After much, much, much internal — and eventually external — debate (seriously, y’all, I’ve been wracking my brain over this one since 5am), ITQ was finally forced to admit that, despite the fact that she really wants to hear what Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Scott Vaughan has to say about the report he released last week, what with the current Global Economic Unpleasantness, it would be dereliction of her committee liveblogging duties not to cover the appearance of Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney. Plus, Vaughan is also scheduled to be at Public Accounts this afternoon, which she was already planning on covering. In any case, check back at 9am for full coverage of the Finance committee!
Well, to nobody’s surprise, my fellow reporters are swarming this meeting – there are at least a dozen of us here, and a few cameras crews staking out the doorway for the all-important Important Man Wearing a Coat and Striding Purposefully Forward shot. Not that anyone seems to be expecting much in the way of, you know, *news* out of today’s appearance — the consensus amongst the finance reporters seems to be that we’re not going to hear anything new, although a small but vocal minority thinks he’ll address the latest numbers to come out of the US, and Obama’s most recent comments.
And there he is! The Governor of the Bank of Canada, that is, who is currently doing a quick pre-meeting lap of the table, shaking hands and looking entirely non-panic-stricken, which should totally nudge the dollar up a few points, right?
Thomas Mulcair, meanwhile, is holding a pre-meeting scrum; the CBC’s Julie Van Dusen, who is wearing the best tights ever, is diligently taking notes while the camera rolls until John McCallum arrives, and there is an awkward but genuine exchange of greetings between the Liberal finance critic and Mark Carney, who unfailingly surprises me by how young he is. It’s such a daunting title.
Would it be creepy to say that I’ve missed the sound of Mike Wallace laughing in a very slightly unsettling way? Because I have. We miss you at Ethics, Mike!
Okay, Finance Chair James Rajotte really likes his gavel. That’s the longest opening tappity-tap I’ve ever heard. Anyway, he gives the usual opening spiel – blah blah, welcome, blah blah, Carney, blah blah, statement then questions – and Carney begins to speak, at which point I almost immediately get lost.
Things have gotten worse, apparently. Deteriorated. The US recession is now spreading globally, and the “correction” is now underway.
Okay, he’s giving a brief recap of the last few months – the meltdown, the resulting fiscal policies and the eventual recovery. This will be “a very difficult year” for the Canadian economy, with shortfalls in activity and employment. Man, this is even gloomier than I expected.
Okay, I just skipped to the end of the printed statement, and it turns out that inflation control is the most important aspect of monetary policy – its “relentless focus”, even. That’s the “best contribution that it can make to the economic and financial welfare of Canada,” according to Carney.
And now, seven minutes with John McCallum!
He notes that when someone like, say, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, actually sounds less gloomy than most of the other experts, particularly on the timeline for recovery, and wonders what model he uses to reach his conclusions, since – well, things are different now than in the past. Also, he wonders about the prospect of infrastructure money actually getting out the door – not sure how Carney can answer that one – as well as increased lending. Carney agrees with McCallum on “model risk”, but notes that “we don’t do optimism, we don’t do pessimism – we do realism”. That’s the Bank of Canada, to be clear. Anyway, the models that they use are highly sophisticated, but even so, judgement has to be applied, which is why the outlook for the first part of the year is *more* negative.
Maxime Bernier’s nameplate has the words “The Hon.” printed above his name. I wonder if all Privy Councillors-turned-committee members get that automatically, or if they have to ask. Must check McCallum’s nameplate, which I can’t see it from this angle.
Wow,those seven minutes just flew by! The Bloc’s Jean Laforest is up now, and he, too, seems sceptical of Carney’s projection: Did Carney, he wonders, predict *this* recession? “Did you see that in your crystal ball?” Carney seems slightly taken aback by the aggressive nature of the question, and eventually tells him that it would have been impossible to predict the “intensification of the crisis” last year.
Are we *completely* dependent on what’s going on elsewhere, wonders Laforest, who is being a real downer, frankly. Well, not completely, but *of course* our recovery will be affected, Carney replies. Martha Hall Findlay is paying great attention to Laforest; I’m not sure if she’s planning on picking up that line of question, or, like ITQ, wishing that he’d at least ask *one* question that might have a less than demoralizing answer.
Trade is important, Laforest and Carney agree; eventually, Paul Jenkins – who hasn’t said a word so far – explains that trade imbalances are only part of the problem.
Parliamentary Secretary Ted Menzies, it turns out, will provide the first round of questions from the government side: He wonders whether we may be spending too much time and energy looking at forecasts, and not enough on “reality”, but still wants to know why nobody foresaw this. Why? WHY? Carney gives pretty much the same response as before: it wasn’t so much the crisis, but the “intensification” that wasn’t foretold. That needs to be managed to mitigate the impact on the economies, and you know, every time I fall more than a sentence behind in listening to this guy, I end up completely and totally confused.
Bob Dechert, meanwhile, wants to know what *other* “tools” he has in his “toolbox” — have I ever mentioned how much I hate that metaphor or whatever it is? — other than interest rates. Carney notes that the Bank has provided “exceptional liquidity” at minimum risk to the taxpayer, thanks to overcollatoralized loans.
Thomas Mulcair finally gets the floor – I’m still not used to the government getting the slot before the NDP in the first round – and quizzes Carney on the various failings of the rest of the banking sector, which failed to pass along basis points resulting from the drop in interest rates last fall – which was in the interest of the “greater good”, he says. Isn’t it Carney’s job to step in if the banks don’t operate on the same principle? I — honestly, guys, I’m just going to admit it: I don’t really understand the answer. It seems to have something to do with ratios and preferred rates and I can’t be the only one who is way outside her comfort zone here. Mulcair wonders how the money will be paid back, and recalls the inflation from a generation ago: Carney reminds him that the object of monetary policy is to ensure low, predictable inflation.
Bonus systems – I understand *that*, at least – and how some other countries are looking at revising that policy, and looking at compensation for value. Carney doesn’t sound that enthusiastic about the idea, and notes that regulatory changes influence these things as well. With that, Mulcair’s time is up; at least he got to stick it to the banks, right?
Back to the Liberals, and John McKay, who notes that the Bank “swung its assets” from one thing to another, and points to other actions taken in the last year, and asks: Is the Bank of Canada “tapped out” at this point? Mark Carney assures him that isn’t the case; there are other steps that could be taken, if necessary, although they also have to look at the effect on other economies. “If you’re down at 1%, there’s not much you can do,” insists McKay.
Apparently, there is, and Mark Carney is determined to list every single one, even when McKay tries to interrupt him to ask one last question. Eventually, the chair steps in to call time expired.
Onto Robert Carrier – the other Bloc Quebecois member on the committee – who wants to know what the relationship is between monetary policy and interest rates, and the government in power – specifically, what was it like last October, when the Bank began to take action, yet the government had yet to give any indication that it would provide stimulus. Carney, not surprisingly, is more keen to discuss how his Bank took action than critique the government for failing to do so, no matter how leading the question may be; he suggests that Carrier “may want to ask the government” about any apparent lack of synchronicity.
Ten more minutes of Carney, and then onto committee business, including two opposition motions. Not that I’m clockwatching or anything like that.
Anyway, everyone’s favourite former head of the Montreal Economic Institute is up now, and he has an even more ridiculously complex question that seems to involve inflation, and how much value the dollar has lost in the last nineteen years. Maxime Bernier apparently spends a lot of time on the Bank of Canada website, by the way. He quotes the chairman of the Federal Reserve: “Inflation is a tax” – does Carney agree, he wonders – and why does the Bank only have a 2% target? Why not a zero percent target?
Carney tells him that they’re actually researching that very question right now – should the target be lower, that is – and then tries to answer the rest of his question, which involves repairing leakages, and concludes that, globally, M1 growth is now nominally above GDP.
And that’s all for the Governor of the Bank of Canada — the chair suspends the meeting for two minutes; MPs from both theopposition and government sides of the table mob the departing Carney, and the rest of the reporters who were hanging on his every word have similarly fled. Not ITQ, though. ITQ is no quitter!
First up, a motion from Jean Laforest that forces ITQ to seriously reconsider her anti-quitting stance: It seems to have something to do with the tax treatment of post-doctoral professionals, and I have *no* doubt this is a very important issue, and one that the committee should investigate, but I’m having just the tiniest bit of trouble getting fired up about debate over the motion. Meanwhile, Carrier, too, has a motion along the same lines, although his is more concerned with the treatment of certain computer professionals; he isn’t sure if this might not better be handled through meetings with the minister.
The chair very politely reminds him that Finance and Revenue officials will actually be before this very committee this afternoon, which would give the Bloc the perfect opportunity to question them on the above issue to their hearts’ content, provided that their hearts can be contented in seven minutes or less. He also notes that this committee usually deals with *macro* issues, not micro, and generally tries to discourage the movers from going forward with their respective motions.
Thomas Mulcair, however, backs the Bloc – and he even gets in a shot at “the future leader of the ADQ”, who doesn’t look nearly amused at the affectionate jibe than you’d expect.
After Menzies offers to set up a meeting with the minister, both Carrier and Laforest agree to hold their motions back for the time being, although they *doæ want that meeting with the minister, which Menzies reminds them he can’t absolutely guarantee will take place. Anyway, that’s good enough for the Bloc Quebecois for the moment, so the committee moves onto Massimo Pacetti’s motion which — hey, it’s about the routine motion on the order of post-first-round questions, which, for some reason, sends Mulcair deep into hissy fitdom, during which he manages to get in a shot at the “Liberal-Conservative coalition” and accuses the Liberals of trying to take more time than it deserves, even after losing a quarter of its seats in the last election.
Four questions for the Liberals and one for the NDP is absolutely unacceptable, he concludes. Daryl Kramp touts his compromise motion, which apparently went over well at Public Accounts.
Okay, apparently Mulcair was so outraged by the Liberal motion that he walked out of the committee completely; Daryl Kramp once again explains how his motion would make the order more fully representative of the makeup of the House, and do you remember having this debate before? At more than one committee? Because I’m getting the oddest sense of deja vu.
Incidentally, it didn’t seem fair to Mike Wallace that the government only had “a couple of speakers” during this morning’s appearance, which was only on for an hour.
This is interesting – the chair is about to call Kramp’s motion, and if I’m counting correctly, it’s going to be a tie due to Mulcair’s absence; Laforest points out that Pacetti is willing to withdraw *his* motion, which means it doesn’t make any sense to vote on the amendment.
Pacetti pulls his motion, and Rajotte looks almost disappointed; he notes that the committee needs unanimous consent to pull his motion, and lectures everyone about coming to consensus outside the committee *before* bringing a motion to the floor. Laforest notes that the chair didn’t ask for unanimous consent when he withdrew *his* motion, and Rajotte tries to explain that he sort of informally looked around and nobody objected and — you know, I really like James Rajotte, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m really not sure if he’s cut out for this job.
And – we’re adjourned, which gives ITQ a full half hour to make it to the fifth floor cafeteria and back before Government Operations and Estimates. Wish her luck – and see you in the next thread.