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10 MPs to Watch in the 43rd Parliament (Part 1: The Liberals)

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland will play a key role in the Liberal’s minority government.

The Niagara Independent, December 6, 2019 — Parliament resumed this week, however it will not be until the last week of January, after a Christmas break, that MPs will actually get down to their substantive business in the House of Commons. With the realities of the new minority parliament, all elected representatives will be functioning with the pressure that they are but one vote away from the next federal election.

Members of Parliament will be working tirelessly to demonstrate their understanding and mastery of the issues – to find and secure favour with Canadians. In saying this, there are a few key MPs whose performances in the 43rd Parliament will have a direct impact on their respective Party’s fortunes in the impending election. Here are 10 MPs to watch:

Chrystia Freeland is now Ms. Everything for the re-elected Government as the Prime Minister handed her two critical files. She is asked to finish the job she started with the NAFTA trade agreement and, with her intergovernmental affairs role, she is to bridge the Nation’s regional divide. As Deputy Prime Minister she will be an articulate voice in Question Period. Indeed, she has proven since 2015 to be a consistent voice in support of Justin Trudeau and now she has been given added authority to speak for the Government. The PM-DPM relationship forms a mutual admiration society; PM Trudeau on his stalwart: “We know that as we move forward on issues that matter across the country, like energy and the environment and other large issues, we will have to engage in a strong and positive way with different orders of government.” Cue Ms. Everything for centre stage.

Justin Trudeau – It is noted by many pundits the PM has been uncharacteristically quiet and low key since the election. He has not been invisible, just careful to stay out of the headlines and away from microphones. PM Trudeau has followed a schedule of private meetings and official photo-ops – from Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Opposition leaders to the King of Jordan and Prince Phillip. The Globe and Mail editorial team has described his new-found persona as “terse and understated.” The Hill Times questions whether this “transformation from a celebrity politician to a “humbled” leader” will be played out into 2020. As Greg Lyle, president of Innovative Research in an interview with the paper observed, “We don’t know if this is an actual conversion on the road to Damascus, or if this is just a different role that he’s playing for now.” Final word on the new Mr. Trudeau goes to Sheila Copps, former DPM under PM Jean Chretien, who states: “PM Justin Trudeau obviously got the message that was delivered in the minority victory. He needs to reach out to Team Liberal, instead of simply selling the country on Team Trudeau.” (How the PM slips into this new character will be an interesting subplot of this Parliament.)

Pablo Rodriguez is the new Government House Leader and named the PM’s new Quebec lieutenant to handle the Bloc’s resurgence both in Parliament and in La Belle Province. This affable Montreal MP possesses a flare that has the potential to reinvigorate the Party’s fortunes in the Province that could deliver a Liberal majority in the next electoral contest. Most English media have overlooked just how significant Rodriquez’s mission is – yet, the PM has entrusted a great deal on this minister’s agility and acumen to deal with the Bloc and their coveted seats. He is the Government’s chessmaster for its legislative agenda and the Liberals’ general on the Quebec battlefield.

Mona Fortier, the named Minister of the Middle Class is a MP to watch, not so much as a new minister around the cabinet table, but more for what she represents. Fortier is the minister to provide greater prosperity for all middle class Canadians – and those aspiring to enter into this class. Yet, in her first media interviews, Fortier was unable to describe her role in Cabinet, clearly uncertain of her responsibilities. When pressed, it was clear Fortier did not know her place. She has been given a title without being told a mission. Surely this cabinet position was created to be more than Fortier hinted, “That it’s about promoting the kinds of Canadians whose kids are enrolled in hockey…” Liberal supporters hope Mona Fortier and this new position can deliver new ways to reach out and inspire working Canadians to the Liberal fold. Canadians hope that the new minister is more than an extra cast member in a Monty Python “The Department of Redundancy Department” skit. As Parliamentarians get down to work, many will look for Minister Fortier to clarify what exactly she is working on. In defining her mission she signals the Liberals’ seriousness in supporting working Canadians.

David Lametti was reappointed as Canada’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice to continue to “carry the can” respecting the SNC Lavalin scandal. MP Lametti is a learned McGill University Law Professor – an intelligent thoughtful man. He is also an elected Montreal representative serving Trudeau, a PM from Montreal. Lametti is part of a Government that has had its highest political office, the PMO, wholly entangled in a sordid affair involving a powerful Quebec-based company imposing its undue influence through the past four year. Given that this scandal has already exposed multiple acts of obstruction of justice by the PMO, and perhaps the PM himself, the question remains what Minister Lametti will do for his Government and its political fortunes in Quebec? (Sadly, the real question should be what the Minister will do for Canadians and our justice system.) We have learned there was a PMO directive to grant SNC Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement; PM Trudeau has repeated that what is paramount in this matter are the Quebec jobs. So, there is a great level of suspense around whether Lametti will succumb to the endless political pressure, allowing this scandal to define him and his term in Canada’s highest office of law.

Next week: The key MPs to watch on the Opposition benches.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/10-mps-to-watch-in-the-43rd-parliament-part-1-the-liberals/

The 401 Liberals in the Prime Minister’s Office

The Niagara Independent, November 29, 2019 — As mentioned in last week’s column, National Post columnist John Ivison punted aside the list of newly appointed cabinet ministers with his insightful commentary “Who’s in Trudeau’s cabinet? It doesn’t matter, political power lies elsewhere.” Ivison observed that nothing really has changed as a result of the election because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “has surrounded himself with advisors of like mind and experience who act like a political praetorian guard.” With the Trudeau’s old guard again ensconced in the Prime Minister’s Office one cannot expect that there will be a change of direction with his second Government.

The PMO staff is predominately Central Canadian with an inherit Laurentian bias. Professor Donald Savoie, the country’s premier public administration and governance expert, observed that the Trudeau Government of 2015-19 was one of the most centralized governments in recent political history. Senior PMO staffers dominated the policy and political process to a far greater extent than ever before. In his recent book Democracy in Canada, Savoie states, “Trudeau has strengthened the centre of government rather than rolled it back.” He also makes the point that there’s a lot of discontentment with the PMO among those who live “outside the Quebec-Windsor corridor.”

In a Hill Times review of Trudeau’s staff, Ottawa pollster and political pundit Nik Nanos suggested PM Trudeau needs to ensure his second term as PM is not driven by staffers coming out of the McGuinty-Wynne Queen’s Park era. Nanos stated in the Hill Times, “The trap that [Trudeau] has to avoid is the narrative that he’s hostage to Ontario and this is an Ontario-driven government. That will be political poison to him in every single region outside of Ontario. If it’s too Ontario focused, it undermines his ability to operate in this environment.”

Yet the PMO remains comprised primarily of “401 Liberals” – a term for political staff who travelled directly from the Queen’s Park backrooms to the PMO. As Ivison suggested, it is these 401 Liberals behind the doors of the PMO who hold the real power in this centralized Trudeau Government. So, who are these people?

The PM’s chief of staff Katie Telford has been in Trudeau’s top staff positon from day-one in 2015. But, her history with the PM predates this. Telford started in 2012 when she was asked to manage Trudeau’s leadership campaign and was always by his side through the 2015 election. Prior to that she served as former senior aide to then Liberal opposition leader Stephane Dion. Before that she was at Queen’s Park as chief of staff to education minister Gerard Kennedy.

Gerald Butts and Katie Telford are the wagon masters for the 401 Liberals, both hailing from senior positions in the Liberal backrooms of the Dalton McGuinty – Kathleen Wynne Governments. The Butts-Telford tag team was with the PM though his first term and, although Butts no longer holds the title of PMO principal secretary, it is expected this dynamic duo will continue to be the central force guiding PM Trudeau — and herding their 401 colleagues.

Here are ten more PMO operatives who are of Queen’s Park pedigree and/or from the Liberals’ political backrooms in Toronto:

#1 Zita Astravas is PMO Director of Issues Management. This Ms, Fix-It was Premier Wynne’s director of media relations and previous to that, press secretary for Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews.

#2 Matthew Mendelsohn, who serves the PMO as deputy secretary to the cabinet in the Privy Council Office, is central to managing policy development within the bureaucracy. Mendelsohn is the former special policy advisor to both Premiers McGuinty and Wynne.

#3 John Zerucelli was integral to the 2019 election campaign tour in the GTA and he is rumoured to be returning to the PMO as a senior advisor. Zerucelli served as a chief of staff in the Wynne Government, and he was a staffer in both former PM Jean Chretien’s office and Premier McGuinty’s office. (Zerucelli’s better half is Jane Almeida, former press secretary to Premier McGuinty.)

#4 Ben Chin is a trusted senior advisor, who has a reputation for his partisan metal. Chin was one of the PMO staffers to be embroiled in the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Recall that Chin served as the strong-armed envoy for Gerald Butts as he attempted to influence then-Attorney General Jody Wilson Raybould.

#5 PMO advisor Brian Clow is a longtime Wynne Government staffer who served as the Premier’s issues manager, then moved to Ottawa as Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland’s chief of staff. Now Clow is rumoured to be tapped for an important hands-on political role in a PMO, which is retooling without the services of Gerald Butts.

#6 Susan Menchini, who is one of the leads in PMO Tour Office, was special assistant for tour in Premier Wynne’s office.

#7 Lindsay Hunter is director for the Ontario Regional Desk in the PMO and the former director of operation for Health Minister Eric Hoskins.

#8 Sarah Hussaini, policy advisor in the PMO Cabinet and Legislative Affairs Branch, is a Toronto Liberal who first arrived in Ottawa to assist then-Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland.

# 9 John Broadhead who was chief of staff in Trudeau’s first term of Government, left to manage the federal campaign – and is expected to return to the PMO. Broadhead’s history at Queen’s Park included a key policy advisor for the green initiatives in Premier McGuinty’s office.

#10 There’s the Honourable Mary Ng. One must not forget Ng, who served as chief of staff to ministers in McGuinty and Wynne governments and then move to the PMO as a special advisor in 2015. In the previous Parliament Ng won a Toronto bi-election and became MP, then soon invited into Cabinet in a junior portfolio. Ng has now been given increased power in the new Cabinet. She is not only Trudeau’s eyes and ears in Parliament and in the GTA, but also an important PMO confidant at the Cabinet Table.

There are many more connections than this space allows. It is a tangled web that the 401 Liberal operatives weave. In watching this minority Parliament, it will remain to be seen whether this group’s prowess continues unchallenged – or if the PM and his Office will get caught up in the endless strands stretching from Queen’s Park to the PMO.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-401-liberals-in-the-prime-ministers-office/

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet of 36

The Niagara Independent, November 22, 2019 — With all the traditional pomp and ceremony, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week announced his Cabinet to guide the minority government in the 43rd Parliament. The PM has increased the number of ministers on his front bench to three dozen. A great many of these ministers were members in Trudeau’s pre-election Cabinet, and eleven ministers maintain the same portfolios. And yet, there were a few noteworthy appointments in this executive council that provide Canadians with a hint of what can be expected in the months ahead.

Most significant, the new Cabinet is weighted with representatives from Central Canada. The majority are MPs from Ontario and Quebec – and then there are four from BC, one from Manitoba, and one from each of the Atlantic Provinces. It is remarkable that Ontario and Quebec have 28 of 37 spots at the cabinet table, including the PM. Breaking this down: nearly half (17) are from Ontario with 6 from Metro Toronto, and there is an overrepresentation of 11 from Quebec with 7 from Montreal (again, including the PM). There are two words to aptly describe the Cabinet’s composition: “urban Laurentians.”

Regardless the total number of ministers, the central figures in this Cabinet can be counted on one hand. Foremost, there is Deputy Prime Minister and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. She has been harnessed with the formidable tasks of improving strained relations with the US as well as mending an increasingly divided Nation. On the latter, there has been a great amount of ink spilt over her Peace River Alberta childhood — as if this may endear the jet-setting Torontonian to western Canadians. It remains to be seen just how far this narrative can be stretched.

Toronto Centre MP Bill Morneau was entrusted as Canada’s Finance Minister for another Parliamentary Session. In the lead up to this week’s announcement, it was widely broadcasted that Bay Street wanted the reinstatement of Mr. Morneau in the finance portfolio (being the only elected Liberal with any tie to the country’s finance community). However, the news of his return was anything but welcoming. The Financial Post ran an opinion piece calling on the Finance Minister “to start speaking for business – not Team Trudeau.” FP’s columnist Kevin Carmichael sums up Bay Street’s less than flattering assessment: “Bill Morneau has been a disappointment, if only because his background suggested that he would have a greater impact… Morneau was parroting the Prime Minister’s made-for-social-media lines about helping the middle class. No separation, just another member of Team Trudeau.”

PM Trudeau has turned to Pablo Rodriguez to keep order in the House of Commons, naming this veteran Montreal MP as both Government House Leader and the PMs Quebec lieutenant. Rodriguez is challenged to find common ground with opposition parties and make the minority Parliament work. Key to that mission will be to keep in check the reinvigorated Bloc Quebecois. Though this minister will not get the headlines that Ministers Freeland and Morneau garner, Rodriguez will be omnipotent behind the scenes with the reins on both the Government’s legislative agenda and Quebec’s patronage machine.

Media reaction to the Prime Minister’s selection was mixed. Predictably, CBC News lauded his work: “Trudeau’s cabinet picks seem designed to project stability, seriousness.” Sun Media Brian Lilley noted: “Most of the cabinet couldn’t get picked out of a police lineup and the reality is that the days of cabinet ministers being powerful is mostly a thing of the past.” Macleans’ Paul Wells observed the bloated membership will make most ministers inconsequential: “A multiply redundant federal cabinet will quickly become a pretext for central control even if that wasn’t the point of building it that way, because none of the title-holders hold enough of the elephant to discern its shape, let alone influence its path.”

John Ivison of the National Post insightfully asserted the group of ministers around Trudeau does not matter in relation to the group of advisors in the Prime Minister’s Office. In a column entitled: Who’s in Trudeau’s cabinet? It doesn’t matter, political power lies elsewhere,” the columnist contends, “What we are talking about is a shuffling of deckchairs – if not on the Titanic, then perhaps on the Queen Mary, a cruise ship that is no longer fit for purpose… Both cabinet and Parliament have been relegated to the role of rubber-stamping decisions taken elsewhere. The prime minister has surrounded himself with advisors of like mind and experience who act like a political praetorian guard.”

Ivison concludes: “Justin Trudeau’s cabinet re-jig will do little to arrest the continuing disintegration of Canada’s democratic representation.” (An interesting side note is that there is no longer a minister for democratic institutions.)

With Paul Wells and John Ivison pointing to where the real power lies, the question becomes who are the policy and political advisors behind the doors of the PMO (to be taken up next week!)? That being said, the story this week from Ottawa is the regal ceremony revealing Prime Minister Trudeau’s selection for Cabinet. So, we now have seated 36 ministers on the front bench waiting for Parliament to resume Dec. 5.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/prime-minister-justin-trudeaus-cabinet-of-36/

The Great Canadian Standoff: The West vs Quebec Interests

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The Niagara Independent, November 15, 2019 — The federal parliament convenes on Dec. 5 and there is great trepidation across the country as the next act in “The Great Canadian Standoff” is about to begin. With the divisiveness of the federal election campaign still on everyone’s mind, the “sunny ways” of the central-Canadian-backed Liberals’ return to power is threatened by ominous dark clouds of western alienation. The central figure in the Parliamentary theatre is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a character who has yet to show his merit in understanding the divided country, let alone be the hero to unite it.

Never before in the country’s history has western separatist sentiment been so agitated. Four of every five Albertans and Saskatchewans believe the country is more divided than ever before. Half the residents in both provinces feel angry and want to look at separating from central Canada. To the new cries of “the West wants out”, the re-elected Prime Minister has proven tone-deaf. In the last two weeks Canadians have been watching a series of political sideshows unfold like a slow motion train wreck.

The economic and political realities of what is happening in the West are best exemplified with the news of Encana pulling up stakes and leaving the country. Encana, one of Canada’s most iconic energy companies dating back to Sir John A. Macdonald and a dream to build a railroad westward, announced its operations are heading south and the company is renamed Ovintiv Inc. to drop Canada from its name. There was not a whisper of response from Ottawa and, in fact, the Encana commentary about losing a piece of Canadianna was juxtaposed with pictures of a relaxed Justin Trudeau catching waves in the Tofino surf.

The tension and political rhetoric this week as the Prime Minister hosted a series of meetings with premiers and political opponents prior to the recall of Parliament. On Tuesday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe left Ottawa in a foul mood, “Disappointingly, after this meeting here today, what I do see is we are going to see more of the same from this prime minister. We had provided some options for him to support the people of the province and today I did not hear a commitment to moving forward on those items.” Premier Moe’s immediate response upon hearing there would be no deviation in the Liberal’s approach to governing was a blunt, “We are also going to look at opportunities that we have to expand our provincial autonomy.”

This encounter was followed up with a tete-a-tete between the PM and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet. In his post-meeting scrum, the BQ Leader made a point of poking at the western premiers with the observation, “If they were attempting to create a green state in western Canada, I might be tempted to help them. If they are trying to create an oil state in western Canada, they cannot expect any help from us.”

This provocation came in the wake of news from La Belle Province that the Quebec Government had just delivered a budget with a $4.8-billion surplus. Quebecers will enjoy lower day care fees, free parking at their hospitals and increased family allowances, largely because Quebec is receiving $13 billion yearly from Ottawa in transfer payments.

Remarkably, BQ Blanchet’s comments came on the same day a motion was tabled in Quebec’s national assembly that Quebecers would have a veto on any proposed changes to the federal government’s equalization formula.

Blanchet’s headlines from Parliament Hill incited Alberta Premier Jason Kenny to repeat publicly his criticism of the federal equalization payments. Kenny rebuked Blanchett saying: “If you are so opposed to the energy that we produced in Alberta, then why are you so keen on taking the money generated by the oilfield workers in this province and across western Canada? You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Pick a lane.”

“Either you can say as Quebec you’re no longer going to take the energy and equalization resources from Western Canada’s oil and gas industry, and then you can become even more independent, by the way, on OPEC dictator oil imports, or you could do what we do as Canadians, coming together to support each other, especially at times of adversity.”

Though the Albertan Premier is annoyed with the BQ Leader, he is most irritated with the Liberals. He has described the re-election of the federal Liberal government as a “hostile situation.” Kenny observes: “There is a federal government that just ran a campaign against Alberta, against our largest job-creating industry, that will be supported by opposition parties who are committed to shutting down the energy industry that produces so much of Alberta’s wealth and jobs.”

Like Saskatchewan, Alberta is now looking at ways to provide greater autonomy to its provincial government. Premier Kenny has announced a Fair Deal Panel tasked with creating “Alberta’s strategy to secure a fair deal in the federation.” Kenny explains, “The wellspring of modern western frustration and anger lies in the original flawed articles of confederal union, and the key to our contentment lies in repairing those flaws…. the flaws are embedded in the economic structure of the federation, our national political institutions and often the complacency and condescension of the so-called Laurentian elites.”

So, the stage has been set and the plot seems to thicken each day leading up to the resumption of the federal parliament. Canadians can expect another element of suspense with a provincial-territorial meeting on December 2nd,, chaired by Premier Moe, to discuss how best to engage with the new Liberal government. However, the real theatre will commence a few days later when PM Trudeau takes centre stage to strike a pose and deliver his opening lines in “The Great Canadian Standoff.”

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK:  https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-great-canadian-standoff-the-west-vs-quebec-interests/

The Dirty Secret of Coal Exports from the Port of Vancouver

Coal exporting facilities near Vancouver, BC

The Niagara Independent, November 8, 2019 — It is perhaps our country’s dirtiest secret – the export of Canadian and American coal through the Port of Vancouver.

Operating in the very heartland of Canada’s green movement, what is occurring at this B.C. coast port is criminal by any environmental standard. And what is so startling about this secret, getting dirtier year-over-year, is that it is being supported by both the federal Liberal and provincial NDP Governments. Given the vilification of the prairies’ oil and gas industry by these same self-proclaimed environmental stewards, the silence surrounding the Port of Vancouver’s coal exports shouts out Canadians’ very own definition of hypocrisy.

The Port of Vancouver operates Roberts Bank Super-Port, which is located on the mainland coastline of the Strait of Georgia in Delta, B.C.  Roberts Bank is referred to as Vancouver’s Outer Harbour of Canada’s busiest port and it hosts a single business enterprise – the Westshore Terminals. The terminals have become a major hub for container trucking companies as they feature a marine container loading facility and are serviced by rail and tugboat. What is most noteworthy about Westshore Terminals is that the operation is the busiest coal export terminal in North America.

In 2017 the Port of Vancouver exported more than 36 million tonnes of coal. To put this into perspective, this port ships more coal than the legendary American coal centre Norfolk, Virginia, which exported 31.5 million tonnes that same year. The Port of Vancouver also handles more than double the amount that is produced in all of the coal mines in Mexico in a single year.

As big as this is, Roberts Bank and Westport Terminals keeps getting bigger in every way. Originally created as a 49-acre pod of reclaimed land for a major coal port, it is now physically four times that size. In the last ten years, the terminals completed a $49-million equipment upgrade, upping its annual coal exporting capacity by 20 percent. Westshore Terminals is in the midst of another $275 million upgrade over the next five years which will boost shipping efficiencies – likely increasing exporting capacities yet again.

For British Columbians coal is king. According to Natural Resources Canada, the Province accounts for nearly half of all Canadian coal production – much of it metallurgical coal exported to Asia for the making of steel. Coal is B.C.’s number one export commodity, accounting for $3.32 billion of economic activity in 2016. This is big business for the province and for the country: Canada is the world’s third largest exporter of metallurgical coal, after Australia and the U.S. (However, to put the country’s less than 40 million tonnes of exports into the context of the world’s largest coal producing and consuming country, on an annual basis China produces 3.1 billion tonnes and imports 271 million tonnes.)

The metallurgical coal exports bound for foundries in Asian are not the full story of the Port of Vancouver’s success and this is where the secret becomes ugly. Consider that in 2008, there were 4.4 million tonnes of coal exports called “non-metallurgical” (a.k.a. thermal coal which is a dirtier burning coal). By 2017, this had more than doubled to 11.3 million tonnes. Then in the year 2017, exports shot up a remarkable 15 percent. What accounts for the marked increase? Roberts Bank is receiving and exporting more thermal coal from mines located in Wyoming and Montana.

James Kerr, a retired Environment Canada senior research scientist, explains what is occurring between U.S. and Canada. “It appears that weak Canadian environmental laws are rigged to favour economic benefits for a handful of people, in this case mostly in the U.S. coal industry, over the health and well-being of the environment and citizens…U.S. coal is not purchased or owned by Canadians and is not consumed in Canada so it is not subject to import tariffs, carbon tax or other levies. It is just a product in transit, passing through and contaminating the suburban, agricultural and Indigenous land corridor between the Canada/U.S. border and Roberts Bank. Thus the Westshore Terminals facility has become a nearly tax-free bypass conduit, allowing the U.S. coal industry to export its product overseas.”

The U.S. “non-metallurgical” / thermal coal now accounts for 29 percent of coal shipped from Vancouver. James Kerr has factored that this U.S. coal exported from Vancouver approximately equals the tonnage of metallurgical coal shipped from all U.S. West Coast ports.

Two other facts that should alarm all environmentally-concerned Canadians. First point is the Sierra Club has factored an emissions formula based on 2017 numbers that reveal Vancouver’s annual coal exports will produce 99.8 million tonnes of CO2 over their lifetime. The NDP BC Government would be interested to note that this is significantly higher than B.C.’s entire carbon footprint, estimated to annual produce 64.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. It is just marginally better than the annual emissions of the Trans Mountain expansion, which depending on the diluted bitumen exported will emit an estimated 129 million tonnes of CO2 over its lifecycle.

Second point is the federally legislated ban on oil tankers off the B.C. coast (Bill C-48) might well be extended to ban coal tankers. James Kerr again explains the expanded coal trade through the Port of Vancouver has led to a significant increase in shipping traffic of foreign owned and operated freighters, tankers and cargo ships. Tankers that had been anchoring in English Bay near the Port of Vancouver are now encroaching on the pristine waters of the Gulf Islands while waiting to dock — they run generators 24/7 without regulation and without monitoring, pollute the air and disrupt marine life, and often drag their anchors along the sea bottom, destroying marine habitats.

Kerr punctuates his frustrations by stating, “From a global perspective, the appalling hypocrisy of Canada’s policy regarding coal is a national embarrassment.” Indeed, as the facts of the Roberts Bank secret are exposed, can the federal Liberal and provincial NDP Governments find any justification to permit the coal exporting activities to continue at the Port of Vancouver?

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK:  https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-dirty-secret-of-coal-exports-from-the-port-of-vancouver/

Quebec’s Pipeline Politics And Canadian Energy Resource Development

The Niagara Independent, November 1, 2019 — On election night, Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet repeated a message he had asserted throughout the campaign that he obstinately opposes the construction of any new pipeline from Western Canada. For months Blanchet has been crowing that the Bloc helped cancel the Energy East pipeline and they are the only Party to stand against new pipelines on Quebec soil. Whether it is political doublespeak or intentional deception, this rhetoric in no way reflects the reality in La Belle Province.

In direct contradiction to Blanchet’s bluster is the fact that a few Quebec companies are aggressively planning what will be Canada’s largest pipeline development. The Energie Saguenay pipeline project will build a new 782 km pipeline corridor across northern Quebec and construct a natural gas liquefaction complex at Port Saguenay. The $14 Billion Quebec project includes liquefaction equipment, storage facilities, and marine shipping infrastructures that will export overseas 11 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas annually – which is sourced directly from Western Canada.

This new pipeline also connects to the Energir natural gas network of pipelines in Quebec. Energir is the largest gas distributor in Québec and Vermont with almost 10,000 km of underground pipelines that serve more than 300 municipalities. This extensive network of pipelines is commonly referred to as “The Hub of the Quebec economy.”

Of course the Bloc Leader is well aware of the Saguenay megaproject as it has been on the planning table since 2014 and operations are slated to begin in 2025. In Quebec-French media, during the election campaign, Blanchet made a politically expedient statement that he would await the outcome of provincial environmental studies, expected in early 2020, before deciding to support or denounce the project. It is noteworthy that ridings along the new proposed corridor returned Bloc candidates.

In English Canada little is known of the Energie Saguenay pipeline project. However, one cannot help but notice this project looks a lot like the ill-fated TransCanada Energy East pipeline. Energy East was to have delivered 1.1 million barrels of Alberta oil daily to tidewater in Saint John, New Brunswick. That $15.7 billion project would have seen 3,000 km of existing natural gas pipeline converted to handle oil, and the construction of 1,500 km of new pipeline across Canada. But, due in part to Quebec politics, TransCanada abandoned its plans for this pipeline. Today, Canada increasingly looks elsewhere to supply its oil; Quebec and New Brunswick increasingly look elsewhere for their oil refinery industries.

The latest Statistics Canada figures report that Canada has imported a total of $20.9 billion of Saudi Arabian crude oil between 2007 and 2017 (considerably more than the cost of constructing Energy East). All of this Saudi oil came through the Irving Oil-owned Saint John, New Brunswick refinery. In dollar terms, the Irving refinery handles roughly $10 million per day of crude from Saudi Arabia – approximately 2 ½ times the amount of American oil now entering the refinery on a daily basis. It is noteworthy that the Saint John refinery has no access to a pipeline, so every barrel of oil it processes is delivered to Canadians by St. Lawrence and Great Lake tankers or via railcars.

Another interesting twist to the country’s energy story is found within Quebec’s oil refineries located in Montreal and Quebec City. Five years ago, 92 percent of oil supplied to Quebec’s refineries was imported by tankers from Kazakhstan, Angola and Algeria. Today, a total of 44 percent of oil in Quebec refineries come through pipe from Western Canada – and another 37 percent come from increased production of shale oil from south of the border. On Montreal Island, the Montreal Refinery is supplied by Canadian oilsands giant Suncor through an Enbridge pipeline system that, on a daily basis, pumps more than 24,000 barrels of diluted bitumen east from Alberta and from North Dakota to Sarnia in southern Ontario. The Montreal Refinery produces gasoline, heavy fuel oil, solvents, petrochemicals and other petroleum products for markets primarily in Ottawa and Toronto – delivered by truck, rail, and over water.

Though our national energy debates may be currently focused on getting prairie oil to Pacific tidewater, the country’s domestic energy supply also depends directly on pipeline – the maintenance and the construction of new pipelines. Former Canadian Ambassador to the United States Derek Burney observed in a recent BNN Bloomberg interview: “We can’t live with this kind of uncertainty in Canada. We can’t build a major infrastructure project in Canada for what should be our prime asset. We are an energy producing country – we should recognize that fact and pull together as a nation and get it happening … It makes no sense whatsoever if the federal government cannot impose its will and legislate in every way to have an interprovincial pipeline built in the country. We simply have to get our act together on these matters because we’re becoming a laughing stock in the world.”

So, during the election what was spun out in media as a political feud between Quebec and Western Canada is much more than it appears. Bloc Leader Blanchet’s campaign bravado belie inconvenient truths about pipelines in Quebec and a larger reality about Canada’s energy delivery through the country’s network of pipelines. From the Energie Saguenay pipeline project to the bitumen flowing into the Montreal Refinery, Quebec’s pipeline politics should inform all Canadians of the crass politics hampering energy resource development in the West and across our country.

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK:  https://niagaraindependent.ca/quebecs-pipeline-politics-and-canadian-energy-resource-development/

Interesting Facts from the Election Entrails

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said Monday’s election results

confirm there’s a fire of frustration burning in Western Canada.

The Niagara Independent, October 25, 2019 — For politicos and pundits, inspecting and dissecting the results of a vote provides endless hours of amusement. Canada’s 43rd general election results have not disappointed – and in fact they have produced a few political firsts.

Consider this political first. The Trudeau Liberals will form government with the lowest share of popular vote in Canadian history. The Liberals recorded 33 percent of the vote and one needs to go back to the country’s confederation to find anything comparable. The last and only time a party formed government with less than 35 percent of the national popular vote was Sir John A. Macdonald in 1867 with 34.8 percent.

The Conservatives actually received a greater number of total votes: 6.1 million to the Liberals’ 5.8 million. Remarkably, like the U.S. presidential race four years ago, the Leader who garners the greatest number of votes does not win the Office.

The final seat count on Monday night also revealed a collapse of the NDP support in central Canada (one Quebec seat and six Ontario seats) and a failure of the Green Party to convert good will to actual votes (only 1.1 million votes nationally). The Liberals were the direct benefactor of the NDP and Green weaknesses and nowhere is this more evident than in Ontario. Though the Liberals dropped 20 seats nationally, their seat count in Ontario remains unchanged from the dissolution of Parliament. Liberals received 41 percent of the vote in Ontario; won all 25 seats in Metro Toronto and 24 of 29 seats in the GTA.

Toronto was but one City where the Liberals dominated. They also swept the ridings on Montreal Island, in Halifax, and won 4 of 6 seats in Winnipeg.

The Conservative bedrock in Western Canada resulted in lopsided ballot box victories and a bevy of seats. The Party captured all but one seat in Alberta with an avalanche of votes. In fact, 32 of 33 Albertan Conservatives captured 70 percent or more of their local vote. Conservatives swept Saskatchewan, won all but one rural Manitoba seats, and upped their seat count in B.C. And notably, the Conservatives defeated key Liberal Cabinet Ministers in the west: Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton and (Sir) Ralph Goodale in Regina.

So, Monday’s vote reconfirms the Liberal base is built in the urban centres of central and eastern Canada, while Conservative support is entrenched in the West. It is a political divide in our country that has the potential of becoming a societal chasm. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, we are only beginning to witness the potential fracturing of the country.

On Monday night as the results were still being reported out, the term ‘Wexit,’ (a western Canadian version of Brexit) was trending on Twitter. Tuesday morning Alberta Premier Jason Kenney spoke with PM Trudeau to tell him directly the “deep frustration expressed by Albertans is very real.”  Kenny repeated to media later “If the frustration and alienation in Alberta continues, it will pose a very serious challenge to national unity.”

Both Premier Kenny and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe have publicly called on the newly elected Liberal Government to demonstrate its support for the West by advancing new development of pipelines and restructuring equalization payments. Unquestionably, these are two initiatives that the Trudeau-led-NDP-supported minority government will not address, which is sure to escalate the tension and sense of alienation for western Canadians.

Professor Barry Cooper of the University of Calgary opined about western alienation, “It’s about the bizarre ingratitude of Laurentian Canada and what they have taken from here. People are saying, ‘What is the point of belonging to a political organization where we are donors and no one says thank you.’” Peter Downing, the founder of the movement Wexit went further in stating, “People are heartbroken. The concept of Canada has died in a lot of people’s hearts.” Point of fact: the VoteWexit Facebook page with its motto “The West Wants Out” went from 2,000 members on the weekend to nearly 171,000 by Tuesday afternoon and the group has received more than $20,000 in donations and membership fees overnight.

Other facts from the national vote.

  • On Tuesday there were diametrically opposing reactions in Canada’s eastern and western business communities, perhaps best illustrated by the companies SNC Lavalin and Husky Oil. The shares of Quebec’s SNC Lavalin surged 13 percent in trading with their investors’ belief that the Liberals will defer a prosecution agreement and allow the engineering company to escape justice. Conversely, hundreds of Husky Oil workers were laid off as the company is “taking steps to better align the organization and workforce” in Alberta and through western Canada.
  • Elections Canada reports that four of the five biggest third-party spenders during the pre-writ and election campaign periods were organized labour. Unifor, the union representing a majority of Canada’s media, spent close to $1.3 million on an anti-Conservative ad campaign. The United Steelworkers, who endorse the NDP, spent the second-highest amount. Third was Fairness Works funded by the Canadian Labour Congress. Then there is Friends of Canadian Broadcasting that spent more than a half million dollars, and Canadian Federation of Nurses Union that spent $412,000. By comparison, Canada Proud, an anti-Liberal organization, spent just under $200,000.
  • The national public opinion website 338CANADA.com was highlighted in media throughout the campaign period. For the record on the weekend it published its last seat count predictions: Lib 142 / Con 126 / NDP 34 / Bloc 33 / Green 2 / PPC 1 / Ind 0. Looking at the vote results, it under-estimated the Liberal tally by 15 while over-estimating NDP support.

Breaking news from the re-elected Prime Minister is that he will announce his Cabinet on November 20th. With this news, the ruminations of Ottawa’s chattering class will soon turn from the minutia of the vote results to the questions of governing in a minority Parliament.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/interesting-facts-from-the-election-entrails/

What of Canada’s Economic Future?

The Niagara Independent, October 11, 2019 — It remains to be seen whether the country’s economy and pocketbook issues will be the determining ballot box question this election. Judging from the little attention the mainstream media (and the Party Leaders) have paid to the country’s economy, it is unlikely voters will consider Canada’s economic future when casting their vote. That being said, what happens Oct. 21 could determine the economic fate of the country for decades to come.

So, what of Canada’s economic future? Here are three factors requiring a greater discussion before the vote: the country’s fiscal plan, taxes, and growing the economy.

Canada’s fiscal plan: In past federal elections, the front running parties would announce fully costed platforms that would inevitably reference a target date for balancing the country’s books. Not in 2019. This election is hijacked by the Liberal’s gambit that Canadians no longer care for the country’s balance sheet. Justin Trudeau and his Finance Minister Bill Morneau unveiled a platform that will run deficits of more than $20 billion for each of the next four years. The Liberals propose tens of billions in new spending (with promises like their new pharmacare plan not costed) and there is no mention to balance the budget. After the 2019 Morneau Budget the Parliamentary Budget Office issued a projection that the Liberals would not be balancing the country’s annual books until 2040 – and now with their election promises, this will not even be possible.

As hefty the spending promises made by the Liberals, both the NDP and the Green Party have promised more. The Conservatives have indicated they intend to balance the books in five years, but have not produced a costed platform.

The underlying problem with this lack of concern for Canada’s fiscal situation is that the mounting debt forces mounting interest payments and this takes directly from the government’s ability to provide future programs and services. Consider these facts: In the last fiscal year 2018-19 we paid $23.3 billion in interest payments on a national debt that has climbed to $685 billion. Runaway spending and continual deficits as promised by the Liberals, NDP and Greens will cause future distress for Canadian taxpayers.

Taxes: Middle-income individuals today pay higher personal income taxes than they did in 2015. The Fraser Institute reports that with the Liberal Government’s tax policies more than 80 per cent of middle class families (households earning between $77,000 and $108,000) now pay an average of $840 more in personal taxes annually. Lower-middle-class families (household incomes between $52,000 and $77,000) pay nearly 70 percent more in personal income tax.

The current tax burden cannot be worse given many Canadians are struggling with living costs. Accounting firm BDO Canada Ltd recently released statistics that suggest more than half of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque and more than a third have no retirement savings. A majority of Canadians (53 percent) had little disposable income and about one-third of Canadians are carrying credit card balances they cannot pay off.

Both the Liberals and Conservatives are promising relief for the indebted middleclass with income tax reduction plans. The difference between the two parties is the fate of the carbon tax. The Conservatives promise to eliminate this tax, which impacts gas pump prices, home fuel and all goods and services that require transport. On the other hand, the Liberals will maintain the tax and Justin Trudeau has repeatedly remarked there is a plan to adjust the tax so that Canada can meet its 2030 carbon emission targets. This will likely mean, if re-elected, the Liberals will need to raise its carbon tax five times its current level to $300 per tonne, which will hike pump prices to well over $2.00 per litre and add to the cost of everything that moves. The carbon tax will be a considerable burden for all Canadians.

Economic Growth: Aside from the all-party debate on the fate of future pipelines, there has been little sparring over trade and commerce issues. International economic data shows that the country’s economy is waning. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce issued a statement on the release of this week’s World Economic Forum report on global competitiveness: “Today, the world’s leading competitiveness index shows that Canada has dropped in the rankings for the second year in a row…. (It’s) proving what Canada’s business leaders have expressed over and over and over again — that this country’s business and investment environment is weakening. And it is inconceivable that Canada’s competitiveness is not a central issue in this election.”

Up until 2015, Canada’s real GDP per capita growth tracked closely with the U.S. After 2015 real GDP per capita increased only 2.7 percent in Canada, compared with 6.3 percent south of the border. For the North American business community the difference was the Liberals regulatory and fiscal policies undermining business confidence. And, it appears that the promised Liberal platform presents more of the same. (Unfortunately, Canada will not “grow the economy from the heart out” as Trudeau had predicted in the 2015 campaign.)

The single big-ticket, economy-related promise that has been presented to Canadians this election is the Conservative plan to create a national energy corridor. Andrew Scheer has committed to building a cross-Canada corridor to carry oil, gas, hydroelectricity and telecommunications. He has stated the Conservative corridor plan will increase certainty for investors, help get critical projects built, and provide greater economic and social benefits for all Canadians. Scheer also expects this corridor plan will minimize environmental impacts. For the Conservatives, this plan is much more than a debate over future pipelines; it is Canada’s future economic generator.

The political parties all have different approaches to the critical economic issues we face as a country. The Oct. 21 vote matters a great deal when considering Canada’s fiscal plan and national debt, our current and future taxes, and the country’s economic growth.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/what-of-canadas-economic-future/

There’s Much to be Concerned About with Canadian Media

Unifor president Jerry Dias with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Unifor represents thousands of reporters from mainstream media.

The union has vowed to be Andrew Scheer’s worst nightmare.

The Niagara Independent, August 23, 2019 — Can Canadians trust their media regarding its coverage of national politics? Based on a string of events over the past few months this is a legitimate and worrying question.

Consider the latest federal budget where the government set forth a fund of $600 million to be paid to selected Canadian newsrooms. At the same time, the government selected “an independent panel” to dole out its largesse, which includes the journalists’ union Unifor. Conservative MP and former newsman Peter Kent was very troubled that the governing Liberals would potentially undermine the freedom of the press: “getting involved in this sort of direct subsidy to what is supposed to be an independent estate. From top to bottom it smells. It’s simply unacceptable.” National Post columnist Andrew Coyne perhaps put it best stating the government cheques will “irrevocably politicize the press.”

This month outspoken Unifor union president Jerry Dias announced that the journalists’ outfit will run an aggressive anti-Conservative campaign. Dias signaled that the union will run television ads during the election writ period asking Canadians to “think twice about supporting the Scheer agenda.” Recall that Dias’ union executive has described itself as “Andrew Scheer’s worst nightmare.”

Concurrently, the Unifor union has been unabashed in its praise of Justin Trudeau, providing standing ovations for the Prime Minister’s appearance at their annual meetings. And the PM often refers to Jerry Dias as “his friend.” (Again, this is the same Unifor that is handing out government cheques to newsrooms.)

Point of fact, Unifor members include a total of 12,000 Canadian journalists — columnists, editors and news anchors at the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Global TV and CTV stations and employees at the Winnipeg Free Press, London Free Press and the Hamilton Spectator.

There is also recent news about the Toronto Star, the news source that declares it is “leading progressive journalism” in our country. The news agency Blacklock’s Reporter has learned that the Star publishers “estimated its take of federal media bailout money is worth the equivalent of $115,385 a week.” (So, doing the math, this equates to a payout of more than half-a-million dollars that will be paid for the election writ period.)

But, apart from the issue of newsroom payouts, there is recent findings bringing into direct question the accuracy and integrity of what is being reported by Canadian newsrooms. Research from the Public Policy Forum found that mainstream media outlets like the CBC, CTV and Huffington Post, are in fact one of “the causes of misinformation” for Canadians.  In the Forum’s study it was found that many Canadians exposed to traditional or mainstream media are more likely to give incorrect answers to questions about basic government policy issues. The summary states: “Survey respondents who read or watched more traditional news media were less likely to express uncertainty about policy questions than those with low consumption, but more likely to give an incorrect response.”

There is also a disturbing pattern of anti-Conservative sentiment that has unfolded within the Canadian journalists’ echo-chamber on Twitter. This bias has resulted in unbalanced reporting and, in some cases, the promotion of fake news to embarrass Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Here are a few recent examples:

  • Liberal partisans spread a falsehood via Twitter that, in one of his policy announcements, the Conservative Leader was employing an actress who pretended she was a cancer survivor. Media jumped on Andrew Scheer to explain. When it was found that the woman was indeed a cancer survivor, there was no apology from media. Instead, CBC ran a story about a professional actress, mistakenly identified in this mix-up, who was subjected to online cruelty and bullying.
  • Media followed the story of a (obviously phony) woman protestor standing outside an event where the Conservative Leader was speaking. This protestor was holding a sign reading, “Vote Andrew Scheer” and seen spitting on a person and making racist statements. Reporters at the event dogged Andrew Scheer to explain and the news story became his denouncing the fake Conservative supporter. The Leader’s speech was ignored; the protestor’s story made headlines.
  • Liberal MP Adam Vaughan made headlines with graphic photos and tweets that falsely accused conservatives of mistreating and caging refugee children. Using photos of children in U.S. border detention centres, the Toronto MP was attempting to smear the federal Conservatives, stating in one tweet “We all know where right-wing scapegoating leads us. Our Government won’t cage children.” MP Vaughan’s tweets and photos were sprayed across the newswires and social media platforms while his eventual apology for this fake news made little press.

Connecting all these dots, are we not left to wonder what news sources can be trusted when it comes to national politics? From the recent comments of Jerry Dias, Canadians can see how union activists are in bed with the Trudeau Liberals in their re-election bid. And there is the fact that the Liberal Government is rewarding certain newsrooms with generous cheques. Andrew Coyne observes: “It is a disaster that is now unfolding. If there were ever the slightest chance the process would not be politicized, that has already vanished.” So, in all seriousness, how can Canadians trust their media?

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/theres-much-to-be-concerned-about-with-canadian-media/

The Return of Gerald Butts and the Question for Canadian Voters

The Niagara Independent, August 2, 2019 — As surmised in the February 22, 2019 Niagara Independent column, “There’s much more to this Gerald Butts story.” And it now appears, perhaps, the puppet master never truly left the Liberal Party’s backrooms.

Liberal Party “insiders” recently leaked that the former PMO Principal Secretary and Justin Trudeau’s best friend Gerald Butts is back and ensconced on the PM’s campaign team to guide the Liberals to victory in the October federal election. Butts has returned as a senior political strategist and it is learned has been advising the Liberal campaign for several weeks.

For Butts, the insiders’ whispers of his return were inauspicious given his flash and dash exit of mid-February; recall his dramatic resignation at the height of the SNC-Lavalin scandal to effectively take the spotlight off the PM. The insiders shared with the press corps that Butts is not leading the team and there is no certainty of whether his is a paid position (that is, beyond his generous severance pay that he is receiving after resigning from his PMO post). Apart from the vagueness of the news, the expressed takeaway for Canadians is that Gerald Butts is back in service within the Liberal fold.

This begs an important question. Is this acceptable and how Canadian politics is today, or is Gerald Butts’ return an affront to a common decency in our country? The answer to that question depends on whether Canadians believe backroom political operatives should be held to account for their actions.

Gerald Butts resigned as a result of the testimony from former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould that he was pressuring her and her staff to assist the Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin. When he was confronted by the Justice Minister’s Chief of Staff that his actions were a travesty of justice, Butts is said to have stated: “There is no solution here that does not involve some interference.” From his own statements before the parliamentary committee, we understand that Butts believes that he, the PM, and PMO did nothing wrong in advancing the interests of SNC-Lavalin.

Yet, at the time, Canadians were feeling queasy about the unfolding LavScam scandal and, so, Butts staged an exit. The links between the PMO and LavScam were removed from media headlines and there is still the hope this sordid scandal is forgotten. However, as Sun Media observes in a lead editorial entitled “The return of Butts speaks volumes”: “The legal repercussions never surfaced. But that doesn’t mean the players were formally cleared of wrongdoing. It just meant there was no investigation. The stench lingers to this day.”

LavScam aside, for Liberals, Butts’ return is reassuring. He is credited with defining the Trudeau Liberal message and its 2015 campaign narrative. Hope springs eternal that this “modern-day rainmaker” will be able to manage the PM’s triumphant reelection bid. Gerald Butts himself said of his resurfacing, “It’s no secret that I have a lot of friends who are still actively involved, whom I care about very deeply, and I care about my country very deeply… we’re at a really important moment, in particular on the issues that I care most about, like climate change. We’re at a turning point and it’s important for people who care about those issues to get involved and try and make positive change happen.”

(Some background context on this statement: Butts is an unapologetic globalist. He is formerly CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada. As chief to Premier Dalton McGuinty he was responsible for creating Ontario’s Green Energy Act and implementing its renewable energy contracts. Since 2015, he is the architect of the federal carbon tax, as well as the Trudeau Government’s approach to resource development and pipeline projects.)

The condemnation from the Liberals’ political opponents was as expected. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer tweeted: “And just like that, the Trudeau team that brought Canadians the SNC Lavalin scandal is right back together.” Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre stated, “This week’s news tells us a lot about Justin Trudeau. The LavScam bully is in and the principled women who spoke truth to power are out. That’s everything you need to know about Justin Trudeau’s ethics.” Poilievre went on to say about Butts’ resignation, “Now we know that that was just a big phony act to cover for the boss.”

Ottawa’s political pundits seem to agree that announcing Butts’ return mid-summer will make it a non-story in the minds of Canadian voters during the Fall race. Liberal strategist Jonathan Scott was on the news circuit spinning the opinion that Canadians will not be “particularly animated one way or the other about who is staffing the Liberal campaign.” Then there are pundits like Warren Kinsella who excuses Butts’ reemergence as politics as usual for “Canada’s Natural Governing Party”: “Liberal arrogance has felled many a Liberal government. It is the greatest Grit weakness. And the return of Gerald Butts signals its unfortunate return, in marquee lights.”

So, the question remains whether Gerald Butts will be viewed in the annals of Canadian political history as some shadowy Svengali figure or the reincarnation of rainmaker Allan J. MacEachen. And this Fall, Canadian voters will have a say on whether this man and his best friend are to be held to account.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-return-of-gerald-butts-and-the-question-for-canadian-voters/

Liberals Casting the Conservative Voters as “the Uneducated”

The Niagara Independent, July 12, 2019 — Perhaps this news item did not register beyond Ottawa’s political corridors and the national press corps, but to those in the epicenter of national politics Professor Amir Attaran caused quite a stir this week.

On Saturday, Liberal-friendly polling firm Abacus Data released a new poll stating the “tight race between Conservatives and Liberals continues as voter fluidity remains high.” Abacus numbers report that if an election were held tomorrow, 33% would vote Conservative, 32% Liberal, 16% NDP, and 11% Green. Abacus declares “it’s a toss-up.”

Abacus followed the report on its national numbers with an analysis of the parties’ support based on a person’s level of education. It highlighted that high school educated voters prefer the Conservatives. Abacus commentary read: “Conservatives have a strong lead among those who have not attended college or university, while the Liberals have a lead among those with university education, and a wide lead among those with more than one degree.”

Almost as if it was choreographed, a University of Ottawa law professor immediately took to Twitter to broadcast the data. In a series of tweets, Professor Amir Attaran contended that Conservatives are “the party of the uneducated.” Attaran furthered this argument through the weekend, tweeting statements such as “Like I’ve said, the data on Conservatives being less educated are abundant. Their courage about those data, however, is another story. (Now cue the trolls.)”; and, “I am willing to put my finger on a fact most are scared to admit: That statistically the least educated vote Conservative.”

On Monday, Attaran was on Ottawa talk radio defying his critics. He refused to apologize for any of his remarks and repeated comments about the “poorly educated” people voting Conservative. Attaran concluded by stating “I think that’s dangerous for the country.”

Attaran’s statements prompted the expected backlash by partisans (and also media) who questioned the Ottawa academic’s motives. Many ridiculed Attaran as a mouthpiece of the elitist Liberals. Though the professor claims he is not “an elite” it was uncovered that he is part of Canada’s “one-percent” when Post Millennial columnist Cosmin Dzsurdzsa dug up the professor’s “cushy publicly-funded salary” of more than $184,000 annually. Though Attaran claims he is not a Liberal partisan, Dzsurdzsa again researched Election Canada records to expose Attaran as a repeat Liberal donor, contributing multiple times on an annual basis to the Liberal Party of Canada. (So, it is not a stretch that Attaran is a mouthpiece for liberal-minded elites – and/or for the Liberal Party.)

Some media reporters challenged Attaran’s analysis of the data. The most pointed criticism of the professor was by Sun reporter Brian Lilley who called on him to climb down from his ivory tower and debate the numbers. Lilley stated: “…when it comes to people with college diplomas or undergraduate degrees, the Conservatives and Liberals are pretty close. The Liberals have the support of 35% of those with an undergrad degree, the Conservatives 31%. Among those with a college diploma, 31% back the Liberals and 33% the Conservatives. I’d say those people are educated and they are just as likely to vote Conservative as Liberal making Attaran’s analysis deeply flawed.”

Frank Graves, another pollster (president and founder of EKOS Research Associates) had a further look at the data in dispute. Remarkably, in a few poignant tweets Graves revealed a story within a story as he reviewed current 2019 numbers over the 2015 election numbers. Graves observed: “In the last election, there were NO major differences across educational attainment. Both Liberal and Conservative supporters were drawn across U, and non-U educated. This has morphed to a massive gap today.”

Graves’ data review reveals that, today, voters with high school and college education prefer Conservatives over Liberals by a wide margin of 2 to 1; and, the Liberals hold a slight lead in support from university educated voters (34 – 32 per cent). But, most telling, when 2019 numbers are compared to the numbers from the 2015 election, in every education category the Conservatives have gained 5 – 6 percentage points total. Conversely, in every education category the Liberals support has fallen. Liberal support among high school educated voters has dropped 11 percentage points from 2015; college educated by 16 per cent; and, university educated by 5 per cent.

(Another interesting fact from this review: the NDP support has dropped across all education categories – the greatest is with university educated voters; and, the Green Party support has climbed from 5 -7 per cent support in 2015 to 14 per cent support in all categories. It seems that the Liberals’ and NDPs’ losses are the Greens’ and Conservatives’ gains.)

For many Canadians this is all insider’s baseball. But for those politicos and media caught within the Ottawa echo chamber, the Attaran provocation this week is a sign that the gloves are already off and Parties are looking at every angle to move public opinion and voters’ intention – of both those educated and uneducated.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/liberals-casting-the-conservative-voters-as-the-uneducated/

Closing Down Canada’s Oil and Gas Industries (Part 2 of 2)

The Niagara Independent, June 28, 2019 — The Liberal Government has passed Bill C-69, which revamps the federal environmental assessment process for major resource projects, and Bill C-48, which places a moratorium on oil tanker activity along the BC coast. Western Canadians and industry leaders have forewarned that these Bills will bury the oil and gas industry in a regulatory quagmire and kill investment in resource development projects. Even more worrisome than this is the thought that these new laws have spurred raw, regional tensions that could result in the busting apart of Canada itself.

The universal reaction from the Canadian oil and gas industry is that these two Bills combined will damage investor confidence in future resource development, which in turn will weaken the broader Canadian economy. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) proclaimed the new regulations “make an already complex system more complicated while ultimately raising uncertainty and the potential for litigation.” Tim McMillan, CAPP president and CEO observed: “The impacts of a flawed Bill C-69 go well beyond hurting Canada’s oil and natural gas industry. Every Canadian will be hurt by driving investment out of the country and preventing important nation-building projects from being developed.”

Zuzana Janos den Boer, a piping engineer at CNRL summed it up this way: “Seems to me that our comrades in federal government decided to destroy our oil and gas industry completely. Are we sure, we are not the next after Venezuela?”

The fact the new laws disproportionately impact the western provincial economies has not been lost on Canadians living west of the Ontario border. There are three striking ironies that have been widely editorialized in western media:

  • Canadian resource development projects are subjected to the rigor of the new regulations but the same carbon emission and environmental standards are not applied to oil and gas imported from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
  • BC can object to Alberta oil while Vancouver port is the #1 exporter of coal in North America; and Quebec can obstruct pipeline development while its provincial ports handle significant increases of imported Saudi oil.
  • Oil tankers are banned off the coast of BC, but coal tankers and mega cruise ships remain free to traverse BC waters.

In a letter made public by six Premiers, Prime Minister Trudeau is warned that national unity would be threatened with Bills C-48 and C-69. The Premiers wrote: “Our governments are deeply concerned with the federal government’s disregard… As it stands, the federal government appears indifferent to the economic hardships faced by provinces.” With the passage of the legislation, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney stated: “The passage of these two bills not only undermines Canada’s economy but also the Canadian federation… If Albertans cannot develop our resources within the federation, then we should not be expected to pay the bills in the federation.”

In an interview on BNN Bloomberg, billionaire Canadian investor Seymour Schulich warned, “If this government doesn’t start to realize where its bread is buttered … This government has been biting the hand that feeds it in an inexorable fashion.” Schulich directly questioned the Liberal logic of reducing carbon emissions at the expense of the country’s economy: “We are 1.5 per cent of the emissions in the world, and the oil sands, which has become the whipping boy for everything, is about one-tenth of that. What are we doing? We’re basically taking an industry that employs 558,000 – it did employ it – and we’ve put up a giant sign [that says] ‘we’re not open for business.’”

Outspoken political pundit Spencer Fernando pinpoints the source of Western angst on this matter when he writes in the Post Millennial: “He’s [PM Trudeau] ignored the righteous anger of Albertans…. Trudeau has sent a message of his own to Alberta: “shut up, keep giving your money to the federal government, keep producing wealth that gets taken from you, and keep competing with both hands tied behind your back.”

With the public debate on Bills C-69 and C-48 playing out in western media through the past year, frustration levels with the federal government are at an all-time high. An Environics poll has found that 53 per cent of Saskatchewans agreed with the statement, “Western Canada gets so few benefits from being part of Canada that they might as well go it on their own.” An Angus Reid poll earlier in February found that 50 per cent of Albertans considered separatism in the province “a real possibility.”

(A side note to the passage of Bills C-69 and C-48 involves two other pieces of legislation that will place further restrictions on Canada’s oil and gas developments. Parliament just passed Bill C-88, which places a moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the Arctic and effectively shuts down any would-be resource extraction in the north. Also the Senate may still pass an Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Bill C-262, which grants Indigenous communities an uncontested veto over any proposed resource projects. This legislation is at the final Third Reading stage in the Upper Chambre and could be passed at the next sitting of the Senate, should it reconvene this summer.)

For western Canadians, passage of Bills C-69 and C-48 sounded like two nails being driven into the coffin of future resource development. Should the Trudeau Liberals prove victorious in the Fall federal election, their resource development policies may very well serve not only as a requiem for an embattled oil and gas industry, but perhaps a dirge for our country.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/closing-down-canadas-oil-and-gas-industries-part-2-of-2/

 

Closing Down Canada’s Oil and Gas Industries (Part 1 of 2)

The Niagara Independent, June 25, 2019 — In the dying days of this 42nd Parliament of Canada, the Trudeau Government has passed two major pieces of legislation that could possibly sound the death knell for Canadian resource development. Liberals hail their new measures as a major step towards a greener country. Critics view these measures as the final step to closing down Canada’s oil and gas industries.

In the legislative whirlwind of the final days of this spring Session, Parliament passed two controversial initiatives that the Government identified as priority: 1) Bill C-69 revamps the federal environmental assessment process for major resource projects; and 2) Bill C-48 places a moratorium on oil tanker activity along the BC coast.

RE Bill C-69… Championed by Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Bill C-69 has been heralded as proof positive by this Government that “A clean environment and a strong economy go hand in hand.” This Bill establishes new rules for reviewing and approving all resource development projects. The new assessment process puts into place high environmental standards that the Government maintains are essential to protecting Canada’s environment and communities. The process will vet hundreds of new resource development projects (worth an estimated $500 billion in investment) currently being planned in the next 10 years. The Liberals wanted to ensure their new process would become law before the election.

RE Bill C-48… This legislation prohibits oil tankers carrying crude and persistent oils as cargo from stopping, loading or unloading at ports or marine installations in northern British Columbia. The proposed moratorium coastline extends from the BC-Alaska border in the north to the point on BC’s mainland adjacent to the northern tip of Vancouver Island. This new law delivers on PM Trudeau’s campaign promise to formalize a crude oil tanker moratorium on BC’s north coast.

These two priority Bills were pushed forward with all the political muscle a majority Government could muster. They were passed even though the Bills came under intense, direct fire from the Canadian business community and from an unprecedented, eleventh hour plea from six Premiers. In a public “urgent letter” to Prime Minister Trudeau, the Premiers stated “Bill C-69, as originally drafted, would make it virtually impossible to develop critical infrastructure, depriving Canada of much-needed investment.” Concerning the other legislation, the Premiers wrote: “Bill C-48 threatens investor confidence, and the tanker moratorium discriminates against western Canadian crude products.”

The Senate Chambre saw the final showdown between the Independent Senators cheerleading the Government’s legislation and a cadre of western Senators calling for necessary amendments to the Bills. To improve the legislation, Senators made literally hundreds of amendments, which the Government largely ignored. Independent Senator Doug Black from Alberta decried that the “Closed for Business sign remains in the window of Canada.” He stated, “It’s odd to reflect that at this particular time in Canadian history, where our opportunities for trade are limited, whether it’s in agriculture or other areas, that we seem to be taking proactive steps to restrict the export of our most significant export project.”

Other Senators were more pointed in their criticisms of the legislation. Senator Richard Neufeld from BC called C-69 “one of the most toxic, polarizing and divisive bills” he’s ever encountered. NS Senator Michael MacDonald said C-69 “will be devastating for the Alberta and Saskatchewan economies.” And Conservative Senator David Tkachuk from Saskatchewan said the government has done resource-dependent communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan “a disservice” and he forewarned, “Mark my words, these people will let them know exactly how they feel this October.”

The Canadian business community also lamented Parliament’s passage of Bills C-69 and C-48 and warned that it will cause many investors to rethink their project plans. Canadian Chamber CEO Perrin Beatty was alarmed that the Government rejected essential amendments that would “avoid driving investment away from major Canadian infrastructure projects.” In the last few weeks, Imperial Oil responded to the new laws by stating they will “unfortunately cause us to step back and deeply consider any and all future major growth opportunities.” Also, President of Japan Canada Oil Sands Satoshi Abe, who has invested billions of dollars in this country, indicated: “Increasing regulatory hurdles and uncertainty simply adds to the challenges making Canada unattractive when compared to other jurisdictions.”

Next column: the on-going debate on the potential impact of Bills C-69 and C-48

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/closing-down-canadas-oil-and-gas-industries-part-1-of-2/

Parting Comments from MP Rob Nicholson (Part 2)

The Niagara Independent, June 21, 2019 — Having recently announced he will not seek re-election this October, Niagara Falls MP Rob Nicholson sat down with me in his Ottawa office to discuss his views of the Canadian Parliament. This is the second of two columns from that interview. 

 

As you leave this place, do you think Parliament is functioning well?

“Parliament and our system is functioning very well. It is as good as any in the world. As Winston Churchill said about the flaws, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” There is a lot of give and take in our Parliament. There are arguments and there is shouting. But these things are all a part of what this place is.”

 

What are your thoughts about the claim that Parliament’s decision-making power is being eroded and decision-making is being centralized in the PMO?

“Parliament’s decision-making cannot just be in the PMO. Over the years when I worked for Stephen Harper and Brian Mulroney – and the short time for Kim Campbell and now for Andrew Scheer – these Leaders valued the advice of the people in their caucus. It was a smart move on their part and it makes sense to listen to your caucus. So, every Wednesday in this town there is a National Caucus, which is a time to get the input from MPs who have been out on the streets talking to Canadians. Caucus and our parliamentary system is a good system to have to keep the pulse of the country.”

 

However, we have seen a centralization in the last four years where there is a strong PMO staff that is moving the policy and framing the parliamentary debate.

“Well it is. Yes, but when you see that kind of thing it will come back to bite you. When you see what they [PM Trudeau and his PMO staff] did; had they talked to their caucus members about how to handle some of these issues like the SNC Lavalin matter, it may have been different. Some in the caucus would have said, “Look, you can’t be bullying the Attorney General. That’s a mistake.” But if decisions are being made within the confines of the four walls of the Prime Minister’s Office, well that’s a mistake. Now, they [PM Trudeau and PMO staff] must be thinking that themselves now.

“As a MP from Niagara coming to Ottawa, getting a different perspective from MPs from other parts of the country was a big deal for me. I grew up in a community with issues that I understand. Then I would hear an issue explained from someone else, from another part of the county, and I would say to myself, “Yes, I never looked at it that way.” You have to have this sharing of ideas. So, I think a Prime Minister who isn’t engaging his caucus or listening to them is making a huge mistake. You’re destined to failure quite frankly.”

 

You have spanned over three decades as a Parliamentarian in our Canadian system and you are still very optimistic and positive on this place. Why is that?

“It doesn’t get any better than what we have. Canadians should appreciate this system of government that has worked very well for this country. The system has been around for hundreds of years and we need to ask how many institutions have lasted 700 or 800 years. The Westminster Parliamentary system is the best in the world. Unlike many democracies in the world, even the ones closest to us, ours is something special.

“Back in 1988 I got together with an American Congressman from the American side of Niagara. He asked me about the Fall 1988 election and was shocked to hear we could run a campaign for $50,000. I told we put up lawn signs, create a brochure, and take a few ads out in the local paper. I asked him how much he had for his next campaign and he told me a couple million dollars. He said he had to raise some more. I thought to myself, “That is a huge difference between our countries.” If someone had said to me back in 1984 that I would have to come up with a couple of million bucks to be able to run, I wouldn’t have. That’s the beautiful thing about the Canadian system. I came up with $300 in 1984, I made a little brochure and we had 12 balloons, and I was lucky enough to get elected. The fact that it is not necessary to have a lot of money to run in a Canadian election is something I don’t think we appreciate nearly enough in this country.

 

On June 20th when you walk out of the Chamber for the last time, what do you think you’ll be feeling?

“I imagine it is going to be fairly emotional. It has been emotional for me to publicly make this decision to retire. I have been quite moved by the number of people who have written, called me or have come up to me to talk. Yet, one of the things that you must do in life is to continuously look forward to what’s next. I have been looking forward to this election campaign, to helping the local candidate in Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake. We are now into an election and that’s my next step. But after that, at some point in time, you have to take some satisfaction and say, “I have done what I can do here.” Since I was out of office for about ten years, I know I can get satisfaction from doing other community service, as part of a club, a group, a council or something else. I am looking forward to that.”

 

To the retiring, exemplary MP (the Jimmy Stewart of Canadian politics!), here’s wishing Rob and his wife Arlene a lifetime of enjoyment. 

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/parting-comments-from-mp-rob-nicholson-part-2/

Parting Comments from MP Rob Nicholson

The Niagara Independent, June 14, 2019 — Having recently announced he will not seek re-election this October, Niagara Falls MP Rob Nicholson sat down with me in his Ottawa office to discuss his views of the Canadian Parliament.

Rob Nicholson is the longest serving MP in the Conservative caucus, having first been elected 35 years ago in the 1984 federal election – and serving a total of 24 years in the Parliament of Canada. Mr. Nicholson has served under three Prime Ministers and the veteran parliamentarian has held cabinet positions of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of National Defence, Minister of Justice and the Attorney General and the Government House Leader.

Fellow Niagara parliamentarian MP Dean Allison describes his longtime friend: “Rob is someone everyone respects in caucus – everybody respects in the House. He is always approachable and gives such great advice. What I admire most is he always takes the high road and is always calm and reasonable in the House. I had someone new in politics say to me that they wanted to be like Rob as a MP because of his approach to his job, his work ethic and how he treated people. The endearing respect for the man is a testament to Rob’s character. This guy is going to be missed.”

Maureen Murphy, Rob Nicholson’s ministerial chief of staff from 2005-2015 echoes MP Allison’s sentiments: “I had the distinct privilege of witnessing first-hand the deep appreciation this principled parliamentarian had for our great country.” She explained Rob always felt a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to serve as a Member of Parliament. “He carried out his parliamentary and cabinet responsibilities with diligence, decency, humility and by treating colleagues on both sides of the aisle with respect. Rob demonstrated that you can achieve great success in politics while maintaining a sense of humour, showing kindness to others and never losing sight of what is really important.”

Personally, having crossed paths with the MP a few times through the years, I am instantly reminded of that 1939 Frank Capra classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In that movie, Senator Jefferson Smith is a modest, unselfish man whose character shines through as a decent soul in the often callous world of politics. So, dare I draw the comparison to say Rob Nicholson may very well be considered “the Jimmy Stewart of Canadian politics.” And it is with this image in mind that we must enjoy the reflections of the retiring MP from Niagara Falls.

 

How has parliament changed in the 35 years since you were first elected until now?

“There has been changes, but for the most part the system is in place that we have had for the last 150 years-plus. It is very similar. But I will warn people that this is not a church, this is not a cathedral you are going to be sitting in. Part of the reason our system works is that there is this very vigorous exchange between Members of Parliament… I remember one time when I was in my office here in Confederation Building and we got a warning that there could be a commotion on Parliament Hill because there was a big demonstration by tobacco farmers. The farmers wanted the government to assist them because laws were being passed against tobacco. I remember the guards were out. I went into the House of Commons and I could see there were farmers in the gallery. The opposition parties got up during Question Period and were yelling at the Government benches, “Why aren’t you doing more for the farmers?” The Government Ministers had to defend themselves and said we are looking at things to help. I was a backbencher watching these farmers and I thought at the end of that Question Period they were satisfied. What they saw was not some polite debating chamber where everybody was pleasant with each other. No, the farmers left saying the government got the message here today. If the Chamber had been some quiet, pleasant place they would have left saying nothing gets done here. So, that is one of the successful things about our parliamentary system and why the Westminster Model has been so successful. And it has and it continues to be so successful.”

 

What advice would you give to new MPs?

“You have to be very focused, not just on national issues but those issues of importance to your constituency. I remember in my first term we had a number of issues in the tender fruit industry. Someone asked me, “Nicholson, are you obsessed with peaches?” I said, “If I don’t worry about peaches nobody else is going to because most of Canada’s peach industry is in my riding.” You have to take a special attention to those that are particular to your constituency. So, whether it is the grape or wine industry or tender fruit, or if it is the borders, you have to hold the issue up as a priority. Another example is the border. I have told people over the years that we need good border infrastructure, not because I have four border crossings in Niagara, but because it helps the country. It is a national issue, but locally I have to worry about whether the Lewiston, Queenston, Peace and Rainbow bridges have the proper infrastructure. As a MP, you have to worry about local issues and at the same time you see how they factor into the national issues.

“I am always concerned about national issues. But I often made the joke when I was Foreign Affairs Minister that I don’t mind being in Iraq on Wednesday but I want to be in Niagara on Saturday. That’s because Niagara constituents are the people who sent me to Parliament. They placed their confidence in me, so I have to be focused on the local issues. Take seniors issues — Dean Allison once told me that I have more seniors in my constituency than anyone else does in Canada. Well, if I don’t worry about seniors issues who will?”

 

Parliament is awe-inspiring. What would you say to a new person just elected walking in here next October?

“I would say first of all, don’t let it go to your head. I remember when I was defeated in 1993. A woman stopped me on the street and said, “Rob, you lost, are you taking losing the election personally?” I said, “No, because I didn’t take it personally in 1984.” She said, “What do you mean; you won in 1984?” I said, “Yes, but it wasn’t personal then.” In 1993 I know that election wasn’t about me when every Conservative MP lost just as it wasn’t about me in 1984 when we all won. It isn’t personal. You are part of a team. You have you make that team work. It’s about your Party. It’s about the Leadership. There is a small wedge in every riding where you can make a real difference. I call it the incumbent advantage. But it is not that large. So, I would say to people, don’t think it is just all about you. It is not just about you. It is about a much bigger picture.”

 

Next week Rob Nicholson discusses the Westminster model, the significance of caucus, and how he is likely to feel walking out of the House of Commons for the last time.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/parting-comments-from-mp-rob-nicholson/

Whither the Canadian Middle Class?

The Niagara Independent, April 26, 2019 — It is a group that politicians like to promote as the focus of their attention, the targeted benefactors of their support initiatives. Yet, Canada’s middle class is not only decreasing in numbers, it is managing worse than past generations. This reality may cause trouble for any political Party posturing as “champions of the middle class” in the coming election campaign.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published an analysis that reveals the middle class is shrinking – squeezed primarily by high housing and education costs, and displaced by automation. The report defines middle class as 75-to-200 per cent of the median income in each nation. For Canada, that means a person living alone would have an income of about $29,432 to $78,485. In the 36 OECD countries, the portion of citizens considered middle class fell in the last 30 years to 61 per cent from 64 per cent. In Canada, middle-class shrinkage was sharper than the OECD average.

A key OECD finding about our country was that just 59 per cent of Canadian millennials were found to have attained middle class status by their 20s, compared to 67 per cent of their parents.

The report cites one of the greatest factors in this decline is housing costs, which have risen at twice the rate of inflation. Realizing the dream of middle-class home ownership is getting much tougher — “Housing costs are squeezing the middle class the hardest and these costs now consumes a third of disposable income for middle-class households, up from a quarter in the 1990s.”

The report also attributes Canadians’ middle class slippage to the rise of automation, estimating that one in five middle-class workers is at risk of losing their job to a machine. The report states that “while having high-level skills is not as much of a guarantee of financial success as it once was, being in a high-skill job still greatly increases the chances of making more money.”

The OECD’s underlying conclusion is worrisome for Canadians. It states: “The middle class used to be an aspiration. For many generations it meant the assurance of living in a comfortable house and affording a rewarding lifestyle. However, there are now signs that this bedrock of our democracies and economic growth is not as stable as in the past.”

Gabriela Ramos, the international organization’s chief of staff, commented in the preface of the report, “A strong and prosperous middle class is crucial for any successful economy and cohesive society. Societies with a strong middle class have lower crime rates, they enjoy higher levels of trust and life satisfaction, as well as greater political stability and good performance.”

Canadians attitudes about themselves seem to reflect this OECD report. A 2018 Ekos Research poll for The Canadian Press suggests fewer than half of all Canadians now identify as members of the middle class. This is a steep drop from nearly 70 per cent in 2002.  The poll results show the main contributing factors to this shift in Canadians’ attitude is perceived higher income inequality and slower economic growth in the country.

Ekos president Frank Graves states, “The whole notion of a middle-class dream — ‘I work hard, build a better mousetrap, do better than my parents, my kids do better than me, I get a house, a car, retire in comfort’ — that has all been shattered. A lot of people are stagnating or falling behind and they’re not happy.”

A recent Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of insolvency firm MNP Ltd. reports a quarter of Canadians say they struggle to pay bills by month-end. More Canadians are a thin line away from bankruptcy with 48 per cent admitting they are $200 or less each month away from financial insolvency. One in four (26 per cent) state they have no wiggle room at month-end — they are not making enough to cover their bills and debt payments.

Those surveyed also say they have been squeezed tighter with the rise in interest rates that began last year. Nearly half (47 per cent) think they may get into financial trouble if interest rates go up further, and 35 per cent believe rate increases will push them towards bankruptcy.

These are stark realities for Canada’s middle class – realities that cannot be addressed with political posturing and electioneering rhetoric.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/whither-the-canadian-middle-class/

The Tale of Two Regions – Our Canadian Paradox

The Niagara Independent, March 29, 2019 — Last week, the Government of Quebec heralded a budget with a $2.5 billion surplus and featuring increased spending in health care and education. On the other end of our country, Albertans entered into an election campaign feeling agitated about the treatment they are experiencing from the federal government and central Canada. This is the latest in the tale of two regions – and one needs not look too hard to discover the disturbing set of facts that underpin our Canadian paradox.

The 2019-20 Quebec budget highlighted an increased surplus of $2.5 billion from $1.65 billion over last year. On the strength of their books, the Quebec Government is planning for total increased spending of $16.1 billion through 2023-24. In this next year, there is a five per cent increase in spending in health care. There is also a five per cent increase in education budgets, delivered with a 17 per cent reduction overall in school property taxes.

What was not communicated in this good-news budget is that the Province of Quebec is expecting a $1.4 Billion increase in equalization payments this fiscal year – from last year’s payout of $11.7 Billion to $13.1 Billion in 2019-20.

Meanwhile, in Alberta, the inequality of Canada’s equalization payments has become a focal point, and given the slumping oil prices and the country’s on-going pipeline debate, it is now an election issue. United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney has tapped into Albertans’ sense of grievance on this issue saying that “Albertans are being forced to write cheques to Quebec.”

Kenny has stated publicly: “If the federal government continues its attacks through the National Energy Board (NEB) and the federal carbon tax, then Alberta should take a common-sense approach and hold a referendum demanding the removal of non-renewable resource revenues from the equalization formula.”

Alberta’s payments have become the subject of a grassroots appeal. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation recently sent out a message encouraging all Albertans to write/email all the leaders of the political parties to call for a referendum question. The CTF wrote: “…most Albertans are concerned regarding the present mechanism on how federal equalization payments are calculated and adversely affects Alberta… “Should the Government of Alberta challenge the federal equalization payment program under the Canadian Constitution?” Yes or No.

At the core of this dissention are the federal government’s equalization payments, a complex redistribution of federal tax dollars to “have-not” provinces to maintain their public services. In June 2018, it was revealed that Finance Minister Morneau committed to keeping the current formula for another five years – until 2024. Under the federal government’s renewed plan, it will be increasing payments to the “have not” provinces from $18.3 billion in 2017-2018 to $22.1 billion by 2022-2023. Remarkably, Quebec is scheduled to receive the lion’s share of these payments. For example, in this 2019-20 fiscal year, Quebec is receiving 67 per cent of the equalization payments. (Alberta, as a “have province,” will receive no payments this year, or for the next five years.)

Again, the inequity of the federal equalization formula is underscored when considering the total amounts of federal payments to provinces since 1957, the year these annual payments were introduced. The figures reveal that in the last 61 years Quebec has received $221 billion or more than half of all equalization dollars.

The billions of dollars of payments will assist Quebec with its education, health care – and with its surplus budgets. At the same time the Quebec Government opposes Canadian pipelines in favour of Saudi oil. The Quebec Government has also been silent on the implementation of the federal carbon tax or the new federal environmental review process that critics warn will shut down resource development in Alberta and the western provinces.

Last week, the Alberta Independence Party was given official party status and is fielding candidates in 46 election contests. Party Leader Dave Bjorkman states:  “It’s always been the right time for Alberta to separate. It absolutely has to be done now. We’ve taken too much abuse from Ottawa.”

Recent national polling reveals that three of four Canadians who live west of Ontario do not feel the federal government treats their province fairly. There is the Western Party in Manitoba, billboards in Saskatoon asking “Should Saskatchewan leave Canada?”, and now in Alberta a provincial separation party movement and as much as 50 percent of the population supporting secession from Canada.

Here is the paradoxical question: As the Province of Quebec continues to receive increased government services and programs, all Canadians should join with Westerners to ask “What will be the ultimate cost of the equalization payments to the future of our country?”

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-tale-of-two-regions-our-canadian-paradox/

This Federal Government Has a Spending Problem

The Niagara Independent, March 15, 2019 — Finance Minister Bill Morneau will be delivering his fourth federal government budget next Wednesday, March 19. Given the news that the government ran a budgetary surplus of $300 million through the first nine months of the fiscal year, many financial analysts and political pundits are expecting the Finance Minister to increase federal spending – yet again.

Avery Shenfeld, chief economist for CIBC, forecasts in a Canadian Press interview: “I’m expecting cheques to go out somewhere. Remember that in the last election the party that won was the one party not promising to balance the budget… The recent sluggishness of the economy is just one more reason to expect a budget that sends out some goodies.”

With the looming election this Fall, Canadians are likely to see Minister Morneau make new (costly) promises relating to a national first-time homeownership initiative and a new national pharmacare program to provide “free” basic drugs for all. Canadians will be told the government can afford these promises based on our strong economic performance and an attractive debt-to-GDP ratio.

Interestingly, the federal finance minister no longer speaks of “deficits” and of “balancing the budget.” His favourite economic metric now is Canada’s “debt-to-GDP ratio” – the federal debt figure divided by Canada’s total economic production.

Pundits believe Bill Morneau will also use this budget address to explain to Canadians that he and the Trudeau Government have a firm hold on federal government finances. His speech is sure to pre-empt the Opposition’s attack of the Liberals fiscal record through the past four years.

As the oft-heard criticism goes, Justin Trudeau ran in 2015 on a promise to stimulate and grow Canada’s economy by spending small, annual deficits of $10 million. Somewhere in the last few years this Liberal plan was abandoned and, today, the Finance Department projects the government is on track to run deficits until the year 2040, which will add approximately $300 billion to the country’s federal debt. (ed. – This is not as bad as it sounds given our debt-to-GDP ratio.)

The Liberals’ continuous deficits are fueled by their unbridled government spending. Federal spending has grown from just under $300 billion annually in the last year of the Harper Conservative government to almost $340 billion for this past fiscal year. In reviewing the post-WWII period in Canada, PM Justin Trudeau has presided over the fourth-largest average annual increase (3.1 per cent) in per person program spending. This unflattering record ranks behind only his father, Pierre Trudeau (4.5 per cent), Lester Pearson (5.3 per cent) and Louis St. Laurent (7.0 per cent). In fact, this Trudeau Government has now recorded two of the three highest-spending years in Canadian history – 2017 and 2018.

To place the current Liberal Government’s fiscal record into context with those of recent Prime Ministers’, both PMs Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien recorded average annual per-person spending declines of 0.3 per cent. Over the Stephen Harper Government’s 10 budgets, that government recorded an average annual per-person spending increase of 1.5 per cent.

The difficulty with the Trudeau Government’s continuous overspending is brought into sharp focus in a recent analysis released by the Fraser Institute.  Jason Clemens, co-author of the Institute’s report entitled Prime Ministers and Government Spending, observes, “Wars and recessions clearly affect government spending, but to see this high level of peacetime spending when the economy is also growing could spell trouble for Canadian taxpayers in the future.”

Clemens explains, “The past few years have seen rapid and historic increases in deficit-financed government spending in Ottawa, at a time when the economy is growing. Higher spending often leads to higher deficits and more debt that ultimately must be paid by taxpayers, which is why current spending levels represent a burden to current and future taxpayers.”

But on Wednesday Canadians will not hear about these facts – about the challenges presented by continuous deficit spending. Instead, Finance Minister Morneau will tell us about the Liberals’ attractive election promises. He will reassure us with an accounting of the country’s favourable debt-to-GDP ratio. Yet, as the Fraser Institute’s report suggests, it may be best to remember that all this government overspending does not add up for Canadians’ fiscal future.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/this-federal-government-has-a-spending-problem/

On Working Canadians and Their Taxes

The Niagara Independent, February 8, 2019 — Here is an excerpt from Ottawa’s Hansard, an official verbatim record of what was said in the House of Commons on Tuesday, February 5th. Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre was in a heated exchange with the Prime Minister about taxes imposed on Canadians. Poilievre questions:

“The Prime Minister says that people who take the bus are too rich and therefore should lose their transit tax credit. Soccer moms and hockey dads, the Prime Minister says are too rich, so he takes away their children’s fitness tax credit. At the same time, he forces these same working-class families to pay for his taxpayer-funded nannies. Will the Prime Minister put aside the hypocritical class warfare and tell us the true cost of his tax increases that he would bring in if he got re-elected?”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds:

“Yet again, Mr. Speaker, we see proof that the Conservatives simply do not understand that low-income families do not benefit from tax breaks because they do not pay taxes. We will move forward on investing directly in low and middle-income families with the Canada child benefit that will actually directly benefit them. We have lifted hundreds of thousands…”

The Prime Minister lost his train of thought and sat down to a chorus of jeers – recorded by the Hansard as “Some hon. members: Oh, oh!”

This exchange in the House is fodder for the upcoming election campaign. Later on Tuesday Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer tweeted: “A man who inherited everything he has took time today to tell low income Canadians they don’t benefit from tax breaks. It’s out of touch. It’s condescending. It’s insulting. And it’s wrong. If you earn just $11,809 per year, then you pay federal tax.”

But, of course, working Canadians – middle class and lower class – pay taxes. In fact, in 2018 the Fraser Institute factored exactly what an average household pays in taxes. In the report, “Taxes versus the Necessities of Life,” the Institute states:

The average Canadian family now spends more of its income on taxes (43.1%) than it does on basic necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing combined (35.6%). By comparison, 33.5% of the average family’s income went to pay taxes in 1961 while 56.5% went to basic necessities.

For Canadians, taxes have grown much more rapidly than any other single expenditure for the average family and that includes our costs for shelter, clothing and food. It is also a fact that the increase in Canadians’ tax bill has greatly outpaced (by a factor of 3!) the increase in our cost of living.

Here is another fact. In the past three-and-a-half years, under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, the Liberal Government has raised taxes on Canadians. In a 2017 report, again from the Fraser Institute, it is revealed that 81% of middle-class families are ultimately paying higher taxes. The average income tax increase for middle income families is $840. Report author Charles Lammam states: “The federal government has repeatedly claimed they’ve lowered income taxes for the middle class while in reality, taking their major income tax changes into account, they’ve actually raised taxes on the vast majority of middle-class families.”

There is also a new tax dawning on the country’s horizon, introduced by this Prime Minister and Finance Minister. Canadians will hear a lot during the federal election this fall on the purpose and impact of the carbon tax. The Liberals will want to portray their carbon policy as a necessary “price on pollution.” The Conservatives will state that not only is it a direct tax on Canadian businesses and on items like gas prices, but that the carbon tax will raise prices indirectly on everything, including life’s essentials like home heating, driving to and from work, and food. Point of fact: all Canadians, including middle- and low-income Canadians, will pay this new tax.

So, not only do working Canadians pay taxes, but depending on the outcome of the federal election we may be paying more of them.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/on-working-canadians-and-their-taxes/

Canadians are Adrift on a Sea of Debt (Part 2 of 2)

The Niagara Independent, November 9, 2018 – Recent government announcements and news reports have provided Canadians with an accounting of how much our Canadian governments are in debt. The current federal government, spending hundreds of billions of dollars, seemingly pays no heed to the size of their annual deficits. Add the sum of all provincial governments’ deficit budgets and one soon realizes that our governments are burying us in a deep, dank financial hole; from which no Canadian alive today will likely climb out. The reported numbers are startling.

In Ottawa, the federal government recorded a shortfall of $19 billion for the last fiscal year, repeating the deficit amount of the previous year. The government reports its federal spending continues to rise and is now $332 billion – $332,000,000,000 – the highest amount of government spending ever recorded.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and finance officials will be quick to point out that the $332 billion figure is higher than in the past because of a change in accounting practices. But, this explanation does not address the fact that the federal government spending continues to increase.

The trend of overspending in Ottawa has resulted in the government adding almost $20 billion to the national debt in the 2017-18 fiscal year. As of March 31, 2018, Canada’s net debt is $758 billion. PM Justin Trudeau recently indicated his government will not balance the books before the election. Neither he, nor the finance minister, will offer a target date for when the Liberals can commit to a balanced budget.

In late October, an independent report on the state of federal finances assessed that the government will require deeper-than-expected deficits in each of the next few years. Canada’s federal parliamentary budget officer concludes that there is only a 10 per cent chance the federal books will return to balance in 2021-22, and a 30 per cent chance of seeing black ink in 2023-24. Are Canadians left to assume annual deficit budgets are here to stay?

In a recent Financial Post editorial, Fraser Institute economists provided no reassurances about the federal finance minister’s ability to manage budgets. They opine: “Morneau seems unaware of the risks of running deficits during periods of economic growth. Specifically, running deficits outside of recessions (or pronounced slowdowns) risks a permanent imbalance between spending and revenues, like what happened in Canada throughout the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s. Simply put, it didn’t matter if the economy was growing, slowing or in recession. Ottawa could not balance its budget.”

At the provincial level, assessments based on past and current performances appear just as bleak. Last week, the Fraser Institute issued a report on provincial government debt which underlines “a serious problem.” Deficit budgeting appears to be systemic throughout the country – and especially burdensome in the province of Ontario. The report reveals: “Over the 10-year period from 2007-08 to 2017-18, total net provincial debt grew from $317.3 billion to $645.7 billion for an increase of 104 per cent. In addition, 50 per cent of the net debt belongs to Ontario – a proportion much larger than its population share of 39 per cent.”

Factoring in all of the latest news on our government’s finances, the combined federal and provincial debt currently stands at an astounding $1.4 trillion – a figure that has increased by more than 60 per cent in the past decade.

Canadians often hear Finance Minister Morneau crow that Canada has a very low federal debt-to-GDP ratio of just over 30 per cent. But, again, when factoring in all levels of government collectively, the Canadian governments’ debt-to-GDP in the last 10 years has risen from 69 per cent to 87 per cent.

Lots of figures. Lots of debt. Why should Canadians pay attention? Simply put, our current government spending and the national debt load directly impacts future governments’ abilities to respond to changing circumstances and global pressures. Our governments’ deficit budgeting curtails Canadians’ choices and opportunities – today, and for generations to come.

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/canadians-are-adrift-on-a-sea-of-debt-part-2-of-2/