The Niagara Independent, December 11 & 18, 2020 – The House of Commons will rise this week for the MPs’ holiday recess. This is an appropriate time to look back at what was an extraordinary year, and select the most significant news stories from the Nation’s Capital. In no particular order, here are “the top ten” federal political stories that, argumentatively, mattered the most to Canadians in 2020.
Changing of the guard at Finance Canada
In the midst of an embarrassing scandal, the Prime Minister replaced his embattled Finance Minister Bill Morneau with his most trusted Minister-of-Everything Chrystia Freeland. Hence, the stewardship of Canada’s finances and fiscal policy went from a Toronto financial services businessman to a Toronto journalist. Morneau left town holding the undistinguished title of the worst economic record in Canadian history. On Morneau’s watch, the Trudeau Government ran $89.1 billion in accumulated deficits and its program spending increased at a striking rate of 27.2 percent in five years. While he was at the helm of Finance Canada, the government added $10,000 of new debt for every man, woman and child. His lasting legacy: Morneau outspent all past federal governments, including those governments that had to respond to world wars and global recessions.
Enter Finance Minister Freeland, who is now overseeing unbridled government spending in response to the pandemic. Canada’s current federal deficit is the largest in the world at 19.8 per cent of the country’s GDP. The Trudeau Government is the global leader in government spending with a fiscal plan that will have our federal debt double to $1.4 trillion in the next five years. In her first financial statement, Freeland offered no financial check and balances; instead, she is musing publicly about finding ways to tap into Canadians’ savings accounts.
Finance Canada also had a new Deputy Minister parachuted into its top spot. Financial Post columnist Terence Corcoran views the placement of Michael Sabia as entrenching “Trudeau’s plan to use sustainable environmental diversity, socially responsible governance and interventionism as the prime drivers of federal economic policy.” Corcoran believes the tandem of Freeland and Sabia points to increased state interventionism: “Under the new capitalism, corporate economic freedom is replaced by corporatist economic controls.”
The unaccounted for government spending
A recent CBC investigative story confirmed the Trudeau Government is spending billions seemingly without controls and with no intention of accounting for the dollars spent. Government financial statements document that Ottawa has spent $240 billion fighting COVID-19 in just eight months – that is an average of $952 million a day. The government has provided more than $81 billion financial support to 11,721,827 people – that is almost 40 per cent of all Canadian adults. It has also provided tens of billions of dollars to businesses and corporations.
The free-spending Trudeau Government has repeatedly frustrated officials and media who request a public accounting of its expenditures. To quote but one of these officials, Canada’s former Parliament Budget Officer Kevin Page states, “We should know more where that money is going… And not knowing really reduces our ability to understand how these programs are working and what role can they play in terms of supporting the economic recovery going forward.” Commenting on the recent federal economic statement, Page said, “It’s impossible to read. I have done this for years and I can’t even follow the money. I hope it’s not deliberate.”
The collapse of Canada’s resource development
In early 2020 (pre COVID-19), Calgary-based news agency, Second Street, reported that $213 billion of resource development projects had been cancelled or stalled in Canada since 2014. This astonishing total came in the wake of the announced cancellation of the $20.6 Billion Teck Frontier mine project –a prairie resource project that would have had 40 years of anticipated production, employ 2,500 workers, and generate more than $70 billion in revenue to governments. Equally devastating in early 2020 was the news about Quebec’s Energie Saguenay pipeline project losing its largest investor. Warren Buffett’s firm took $4 billion off the table and walked away from its investment in the $9 billion liquefied natural gas project. This mega resource project would have built a new 782 km pipeline corridor and a natural gas liquefaction complex at Port Saguenay.
Prior to the pandemic crises, the Trudeau Government’s natural resource development policies were making headlines as having a dramatic, negative impact on both large and small resource companies. There was much public discussion about the abandoned resource projects equating not only to lost employment but also to lost investments and future economic activity. For Canada to lose $213 billion of resource projects does not only damage our country’s current economic standing, it surely cripples the opportunities of future generations of Canadians.
The Great Reset and what it means for the Canadian economy
PM Trudeau has publicly tied the country’s COVID-19 recovery to The Great Reset and to a series of United Nations’ 2030 objectives. The PM claims: “This pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset. This is our chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts to reimagine economic systems…” Trudeau’s script is taken directly from the pages of COVID-19 – The Great Reset, which forecasts the pandemic-induced global economic downturn as providing the catalyst for a reset of capitalism.
As the Fall Throne Speech proclaimed, the Trudeau Government is intent on introducing “a bold, new progressive agenda” designed to restructure the country’s social safety net and address climate change. The Trudeau Government’s economic policies mirror those policy objectives found in The Great Reset. Current fiscal discussions include increased carbon taxes and a new wealth tax, new tax regulations respecting business and individual finances, a withdrawal of support for resource industries, new funding programs for green initiatives, and greater government intervention and social planning measures to adhere to the U.N. policy agendas.
New Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole
In August the Conservative Party elected Erin O’Toole as its new standard bearer. O’Toole grew up in a blue-collar home in southern Ontario, excelled in his pursuits as a pilot in the Canadian Forces and then as a lawyer, before becoming a Member of Parliament. As MP, he represents the community he was raised in, and where he is raising his family. At age 47, O’Toole has been in Ottawa for eight years and he is described as “a moderate” within the federal Conservative caucus.
As the Conservative Leader, O’Toole has called for the government to take a tougher stand against the Communist Party of China. He announced a Conservative Government would meet the emission targets as set out in the Paris Climate Agreement. O’Toole has been critical of the government’s pandemic spending, stating it has been mismanaged and wasteful; and, he is pressing the government for transparency with its vaccine distribution plans. O’Toole’s greatest challenge is for Canadians to come to know him and to recognize his leadership as the alternative to Justin Trudeau, with whom he will be compared in the anticipated 2021 federal election.
WE Charity Scandal
Of all the political headlines from Ottawa in 2020, the most intriguing was the WE Charity scandal that enveloped the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and a good number of Cabinet ministers. This news item was the most personally damaging for the Prime Minister because it directly involved hefty payments and favours to the Trudeau family members. There are many questions about the near billion dollar contract that was to be awarded to the Kielburger brothers. What of the $43.5 million in administration fees; the hundreds of thousands in payments to mother Margaret, wife Sophie and brother Alexandre; the Cabinet circumventing its due diligence in bypassing Treasury Board; and, Minister Bardish Chagger purposely misleading MPs on the Ethics Committee about her part in fast-tracking the contract? And what of the $45 million worth of real estate assets the Kielburgers acquired through their charity operations – are these holdings subject to a CRA audit now that the charity has closed its doors in Canada?
Liberal MPs have effectively shut down all parliamentary inquiries, and succeeded to delay matters long enough for both WE and government officials to destroy all records of their dealings. The only remaining little detail that may concern Trudeau is the final report of the Ethics Commissioner. That report will determine the ethical breaches of the PM and Finance Minister Bill Morneau (recall they did not recuse themselves from the Cabinet approval of WE Charity’s $912 million contract, even though both of their families had pecuniary interests with the charity). As it happened, the Finance Minister used this shameful experience to fall on his sword and exit Ottawa. However, the PM seems sure he will survive yet another assessment of his ethical standards.
The two Michaels and Canada’s relations with Communist China
It has been over two full years since former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor were imprisoned in China on unspecified national security charges of espionage. For most of this time, the two Michaels hopelessly languished in crowded prison cells, cut off from family and friends. Though never candidly stated, it is understood their arrest was payback for the Canadian arrest of Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant.
What should have produced a chill in Canada-China relations has not appeared to have phased the Trudeau Government’s working relationship with the Communist China Government. Throughout the year, Trudeau and his Ministers have stood with the communist regime: denying any questionable activities by China or the World Health Organization with regard to the origin of COVID-19 and the virus spread; refusing to restrict air travel from China; being the only western nation to not ban Huawei in developing the country’s 5G wireless network; and awarding a Chinese firm a major contract to install security screening in Canadian embassies. The most alarming news was just uncovered with the discovery that our Canadian Forces have held joint military exercises with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) at Base Petawawa. Our Canadian Forces were training the PLA in winter warfare tactics – maneuvers that the Chinese can employ in the snowy mountains of the China-India border and in the high Arctic. Through the year it has been “business as usual” irrespective of the two Michaels’ fate.
Losing the bid for the UN Security Council seat
It was to have been a crowning moment when PM Justin Trudeau could again crow “Canada is back.” However, the unthought-of happened and the PM failed to secure his coveted seat on the United Nations Security Council. In a vote of U.N. member states, Canada came third in a three-way contest with Norway and Ireland. This was a resounding rebuke for PM Trudeau who inserted himself into the bidding process and placed his personal appeal as a progressive world leader on the line. In the run-up to the vote, Trudeau provided keynote addresses at U.N. conferences, pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to U.N. programs, promised to champion third-world debt relief efforts, and made direct calls to a scores of world leaders.
A few days after the Security Council announcement, CBC reported that PMO spokespeople and Liberal MPs had identified that the blame for the loss (if any were to be attributed) lay with Stephen Harper and his failure to adequately fund the Canadian team tasked to win the U.N. seat. This embarrassment was not to be tagged on PM Trudeau when he had done everything possible to undo Harper’s mismanagement of the U.N. file.
Canadians’ preoccupation with everything Trump
This year Canadians have been treated to a deluge of U.S. election news and, in particular, anti-Trump commentary. Canadian mainstream media captivated its audience covering the vote south of the border as a prize slugfest. And while the Americans were busy exercising their democracy, Canadians remained unaware of the travesties of democracy occurring in the Nation’s Capital. In an erudite column this fall, Sun News columnist Lorrie Goldstein observed, “Meanwhile, in Canada, the Liberals are filibustering the parliamentary committee trying to investigate Trudeau’s We Charity controversy and the parliamentary budget officer rebukes the Trudeau gov’t over spending secrecy. But … Orange Man Bad.” Indeed, POTUS Trump proved a perfect foil for the Trudeau Government. As Goldstein acutely summarized, “Any Canadians sneering at the shit show election in the U.S. aren’t paying attention. Canada has its own circus going on.”
On another level, our national media bias did a great disservice to Canadians: it failed to provide context for what the country might experience in a post-Trumpian world. Only now are we beginning to anticipate what a Biden-presidency will mean for the Canada-U.S. relations… what the Democrat protectionist policies will mean for our cross border trade; the U.S. green recovery agenda and likely cancellation of Keystone XL and Alaska-to-Alberta Railway projects; and, Biden’s anticipated accommodation with China foreign policy and how this will impact world diplomacy and trade. With no Donald Trump headlines, Canadians now have the chance to refocus on the politics of Biden — and our own Prime Minister.
Trudeau’s mishandling of the pandemic crises
Space here does not permit a detailed review of the government’s missteps in responding to the health and economic crises presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Regarding health and the failure to contain the spread of the virus: there has been one million air passengers enter Canada since the PM closed the airports; there were 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPEs) shipped to China in mid-February – and months later Canada received millions of faulty Chinese PPEs in return; former Liberal MP Frank Baylis was awarded a $237 million contract to make 10,000 pandemic ventilators – with no Health Canada approval and no means of producing ventilators in Canada; etc., etc. Regarding Canada’s economy: Trudeau has spent more money per capita than any country in the world and Canada is now the most indebted nation; there’s tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure projects unaccounted for, and billions of dollars more awarded for pandemic relief to foreign-owned private companies; and, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has just unveiled a $100 billion stimulus plan with vague objectives and no details.
Worse than all of this is the Government’s deficient vaccination plan. PM Trudeau has made much of the arrival of the first doses of the vaccine on Canadian soil. However, the actual numbers are dismal: Canada received 19,000 doses on December 13th, is promised two shipments totaling 368,000 doses by the end of the year, and by the end of March is promised another 1.8 million doses. While other countries are vaccinating tens of millions of their citizens, Canada will only vaccinate a little more than one million by April’s Fool Day. Canadians learned that Trudeau had counted on agreements with China to provide for our vaccine needs – agreements that have evaporated.
In an attempt to reassure Canadians, Trudeau reveals to us that the Government has ordered more vaccine doses than is required. But the stark differences in the figures of what the PM says is promised versus what is being actually delivered points to a political maelstrom for the Trudeau Government – and a whole lot of anxiety for Canadians.
Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com
LINKS: https://niagaraindependent.ca/2020s-top-ten-news-stories-in-federal-politics-part-1/ & https://niagaraindependent.ca/2020s-top-ten-news-stories-in-federal-politics-part-2/