Rough ride in store in Commons
OTTAWA—Almost exactly one year ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed a well-heeled audience in Davos, Switzerland, where he delivered what amounted to an ambitious throne speech.
Harper’s vision for Canada’s economic restructuring included toppling regulatory hurdles to fast-track major resource projects, revamping government incentives for research and development, pension and immigration reforms, and new trade agreements abroad.
And that’s the danger for a Conservative government that is three months shy of the midpoint of its four-year majority mandate: maintaining focus and momentum amidst another anticipated storm of global economic turbulence.
“The longer-term restructuring—that was what a lot of last year’s budget was about,” Peter Van Loan, the Conservative House leader, said in an interview yesterday.
“We have successfully gone about that,” he noted.
“Then there’s the continual ongoing fine-tuning we have to follow, and also responding to the overall economic environment we’re in.”
The bad news is that a faltering housing sector in most parts of the country, flat commodity prices, continuing European economic woes, and urgent First Nations’ demands for a greater cut of Canada’s resource action make for a spring loaded with pitfalls.
On the upside, a new poll suggests the Conservatives weathered their year of controversial economic restructuring and are in a position to capitalize should those changes begin to pay dividends.
The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey found that respondents virtually are evenly split on their satisfaction level with the government.
The telephone poll of 1,000 respondents suggests 50 percent are somewhat or very satisfied with the Conservatives’ performance while 47 percent are somewhat or very dissatisfied.
“Even though Canadians are almost equally divided in their assessment of the federal government, you are hard-pressed to say they are having a polarizing effect on the country,” Harris-Decima chairman Allan Gregg said in a release.
Given the contentious reforms made last year, including boosting the age for receiving Old Age Security to 67 from 65 starting in 2023 and dramatic cuts to environmental protections and the Navigable Waters Act, the Conservative cup could be considered half full, not half empty.
Complacency, however, is not an option.
The native “Idle No More” movement as to stage another protest march today to Parliament Hill—a visible reminder of Harper’s promise to address long-standing First Nations’ grievances.
The Conservatives’ emphasis on northern resource development should give a new economic urgency to aboriginal treaty resolutions, but seriously tackling the historic quagmire will tax the government’s attention.
A free trade deal with the European Union, one of Harper’s Davos commitments, is said to be imminent.
The devil will be in the details, and if increased costs for prescription drugs are part of the equation—the result of tougher patent protections—expect plenty of noise from cash-strapped provinces.
Partisan fireworks also can be anticipated over the replacement of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
With Kevin Page’s eventful, five-year term about to conclude, the government appears to be in little hurry to appoint a successor.
Finance minister Jim Flaherty told Global TV yesterday that he’d like to see the PBO’s mandate “better defined”—which will be widely interpreted as “curtailed.”