I have been rather busy recently, so I haven’t posted any updates on the political scene, but below is a summary of my thoughts on the big issues.
Doug Ford has gotten off to a fast start, moving quickly to implement his Conservative agenda, and so far my feelings are mixed.. On the immigration front, I agree that it is a federal responsibility, so the federal government should pay for this. I also think the criticism over using the term illegal immigration is not warranted; entering Canada at a location other than a port of entry is illegal, so they are illegal immigrants. However, entering the country illegally does not preclude one from making a refugee claim.
With regards to proposed changes to sex education, I think this is a bad move. The world has changed a lot since 1998, so it makes sense that there would be some changes, but the 2015 curriculum should be kept until the new one is ready. Generally, I think hardcore social conservatives like Charles McVety should be kept on the political fringes where they belong, not driving policy.
I support the Conservatives’ decision to withdraw from the cap and trade system, but I don’t support their plan to fight the carbon tax in court. Trying to publicly pressure Trudeau to drop it is fair, but as a government that has promised to respect the taxpayers, spending millions on a court case they will likely lose seems like a waste of money. It would be better to pledge to not implement one, and if the federal government forces it, every dollar will be returned to the taxpayers. If some future federal government scraps the carbon tax, it will go in Ontario as well, as they won’t implement their own provincial one.
As for beer and wine in corner stores, I support it but the regulations need to be ready soon; stores will only be able to start selling once they get a licence, and due to the time needed to redesign stores and prepare staff, I think either Victoria Day or Canada Day of 2019 would be a good start date.
On the Hydro One file, I think the promise to fire the CEO was stupid, as he still received a large severance. Hydro One stocks dropped quite dramatically after Ford’s election, so as an investor in the financial sector, I cannot endorse this because it is blatant populism, not good public policy. All in all, it is early going, and it will probably take six months or so before I can say whether or not I think Ford is doing a good job.
July 18th marks the one year anniversary of our NDP government. I had hoped they would be less ideological and more pragmatic than they were in the ‘90s, but unfortunately the early signs of hope have been offset by more ideological decisions. For instance, small tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy in order to remain competitive and the phasing in of the $15/hour minimum wage have been offset by their stubbornness on the Trans Mountain pipeline. I disagree with the federal government having purchased the pipeline; they should have declared it in the national interest and allowed Kinder Morgan to proceed. Adamant opposition to the pipeline is not the only bad decision the NDP have made recently. It appears that certain decisions seem to have been designed to appease particular groups rather than the province as a whole.
On eliminating MSP premiums, the NDP imposed a payroll tax. This means they will be double dipping in 2019, as MSP premiums end in 2020, but payroll tax comes in in 2019. Public institutions have to pay it, too, which will cost taxpayers more instead of exempting them. I am not opposed to the payroll tax like some, as it rules out raising the PST, but it results in higher income and/or corporate taxes, and I oppose any further increases because they will just make us less competitive. Using increased carbon tax revenue (which should be revenue neutral, not a slush fund) and marijuana revenue would have been better places to look, as the payroll tax would only cover any differences and thus be much lower.
The NDP’s referendum on proportional representation is an absolute joke, because it involves including two systems that have not been tried anywhere in the world. Instead of a referendum, they should create a citizen’s assembly like Ontario did (and BC did under Campbell), allowing them to choose the system. BC can have a referendum in the next election, and if it passes, it will be implemented in the subsequent one. I am opposed to any change to proportional representation, but if the majority of voters choose to do so in a referendum with a clear question and a decent turnout, I would respect the will of the majority.
Another change I do not support is that all construction will now have to be done by workers who belong to certain unions and are hired from a hiring hall; this will drive up the cost of construction and reward the NDP’s union buddies. Construction workers should have the freedom to choose what union they want to represent them, and have the freedom to not be part of a union at all. I am not suggesting right to work laws here, since if the majority of construction workers wish to belong to a union, then all working on the project would be required to pay dues, but they should at least have this freedom to choose.
Another dumb change is regarding the current taxi monopoly controlling ride sharing, when the whole reason for ride sharing is to allow greater competition. If our cabs were like London’s, I might be sympathetic to banning Uber, since London cabbies have to take a two year course, pass a difficult exam, and offer top of notch service, but our cab service is lousy, and the competition is needed for greater consumer choice and convenience.
Trudeau has recently shuffled his cabinet in preparation for next year’s elections. The changes were largely cosmetic and offer nothing significant to write on. His biggest challenges are provincial-federal relations and Canada-US relations. On the former, Trudeau had largely governments with a similar philosophy when he came into power, but that is beginning to change, and with the Quebec election this October, and Alberta’s next May, things are likely to get even more challenging. I think the federal government has the right to pursue the agenda they were elected on, even if I disagree with it, but they should be respectful of the Premiers, recognizing they too were elected to pursue their agenda, and insulting or belittling them for their differences is unhelpful. If one looks through Canadian history, it is quite common for provincial and federal governments to be on different sides on the political spectrum at any given moment, so for Trudeau, this should be a wake up call to the real world of politics; he needs to understand the days of working with Premiers who are philosophically aligned are likely over.
On Canada-US relations, I think Trudeau has largely handled them wisely. Harper’s suggestion that we should take a deal with the US – even if it’s a bad one – is a terrible idea. If we look weak or like pushovers relative to the States, they will just target us elsewhere. I believe we should be open to negotiations on NAFTA, but not at any price. For example, any dismantling of supply management should happen only if the US agrees to greater market access elsewhere, which is unlikely to happen under Trump. Now that Trump appears unreliable, we should put more effort into lobbying Congress to block Trump’s protectionist moves, as the Republican party has traditionally been one of free trade. We should also work with state governors who support our views, many of whom do, including some Republicans, such as John Kasich of Ohio. We are the largest trading partner of 35 out of the 50 states, so we should leverage this. We should also seek to form an alliance with Mexico and the EU to coordinate to hit key swing states and swing congressional districts in terms of which industries we retaliate against.
What we saw at the Helsinki summit was a disgrace, but it was not surprising. It also proves what I’ve always thought: Trump puts Putin and Russia’s interests ahead of his own country’s. His persistent praising of autocrats, be it Putin, Orban of Hungary, Erdogan of Turkey, Duterte of the Philippines, Xinping of China, or Jong Un in North Korea, and ridiculing of liberal democratic allies like Trudeau, Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Macron, and the European Union shows us who Trump really is. He would love to be a dictator if he could, and only the constitution stands in his way – fortunately. The Republican Party is is no longer that of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower, and it is not the party of Reagan, either, as he supported free trade, strong Trans-Atlantic alliances with liberal democracies in Europe, and standing up to dictatorships. Trump’s behaviour on the international stage is an absolute disgrace, and the Republicans who still support him are showing that they put their party ahead of their country. If any Prime Minister in Canada behaved this way towards a foreign adversary, regardless of political party, I would demand a non-confidence vote immediately and their removal as party leader. Unlike some rabid partisans, I always put my country first, and party second, and the behaviour of Trump is not something any Canadian conservative should be endorsing. Trump has intentionally made himself an enemy of Canada and no matter how much one dislikes Trudeau, we should not support someone who cozies up with dictators while attacking our country and its allies. Doug Ford, Brad Wall, and Jason Kenney have it right in that they strongly oppose much of Trudeau’s agenda, but they are standing shoulder to shoulder with him on fighting the illegal and economically irresponsible tariffs Trump has imposed on us.
UK politics/European politics
The British government recently presented a Brexit deal that has angered some of the hardline Brexiters, but I believe it is a balanced and reasonable deal. A hard Brexit cannot be achieved without great economic harm; in recognition that only a slim majority voted to leave, this deal seems to find the right balance. The deal still ends the free mobility of labour after a transition period, and allows UK to negotiate its own trade deals, but also understands without some harmonization in rules and agreement to collect tariffs for goods destined to the EU, it will be very costly to British companies and could even result in a hard border in Northern Ireland, which needs to avoided at all cost. The bad news is this deal has allowed UKIP to jump to 7-8% in the polls, and even though Labour is still at the 41% they got in last year’s election, they are now in the lead thanks to fractures on the right. I believe Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister would be an unmitigated disaster in UK; his policies are economically unsound, unrealistic, and would lead to either a massive deficit or much larger tax hikes than proposed, making the UK unattractive for business. Many of his free programs sound nice, but similar to discussions of the Ontario election, are way too costly, alongside Corbyn’s promise to renationalize several industries. Even if one thinks they should have never been privatized, much like the NDP with respect to Hydro One, trying to buy back privatized industries carries little benefit and huge costs. Of course, if the UK wants to go down this road, that is their choice, but I cannot see it ending well.
Another bit of news in European politics is the new Italian government has promised to kill CETA, which is really quite unfortunate. We need more trade deals and it is disappointing that one government may kill this one. If Trump rips up NAFTA, Canada could be in very bad shape for its lack of free trade deals. As a small, friendly country, I fail to understand why people in the US or Europe are against the idea of greater trade with us; if anything, a trade deal with us would be one of the least controversial. That being said, I think if Italy kills the CETA deal, we should hit them hard with tariffs in retaliation, and perhaps even allow tariff free access unilaterally, for countries that support CETA while hit those who oppose it with punishing tariffs. My hope is that CETA will still get ratified someday. If they can sign a deal with Japan without much opposition, why is there opposition to one with Canada? Yes, some worry it sets a template for a deal with the US, but as long as Trump is president, the US will not be signing one with the EU, who Trump recently called the enemy.
In other European news, the far right Sweden Democrats are now leading in the polls. They are only in the mid 20s, which is not enough to actually form government, but even if they come first, it would constitute a huge blow, and tarnish Sweden’s their reputation as a tolerant, outward- looking liberal democracy. My hope is they fail and do not even come in first in votes.