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Must-see QP: They all now love Ontario manufacturers

Your daily dose of political theatre


 
Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/CP

Maclean’s is your home for the daily political theatre that is question period. If you’ve never watched, check out our primer. Today, QP runs from 2:15 p.m. until just past 3. We livestream and liveblog all the action.

The must-see moment

Statistics can turn stale with remarkable disregard for the politicians who rely on them. For years, when almost any New Democrat complained that Conservatives stink at keeping the Canadian people employed, a struggling auto-parts manufacturer in Ontario has been Exhibit A. Today, when NDP Leader Tom Mulcair addressed the Economic Club in Ottawa, he repeated the same stat his party loves to throw at the prime minister.

“We’ve lost almost 400,000 well-paid manufacturing jobs since the Conservatives came to power,” he told the audience. Mulcair’s finance critic, Nathan Cullen, put the same number on the record. A pile of his caucus did the same last December when the House of Commons was seized by a budget debate. An NDP motion from February 2012 referred to a similar number. For its part, Statistics Canada says 1,820,265 people worked in manufacturing in 2006. That number fell to 1,521,817 in 2012, but had climbed back to 1,734,000 by last month. That’s a difference of 86,265. See an important correction here.

Old-time manufacturing jobs might never come back, but advanced manufacturing isn’t nearly so bleak. And as the sinking price of oil and corresponding drop in the loonie drives up exports, someone stands to benefit. Yesterday in question period, Finance Minister Joe Oliver alluded to those better times ahead for manufacturers.

Now, everyone has a plan that works. This afternoon, NDP MP Peggy Nash spoke of her party’s plan to “kickstart” the sector and “create the next generation of well-paying manufacturing jobs for Canadians.” In reply, Industry Minister James Moore talked about increasing sales, billions in automaker investment, and how his government is responsible for all the good news.

Those job numbers, so poked and prodded by politicians with agendas, will surely fluctuate with each labour report. But it’s no longer unambiguously hard times for manufacturers, not for the moment, and old statistics won’t much help any political debate.

The recap

The context

Question period’s opening act yesterday was decided the second that Lieut.-Gen. Jonathan Vance admitted, a week ago, that Canadian special forces in Iraq, directing airstrikes for their high-flying colleagues in CF-18 fighter jets, had exchanged fire with Islamic State. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, the party leader most vociferously opposed to the airstrikes given a green light by Parliament last October, said the House of Commons-approved motion ruled out ground combat—and these firefights, whatever the circumstances, looked like ground combat. Politicians argued in newspapers and on television about the definition of combat, but those arguments were always destined to spill into question period.

Yesterday, at his first opportunity, Mulcair gave the government hell for changing the mission without telling anyone first. Defence Minister Rob Nicholson denied that special forces were doing anything other than their original job. He wouldn’t budge. Only a question from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau forced Nicholson off his initial tack. “The government said our ground forces would advise and assist, but not accompany, Iraqi troops,” said Trudeau. “Now we find out they are routinely on the front lines. Why did the government mislead Canadians?”

Nicholson scoffed at Trudeau’s premise. “I’m not sure how you could train troops without accompanying them, Mr. Speaker,” he said, his colleagues shaking their heads at the other side. That contention had Maclean’s Ottawa bureau chief John Geddes wondering about contradictions.

Hours later, another technical briefing on the mission revealed more firefights with Islamic State. There will be more. Yesterday, the country’s top soldier and its defence minister were not on the same page. They’ve had 24 hours to craft an explanation.

CORRECTION, Jan. 29: My calculation of job losses in my original post was flawed. I conflated two sources of Statistics Canada data: the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the Annual Survey of Manufactures and Logging. Between January 2006 and December 2014, the LFS reported a drop in manufacturing employment of 399,700, the same approximate figure cited by the NDP. I regret the errors.


 
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