The Morning Brief – 04.14.21

By Bruce Carson

NATIONAL ISSUES

It is quite amazing looking back at what took place in the last two weeks.

The variants of concern have become the focus of our health care system and Canada, west of New Brunswick is in a situation worse than at any time since the beginning of COVID-19.

We have had duelling policy conferences on the left of the political spectrum—will this leave the center open for Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives, provided they can produce a middle of the road platform that deals effectively with climate change?

At the beginning of the two week break we were dealing with a Supreme Court of Canada decision holding legislation concerning the federal carbon tax constitutional, within the authority of the federal government; the court using the authority of the Peace, Order and Good Government clause of Section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867 upon which to base its decision.

Discussions concerning that decision began on Thursday, April 1, but did not last much beyond the following weekend. In the case of Ontario and Alberta we still don’t have their final thoughts on how they are going to implement and adjust to the reality of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Virtually all public discourse since then has been overtaken by the third wave of COVID or better said, the wave of “variants of concern.” It’s not like this wasn’t forecast by the models used by the federal and provincial governments, but, perhaps few saw how virulent these variants would be.

They are now attacking those who were seemingly immune in the first and even second wave of COVID-19; those in the 30-50 age range.

The answer from Public Health and governments is always the same; wash your hands, practice social distancing and wear a mask or perhaps two. –vaccines are on the way. Recently in Ontario “stay home” has been added to the list.

This situation has led to statements by various provincial leaders that vaccines are slow to arrive and then the inevitable push back from federal Health Minister Hajdu and the resultant swing back from the provinces.

This is not the time for internecine squabbling; the stakes are too high, the problem too serious. The problems that provinces west of New Brunswick are encountering are too crucial and important for the usual fed-prov-territorial push me, pull you game.

In Ontario, ICUs are now almost fully occupied in major centers and by this weekend, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario will see five ICU beds occupied by adults. The situation has become dire as the variants exceed expectations.

On Monday morning of this week, Anthony Dale, head of the Ontario Hospital Association said that this has become the “battle of a lifetime.” He added that “community spread is out of control” and “the situation is now more serious than it has ever been.”

In addition, in Alberta, with cases rising at an unprecedented rate Premier Kenney was faced with a caucus revolt when about a third of his caucus did not support the measures brought in to stop the spread. So far Kenney has treated this matter as one of free speech, making a virtue out of necessity, but should members of his cabinet join the dissidents, that situation will change.

In that eventuality he will be forced to take action in a tough, straightforward manner. The greater good is at stake in protecting the health of Albertans.

Against this backdrop federal political parties held policy conventions, two last weekends and on March 18-20, the Conservative Party held its policy conference.

So, within the span of three week, three main parties were able to set out which policies they were for and against in preparation for the inevitable federal election to be held either this spring or in the fall.

The Conservative party conference, held virtually, as they all were, is perhaps best known, not because of the leader’s five pint recovery plan, but because delegates voted down a resolution acknowledging the reality of climate change.

This has given all the other federal parties an opportunity to paint the Conservative Party as being out of touch with Canadians on this matter, and with the science as well.

However, O’Toole did outline for delegates his five point Canada Recovery Plan. It includes adding one million jobs to Canada’s workforce within one year, tough accountability and ethics rules, focus on the mental health crisis brought on by COVID, ensure that Canada is never left unprepared for an emergency again, and balance the budget within ten years. This means getting spending under control and targeted stimulus programs.

While the Liberal convention dealt with a number of policy issues, it was divided into three parts each led by Freeland, Carney and then Trudeau.

The first segment saw Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Freeland commit the party once again to some form of early learning and childcare program to be announced in the upcoming budget as part of the “she-recovery.” She spoke of an “epiphany” brought on by COVID which made this absolutely necessary now, as opposed to all the other times.

The second part featured the former head of the Bank of Canada and Bank of England, Mark Carney. It has now been made clear that if the Liberal Party wants Carney as finance minister or leader, he may be available as he now absolutely identifies as a Liberal.

On Thursday he stated “I will do whatever I can to support the Liberal Party in our efforts to build a better future for Canadians.” He also took a shot at the Conservatives saying “Canada was going nowhere fast on climate change before the government (Trudeau) took office.”

The last segment saw the prime minister deliver a speech to close off the convention. As one would expect it was highly partisan, but only focussed on O’Toole, giving NDP leader Singh a pass probably because Trudeau sees the NDP voter as a source of support going forward.

Trudeau said his plan is to build a strong and clean economy with trees planted and net zero emissions by 2050. Building Back Better means taking action on climate change. As for policies, delegates overwhelmingly supported Universal Basic Income, pharmacare and a green new deal.

Commenting on all of this Maclean’s Paul Wells wrote that “I never cease to be amazed by the weightlessness of the Trudeau Liberals.”

NDP leader Singh speaking on Sunday focussed on women and the pandemic and how they had disproportionately suffered. He spoke of support workers, racialized Canadians, young people and seniors who had suffered in the pandemic.

He set out how the NDP had pushed the government to help Canadians more than it wanted to. His focus of attack was that Trudeau is “not in it for you.” The Liberals are all about their friends, the ultra-rich.

On the Conservatives he made it clear that they are no friends of workers, would cancel sick leave and deny pharmacare.

Only the NDP has the courage to stand up to corporations and the ultra-wealthy.

The NDP under Singh finds itself back in familiar territory. The rise to official opposition status in 2011 and possibly government is a thing of the past as the party moves back to trying to hold the government to account while presenting “progressive” ideas only to see the good ones gobbled up by the Liberals and perhaps the Conservatives.

But with the three policy meetings Canadians can see the beginnings of the next election.

Both the Liberals and the NDP will add to the spending that has taken place during the pandemic with the promise of stitching together a comprehensive social safety net for Canadians. One question for Canadians is whether either party will act to fulfil the promises.

For the Conservatives, the five point plan seems more modest and perhaps doable. But first, the Conservative Party must address gaping holes in its program starting with a coherent plan to address climate change in a manner that will appeal to voters in Atlantic Canada, B.C., Ontario and Quebec. The party has to produce a platform that speaks to the needs, hopes and aspirations of Canadians regardless of where they live or what they do or who they love.

To Come


April 19
  • Federal budget to be presented
April 21
  • Bank of Canada deals with interest rates and presents it Monetary Policy Report
April 22-23
  • President Biden convenes an international climate change meeting