Balanced and fiscally prudent: Politics on TV, Nov. 13 edition

Talking about the fiscal update, American energy independence and the impact on Canada, and that curious ethnic media-monitoring contract

Message of the day

“Jim Flaherty has consistently missed his deficit projections.”

Questions not answered

  • Why did that departmental ethnic media-monitoring contract include perceptions of the minister and prime minister during an election period?

Fiscal update:

Power & Politics spoke with finance minister Jim Flaherty about today’s fall economic update, which projected a $26 billion deficit in 2013, GDP growth of two percent in 2013, and aims to eliminate the deficit by 2016-2017. Flaherty said that he followed the assessments of private sector economists, and that while the projections may be off slightly, Canada is in good shape in comparison to the rest of the world. Flaherty said the dramatic change is a seven per cent drop in commodity prices, but the reason that Canada is still on track to balance the budget in the medium term is because of controlled spending. While dismissing the NDP concerns about corporations sitting on cash reserves, Flaherty said that he has contingency plans for either the “fiscal cliff” or the European situation, but won’t say what they are.

Power Play also spoke to Flaherty, who added that there is a built-in $3 billion adjustment for risk, of which they are using $1 billion this year. The campaign promises of income splitting being contingent on balanced budget means that the proposal will have to wait, and that the key is not to get into new spending or tax reductions until the books are balanced. Flaherty said they are not looking for any deeper cuts right now – just implementing current spending review.

Evan Solomon then spoke with an MP panel of Mark Adler, Peggy Nash and Scott Brison about the fiscal update. Brison said that it was disrespectful of Parliament that Flaherty would make the announcement outside of the House where he could avoid scrutiny, and that he continues to make excuses for missing his targets. Brison added that with some provinces facing massive challenges, Harper should be meeting with the premiers. Nash said that the government has put all of its fiscal eggs into the commodities basket when there needs to be a better balance including “value-added jobs,” and that the major issue continues to be unemployment while incomes have stagnated. Adler dutifully repeated his talking points about the government’s “balanced and fiscally prudent approach.”

Nash was also on Power Play with John McCallum to respond to Flaherty. Nash added that the economy is underperforming, and that they are still waiting for a plan from the government, especially with regards to infrastructure. McCallum said that it didn’t make sense to go ahead with raising EI premiums in a weak economy, calling it a “job on tax” that would otherwise keep a half-billion dollars in the economy.

P&P’s Power Panel gave their thoughts on the update. Martin Patriquin said that it shows the folly of making election promises in an uncertain economy. Tom Flanagan said the original plan was to balance the books in 2016-17, which the party moved forward during the election, and this is back to original target. Flanagan added that the fact that the deficit this year will be larger than last year is concerning. Robin McLachlan said that austerity is going out of style, and that the government is quick to take credit when commodities are booming, but distance themselves when prices fall. Amanda Alvaro wondered if the targets will continue to move, and said that the government will have some problems in navigating their communications strategy.

American energy independence:

With projections that the US could be oil self-sufficient within a generation, Martin spoke with natural resources minister Joe Oliver. Oliver said that the government has been talking about this for some time, along with the critical need to diversify our markets. Because the US will be buying less oil and gas from us over time, and because we can export more, it is critical for Canada to diversity, which means transportation infrastructure and pipelines to move said oil. Oliver said that Canada is also losing $40 million per day because we’re selling oil at a discount, which will get worse with US gas flooding into the market. Oliver said that future growth is in non-OECD countries, which are looking to secure their sources of supply, and that Canada is at the top of their list.

Martin then spoke with Alberta Minister of Energy Ken Hughes, who said that his government is focusing on access to other markets, and that there are a number of options that they are exploring, including proposals to go through Alaska, Churchill, Manitoba, or east to the port of Saint John, New Brunswick. Hughes said the discounted price Alberta gets on exports to the US should be a concern because all Canadians lose out on the benefits, which is why the strategic objective is to get product to tidewater, in order to get world prices.

China’s leadership changes:

Power Play spoke to James Manicom from the Centre for International Governance about presumptive new Chinese president Xi Jinping. Manicom said that they know a fair amount about Xi, who seems to be a safe pair of hands, who has a limited ability to directly influence the country because of the factions he has to navigate. Manicom said that Western-style electoral democracy or rule of law is out of the question in the near future in China, but that there is an incentive for them to be more transparent in their own decision-making process, despite the difficulty in implementing it. While the world has been waiting for more balanced growth in China, Manicom said that China may need to reach a tipping point before it makes necessary reforms.

RCMP Commissioner:

Solomon spoke with the CBC’s Alison Crawford about her interview with RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, which airs tonight on The National. Paulson said that he has been frustrated by being in reactive mode with the “harassment crisis” during his first year, and noted that he too has spent his time being sidelined in the Force’s “penalty box culture.” Paulson noted that the RCMP is centralizing its discipline process and is undertaking a gender-based assessment. Paulson also said that in the wake of the Delisle case, employers need to keep a better eye on their staff and changes in their behaviour, but there is no appetite for a more active surveillance of people in sensitive positions.

Gun show regulations:

Power & Politics spoke with Ontario Chief Firearms Officer Chris Wyatt about the fact that regulations around gun shows with respect to things like police notification were never put into place under past Liberal and Conservative governments. Wyatt believes that with the demise of the long-gun registry, and evidence that gun shows are a major source of illegal arms in the States, that these regulations should finally be implemented in Canada. While the government says that these are “unnecessary regulations,” Wyatt points to gaps in monitoring, such as individual-to-individual transactions, were the seller doesn’t need to see a firearms licence, meaning the system is open to abuse. Wyatt also said that he was not consulted on the decisions not to implement these regulations.

Solomon then asked an MP panel of Chris Alexander, Randall Garrison and John McKay about Wyatt’s comments, where Alexander said the government is focusing on illegal handguns and stronger CBSA enforcement, and that the only way they would look at any new regulation is if there were some new and unexpected crime wave. Garrison said the government is trying to keep their credibility with some of the more extreme elements of the gun community, and isn’t sure why they are ignoring police and Chief Firearms Officers considering the regulations weren’t onerous. McKay said that when registry was in place, the previous Liberal government felt it may not have been necessary to implement the regulations, but that situation has changed. McKay said that the absence of registry data means that police can’t gather circumstantial evidence to build cases in the absence of direct evidence.

Ethnic media monitoring:

Power Play’s journalist panel of Joel-Denis Bellavance and Stephanie Levitz looked at Levitz’s story about a questionable $750 million contract from Citizenship and Immigration to monitor ethnic media outlets which was expanded to include perceptions of the minister, and when it entered into the election period, events where the Prime Minister attended. Levitz said it raises the question about what the monitoring was used for, and about the partisan relationship with the department.  Bellavance recalled Harper taking fairly secret trips to Montreal to speak to ethnic media there, which the department apparently wanted to know what he was saying.

P&P’s Power Panel also looked at the story, where Patriquin said that spending this much public money for nakedly partisan ends is disgraceful. Flanagan said on the surface, it looks like something to be investigated, while McLachlan wondered how the election monitoring could be part of the department’s mandate. Alvaro said that while it’s normal for a department to take a look at perception when it comes to public policy questions, the bigger line is crossed when you look at perceptions of minister.

Peter Penashue:

Power Play’s journalist panel also looked at the issue of Penashue not holding a promised meeting, but instead put out a statement that blamed his official agent for election spending irregularities. Bellavance said that Penashue seems to be out of his depth considering that he has only answered five questions in the Commons since he’s been elected. He noted that Intergovernmental Affairs ministers used to have a big national profile, while Penashue is pretty invisible. Levitz said that Penashue has some explaining to do, and that he needs to make a statement before the cameras.

Commons Folk:

Martin profiled Liberal MP Joyce Murray, who is set to make her own run for the party’s leadership. Murray and her husband started a company that has planted a billion trees, of which she personally planted half-a-million, and Murray has an MBA in environmental policy. She entered provincial politics because of the state of BC’s economy in the 1990s under an NDP government, and because she wanted to address the bad environmental policy, hoping to get business and the environment to work in tandem. Murray believes that carbon taxes are not bad news, and that the current back-and-forth between Harper and Mulcair on them is a charade that debases democracy as neither side is telling the truth, and that without a price on carbon, Canada faces increasing risks of tariff measures. While still remaining coy about her leadership ambitions, Murray notes the business and government experience that she brings to the table. What most people don’t know about her is that she spent her 21st summer doing street theatre – including juggling – around the beaches of Europe.


Solomon spoke to author Chrystia Freeland about her book Plutocrats, and how the gap between the super-rich and everyone else is becoming a problem. Freeland said that Greece is a good example of a coming clash as the middle class doesn’t see that country’s super-rich as being affected or paying a lot in taxes. Freeland said that she was careful not to make the book into an indictment of capitalists or capitalism, and that the concerns about wealth distribution have to start from the belief that capitalism is the best system developed so far. Freeland said that the gap between top and everyone else has grown so great that the sense of responsibility has weakened to the extent to which the super-rich genuinely believe that a huge part of society are the “moochers” and “takers,” while they see themselves as “makers.”