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Thank you for visiting my website. I hope this offers you useful information on the work I am doing as Wascana’s Member of Parliament and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Opposition in the House of Commons.
If you have any questions or comments about any federal program or service, or need help dealing with any department or agency of the Government of Canada, please don’t hesitate to contact my Constituency Office. It is an honour to serve our community.
About a year ago, with the fallout from Mike Duffy and ethical scandals in the Prime Minister’s Office contaminating just about everything, Stephen Harper launched an elaborate “change the channel” strategy.
He shuffled his Cabinet. He prorogued Parliament once again to buy some extra time. He presented the longest and most vacuous Throne Speech that ever opened a new session of the House of Commons. And the very next day, he jetted off to Brussels, with much fanfare, to sign a long-awaited trade agreement between Canada and the European Union.
It’s all done, Mr. Harper said. Just a few technical points to settle among the lawyers working on the final wording, but we’ve got a deal, he claimed.
Justin Trudeau welcomed what appeared to be the good news. He reserved final judgment until Canadians could see the legal text, but in principle, Liberals would support a well-negotiated agreement between Canada and vast markets in the EU. Such a deal would help the Canadian economy to grow. It would stimulate new middle class jobs. It would improve living standards and help bolster incomes — wages in exporting sectors of our economy tend to be 50% higher than in sectors that are not trade intensive.
But now, nearly a year later, it seems that Mr. Harper was just pulling everyone’s leg. There was no reason to rush off to Belgium for a signing ceremony last fall. It was all just for show, because there is still no final deal between Canada and the EU. Germany (and possibly other countries) are signalling a veto unless major terms are renegotiated.
This fiasco-in-the-making is another example of Mr. Harper’s less-than-stellar record on trade.
He boasts about having brought six — count them — six new trade deals into force since 2006. That’s a fine “talking point”, but here’s the list: Panama, Jordan, Columbia, Peru, Honduras and the European Free Trade Association. Taken together, these markets represent just 2% of the world’s GDP. That’s not enough volume to make a big difference.
To be fair, another agreement was concluded recently with Korea, but it’s a long way from being implemented. Several others are “in progress”, including multilateral talks with potential Trans-Pacific partners, but it’s way too soon to predict where these will end up. Suffice it to say, for now, results over the past eight years have been slow and mediocre.
A critical indicator is Canada’s trade balance. For a very long time, it’s been in deficit. So despite a few new trade agreements and all the spin-doctoring to puff up the government’s ego, the country is not gaining the trade traction it needs to drive a decent level of economic growth. This point has been made repeatedly by the Bank of Canada.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce agrees. It says Canada’s trade performance is “lagging” and “dismal”, and it crunches some numbers to prove the point. According to the Chamber, after accounting for big price increases in energy products, the volume of merchandise exports shipped by Canada in 2012 was actually 5% lower than in 2000, despite a 57% increase in trade worldwide.
Quite apart from trade negotiations, Canada needs a sound marketing plan, particularly in new emerging economies. We need to be present consistently, building government-to-government relationships and paving the way for exports to flow. And we need to bring coherence and some sizzle into our approach.
Mr. Harper could learn some lessons about salesmanship and effective economic diplomacy from Jean Chretien’s “Team Canada” trade missions in the 1990′s. They built a “brand” for Canada in global trade and helped to get business done.
Mr. Harper should also be far more inclusive and transparent in telling Canadians what his government is doing, and asking for their advice, to strengthen Canada’s trade performance and increase exports. Just saying “trust me” doesn’t work for a government that is producing such pitiful outcomes.
Remember in 2006 when Stephen Harper tried to reassure Canadians that they didn’t need to worry about his “extreme tendencies” because three “safeguards” in our system of governance would hold him in check?
One was the Senate as a chamber of sober second thought. Well, so much for that idea! Mr. Harper has mangled the Senate with wrong-headed appointments and constant manipulation. Trust is gone.
Secondly, a strong public service was supposed to keep him within the confines of decent public policy. But Mr. Harper quickly made it known that advice from government officials is not valued and those who “speak truth to power” get punished. So intimidation reigns.
The third safeguard was the Courts. And that’s where the rubber hits the road.
The judicial system has a measure of constitutional authority and independence that the first two do not. Governments are not above the law. When Prime Ministers, Parliaments and bureaucracies go wrong, citizens must have the right to challenge them in court.
A number of courts at various levels – including judges who have been on the Bench for years and some who only just arrived – have questioned the legality and constitutionality of various Harper government actions and pieces of legislation. The issues at stake frequently involve the Charter of Canadian Rights and Freedoms, like a recent ruling that this government’s treatment of refugees is, in some ways, “cruel and unusual”.
This enrages Harper Conservatives who have never accepted the legitimacy of the Charter – unlike some 80% of Canadians who regard it as a defining characteristic of our nationhood.
So you have the unseemly spectacle of Stephen Harper and his entourage on frequent rampages against the courts and judges (including attacks on the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada) and the interpretations of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Charter.
What these Harper Conservatives ignore is that the Charter itself was duly and laboriously crafted, debated and enacted according to law. It reflects the democratic will of Canadians, which cannot be easily trumped.
And it contains a safety valve – i.e., the “notwithstanding” clause – which dissidents can use, if they’ve got the courage. In other words, the Harper Conservatives could, in fact, legislate their distasteful ideology, but they would have to declare, upfront and explicitly for all Canadians to see, that they are doing so “notwithstanding” the traditions and values of a free and democratic society.
Of course they’d rather not invoke the Notwithstanding Clause because it destroys their facade of respectability. So instead, they rant against the courts, accusing them of bad faith and “end runs” around democracy.
Before embracing such criticism, note the prevailing mentality among the folks around Mr. Harper which led his Chief of Staff to think it was “okay” to make a $90,000 payment to a sitting Parliamentarian. Is that the kind of judgment you can trust, without recourse? And that’s not all – take a hard look at the bruised and battered “democracy” that characterizes this Harper regime:
Given this perverse approach to democracy, it’s probably a good thing that ordinary citizens have at least some ability to fight for their rights in court.
This week the Bank of Canada reiterated our country’s weak economic standing by downgrading expectations for growth both this year and next. “Right now, we don’t have a sustainable growth picture in Canada,” Governor Stephen Poloz said. The Bank is now forecasting that Canada’s economy won’t recover from the doldrums for several years.
This performance is a “serial disappointment” he said.
None of this is news to anyone but the Harper government, which seems to be nothing more than a hapless spectator as the economy falters from one bad indicator to the next.
For months on end, they dismiss weak employment numbers — like the ones recently reported by Statistics Canada for the month of June — as just “monthly volatility”. But it keeps recurring, month after month. One might ask, at what point does that so-called “volatility” become an undeniable trend in the wrong direction. Or to put it another way, when will Mr. Harper pull his head out of the sand.
He tries to justify his grindingly mediocre record on economic growth and jobs by claiming to be doing better than any other G7 country. But that’s neither true nor relevant.
The US and the EU were at the epicentre of the 2008 recession. Their economies fell to rock-bottom. To claim that Canada, nearly six years later, is doing a bit better than that bad lot is not saying very much. In fact, some 140 countries in the world are projected to grow faster this year than will Canada. Should we be content with that?
Among G7 countries, over the past 18 months nearly all have made progress in reducing their unemployment rates (the US, the UK, Germany, France and Japan), while the other two (Canada and Italy) have not. Is that good enough?
To camouflage his slow growth/no growth record, Mr. Harper claims to have generated “more than a million” new jobs since the lowest point in the recession. But examine his numbers. They are at least two years out of date.
More recently, the pace of job creation has markedly slowed. Fewer than 100,000 Canadian jobs came into existence in all of 2013, and the numbers in 2014 are on track to fall short of even that sorry figure.
The Bank is particularly concerned about the substantial decline in the “participation rate” in our labour force since just before the recession in 2008. It reports that 100,000 people aged 25-54 have given up looking for work altogether and that things are even more dire among our youth, with 200,000 dropping out of the labour force. Hardly a vote of confidence in Mr. Harper’s performance!
And despite this lower labour market “participation”, job creation is still not keeping pace with the numbers of people still looking for work. Indeed, in the month of June, there were 230,000 more jobless Canadians than just before the recession.
And what do we get from the Harper government?
Decision-making based on Kijiji postings. A year of tax-paid government advertising about a “Jobs Grant” that didn’t exist. A temporary foreign workers system that is roundly condemned by both employees and employers alike. Complete denial about youth unemployment. And job-killing Employment Insurance payroll taxes frozen at artificially inflated levels to rake in more cash — just so Mr. Harper can concoct a surplus on the eve of an election.
That’s pretty thin gruel for close to 1.4-million jobless Canadians.
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