers were also back on the charm circuit down in the States, and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is leading his own delegation next week – but not before he took to the Mississauga Board of Trade to blast the government’s handling of the whole thing. According to Scheer’s obvious concern trolling, Trudeau “doesn’t seem to have a plan” (which you would have to be completely blind and inattentive to believe, considering that Trudeau’s plan has been pretty bloody obvious), and we’ve seen plenty of examples in Question Period where the Conservatives insist that the government is fumbling the deal with all of the “unserious” talk of gender and Indigenous chapters. And while I get that Scheer and the Conservatives are supposed to hold government to account, this falls into the same category as their other efforts that rely on disingenuous statements and mendacious framing of issues in order to try and score cheap points. Scheer has also been disingenuous about the state of the lapsed softwood lumber agreement in the waning Obama years, and has tried to frame what happened with the TPP signing as more fumbling from Trudeau when in fact things were communicated to the Japanese, and the Australian media torqued the story to suit their own domestic purposes. And if you’re wondering what the NDP is up to, well, they’re still demanding that everything be out in the open, because that’s totally how you want to negotiate these things.

As for the government’s charm offensive, it seems to be meeting more with apathy with the Americans than anything, as NAFTA talks are apparently not on their radar while they focus on those tax cuts that Trump promised. That may be why the government decided to play hardball with the WTO challenge against the rash of protectionist measures in the States, such as softwood duties or the Bombardier C-Series tariffs, and Freeland has been musing recently about “creative thinking” to drive the talks forward, so we’ll see what next steps are. But you can’t say that the government doesn’t have a plan. This issue has consumed them for the past year, and they very obviously are doing something about it, which makes Scheer’s assertions all the more ridiculous.

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Roundup: Fun with populist proposals

As the new United Conservative Party in Alberta starts to take shape, some familiar populist tropes have been tossed around, which the leadership candidates – Brian Jean especially – don’t seem to actually think through before proposing it. Colby Cosh, on the other hand, did think through some of those proposals and the problems that they would cause, particularly when it comes to thinks like local referendums on photo radar (which I will remind you is ridiculous – if you don’t want to get a ticket, then don’t speed. It’s your own damn fault if you get one), but the big one is promised recall legislation. People keep bringing this particular idea up time and again, enamoured with American examples thereof, without actually thinking through the consequences of how it would work in our particular system, especially when there are more than two parties on the ballot, making thresholds an important consideration. In BC, the one province where recall legislation exists, it’s set at 40 percent of eligible voters, making it high enough to never actually be used, but the Wildrose had previously proposed a twenty percent threshold, which would set up a constant flow of recall initiatives, at which point it becomes comical. Suffice to say, populism is not democracy, and people who treat them as interchangeable are asking for trouble.

Meanwhile, as could be expected, old Wildrose holdouts are looking to revive their now moribund party in one form or another, likely with a new name but the same policies and party constitution, given that they resolutely remain opposed to uniting. At the same time, former PC operatives and the provinces’ hipster centrists, the Alberta Party, are holding “Alberta Together” meetings, to apparently try and solidify the centrist vote in the province, for what it’s worth.

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Roundup: Jean gets the Francophonie nod

Former Governor General Michaëlle Jean has been named the new secretary-general of La Francophonie at the summit in Senegal on Sunday. Jean is the first woman and the first person from North America to helm the organisation, which has largely been dominated by African states. Unlike the Commonwealth, La Francophonie is a more problematic international organisation, dedicated more to language and culture and as a result has some fairly questionable member states with even more troubling human rights records, and it is now an open question as to whether Jean will be able to do more to steer the organisation into a new and more positive direction. Jean has spoken about the need to strengthen economic action in the developing world, apparently owing to what some call the “Chrétien Doctrine,” that assisting poor countries develop their economies will also boost their human rights along the way. Stephen Harper, who had endorsed Jean’s bit and whose government backed much of the travel that Jean did while campaigning for the post, is hoping to use the boost of having a Canadian heading the organisation to help with his maternal and child health goals. In fact, Harper used the summit to urge action on ending forced and early marriages – though his own government’s legislation on that subject is hugely problematic. In fact, I would urge you to read the speech that Senator Mobina Jaffer gave in the Senate on the bill, which raises a number of red flags as to just how much of a problem the bill is in the broader context.

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QP: Junk food proposals

With Harper jetting off to the Francophonie Summit, and Justin Trudeau elsewhere, Thomas Mulcair was the only major leader in the House, where he led off by asking about junk food advertising targeting children — his latest policy proposal. Rona Ambrose responded that the government is concerned about child obesity, and they are investing in research and programmes on the ground. Mulcair insisted that his idea has proven effective in Quebec, to which Ambrose insisted that the real issue is getting children off the couch, no matter how healthy they eat. Mulcair moved onto thalidomide victims and his party’s motion on support for them. Ambrose noted that the government would support the motion. Mulcair then moved on to the issue of domestic violence and the need to find concrete solutions. Kellie Leitch started off going on about workplace safety and somehow weaving in violence against women, but confusingly. Mulcair asked if she would sit down with unions and employers about the issue of domestic violence, to which Leitch responded about meetings on mental health in the workplace. Marc Garneau led off for the Liberals, returning to the theme of the week about veterans, to which Parm Gill noted there were some concerns, but the government did offer support. Frank Valeriote picked it up, and Gill assured him that the minister works hard to consult veterans across the country. Joyce Murray recalled her question on a tragic veterans case that she raised yesterday, asking for an answer. Rob Nicholson noted how much they’ve increased the budget for veterans and to help those in need.

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Roundup: About those single-engine fighters…

US and UK officials are preparing a joint order to inspect all of the engines on the current F-35 fleet after one of them caught fire in Florida earlier this week, which prompted the fleet to be grounded. Why is this significant – other than the constant assurances that this is the most technologically advanced fighter but it can’t seem to get anything right? Well, it’s only got one engine. And when asked why this would be suitable for Canada, with its vast Arctic and coastal patrol ranges, where having a second engine is a pretty useful thing in case one fails, Peter MacKay bluntly said that the F-35 engine wouldn’t fail, and left it at that. Well, now it looks like they indeed have failed. Oops. Perhaps cabinet should take this fact into consider as they weigh the options analysis.

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Roundup: Backing an east-west pipeline

Thomas Mulcair is throwing his support behind an east-west pipeline for oil in this country, so that refineries in the East can process western crude. Which of course is all well and good, but because those pipelines can’t support bitumen, that means building upgraders in Alberta at billions of dollars in cost and a much higher carbon footprint, rather than using existing facilities if we increased our capacity in shipping said bitumen south (aka Keystone XL). It also means we won’t be getting world prices for said crude if we shipped it to Asia instead.

CBSA has to phase out its K9 unit because of budget cuts. You’d think that an effective means of sniffing out illicit drugs in a quick and efficient manner would be a good thing.

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