Ottawa gossip gurgles again .. and Gomery advances report deadline (remember that?)

Sep 9th, 2005 | By | Category: Ottawa Scene

UPDATED Monday, September 12, 2005. 11:00 PM. Chinese president Hu Jintao arrived in Ottawa last Thursday, on a trip that also includes visits to Toronto and Vancouver, various parts of Mexico, and the United Nations in New York. The Washington Post noted how the “United States relies on Canada for some 17 percent of its oil and energy and is well aware that China is boosting investments in Canadian oil and natural resources.”

Meanwhile, with Members of Parliament returning soon, Ottawa gossip mills are reviving too. Will the people of Canada be seeing more of the rancorous parliamentary antics that either so marred or enlivened this past spring (depending on your point of view)? At the moment, many are saying don’t count on it.

Stephen Harper’s opposition Conservatives have wound down in the summer heat. But other voices still urge otherwise. As the Hurricane Katrina clean-up lurches forward down south, there is continuing talk about Canadian softwood lumber, the CBC lockout, the Arar inquiry, Ontario and federal-provincial finance, two bills to honour the memory of the late Chuck Cadman, and a federal government financial surplus that is smaller than expected.

Further developments stirred the pot on Monday, September 12. Justice Gomery has moved the deadline for his definitive report on the sponsorship scandal from December 15, 2005 to February 1, 2006. On the official Paul Martin theory this would seem to advance the latest date for the next federal election into the early spring of 2006. (And the unfolding results of one online poll suggest that this just might upset the electorate somewhat.) Jack Layton has also suggested that the New Democrats could be open to further parliamentary co-operation with the Liberals. Stay tuned.  

Go to the far east young man

The Washington Post has in some ways had more interesting things to say about President Hu Jintao’s visit to Canada than the Canadian media. See, e.g, Beth Duff-Brown’s Associated Press report on September 8:

“Washington will closely eye the official visit … What I worry about is that the United States is making it easy for China; that in one way or another the United States is screwing up in its relationship with Canada,’ said Richard C. Bush, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington … And that makes it very easy for Hu Jintao to walk in and say, Hi, I’m from China and we want to be your friend. And by the way, I want to buy your oil and your minerals and let’s not worry about your neighbor next door. We’ve both got problems with them, so let’s talk.'”

Reading that, you might think that Canada’s new ambassador to the US, Frank McKenna, has been doing a good job lately. Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail in Toronto has been stressing human rights and how “Chinese leader remains a mystery.” Barbara Yaffe is complaining in the Vancouver Sun about how “Ottawa can’t shake its fear of Beijing backlash over Taiwan.” And CTV News is worrying that assorted Falun Gong and other human rights protesters – from Canada’s own growing Chinese-descent community – will too awkwardly “shadow” the Chinese president’s official visit.

Forging new ties with South Korea and India too …

Lest anyone think that Paul Martin’s Liberal minority government is too obsessed by the rising Chinese giant in its new Asia Pacific economic development strategy, discussions on a Canada-South Korea trade agreement are also now underway. “Canadian and Korean officials held a positive first round of negotiations in Seoul on July 28, 2005,” laying “the foundation for a second … round … scheduled to take place September 2730, 2005, also in Korea.”

(As these trade discussions resume in Seoul, on Tuesday, September 27, by the way, the new governor general of Canada, Mme Michel Jean, will be officially sworn into office in Ottawa. And the day before, Monday, September 26, is when the various Honourable Members of Parliament will at last return from their holidays, and get back to work – or whatever else they may or may not choose to do.)

Meanwhile yet again, just a few days ago now: “The Honourable Stphane Dion, Canada’s Environment Minister, concluded meetings with Indian Ministers and experts, announcing that Canada and India have agreed to further their environmental cooperation … Minister Dion visited India from September 4 to 6, consulting parties on Canada’s preparations for the November United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Montreal.”

Softwood lumber, future of the CBC, and the Arar inquiry …

Presumably, one thing all this global diplomacy is meant to do is portray Paul Martin’s Liberal minority government as a sober body of international statesmen, busy with the business of the nation. But however tranquillized the opposition may appear at the moment, it seems unlikely that Stephen Harper, Gilles Duceppe, and Jack Layton are going to want to let this impression linger – once they arrive back in town on Monday, September 26.

Already, pushing to recover from “a somewhat rocky summer” (punctuated by recent Tory party staff departures), Stephen Harper has been trying to put forward a constructive fresh proposal for a special trade envoy, to manage fresh softwood lumber talks with the United States. And his caucus colleague, Ontario Conservative MP Bev Oda, has called for a debate on the future of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation when Parliament resumes.

(Ms. Oda’s call flows from the current rather puzzling CBC lockout and labour dispute in Canada outside Quebec. A September 8 GlobeandMail.Com online poll, which showed only 41% of more than 48,000 respondents answering Yes to the question “Does Canada need the CBC?,” probably ought to be giving someone somewhere pause for thought on all this too.)

Meanwhile again, the New Democrats have called for a broadening of the Arar inquiry into Canadian official misdeeds and bureaucratic injustices, in the ongoing struggle over just which Canadian citizens may or may not be certifiable terrorists, regrettably liable to torture in foreign countries. Prime Minister Martin has doubted the wisdom of such a move. But both the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois have apparently been vaguely receptive.

Federal-Provincial finance, Chuck Cadman’s bills, and an unusual small federal surplus …

An editorial in the Ottawa Citizen has also urged that Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty is wrong to blame the federal government for his province’s financial woes. But Globe and Mail Ottawa pundit John Ibbitson suggests that Ontario residents who do empathize with their premier’s complaints about current Canadian federal-provincial finance could conceivably give Stephen Harper’s Conservatives some kind of unexpected strategic boost.

There is recent evidence as well that honour still does exist among thieves – or, less cynically, that the federal Liberal Party of Canada does sometimes remember just which side of the bread its butter is on. Mylne Dupr, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, has said that the Martin government “expects to act this fall on legislation aimed at toughening up how the legal system deals with street racing and auto theft, both pet projects of late BC MP Chuck Cadman” (whose crucial vote kept the Liberals in office this past June) .

Finally: “Finance Minister Ralph Goodale is poised to announce an unusual small federal surplus – bad news in normal times, but curiously good news for the beleaguered minority Liberal government … Sources say Ottawa’s surplus for the past fiscal year will total only about $2.6 billion – a bit below the $3 billion that was expected for 2004-05.”

So far there does not seem to be any altogether reckless driving issue – like last spring’s Gomery inquiry into the Quebec sponsorship scandal – that could seriously re-ignite the fires of an especially rancorous minority Parliament. (Except for the Gomery inquiry itself, now scheduled to release its definitive report on February 1.  

But it is very early days yet. It still looks foolish enough to bet a lot of money on any glacially calm and sedate fall and winter of 20052006.

(And those who secretly suspect that Justice Gomery has all along been a Liberal patsy may already find his decision to advance the date of his definitive report somewhat provocative – especially if large enough chunks of the electorate seem to agree.) 

Leave Comment