OTTAWA – There were more than a few quiet tears shed this week in political Ottawa.
First, Donald Trump’s win shook up politicos across the spectrum, prompting a fundamental rethinking of so many pillars of Canadian politics — our approach to defence policy, our embrace of multilateralism and multiculturalism and championing values like free trade, respect for women and visible minorities.
Viewing parties deflated early on Tuesday night, setting the mood for the next few days during which most conversations dwelled on the election results.
The week ended with a sombre Remembrance Day ceremony in the biting wind that brought together hundreds of veterans, the prime minister and the Governor General.
Beyond the sadness and the scrambling for comprehension, decision makers and politicians took concrete steps — on the trade front, on the Trump front and also on parental leave. Here’s how politics touched us this week:
SILENCE AND TRADE
The official response to the Trump victory, at first, was mainly silence. There were a couple of sentences from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a public appearance in front of teenagers in Ottawa. Ministers, normally ubiquitous, were nowhere to be found. All questions were referred to the Prime Minister’s Office.
But by Wednesday afternoon, there was an unanticipated reaction: Canada’s ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton, set up a conference call. And he said Canada would be willing to open up the North American Free Trade Agreement, if that’s what Trump wanted to do.
The president-elect had promised to renegotiate or rip up the agreement. And much of his support on election day came from those feeling the pain of globalization.
Are we headed for years of negotiations on a trade pact that has been the bedrock of Canada’s business sector for more than two decades? Or was Canada simply reminding Trump that if he wants to start messing with NAFTA, there are two other countries that will have demands?
In the meantime, the federal government took measures to ensure the anti-free-traders in Canada didn’t get too much ammunition. They announced $350 million for dairy farmers who expect to see their incomes hurt by European cheese once the free trade deal with Europe comes into effect.
TRUMP AND TORIES
As Canadian politics reeled with the Trump victory on Wednesday, 12 Conservative leadership candidates gathered in Saskatoon for their first official debate. Kellie Leitch had already staked her claim on the Trump euphoria, with a real-time social media campaign boasting of her proposed screening of immigrants for Canadian values and calling Trump’s election an “exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well.”
But Leitch’s messaging, which dominated the debate, is only the most overt influence of Trump on the Canadian Conservative campaign. Party strategists of all stripes are digging through the voting patterns to see what they can glean.
The Conservatives are already looking at one theme that ran through Trump’s campaign: disdain for the cosy relationships of the establishment. That theme worked well for Stephen Harper. And today’s Conservatives figure it will work for them now, as they attack Trudeau’s lineage and the corporate company he and his team keep.
It was all the rage during last year’s election campaign. The Liberals, followed soon after by the Conservatives, promised to extend parental leave to 18 months, up from the current 12. With both parties competing for mothers’ votes, the proposal seemed like a sure thing.
But now, the Liberals have shopped the idea around a bit, and the feedback is not positive — from business, parents and caregivers alike. Part of the problem is that the money in the pot has not increased. New parents would have to spread 12 months of benefits over 18 months, and the government is being told that only wealthy parents are capable of sustaining that.
Another problem is that the new plan would encourage new parents to spread their leave out in chunks over the course of 18 months — a nightmare for small employers who would not really be able to replace the missing workers because of scheduling.
Do the Liberals redesign, enrich the benefit and make it better? Or let the election promise fall by the wayside?