Politics versus the Crown

Politics on TV, Dec. 19: Wherein the Governor General says he won't meet with Chief Theresa Spence without political direction

Message of the day

“What’s at stake is the power of the public purse.”

Hot Topics

  1. Governor General David Johnston
  2. Economic outlook
  3. Supreme Court decision on pension surplus

Questions not answered

  • Will the government start the process of appointing the next PBO?

The Governor General:

Power & Politics had a year-ender interview with His Excellency the Governor General, and after some talk about watching astronaut Chris Hadfield launch from Canadian Space Agency headquarters, and about violence in hockey, the topic turned to the way that his role has been evolving. Johnston said that Canadians are well served by their system of government, which has evolved in a peaceful manner. Regarding the First Nations protests, Johnston said that his understanding that Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence wants a broader meeting leading up to one similar to the Crown-First Nations Gathering earlier this year, and because they are matters of politics, Johnston feels that it’s a matter for elected officials. Johnston also said that his foreign travel as the representative of the head of state is done at the behest of the government and their policy objectives.

Economic outlook:

Power Play spoke with CIBC economist Emanuella Enenajor about the poor IMF growth numbers, and what to look forward in 2013. Enanajor said that growth looks to be under two percent, in part because of global economic weakness but also a slowing housing market in Canada. Enanajor said that the US will likely outperform Canada next year, but the pace will be dragged by the withdrawal of government stimulus.

Supreme Court decision:

Power & Politics got a briefing from CBC’s Megan Fitzpatrick on the Supreme Court decision on whether or not the government’s putting $28 billion of surplus public sector pension funds into general revenue to pay down debt was legal. Fitzpatrick recounted that it was a unanimous decision that it was legal because there was no actual cash in this account, but that it was an accounting exercise, so there was no real need for it to be treated as cash.

Power Play spoke to Canadian Association of Public Employees (CAPE) president Claude Poirier, who said that they’re not happy with the decision but not surprised. Poirier said that while the government’s appropriation of the pension surplus may have been deemed legal, it is up to the public to determine if it was legitimate.


Power Play chose NDP leader Thomas Mulcair as the third of their “Power Players” of the year. Mulcair said that he is serving the bigger picture by not just “surfing on the headline” of the issue of the day when he leads off QP, which he can’t do as Official Opposition as they could as the fourth party. Mulcair said that the NDP ultimately answers to the public good and not just unions, and that they need to show people over the next couple of years that they can be trusted with the keys to government. Mulcair also dismissed the threat of the Liberals, saying they will be on their seventh leader in nine years and need to sort themselves out.

While he was a Power Player yesterday, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page was one of Power & Politics’ Game Changers today. Page said that what’s at stake is the power of the purse – do we want it to rest with the executive or with members of Parliament? Page said that is a defining feature of the Westminster system that it rests with MPs, and they need information to made better decisions. Page said the office was created to do due diligence, and that because there have been no plans for austerity measures drawn up, the government’s claim that he is exceeding his mandate makes no sense. Page said that the question for a successor is whether or not he or she will have knowledge of the budgetary process.

P&P’s Power Panel gave their thoughts on Page’s impact, where Jennifer Ditchburn said that Page differs from Auditors General because he is more available, more candid, and that he speaks in layman’s terms. Ian Capstick said that Page has been able to break past the confines of his legislation, and worries if a successor will be a dormouse. Tim Powers said that Page has made a point of trying to provoke debate and controversy, while Rob Silver said that it’s remarkable that Page chases facts and gets it right time and again.

On Power Play’s strategists panel, Mike Storeshaw said that the Conservatives had as good of a year as they needed to in 2012, while Marlene Floyd said that the F-35s was their accomplishment that keeps on giving. Robin MacLachlan said that it was a terrible year for the government, but that it is early enough in their mandate that they can contain the damage. Regarding the NDP, both MacLachlan and Floyd praised their discipline, but Floyd noted that Mulcair hasn’t really made the grassroots appeal, while Storeshaw noted that opposition is a difficult role to fill. Floyd noted a generational change in the Liberal grassroots, while Storeshaw noted there seems little to the party aside from incumbency.

Worth Noting:

  • Columnist David Frum said that there is a trade-off between what kinds of gun control measures will be effective and what the American public will be willing to support. Joshua Green from Bloomberg said that only gun owners are motivated to vote on gun control, so he’s not sure the appetite will bear out.
  • Robert Fife said that it’s difficult to compare Canada and the US when it comes to gun control, even though our government scrapped regulations around gun shows (not that they were ever implemented).
  • Tim Harper noted that the #IdleNoMore protests are being led by the grassroots, which are forcing the First Nations leadership to run in order to catch up, and it will likely force its way onto the agenda in the New Year.

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