Five stories we’re watching

The Ottawa bureau on EI, the PBO, the LPC, Nexen and the IMF


Finance Minister Jim Flaherty speaks in Ottawa last month before his annual summer policy retreat. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Even with the House on its post-Thanksgiving break, the political workweek of Oct. 8-12 produced five stories with implications still to be understood, endings still to be written and next phases yet to unfold.

  1. To be precise, this story actually hit at very end of the previous workweek, when Human Resources Minister Diane Finley slipped in a key change to her Employment Insurance reforms just before MPs took off for turkey and a few days back in their ridings. But political strategists focused on the Conservative handling of entitlement reform spent the past week mulling what it meant that Finley, a tough customer, had apparently reversed changes that critics said meant EI recipients who took part-time work were seeing too much of their benefits clawed back. It’s a big issue on the East Coast, where the Tories are not strong. (Not incidentally, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair was in Prince Edward Island this weekend, helping the provincial NDP pick a new leader,  and continuing his noticeable push in the Atlantic provinces.)
  2. Our second story to watch also had its start a bit before the Oct. 8-12 grind. In  an interview last weekend on CBC Radio’s The House, Treasury Board President Tony Clement lashed out at Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, for demanding details on departmental spending cuts. Clement said the fiscal and economic watchdog was straying outside his mandate. It seems senior bureaucrats disagree. By late this past week, deputy ministers in many departments had acquiesced to Page’s polite but persistent requests. Still to be seen: how much embarrassment will Clement be made to suffer over his apparently empty bluster, and how sensitive will the details Page extracts prove to be?
  3. From Africa, developments in the Prime Minister’s stance toward trade and investment with China. Stephen Harper, talking to reporters in Senegal, spoke of how “complex” and “important” the bilateral relationship with the Asian economic giant has become, by way of comment on the government’s prolonged deliberations on allowing or rejecting a Chinese state corporation’s bid to buy Nexen, an Alberta oil company. Indeed, his remarks came just after the government announced a 30-day extension of its review of the proposed takeover under the Investment Canada Act. Nobody knows, though, exactly what criteria that review is applying. The ultimate decision has potential to be the biggest political and economic story of November
  4. The word “coronation” usually evokes celebration and nostalgia. But in the Liberal party, it’s come to imply anxiety and even dread. It’s the word customarily used to describe the way Paul Martin took over the party in 2003, all but uncontested, and then how Michael Ignatieff became leader, without any contest at all, in 2009. Needless to say, neither worked out so well. So the party is apprehensive these days about the possibility of another crowning, this time of Justin Trudeau when the party votes next spring for its next leader. This past week, Trudeau made nuanced news by protesting that he can’t be expected to somehow concoct a competitive race. Fair enough. But who will take Justin on? Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney will have a chance, if he cares to take it, to firmly put an end to speculation that he might when he speaks to reporters in Nanaimo, B.C. on Monday after a speech to the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance Summit. Meanwhile, Montréal MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau continues to book speaking engagements with small groups of Liberals to assess his chances.
  5. Pronouncements from Canadian politicians about the way the world works have tended toward a rather hectoring tone in the past few years. Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty have scolded Europeans and Americans for failing to emulate Ottawa’s fiscal probity. Foreign Minister John Baird recently lectured the UN on its shortcomings. So it was newsworthy this past week when Flaherty, attending International Monetary Fund meetings in Tokyo, mildly praised economic progress in Europe over the past year. Still, Canada remains outside the IMF’s work to create a new European Stability Mechanism, declining to contribute—even as China and Japan indicated their support for the rescue fund this week. The story to watch is how Ottawa’s refusal to contribute colours Canada-European Union relations—at a time when Harper is eager to conclude a major trade deal with the EU.

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