The gradually emerging details of the T.P.P. trade deal and the decision of President Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL pipeline presents the new Liberal government with both a challenge and an opportunity to rethink its policy agenda. This will become more urgent if oil prices continue to slump and if Canada’s manufacturing base particularly in heartland Ontario is damaged by low wage auto parts competition from Asia and Latin America.The new Government is interested in creating a more sustainable energy strategy. But to successfully do so the country from an employment point of view requires a more robust and competitive manufacturing centre which may well need greater short term protection from low wage competition from Asia than is on offer in the TPP.Apparently the Americans negotiated thirty years protection whereas our Harper government settled for only five years. There are a number of questions to be answered with respect to ensuring sustainable energy supply and management of our natural resources.Simply refining more of the oil in Canada is an intriguing possibility but this still would mean drawing on carbon heavy oil as the NYT diplomatically puts it. What about China and the proposed pipeline to the west coast? If no pipeline is built what about rail transportation? Already the Lac Megantic tragedy shows us the kind of problems that can arise.
The new Trudeau Liberal Government has got off to a good start with a very interesting mixture of old and new cabinet talent united behind a firm Prime Ministerial commitment to restore respectful debate and service to the Government of Canada and to be a progressive centrist government. All of the choices made by the new prime minister are good ones and introduce a very fresh face to the government . The choice of Bill Morneau as the new Finance minister is a very intriguing one since Mr.Morneau is a very successful Bay street executive with a substantial amount of family wealth and an annual income that makes him one of the richest politicians in the cabinet since Paul Martin. But this business success does not disqualify him from acting as an enlightened reformer of the taxation system should he want to be and an excellent pragmatic Keynesian leaning finance minister committed to investing in the infrastructure of the economy while being at the same time a prudent manager of operating expenditures seeking to balance the infrastructure budget over the medium to long term but the operating budget in the short term. This approach will work well so long as the economic slowdown currently underway does not worsen too much.
His tenure as finance minister and the pressure he will come under to be more fiscally conservative(which he should resist) will bear watching in the months to come. The appointment of Stephane Dion as Canada’s foreign minister should work well and offer important challenges to Dion who is a solid Québec intellectual. Dominic LeBlanc as house leader and chair of six cabinet sub committees is also an important choice. LeBlanc is close to Trudeau and will provide excellent backing to the Prime Minister. John McCallum is a very interesting choice as the new Minister of Immigration tasked with the top priority of admitting 25,000 refugees in the next short period of time. This will be a major challenge which will tax McCallums administrative and political abilities. But given his personal history and long experience in Ottawa I expect he will succeed. Ralph Goodale another veteran of previous Liberal cabinets is Minister of public safety tasked with among other things revising Bill C51 so that there is a better balance in the law between legitimate security concerns and protection of Canadian values and civil liberties. All of the new faces in the cabinet and the veterans are people of substance who begin their jobs with a large amount of goodwill from much of the Canadian electorate. But as the excitement of a new government wanes and the pressure of tough decisions in tough times grows Canadians will be watching to see if promises are kept and the government’s welcome idealism is maintained. The appointment of 15 women alongside 15 men is a progressive step forward. Many of these women face important challenges in their portfolios right from the get go. This is very true of Chrystia Freeland who has to grapple with the T.P.P. and its potential negative consequence for employment and Canadian control of our economy, Jody Wilson Raybould with the key justice dossier and restoring a more balanced policy to criminal justice, and Maryam Monsef the reform of the electoral system, and Carolyn Bennett Indigenous and Northern affairs
The Conservatives have made a very intriguing choice for their interim leader Ms Rona Ambrose is an articulate multilingual right wing experienced former cabinet minister who I think will make a very effective leader. It also positions the party progressively on the issue of women in politics. Only the Liberals at the Federal level have yet to have had a women leading the party something the Conservatives like the New Democrats can now boast about, each having had two.
The NDP for its part still needs to conduct its inquest into what went wrong and think again about its leadership.