Chairman's Desk

Canada’s political leaders must overcome international and internal strife

Those of us who had hoped for a more placid year ahead are likely to be disappointed.

If anything, Canada’s closest allies are facing even more difficult and uncertain times than had been predicted.

Brexit, which by any measure was a monumental task, has grown more complicated and troublesome in recent weeks. Whilst once it seemed that Theresa May’s Conservatives could safely steer the United Kingdom out of the European Union with the support of a united government, that seems a stretch today.

May faces defections and resignations from her own caucus and cabinet on an almost daily basis. The opposition seems unlikely to provide her government cover, and allies in other parties are dropping like flies. No-deal on Brexit seems increasingly likely, as does an election — one that could see Jeremy Corbyn, the radical and divisive leader of the Labour Party, elected Prime Minister.

Stability in the United Kingdom is as hard to see as a polar bear in a blizzard.

The United States is in little better condition. President Trump has battled the media and critics since the beginning of his presidency. When the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, it signalled a whole new phase in the country’s internecine conflict.

It seems inevitable that Nancy Pelosi will take the speaker’s gavel. Under her leadership, the Democrats will formalize the opposition to Trump in a way that hasn’t been possible for two years. The democrats will wield subpoena power, chair committee investigations and erect roadblocks that will frustrate, if not freeze, Trump’s agenda.

The next two years of U.S. politics will largely be an acrimonious battle between branches of government, hindering their ability to move important government initiatives forward in a meaningful way.

This sustained period of international unrest presents challenges for Canada — particularly now that there is an increasing lack of ideological alignment between our provincial and federal governments.

The Trudeau Liberals have ushered in a number of policies that are cheered by progressives but jeered by conservatives. The challenge, much as in the U.S., is that opposition and partisanship are becoming far more entrenched. Right wing parties have been elected across the country in the last two years, and their leaders have made little secret of their distaste for policies originating from Ottawa.

The relationship, in particular, between Queen’s Park and the federal government has been strained and Doug Ford is joined by a host of premiers who seem to have little interest in idly accepting the policies the federal government is intent on implementing. These differences are real, differences based in policy disagreements fundamental to each government’s outlook.

That said, there are areas of cooperation that governments of all stripes and colours can find. What’s more, it is critical they do so to ensure the continued stability of Canada’s economy.

In that regard, there have been glimmers of hope in the apparent appetite for finding areas for collaboration.

Premiers have begun working proactively with one another to eliminate trade barriers between provinces. These barriers have been invisible anchors on the Canadian economy, stifling access, innovation and competition.

Perhaps just as importantly, an olive branch was extended when Ford indicated that he would be happy to work with the prime minister if the goal was to create jobs. There are other policy opportunities for the premiers and the PM to find alignment in and mutual benefit from — not the least of which is ensuring Alberta’s oil can find its way to market.

The Ontario government mentioned its commitment to helping solve Alberta’s heavy crude problem in its Fall Economic Statement, and the PM this week reiterated that the status quo cannot continue. After all, the Canadian economy is losing an estimated $80 million a day.

The Alberta question is approaching a boiling point. It is against this backdrop of international instability and internal strife that the federal government has requested a first ministers’ meeting next month.

All involved in this meeting would be well served to recognize the opportunity before them. With their eye on the international horizon, Canadians are watching that their governments deliver more than a lump of coal in their stockings.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist. He is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @jaimewatt

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on November 25, 2018.

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