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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - John Capobianco, Marit Stiles and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

                                                                       



MPs are back to the House of Commons this week after the summer break. Fireworks are a given, but we asked The Salon's analysts what kind of fireworks they'll be.

 

John Capobianco:

Well, the much anticipated fall parliamentary session began this week, and Canadians from coast to coast to coast have been waiting for this moment to end an already short summer. Ok, so maybe not all Canadians have been as eager as Richard, Marit and myself for this to get started... but we are in it and let the election cycle begin. No question this session and anything political in Ottawa will be scrutinized and evaluated for meaning and hints about when an election will take place in 2015.

The Prime Minister and his government have a busy legislative agenda that will focus on foreign policy, including ensuring various trade deals with the European Union, China and South Korea are all locked up before an election call.

We will continue to see the PM playing a diplomatic role on the international scene, as he has been doing with the conflicts in Russia and the Middle East.

There will also be a strong focus on domestic policy, especially the economy and jobs.

As well, there are a few pieces of legislation which were held back from the previous session, including the anti-cyber bullying law and the anti-prostitution law, to name two.

All of this to demonstrate to Canadians the real picture of how the PM and his team have managed Canada's affairs so well and to persuade Canadians that the Conservatives need to continue to manage Canada's affairs.

 

Richard Mahoney:

I agree with John (I know, I know, I really shouldn't say that out loud) - we are in an election cycle.

The fixed election date (the law our Prime Minister passed, but has so far failed to observe) basically guarantees that the cycle starts a year in advance.

Combine that with the constant attack advertising that the Harper Conservatives do between elections, and you have an overheated environment.

Finally, I think we all have noted how both Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair now spend most of their time Justin Trudeau, whom they see as their true opponent - and yes, we are in the silly season.

And that is a shame because it means meaningful work is unlikely to get done. Our national economy is stalled and the Conservative plan to address that seems to amount to little more than buying advertising with public dollars to tell us what a great job they are doing.

The government's announcement this week on EI is a good example. In order to get political credit for being seen to do something about creating jobs, they come out with an announcement that is almost guaranteed to have little impact, at a cost of $225 million. Many economists across the country and the spectrum have pointed this out. The government would have been far better to do what Justin Trudeau advocated this week- give the EI benefit to firms that actually hire new workers.

 

Marit Stiles:

Well, while I join most Canadians in not relishing the thought of a 365-day plus  campaign, I don't totally agree with Richard that this session will be a total loss.

I think Tom Mulcair is doing the right thing for Canadians when he announced last week that the NDP would be releasing solid policy and platform announcements well in advance of the expected "Fall'15" election. That's gutsy and it speaks to the NDP leader's confidence in Canadians to allow for real debate and discussion before we head to the polls.

As a working-mom I was pretty darn THRILLED to say the least that Mulcair and the NDP are making affordable, accessible childcare a major plank in their platform. A truly national child-care program, moving “step-by-step” to the early learning and child-care model based on Quebec’s $7-a-day model - that's the stuff that real, progressive change is made of.  

It stands in stark contrast with Liberal and Conservative unrealized pledges to create childcare spaces... and it's going to be good for families and the economy.

 

John Capobianco:

I would rather suggest that Mulcair releasing his policy platform announcements a year in advance of an election is more to do with getting media attention of any sort first and foremost. The NDP leader has been struggling to make the news - in fact he had to help out in recent by-elections in Toronto to get some press. But nonetheless, it's always positive for Canada and Canadians when we debate policy issues so good for him for taking this bold step.

As for the proposed national day care strategy, I hope he doesn't suffer the same legislative fate that hurt the late Jack Layton when back in 2005. If I recall correctly, he decided to pull the plug on then PM Paul  Martin after he and his Liberals spent many months, even years, coming up with their version of a national day care strategy - only to so see the Liberals defeated. The plan never saw the light of day.

There will be fundamental debate on how best to manage day care from a government's perspective. Many believe that day care should be out of government control and left to parents who know best how to deal with their children's issues. That governments only play in this space should be to support parents through tax credits, and give them the resources to make the best decision for their children.

The issue of day care is important but will it get the necessary traction for Mulcair when the world is facing constant conflicts like the terrorist group ISIS and the conflicts in Russia and the Middle East, in which Canada continues to play a leadership role within the international community.

I am sure the debate will be robust, but whether Mulcair can get some much-needed media traction is yet to be seen.

 

Richard Mahoney:

Marit, as you might imagine, I am in complete agreement that a truly national childcare program that implements an early learning agenda is a worthy idea and one that would help many Canadian families as well as promote early learning.

I was very proud that the Paul Martin Liberal government instituted one that did just that, and then negotiated a national deal with every provincial and territorial government agreeing to the terms and contributing additional funds with an early learning agenda.  

That program was ended by the Harper government with the support of the NDP. It was replaced by a tax credit, which created no spaces and left provincial governments, including those lead by NDP premiers, without a national plan and the funding to create spaces. Many of those Premiers were very critical of that decision at the time, and rightly so - previous versions of the NDP had long advocated for one. So you might forgive and expect some scepticism on your current proposal.

It is fair to say that we needed a national childcare program sooner rather than later. But getting the money and plan in place takes time, and getting the agreement of all the provinces and territories, as Ken Dryden did, is hard work.

I just wish the NDP had stayed true to its principles then - we'd be 9 years into the plan now.

 

Marit Stiles:

Well, of course I'm familiar with this sad refrain from the Liberals and Conservatives: "If only the NDP hadn't ditched our national childcare program."  Right.

Let's be clear and honest about this: the NDP fought for 10 years for a national childcare program and the Liberals threw it in as a last minute, last ditch attempt to save their government. I wish it had been implemented too, but I don't happen to believe the Liberals would have followed through.

In any case, the Liberals and Conservatives can keep talking the talk, but it isn't helping those working families who are looking for affordable, accessible childcare spaces TODAY.

John, Conservatives keep saying "leave it up to families to make these decisions" but most families I know have little choice. Where's the choice if there are not enough childcare spaces out there? If it's completely unaffordable?

Anyhow, there's no question that this will NOT be the central debate of this session. I wish it were so but I have no doubt that Mulcair will be up on his feet, doing the hard work of Opposition Leader in the House of Commons this session. Too bad the Conservative Government decided to send the troops overseas without a true, honest debate in the House.

I'm looking forward to this Session. There are important issues that need to be discussed and debated, and I think already the NDP is driving the agenda, putting the idea of a federal minimum wage on the table, talking about a truly visionary national affordable childcare program. That's the kind of change we need and -- dare I quote Mr. Mulcair? -- "change that is ready". The Liberals will be called to task on their "we'll fill you in later" approach.

And that's all good for Canadians.  

 

 

 

About The Salon's Capobianco, Stiles, Mahoney

Richard Mahoney is a former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; and John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties
Posted date : September 17, 2014

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