Message of the day
“The American ‘fiscal cliff’ is our most important issue right now because it’s so immediate.”
Questions not answered
- Was there a specific threat against the Prime Minister in India?
Harper’s trip to India:
Power Play first heard from reporter Roger Smith to get an update on the trip, and then spoke to security expert Ty Watts about the decision to bring over Harper’s own armoured cars. Watts said he doesn’t find this kind of measure to be excessive, and said the decision was likely that what was on the ground wasn’t sufficient. Watts said that based on his RCMP background, he’s never seen the PMO directing security, so it was unlikely they had any input into the decision. Watt said that the world situation has changed, and that protection measures need to be stepped up to ensure that everything happens in a proper manner.
Power & Politics asked former CSIS Assistant Director of Intelligence Ray Boisvert about the threat level in India. Boisvert said that the intelligence community considers India to be the best possible example of a “theme park of domestic threats,” from violent Maoists to Islamic extremists. Boisvert said that the officer in charge would have taken a decision based on the threat assessment, and that not all armoured cars are the same, so those available in India may not have been deemed sufficient for the threat matrix. Boisvert also noted that Canada is not as well loved as it was eight years ago, and that there were bombings in Mumbai as recently as 2008.
Martin spoke with media consultant Barry McLoughlin about the optics of those armoured limos being brought over. McLoughlin said that the rule is that security trumps image, and given that a number of Indian prime ministers have been assassinated, should there have been an incident in an improperly armoured car there would have been a lot more questions asked. McLoughlin noted that Harper is notoriously stingy in most other areas, so this one expense was unlikely to stick.
Solomon hosted an MP panel of Mike Lake, Peter Julian and Geoff Regan to discuss the trip. Lake noted the dozens of trips to India over the year because of the importance of that country as a trade partner, and said that the car was purely an operational decision. Julian called the government’s trade agenda a failure, and said that they have a poor record of defending Canadian interests before likening the armoured cars to Bev Oda’s $16 orange juice. Regan noted the irony that the NDP is now concerned with trade after their years of opposition, and said that there may well have been a security issue that necessitated the cars being brought over, but said that Canadians have a right to ask questions as to why it wasn’t possible to get an armoured car in India.
Later on Power Play, the strategists’ panel of Goldy Hyer and Robin Sears were asked about it, and Hyer said that the issue is not so much India, but the fact that they neighbour a country that harboured the likes of Osama bin Laden. Sears agreed that it shouldn’t be an issue, but that Canadians are sensitive to what they see as the trappings of power, even if the outrage is unfair.
P&P’s Power Panel gave their take, where Tom Flanagan said that everybody wants to have a populist field day with this issue but it was ultimately an RCMP decision, and that India is a dangerous country. Anne McGrath said that while she accepts the RCMP decision, she wonders if there was a better way to do it, especially in contrast with the era of restraint being seen in Canada. Chris Hall wondered if these armoured limos will also be used at the stop in the Philippines or on future trips, or if this is a trapping of an American president that Harper has incorporated. Rob Silver said he this would have been fair game if there was a document post-trip that showed the PMO overriding the RCMP, but right now it was not a real issue.
Power Play’s journalists panel of Susan Delacourt and Bill Curry also weighed in, where Delacourt did note the cocooning around the PM, but that it isn’t necessarily his choice, and that previous prime ministers have said these threats are real. Delacourt also said that nobody will answer questions around the money spent, and that we are expected to treat these measures as justified. Curry said that Harper’s previous visit to India included a visit to the site of the bombings in Mumbai, and that there is a price to pay if intelligence isn’t acted upon.
G20 Meeting in Mexico City:
Martin spoke to Jim Flaherty by phone from Mexico City, where Flaherty talked about his concerns around the “fiscal cliff” facing the United States – tax increases and deep cuts that are mandated by law, and that if Congress doesn’t address them, the country will go into immediate recession, with Canada to follow. Flaherty called this the most important issue right now because it’s so immediate. Flaherty also noted that Canada remains on track for its deficit elimination target in the medium term.
Flaherty was also on Power & Politics by phone, where he added that the deficit elimination will only remain on target if the Americans don’t go over the “fiscal cliff” and Eurozone doesn’t collapse, though they have mostly stabilized. With regards to Mitt Romney’s promise to call China a “currency manipulator” should he become president, Flaherty said that he has been discussing the issue of China’s inflexible currency for seven years and that there has been some progress made, but that China and the US need each other for different reasons, so it would be foolish to end up in a conflict over this issue.
P&P’s Power Panel gave their thoughts on Flaherty’s message, where Hall noted that whoever wins on Tuesday, the US will go into recession if they don’t solve their “fiscal cliff.” McGrath said that Flaherty painted a fairly rosy picture of the Canadian economy without speaking enough to housing prices or rental vacancies. Flanagan said that we still need fiscal discipline, but that we can’t worry too much about the “fiscal cliff” as it’s out of our control. Silver noted that Flaherty was diplomatic but basically called Romney’s position on Chinese currency manipulation as being “full of poo.”
The Power Play strategists weighed in on the CFIA demanding new corrective actions at the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alberta. Sears said that they knew they would be under added scrutiny as well as new management, and that he couldn’t understand how this situation could have happened. Hyer called it a confidence issue, and that this was not how the new management would want to introduce themselves to the Canadian marketplace.
James Bezan vs. the Selkirk Record:
Power Play’s journalists panel looked into the strange case of a Manitoba reporter being fired after she had the response to a petition on the Nexen takeover retracted by Conservative MP James Bezan. Delacourt noted that Bezan had said the same thing he retracted to other papers, and that the reporter in question had been told she was too critical of the government. The paper apparently was under the threat that the government would withdraw its advertising, which Delacourt noted was federal government advertising, not Conservative Party advertising. That said, Delacourt did say that the reporter shouldn’t have been signing petitions in the first place. Curry said this offers a window into the Nexen debate, and from first email it sounded like Bezan wears his feelings on his sleeve, which contrasts to how the PMO says he feels.
The US Presidential election:
With some perspective on tomorrow’s election, Martin spoke with strategists Laura Dawson and Penny Lee. Dawson noted that Republicans are traditionally better for trade, even if Canadians have a love for Obama. Lee said that Obama signed three key trade agreements, that he’s not anti-trade, and that he wants to continue the trading relationship with Canada. Lee also said that Congress realises the danger of not addressing the “fiscal cliff,” but that they may just end up kicking it down the road.
Power Play’s strategists gave their thoughts on the election, where Sears said that it was a bit unusual in that Harper had built such a strong relationship with Obama, which he wasn’t sure would be the case with a change in administration, though it remains to be seen if the new Congress will be in a more protectionist mood. Hyer said the relationship was strained by the Keystone XL situation, and that Canada cannot have its largest trading partner heading for a fiscal cliff without clarity about who’s leading it.
Letters to the PM:
Martin spoke to author Yann Martel about his book 101 Letters to a Prime Minister, based on his decision to send a book every two weeks to Harper to expand his cultural horizons. Martel said that sending this book to Harper may be a nice finishing touch to his project, which he initially started after seeing the complete indifference of the political class to the arts. From the 101 books he sent, he received seven replies from the PMO’s correspondence officers but never Harper himself, which contrasts to how US president Obama wrote to him to say he loved The Life of Pi, when Martel is not even an American.