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Parliament returns from long break

Sun 5th Feb 2017
By Francesca Iacurto- Associate Consultant, Ottawa
Canadian Press Picture - Jan 27, 2017
The buzz in Ottawa these days can be summed up in one word:  Trump.  Trump.  And more Trump.  The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has definitely caused the federal government to take notice and swing into high gear to devise an appropriate response.

While time will tell exactly what the implications of the Trump presidency are for Canada, some effects are already being felt.  For example, our Prime Minister wasted no time shuffling his Cabinet to be better able to respond to issues south of the border.  Of particular note, Stephane Dion is out as Minister of Foreign Affairs and has been replaced by Chrystia Freeland who also keeps a portion of her former International Trade portfolio dealing with the United States.

However, other issues will be more challenging for Canada to respond to, notably the United States’ recently announced temporary ban on immigration from 7 countries.  This issue presents a significant challenge for this government which will have to balance – or perhaps choose between – a conciliatory response or more confrontational yet principled actions which may jeopardize Canada’s relationship with our southern neighbour.  Although the Trump administration is still very young, it is likely to test Prime Minister’s Trudeau diplomatic skills like never before.

Interestingly, there is a widespread view in Canada is that the Trump presidency will not benefit our country – or at a minimum that Canadians are not enthusiastic about the new leadership south of the border.  Proponents of that view point to a lack of ideological alignment between both leaders (the bromance is over!), as well as significant differences between the two countries on issues such as environment and climate change, trade and taxation that could eventually shortchange Canada.

This negative viewpoint could very well materialize into reality – at least on some issues.  However, it’s worth considering that the Trump presidency may actually benefit Canada in some ways.  For example, one of Trump’s first orders of business was to approve the Keystone XL pipeline (albeit with conditions that remain unknown) which will have positive economic effects for Canada.  Canada could also emerge as a continental destination for foreign trade and investment – particularly from Asia – for companies looking for a toehold on the North American continent in the event of the demise of the TPP and NAFTA.

While the talk of Ottawa has been all about Trump, other issues no less important will soon move to the front burner.  One is the federal budget which is expected in late February.  As usual, the list of groups with funding or other “asks” is long – very long.  This could present a delivery challenge for the federal government that must consider those requests against a backdrop of a sluggish economy, a growing deficit, significant electoral promises , and high expectations.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party continue to remain popular in the polls in spite of issues such as “cash for access” and vacations with the Aga Khan drawing criticisms. That the two main opposition parties – the Conservatives and the NDP – remain without permanent leaders is helping prolong the Liberals’ honeymoon period with the Canadian electorate.

The opposition situation will change in May when the Conservative Party chooses its new leader.  Though that leadership contest has so far been low-key, the recent  addition of Kevin O’Leary as a candidate should result in a more high-profile race over the coming months.  The Conservative party’s long list of candidates – 14 to be exact – marks a stark contrast to the NDP leadership contest which so far does not have any candidates.  While candidates should emerge ahead of the October leadership vote, the Liberals in the meantime continue to benefit from the absence of a powerful  “left” in Canada.

2017 is shaping up to be a busy and interesting year in Ottawa, so let’s fasten our seatbelts!