Five stories we're watching -

Five stories we’re watching

The Maclean’s Ottawa looks back at the week with a nod to the news to come


The political workweek of Sept. 24-28 generated five stories with sequels and endings and next chapters that we look forward to reading (and writing):

  1. The outcry over Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose’s surprise vote in favour of a Tory backbenchers’s motion to study when life begins might have been the sort of story flares briefly and is soon forgotten. After all, even though Ambrose also has cabinet responsibility for the status of women, her vote in the House for a study, which would have reopened elements of the abortion debate, didn’t have much practical impact: the motion was easily defeated. Full stop? Maybe not. For starters, another Conservative MP plans to table a motion condemning sex-selection abortion, a matter on which Ambrose expresses deep concern. She’s been praised for her handling of shipbuilding contracts, trusted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper sort out the F-35 fiasco, but will she become a political liability for reasons that have nothing to do with her core files?
  2. Tough criticism from Jim Prentice—the former Harper cabinet heavyweight, turned CIBC financial executive—on how the Conservatives have failed to properly engage First Nations on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline is another story with political implications. Prentice is pro-pipeline, but argues the government puts it at risk by ignoring landmark court rulings that leave Ottawa no choice but to fully consult with natives where such developments affect their traditional territory. The story matters not least because Prentice’s critique has the potential to shift blame, should Gateway stall,  from the groups that oppose the pipeline to a government that failed to devise and implement the right strategy for pushing it to fruition.
  3. News reports and columnist commentary about the possibility that Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney might—just might—be oh-so-cautiously considering a bid for the Liberal Party of Canada leadership fall squarely under the heading of speculation. Yet this story is important even if it turns out there’s not much to it. Excitement at the very notion of Carney’s entry reminds us of the long tradition of what’s sometimes called the “business” or “blue” side of the Liberal party. Blue Liberal standard-bearers have ranged in recent decades from John Turner to John Manley. But with Justin Trudeau—a left-leaning, youth-oriented, alien-to-Bay-Street candidate—dominating the party’s leadership buzz, where is a champion of this other historic Liberal stream?
  4. Carney made headlines earlier this month by lashing out in surprisingly blunt terms at the notion that high oil prices push up the Canadian dollar and thus hurt manufacturing exports—the “Dutch disease” argument now indelibly associated with NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. But Mulcair, addressing a Toronto business audience, tried to shift the focus of the argument—touting the benefits a new east-west pipeline to pump Albertan oil sands crude to Ontario and Quebec. How this goes over is worth watching as an intriguing indicator of Mulcair’s determination not to be caricatured as an anti-commodities, anti-Western politician, who doesn’t get how resource wealth fits in the Canadian economic mix. His pipeline proposal gives him something to propose when Tories accuse him of opposing the very things that most reliably generate wealth in much of this country.
  5. Since being appointed Parliamentary Budget Officer in the spring of 2008, Kevin Page has made a valuable nuisance of himself toward federal politicians, on files from deficit forecasts to jet fighter costs. But can his knack for prodding decision-makers and opinion-leaders to think harder about complicated files extend outside official Ottawa? In a report this past week, he honed in on the growing fiscal challenges facing provinces and municipalities, even as federal deficit dangers ease. Page flags serious problems, especially as an aging population puts upward pressure on health spending. He’s not the only analyst pointing out that threat, of course, but he brings a particular independent credibility to the conversation. The question is whether his voice can matter beyond, say, the range of the Peace Tower Carillon.