More than a year has passed since the Liberals rose to power in October 2015 – enough time to make some calls on the rising stars and falling ones on Parliament Hill, and the winners and losers under the Trudeau administration. And despite various distractions at home and beyond the borders, a theme has emerged that may ultimately define this government.
John Ivison and David Akin from the National Post’s parliamentary bureau, hand out bouquets and brickbats; size up pending leadership races and assess the ups and downs of the Trudeau government in 2016.
SCIENTISTS IN NEED OF FUNDING
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks a lot about the middle class but if there’s one group of Canadians that were favoured by the Liberal government in 2016, it was the people wearing white lab coats.
That scientists won more money and more respect from the Trudeau government shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the Liberals campaigned on a platform to do just that and the government has, by and large, kept those promises.
Science Minister Kirsty Duncan has been nearly invisible in the House of Commons, but she’s logged plenty of kilometres preaching the virtues of science, and investments in science, all across the country.
Duncan’s name has been on hundreds of cheques issued over the year worth billions of dollars, all made out to funding research projects in colleges, universities and laboratories.
And Duncan’s boss recently gave reason to believe it will be the same next year.
“This is something we need to do more of,” Trudeau said at a press conference this month in Montreal, where he announced billions of dollars of federal support for universities and colleges in Quebec. “We need to be basing our decisions and policies on facts, on evidence and on science. Being able to empower and encourage scientists to do the necessary research, to challenge the orthodoxy of the moment, whether it be political or elsewhere, it is extremely important that we recognize that science, knowledge, understanding is essential to create opportunities and growth in any meaningful way.”
We need to be basing our decisions and policies on facts, on evidence and on science
Notably, the Trudeau government’s first act in office was to make the long-form census mandatory again, something the previous Harper government had made voluntary. And one of the Trudeau government’s final bills tabled in the House of Commons before the Christmas break will give Statistics Canada more independence from any government of the day.
Next year, the Trudeau government expects to name its first Chief Science Officer, to advise the government on research priorities and other scientific matters.
And while the Harper government’s deficit elimination plan meant federal science jobs were trimmed, the Trudeau government has hired hundreds of scientists.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty ImagesNotably, the Trudeau government’s first act in office was to make the long-form census mandatory again.
Just before Trudeau held that Montreal press conference, his government concluded a new collective agreement with the union representing thousands of federal scientists. They got a small raise in that contract but, notably, they also got for the first time a clause protecting their ability to speak publicly about their research.
Some federal scientists complained that the Harper government “muzzled” them over fears their scientific work, particularly in the area of climate change, would be at odds with the government’s agenda.
Trudeau, in Montreal, said he “fundamentally” believes scientists have the “rights and responsibilities” to “challenge, to share their work, to disagree with each other, to disagree with people in positions of leadership, to challenge each and every one of us to do better, to think better.”
— David Akin, National Post
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MILLENNIALS BUYING HOUSES
Laura Pedersen/National PostHousing has remained relatively healthy since a new policy was introduced in October to apply an interest rate far above market rates for any mortgage backed by Ottawa.
The real losers of the Trudeau years could well be the very people who helped get him elected — millennials keen to get on the first rung of the housing ladder.
The impact of the Liberal government’s decision to add a “stress test” hurdle has not yet shown up in housing sales data. Housing has remained relatively healthy since the policy was introduced in October to apply an interest rate far above market rates for any mortgage backed by Ottawa.
But mortgage experts suggest it has been kept afloat by buyers who were pre-approved under the old rules and those who rushed into the market as interest rates began to rise. “With pre-approvals for up to 120 days, we could have closings as late as mid-February that escape the test,” said Will Dunning, chief economist for Mortgage Professionals Canada.
Industry watchers believe the new policy will have an adverse impact on the market sooner rather than later. The Ottawa-based Canadian Real Estate Association warned that 2017 will see a decline in real estate prices for the first time since 2008 — and it laid the blame squarely at the government’s door.
CREA expects the average price of a home to fall by 2.8 per cent to $475,900 next year.
Regulatory changes, which mean those seeking mortgage insurance must now qualify based on the posted five year fixed rate of 4.64 per cent, will disproportionately hit first time buyers, many of whom are millennials who backed Justin Trudeau in the last election.
If I have a mortgage for 95 per cent of the value of my house, and the value of the house falls by, let’s say 10 per cent, I have a big problem
While it is bad enough that many buyers will now be frozen out of the housing market, the fear among some economists is that a decline in house prices might trigger a broader crash in the economy.
Dunning notes that there are strong hints the government would like to see a drop in housing prices.
But he argues that if house prices fall at a time of high mortgage indebtedness, conditions would be ripe for economic disaster.
“If I have a mortgage for 95 per cent of the value of my house, and the value of the house falls by, let’s say 10 per cent, I have a big problem. It affects the way I act in the economy. If that happens to enough people, there is an enormous problem,” he said.
If Dunning is right, the impact of government policy on the housing market will be one of the big stories to watch in 2017.
— John Ivison, National Post
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HIGH-ENERGY MPs LEADING TEAM ‘T’
David Rowland/APMinister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland speaks at a press conference at the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement in Auckland, New Zealand on Feb. 4, 2016.
Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland
With tireless effort bringing 28 countries and a multinational bureaucracy on board, Chrystia Freeland was instrumental in ensuring the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union went ahead.
Much of the deal had been negotiated by the previous government, but new pressures and fears threatened CETA throughout the year, necessitating renegotiation and a lot of persuasion.
If Freeland had not intervened with its Social Democratic Party, Germany may never have signed CETA. And as the Belgian region of Wallonia blockaded CETA this fall, her emotional walk-out from meetings with its prime minister proved effective.
Despite post-election bluster from the United States, Freeland has remained a shrewd and vocal supporter of free trade and globalization. There’s little doubt she is preparing to press an incoming Trump administration on preserving the North American Free Trade Agreement and finally resolving a lingering softwood lumber dispute.
Tony Caldwell/Postmedia NetworkEnvironment Minister Catherine McKenna at the Ottawa River on Oct. 11, 2016.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna
Catherine McKenna has shown herself to be a high-energy operator, who has been able to weather the storm on a tricky file.
Despite some yelling and screaming from premiers, she brought most provinces on board with a national carbon pricing plan. Like the carbon tax or not, McKenna was given a task and powered ahead with it, even with uncertainty south of the border.
She announced a plan to phase out coal, has been marketing Canada’s clean technology in China and has managed to defend pipeline decisions in parallel with articulating a clean-fuel strategy.
McKenna has embraced United Nations climate negotiations in a way Canadian environment ministers have not for a decade — a sunny sign for those looking for increased international engagement from Canada.
Graham Hughes /The Canadian PressTransport Minister Marc Garneau at Bell Helicopter in Mirabel, Que., on Dec. 21, 2016
Transport Minister Marc Garneau
At the start of his mandate, Marc Garneau was handed lemons — a department struggling with its finances and in the vice grip of the Treasury Board Secretariat. But he appears to have made lemonade.
He’s steering a strategy called “Transportation 2030,” which includes measures to invest in green transportation, improve regulations and update infrastructure that facilitates the movement of goods from Canada to other countries. The strategy partly stems from a review of the Canada Transportation Act led by former cabinet minister David Emerson.
Airline rules are shifting so that low-cost carriers can survive the Canadian market and a “passengers’ bill of rights” is being introduced.
Meanwhile, Garneau is navigating a moratorium on tankers carrying crude oil on the north coast of British Columbia. His department is also studying ways to improve cycling safety.
We reserve some judgment for if, and how, Garneau introduces measures to combat distracted driving, which is responsible for an increasing number of deaths in Canada every year.
But all in all, the transport minister is proving himself a productive manager lacking in bluster and scandal, unlike a few of his honourable colleagues.
— Marie-Danielle Smith, National Post
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SAJJAN — THE MINISTER OF DELAYS
Fred Chartrand/The Canadian PressA little more than a year after being named National Defence Minister, the shine is off Harjit Sajjan.
He emerged on the scene as Justin Trudeau’s “Bad Ass” wing man, with accolades and expectations he would be good news for the Canadian military.
But a little more than a year after being named National Defence Minister, the shine is off Harjit Sajjan.
His mandate letter from the prime minister required him to launch a competition to replace the CF-18 fighter aircraft.
Instead, Sajjan championed the purchase of 18 Boeing Super Hornet jets as a stop-gap measure, delaying an actual competition to replace the CF-18 fleet for at least another five years.
It was a good move for his boss, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as it pushed off a government decision on the controversial F-35 stealth fighter until well after the next election.
But critics say the Super Hornet deal is bad news for the Canadian military. They expect the eventual competition for new fighter jets to be dragged out for years, resulting in the Royal Canadian Air Force not receiving a replacement for the CF-18 fleet until the late 2020s or early 2030s.
Boeing/AFP/Getty ImagesA photo released by aeronautical manufacturer Boeing shows Super Hornet fighter jets during tests at an unidentified location.
Sajjan was also supposed to strengthen the Royal Canadian Navy while at the same time moving ahead with the shipbuilding strategy put in place by the previous Conservative government. Besides some changes to that strategy, the navy has not seen any new initiatives or additional funding to strengthen its position.
Sajjan also had the job of helping renew Canada’s commitment to United Nations’ peace operations. While that intention has been announced, action on that front has still to materialize.
The proposed new commitment has also been surrounded by confusion. Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance said in July the army would be heading to Africa very soon. Sajjan also said an African mission was being planned.
But in October, Vance backtracked, saying that no African mission was planned and any such claims were mere speculation.
However, a short time later, Sajjan reiterated that a number of African missions were being planned. Where and when Canadian troops are headed for UN duty could be announced sometime in 2017.
HandoutCanada's Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who served as an intelligence officer with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.
Sajjan said the high point of his first year in office was ensuring that a new defence review got underway. The review was supposed to be released in December, but was delayed until sometime in early 2017.
Sajjan acknowledged some regrets. Military personnel who have retired are waiting months to receive their pensions. Those dealing with post traumatic stress issues have found little or no help from the military system.
Sajjan blamed the previous Conservative government for cutting the administrative sections of the Canadian Forces and the defence department, which are needed for such services as dealing with pension processing and providing mental health support for troops.
“The pensions, the wait times were unacceptable, and reducing the wait times is very important to me,” Sajjan explained.
— David Pugliese, Postmedia News
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MPs WHO WERE FRONT AND CENTRE
Pierre Trudeau once famously dismissed backbench MPs as nobodies once they were 50 yards from Parliament Hill. That may have been a bit harsh. It certainly would have been in 2016 when several MPs who were neither ministers nor parliamentary secretaries made an impact that, in many cases, caught the attention of everyday voters far from Parliament Hill. Here’s an informal list of notable backbenchers, compiled from canvassing MPs, political staff and other Hill observers:
http://www.parl.gc.caLeft to right: Gary Anandasangaree, Francisco Sorbara and David Graham.
It can be tough for backbenchers on the government side to distinguish themselves. All the glory, after all, is supposed to go to the prime minister or his cabinet ministers. But Gary Anandasangaree, a first-time MP from Scarborough-Rouge Park, has won notice in the House and in the community of Tamil Canadians, for which he has been a strong advocate. Anandasangaree has also championed a bill that would expand and protect a national park through the Rouge River valley. “He does a lot of good work in the background. Very thoughtful,”said one Parliament Hill observer.
Francesco Sorbara won a tight race in Vaughan-Woodbridge, beating Conservative incumbent Julian Fantino. That work ethic has been noticed by his colleagues. Plus, from his seat on the Commons finance committee, he’s smartly put to use expertise gained from years on bond trading desks on Wall Street and Bay Street. Sorbara has also been pushing resolution of a trade dispute on drywall that has driven up the cost of this vital building product in Canada. That’s not an insignificant issue for Sorbara considering the country’s largest drywall distributor is in his north-of-Toronto riding, which also happens to be one of the country’s busiest for new home construction.
Former political staffer David Graham became an MP last fall for Laurentides-Labelle. Not only does he know his way around the House but he is “constantly pushing the Liberal government to be more sensitive to the unique reality of rural Canada, something a Liberal government can’t have too much of.”
Other notable Liberals: Anthony Housefather (Mount Royal) and Arnold Chan (Scarborough-Agincourt) have been noticed for being “thoughtful and independent-minded debaters.” Chan, fighting cancer, has been “an inspiration.” First-time MP Deb Schulte (King—Vaughan) is “incredibly competent and hard-working.” John Aldag (Cloverdale-Langley City) won notice for his work on the medically assisted suicide file.
Two Nova Scotians earned a shout-out: Bernadette Jordan (South Shore-St. Margarets) for her work getting unanimous support for an ocean protection measure; and Darren Fisher (Dartmouth-Cole Harbour) for getting a private member’s bill all the way to third reading — a rare feat for a backbencher. His bill was aimed at reducing or eliminating the dumping in landfills of light bulbs containing toxic mercury.
Encouraging words were also heard about: Doug Eyolfson, Anita Vandenbeld, Frank Baylis, Joel Lightbound and Raj Grewal.
Tyler Kula/Postmedia Network//Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press//Megan VossPostmedia NetworkLeft to right: Marilyn Gladu, Gerard Deltell and Garnett Genuis.
Marilyn Gladu, the first-time MP for the southwestern Ontario riding of Sarnia-Lambton, was named by Maclean’s magazine as Parliament’s most collegial MP in her first year in the chamber and, at year end, her name came up again and again in that context. Taller than most of her male colleagues, and frequently flashing a million-dollar smile, she is the first female engineer to take a seat in the House of Commons.
More than any other first-time MP, former television journalist Gerard Deltell (Louis St. Laurent) is seen as shining brightest in the House of Commons — in both languages. “He is one of the most eloquent and substantive members in the House,” says an MP who is not a Conservative.
Not yet 30-years-old, Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan) is among the most loquacious of any MP and, some of his peers think, one of the smartest. “The guy does his homework. He’s just so well-prepared,” says an impressed Liberal MP.
Other notable Conservatives: A trio of young, female, first-time MPs — Shannon Stubbs (Lakeland), Rachael Harder (Lethbridge), Karen Vecchio (Elgin—Middlesex—London) — are making their mark in Question Period for a tough-as-nails approach matched with a reputation for getting stuff done.
Tom Kmiec (Calgary-Shepard) brings his A-game to Commons debates. Arnold Viersen (Peace River—Westlock) won unanimous support in asking the government to study the growing problem of violent pornography.
Alupa Clarke (Beauport—Limoilou) was once in the Canadian Armed Forces, in the artillery regiment, and is part of a new, young generation of Quebec Conservatives. John Nater (Perth-Wellington) is a new father, a first-time MP and “an impressive non-partisan.” He’s also a rare, fully bilingual southern Ontario Conservative.
http://www.parl.gc.caLeft to right: Nathan Cullen, Charlie Angus and Niki Ashton.
The bilingual British Columbian Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley) was his party’s lead on the electoral reform file and he’s done an effective enough job there to win praise. But it’s the manner in which he fights the fight that wins admirers — even from other parties. There’s no mistaking it when Cullen gets hot about something, but he rarely gets personal, and he’s just as likely to make a point with wit as he is with a barb.
Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay) managed the rare feat of winning unanimous approval in the House for a motion asking the government to spend more and do more on health care for indigenous children. In 2017, expect Angus to hold the government’s feet to the fire on that commitment. He’s also being pushed by many New Democrats to run for leader.
Like Angus, Niki Ashton (Churchill-Keewatinook Aski) wears her heart on her sleeve and that passion impresses even her political opponents, many of whom hope she jumps into her party’s leadership race.
Wayne Stetski was once a mayor but now that he’s an MP(Kootenay-Columbia ), he has been found to be “studious and principled,” does his homework, and works hard to stay in touch with voters in his huge constituency in southern British Columbia — a constituency he won by just 509 votes.
Encouraging words were also heard about: Daniel Blaikie, Alexandre Boulerice and Karine Trudel.
— David Akin, National Post
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TRUDEAU BETS ON ‘GREEN GROWTH’
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian PressJustin Trudeau announces his environmental platform in Vancouver, B.C., on June 29, 2015.
Hardly a week went by in 2016 without a minister in Justin Trudeau’s government telling someone that it was not a choice between the environment or the economy, they were choosing to do both: Protect the environment and boost the economy.
At year’s end, that dual focus — environment and the economy — remained the dominant theme of the year and is likely to be so for the remainder of the Trudeau government’s first term.
Indeed, the government’s ability to demonstrate achievements against economic and environmental benchmarks will almost certainly be a key consideration when voters next go to the polls in 2019.
By the end of 2016, environmental activists could point approvingly to Canada’s leading role at two successive United Nations global climate change conferences: in Paris in 2015, and in Marrakech, Morocco, this year. And Trudeau managed to do twice in one year what Stephen Harper never did in nine: convene first ministers meetings to talk about climate change.
While neither first ministers meetings went perfectly for the feds, the Trudeau Liberals believe they were able to establish the “clean growth framework” they desired. Their agreement with some, but not all, provinces was “historic,” to use the description provided by Catherine McKenna, lead minister on the file.
Meanwhile, on the economy and energy file, there was near-simultaneous activity.
Just days before that first ministers summit, the Trudeau government signed off on two recommendations by the National Energy Board to increase Canada’s pipeline capacity for Alberta petroleum products.
The expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, from Edmonton to Vancouver, got a thumbs-up from the Trudeau cabinet, as did a scheme to reverse the flow of an existing pipeline known as Line 9 that would take Canadian crude to Wisconsin.
Notably, the Trudeau government killed the Northern Gateway pipeline project that would have taken Alberta and Saskatchewan crude to the northern B.C. port of Prince Rupert.
The political strategy was clear: Find the happy middle in the national debate on the economy, pipelines and the environment.
If you didn’t like the pipelines, you would love Ottawa’s greenhouse gas reduction targets. Don’t like the pending national carbon tax? You’re going to love how the Trudeau government will make Canada even wealthier with those pipeline approvals.
The risk for the Trudeau government is that the political calculation, in the end, may be too clever. Rather than win bouquets for even-handedness, they may draw brickbats from all sides.
Trudeau won his historic majority by consolidating much of the so-called “progressive vote” — voters that might normally vote NDP, young voters, first-time voters and, crucially, indigenous voters. Many of those voters may not see the tradeoff so favourably. In the House of Commons, the NDP have seized on this, noting, for example, that Trudeau government’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets remain the same as the Harper government it replaced.
This is the file, then, that will take the most care and attention for the Trudeau Liberals in the years ahead. If Trudeau truly believes Canada can have its cake and eat it too, he will be required to spend all the political capital he can muster.
— David Akin, National Post
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