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THE SALON

The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - Rick Anderson, Anne McGrath and Scott Reid - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.


Rick Anderson:

When it comes to the new Office of Religious Freedom, it is a bit amusing, in an ironic kind of way, to see some of those who most like to boast about Canada's human rights record (abroad), get all chilly when that notion extends to the idea of protection of individual rights regarding religion. What's with that?

 

Scott Reid:

Common sense? Skepticism about the motivations? Downright pessimism that it will affect a single thing ever anywhere? Those would be a few of my replies. People politely tiptoe around this issue. I won't. It's ridiculous. How a government that delights in criticizing process for action and spending for results can support this is a mystery. Except it's not. Sigh. We all know what's really going on. It's pure politics. A brazen play to keep winning votes from communities of faith. Of which all parties are often guilty. But let's not pretend it's otherwise.

 

Anne McGrath:

It is clearly a political move designed to appeal to the conservative base and silence critics, since it is always fraught with danger to criticize something that almost everyone agrees with - religious freedom. But it isn't wise to narrow down to one area when so many democratic principles are in danger. Building tolerance and democracy should be broader than one specific area, and the Conservatives have a particularly poor track record on promotion of rights and democracy internationally after the shut down of the Rights and democracy Centre.

 

Rick Anderson:

As you say, all political parties have their constituencies. But if we aspire to a national consensus - e.g. above party lines - regarding international human rights, wouldn't it be wise to stop applauding only those things closest to our partisan hearts while we deride those less close? Religious expression matters in a great deal of ways, and is as good a ground as others (better than some) to appeal to some of the better angels around the world. It makes a point about oppression to which many can relate.

 

Scott Reid:

I believe that such an ethic is and should be imbedded throughout the conduct of our foreign policy. On pure political terms, however, I'm not sure this thing won't backfire. In the US it has become the Office of Christian Beliefs. And if that occurs here, it will undermine the work of Jason Kenney and others to win Canadians of non-Christian faith to the Conservative voting bloc.

 

Anne McGrath:

Religious freedom should be pursued in tandem with other democratic rights and not in isolation. Making this a centrepiece of our foreign policy narrows our role and restricts us. Don't forget that in addition to the closure of Rights and Democracy, the commitment to build a democratic development institute was also shelved.

 

Rick Anderson:

On another topic, one of these days, we Canadians need to have a thoughtful (opposite of partisan and of self-interested) discussion regarding who/how to fund much-needed local infrastructure. It's easy (well, not entirely) to figure this out for major provincial and national projects, but things which are local beg the question why people in Manitoba should pay for e.g. subways in Toronto. This seems pretty regressive, as well as a good way to lose accountability. On the other hand, municipalities have not been given adequate tax room to fund it more locally. This needs to be sorted out. I am distinguishing user-paid e.g. tolls and/or P-3 models (all good) versus the question of taxpayer funding (also necessary, usually). When it comes to the taxpayers, we should work to avoid inter-governmental buck-passing, in both senses of the word. Too easy to lose track of who's failing to do what needs to be done (see: healthcare.)

 

Scott Reid:

Couldn't agree more. Two things need to happen - one is pretty easy, one is not. The easy part is making use of increasingly sophisticated financing tools and innovative private/public tools. Those models work and are available. The hard part is what Rick just mentioned about local tax room. Creating those long-term, sustainable sources of revenue - and creating a political climate where those who propose new tithes aren't drummed out of office in a flash - is where it gets way hard. But we're literally cutting our noses off to spite our faces. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is talking indirectly about new tolls. We'll see if she can sell it where others have failed.

 

Anne McGrath:

Yes, it strikes me that this is an area that can generate cross party support. There is a strong business case for infrastructure development, and the costs of crumbling infrastructure, particularly in large municipalities, is too high. There was an Opposition Day motion on this issue in the House of Commons Tuesday, and MPs from every region spoke about the effects of crumbling infrastructure and traffic gridlock. It was one of those days where it was worth tuning in to watch our parliamentarians debate.


Rick Anderson:

Innovation is great, and P-3 projects (hardly novel any more) are often a good way to get things done on a businesslike basis. Beyond that though, we still likely have underfunded municipalities when it comes to infrastructure investment, which is why it is often too little and too late.

Nice of Premier Wynne to propose the federal purse as the answer to this (and not the first time a premier has done so), but really people in Toronto should fund Toronto infrastructure. They can afford that as well (better) than the rest of Canada - except we have not provided cities with the tax means to do this.

We should all learn the meaning of subsidiarity:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subsidiarity


Scott Reid:

Uhhh, ok. But then you may want to hop on Team Wynne because my reading isn't that she's been simply pointing the finger at Ottawa. Her Speech from the Throne clearly teased at the notions of tolls - local revenue raising to fund local infrastructure and transit. Here's another idea: how about a huge pan-Canadian, federal-provincial-territorial fund that commits to dumping in the squillions of often-stranded real estate and other hard assets owned by governments and putting them on the block for sale. Then committing to use those funds NOT to offset bottom line operations, but to finance new infrastructure spending. We're going to see governments peddle assets over the next few years in search for dough. Why not do it more thoughtfully and in aid of a bigger bang?    


Anne McGrath:

The fact is that infrastructure spending is also some of the most effective economic stimulus, and if the signs are that we are heading into slow growth and perhaps even recession then it is a win-win. But I don't hold with the idea that the federal government doesn't have a strong role to play here. They're not the only ones but they need to be at the table and they need to have a chequebook in hand. Cities don't have the tools to do this on their own.

You can follow The Salon's strategists on Twitter:

Rick Anderson: @RickAnderson

Anne McGrath: @OttawaAnne

About The Salon.

Rick Anderson is former senior advisor to Reform Party Opposition leader Preston Manning; Anne McGrath was Chief of Staff to the late NDP leader Jack Layton; and Scott Reid was Deputy Chief of Staff for former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, and also worked for former Ontario Premier David Peterson.
Posted date : February 27, 2013

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