Saturday, March 25, 2023

Biden's Visit

Joe Biden's visit to Ottawa gave Justin Trudeau a boost -- precisely when he needed one. Susan Delacourt writes:

The entire Biden visit, awash in cross-border warmth, doesn’t rescue the prime minister from his domestic political troubles — the ongoing furor over foreign election meddling, for instance. But it is a reminder that Trudeau, more so than many other prime ministers, will have a legacy forged by his relationship with three presidents: Obama, Trump and now Biden. The ways in which those relationships have changed are a reflection of bigger changes in the world, and in the leaders’ own jobs.

It isn’t just Trudeau’s future that hinges on his relationship with the United States either — it’s Canada’s. In a world roiling with war in Ukraine, climate change and the spread of authoritarianism, nationalism and disinformation, Canada and the U.S. will probably have to cling even closer to each other.

Biden has known three generations of Trudeaus:

Fifty-one years ago, when Biden’s daughter and his first wife tragically died in a car accident, he received a call of condolence from then prime minister Pierre Trudeau — a gesture he’s never forgotten, the president told Justin Trudeau in one of their early meetings.

Biden definitely is a politician more of the elder Trudeau’s vintage, and there is a temptation to see their relationship in terms of father and son, or “mentor to mentee,” as former U.S. ambassador Gordon Giffin said in a television interview on Friday.

But the tumultuous events of the past few years have often turned that dynamic upside down, with Trudeau finding himself in the role of explainer to the chief — specifically, filling in Biden on how much the world changed during the four years he was out of the White House.

One of Biden’s last trips as vice-president, the one that has been much recalled this week, was his December 2016 visit to Ottawa, when he famously asked Trudeau to carry the torch of progressive values into the world as the Obama era was ending and the Trump years were just beginning.

Trudeau made specific reference to that visit at his news conference on Friday and to the “sometimes challenging times” the two men have faced since then.

New polling from Abacus Data, out this week, show that Trudeau still can boast that things are going mostly right on this big thing. In a poll of nearly 2,000 Canadians conducted last weekend, a full 61 per cent responded that Trudeau had managed the U.S. relationship as well or better than could be expected.

That’s certainly a more positive poll result than many others the PM has faced in recent days and may even surprise his most staunch critics. But that’s become a defining feature of Trudeau’s years in power — presidents, whether foes like Trump or friends like Biden and Obama — have given him a boost.

Sometimes people are in the right place at the right time.

Image: The Toronto Star

Friday, March 24, 2023

Beware The Madness

In Ottawa, politicians are working themselves into a lather over China. It's the kind of thing that's been going on in the United States for almost a decade. Glen Pearson writes:

There are those occasions when scandals appeal to citizens and institutions alike. The clearest example has been occurring 24/7 south of the border.  Fixation with Donald Trump’s activities is the stuff of water coolers, coffee shops, board rooms, law offices, and political hallways.  And in Canada, there is an increasing likelihood that the scandal swirling around China’s election interference will dominate the political agenda for the foreseeable future.

The circus atmosphere around Trump is akin to a feeding frenzy across the country – polls show it, and media empires bank on it.  Yet north of the border, coverage of Chinese political intrigue is landing with a thud.  While the Trump story has been unfolding for years, reaching every part of the country, Canadians view the election meddling by the Chinese government with a “meh” mentality.  It’s fairly recent.  It’s beyond much of our understanding.  And it’s not getting the purchase in this country that media and political elites had hoped.

Why the difference?

This week, a cross-party grouping of Ontario MPPs gathered at Queen’s Park to hear stories of how the province’s food banks are at the breaking point.  Politicians of all stripes sat in silence as they heard moving stories of long-term disability clients considering ending their lives following a decade of having their support payments frozen.  Food bank leaders spoke of being close to going under and that if the political class didn’t act urgently, the bottom would fall out on hunger and homelessness.  But how will that happen when partisanship runs so strong?  In my city of London, Ontario, all three provincial members are NDP, while the provincial government is Conservative and its federal cousin Liberal.  What are the chances they will collaborate to stave off what will be a crisis?

Broaden that reality a little further and you hear of millions of Canadians experiencing difficulty facing accommodation costs.  Concerns over high food prices are now endemic.  Lack of access to institutional healthcare continues to be near the top of polling about what Canadians are most worried about.

These are the daily realities and hurdles faced by average Canadian families.  In their struggle to overcome these economic challenges, they have little time to dedicate to an electoral scandal perpetuated from the other side of the world.  Are they concerned?  Yes.  But is it a priority, given all the economic pressures just listed?  No.  They just aren’t that into China, especially following years of growing disinterest in elections and political shenanigans.

Politicians are disconnected from their voters. We should beware of China. But, more than that, we should beware of the madness that would have us eat our own.

Image: Lightbringers

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Profiting From Experience

Joe Biden will arrive in Ottawa this afternoon. He and Justin Trudeau will have a lot to talk about during his short visit. Linda McQuaig hopes that Biden will offer Justin some good advice on how to tax the wealthy:

Joe Biden is proposing a number of measures, including an ambitious minimum tax on the wealthiest Americans — in the first big tax grab on the wealthy since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.

A fierce fight over taxing the wealthy looms in the U.S. The Democrats came close to passing a version of Biden’s minimum tax last year and could succeed if they regain control of Congress in 2024.

This trail-blazing by Biden, a centrist Democrat, should stiffen the spine of Canada’s strikingly timid “progressive” politicians. (While polls show more than 80 per cent of Canadians support a wealth tax, support is particularly strong among progressives.)

A wealth tax, aimed exclusively at Canadians with net assets above $10 million, could raise $28 billion a year — enough to seriously enhance key social welfare programs, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Those trying to avoid it would face a steep exit tax.

Yet, among major parties, the NDP alone advocates a wealth tax and leader Jagmeet Singh doesn’t talk much about it. Why didn’t he insist it be part of the NDP accord with the Liberals?

The central problem is that the super-rich tie up their wealth in legal tax shelters:

That’s because their wealth is largely held in corporate stock and, unless they sell stock and trigger a capital gain, no income tax applies.

So, rather than sell stock, the superrich can finance their lavish lifestyles by borrowing from banks, which happily lend them ample funds at very low rates — an option not available to those without a fortune to serve as collateral.

Biden's solution is to impose a minimum tax:

Biden’s minimum tax would close this gaping loophole by taxing the superrich on how much their shares appreciate in value, whether cashed in or not. This could add millions — even billions — of dollars a year to the tax bill of an ultra-wealthy American. (By comparison, Canada’s luxury tax might add thousands of dollars to the tax bill of an ultra-wealthy Canadian.)

Our prime minister lacks the boldness of mild-mannered Biden, so does nothing to grab a share of the immense wealth going straight to the top as Canada’s billionaires — and there are dozens of them, including some mega-billionaires — have seen their wealth grow by an astonishing 51 per cent since the pandemic began.

Biden will have a tough time getting his plan through Congress. But he spent decades there. He knows how things work. Justin could profit from Biden's experience.

Image: CTV News

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Getting It Wrong

Things are not going well for Canada's oil advocates. Max Fawcett writes:

Timing, as they say, is everything. And the timing right now for opponents of the federal government’s much-maligned Impact Assessment Act couldn’t be much worse. Arguments around the constitutionality of the act, which has been widely branded as the “no more pipelines” law by conservative politicians and premiers, are being heard by the Supreme Court of Canada this week. And Russell Brown, the justice most likely to side with the provinces, is sidelined after reports of a recent punch-up at a resort in Arizona.

Imperial Oil’s tailings pond leak at its Kearl facility, one that underscores the weakness of Alberta’s regulatory environment and the need for federal involvement, is still making news. It also speaks to the need for something like the Impact Assessment Act, one that might just hold proponents to a higher standard than they’d like. The law will ensure national concerns around climate change and environmental protection are included in decisions around major economic projects. And it will mean new projects with national impacts will have to be in the national interest.

And the powers that be in Alberta are not happy:

Veteran Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid took a swipe at the bill, suggesting that it’s “a slippery thing. It claims to operate in federal lands but then refers to projects ‘in Canada.’ It also assumes power over projects with environmental effects ‘outside Canada.’ It promises co-ordination with provinces, but no province is reassured.”

The federal government’s abiding interest in things like climate change and environmental impacts is unnecessary, Braid writes, because provinces like Alberta already take them seriously. As evidence, he cites the existence of a page on the Government of Alberta website detailing the scientific reality of climate change — one, it should be noted, that was created back in 2016 by its predecessor NDP government and has barely been updated since.

That it isn’t actively denying the scientific reality of climate change is, I suppose, worth noting. But so, too, is the absence of an actual climate plan, one that’s been missing ever since the United Conservative Party scrapped the NDP’s Climate Leadership Plan in 2019. And in the years since, the regulator charged with protecting the public interest has allowed hundreds of millions in rural property taxes to go unpaid, the number of unreclaimed and orphan wells to skyrocket and oilsands leaks to go unreported to nearby Indigenous communities.

Worse, perhaps, is the sort of cronyism that’s rampant at the Alberta Energy Regulator. Former premier Jason Kenney’s campaign manager, an outspoken skeptic of anthropogenic climate change, is the vice-president of its science and innovation branch, while CEO Laurie Pushor is a former Saskatchewan Party political adviser who was involved in a land deal scandal. A regulator marbled with conservative ex-politicos can hardly be counted on to uphold the public’s interest — unless that interest is defined as being in lockstep with the oil and gas industry.

I wrote yesterday about Justin's unpopularity in Alberta and Saskatchewan. You get the idea.

Image: The Conference Board Of Canada

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Why They Hate Trudeau

There are lots of Canadians who have a viscerally negative reaction to the name Trudeau -- father and son. Susan Delacourt writes:

Justin Trudeau has now said it twice — there are Canadians, he admits, who won’t believe him, no matter what he says.

Who are these Canadians? They are obviously not Liberal supporters, the prime minister says. “No matter what I say, people are going to wonder — if they didn’t vote for me — whether or not they can trust me,” Trudeau told reporters on Friday.

They are also disproportionally men.

What's going on?

“So 36 per cent of men in Canada, over one in three, have a very negative view of the prime minister,” says Abacus CEO David Coletto. “They really, really don’t like him.” Women who reported “very negative” views, on the other hand, numbered around 26 per cent. “Men tend to dislike the prime minister more than women,” Coletto says. 

“I mean, Stephen Harper wasn’t beloved or loved at any point when he was in office, and people didn’t really like him,” Coletto says, “But it wasn’t as deeply emotional … They usually didn’t like him because they fundamentally disagreed on policy, whereas these people disagree with Trudeau on policies but it goes far deeper — they don’t like him as a person.”

It’s new for Canada too, Coletto argues, more similar to the kind of hostility shown in the United States to former president Barack Obama and former presidential contender Hillary Clinton.

When Coletto focused in on the demographic details of this 36 per cent of male voters, some of his findings were not a huge surprise. A strong current of negativity is linked to geography, demography and politics. If you’re a man who despises Trudeau, you’re more likely to be over 45 and from Alberta or Saskatchewan.

Half of this group places itself on the right of the political spectrum, 38 per cent in the centre and nine per cent on the left. About 60 per cent of them voted Conservative in the last election, 13 per cent voted for the People’s Party of Canada, seven per cent for the NDP and just three per cent for the Liberals. Again, no surprise.

Sociologically, they couldn’t be described as comfortable, either with Canada at present or their own lives. They’re less happy in their general outlook, which Coletto found interesting; on a 10-point scale, men with very negative views of Trudeau place themselves around the 5.9 mark, compared to 6.9 per cent for men with milder views. “That’s a big difference,” Coletto says.

In this poll, Abacus asked the negative voters what it was about Trudeau they disliked, and what words they would use to describe him. Some of the most common were “idiot,” “phoney,” “arrogant,” “liar” and “corrupt.”

The dislike, in other words, is intensely personal. When Coletto asked which Trudeau policies ticked off the men who have very harsh views, they cited his handling of the pandemic and budgets, corruption and wasteful spending. Coletto says it’s unlikely Trudeau could reverse these people’s views with different policies; they’re not going to view him positively, as the prime minister himself admits, “no matter what he says.”

Trudeau knows who hates him and why. And he knows there is nothing he can do about it.

Image: Western Standard

Monday, March 20, 2023

A Very Bad Place

Michael Harris writes that populism is destroying our politics:

Opposition politics has always been the process of casting the appropriate lights and shadows over the other guy’s record—and the facts.

No surprise there.  

The job of opposition is to oppose, so the characterization of incumbent governments has almost never been what might be called “good-faith” criticism. There is little credit for the good things a government does, and a hyperbolic focus on its clunkers. That’s fair enough: politics isn’t Sunday school.

But things have changed:

Something fundamental, and dangerous, has happened to the normally partisan world of politics, with all its warts. Populism has arrived like an 18-wheeler crashing into a bridge abutment, scattering its ugly cargo of racism, xenophobia, and trumped up distrust of government and government institutions all over the road.

Now incumbent governments are not just incompetent boobs who are mucking things up and ought to be shown the door. They are now the “enemy,” who must not only be replaced, but wiped out. Now the frontal attack on incumbent government is not simply a matter of offering voters a skewed version of its record. Now it is about whipping people into a frenzy of hatred and distrust of the status quo—and of individual politicians. It is rage set to political slogans, it’s anger on steroids.  

Donald Trump invented what could be called the “everything-is-broken” narrative, which has been picked up in this country by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.  

Poilievre has characterized Justin Trudeau as the foppish son of privilege, who has led the country into massive decline across the board, from the economy and national unity, to the loss of personal freedoms.  

There is no mention of Trudeau’s considerable successes as one of the longest serving leaders in the 37-country Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development; no mention of the government’s landmark national deal on funding for health care that even Alberta endorsed; no mention of the government’s $10-a-day national childcare initiative; no reference to Canada’s stalwart support of Ukraine in its life and death struggle with Russian invaders; and not a word about the Investing in Canada Plan, which will pump billions of dollars into infrastructure over the next decade.  

In Canada, there is a stubborn problem with Poilievre’s patently false claim that everything is broken. It is called the facts. 

Here’s one of them. Every year, U.S. News and World Report assesses 78 nations and comes up with a Best Countries list. They clearly didn’t get the Poilievre memo. Canada was rated the No. 1 country in 2021, and the third best in 2022. The assessment is based on quality of life and social purpose, a good job market, concern for human rights, and non-corrupt governance.

Modern populism eschews facts and replaces them with anger:

Despite its obvious and massive intellectual dishonesty, populist politics persists. Sadly, it even prospers. That’s because many political operatives see it as an effective tool for winning power. At the recent Progress Summit at the Broadbent Institute, the former campaign manager for Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid had some advice for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Capitalize on the righteous anger of working class people.

According to one academic who attended the conference, it was a call to “speak a common language about what resonates” with regular Canadians. That’s one way of putting it. But it sounds to me a lot like  telling them what they want to hear. Go after the same people they are angry at. Fan the flames of their grievances. Make it emotional, not rational.

That's what it's all about -- emotion over reason. That path has been trodden before and it leads to a very bad place.


Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Same Man The Same Danger

Donald Trump is doing it again. He's summoning the mob. The Washington Post reports:

Former president Donald Trump called for protests Saturday in response to what he claimed would be his imminent arrest in a Manhattan criminal investigation, even as his advisers said Trump’s team does not have specific knowledge about the timing of any indictment.

Writing from his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, Trump surprised his advisers by posting an all-caps message on his Truth Social platform Saturday morning that declared he “WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK. PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” His language, along with a fundraising pitch sent out by his 2024 presidential campaign, echoed rhetoric that Trump used in advance of the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, by his supporters.

People around Trump said he has no idea when the indictment will come down. But those kinds of details have never bothered Trump:

Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said Saturday morning there had been no “notification” of an indictment. Instead, he said Trump’s supporters should attend a campaign rally he is holding next week in Texas.

Susan Necheles, a lawyer for Trump, said his remark about the timing of his arrest was gleaned from media reports Friday about local and federal law enforcement officials expecting to convene early next week to discuss security and logistics related to Trump’s expected indictment.

Two people close to the former president who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations said they did not know exactly when or if he would be indicted. They said advisers and lawyers on his team had warned Trump in recent days that an indictment could come early next week, including the possibility of Tuesday, but did not know why he singled out that day in his post.

None of this matters to Trump. He gets to play the victim and tell his followers, "If they can do this to me, they can do this to you." We'll see if his followers are disappearing. But he's still the same man and the same danger.

Image: NBC News