NAFTA, the NDP and a new tag line: 3 ways federal politics touched us this week by Heather Scoffield, Ottawa Bureau Chief, The Canadian Press Posted Aug 4, 2017 2:00 pm MDT Last Updated Aug 5, 2017 at 5:40 am MDT AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email OTTAWA – Parliament Hill was absorbed by the scandal that was Anthony Scaramucci this week, with even the most focused of policy-makers wondering how their best-laid plans on NAFTA could possibly deliver, given the constant chaos engulfing the White House.Even with the resignations of three key political figures over the past few days — Newfoundland’s finance minister Cathy Bennett, Ontario environment minister Glen Murray and former B.C. premier Christy Clark — Canadian politics looked placid in comparison.Scaramucci — fired Monday as Donald Trump’s communications director just 10 days after he took the job — was let go by the president’s new chief of staff John Kelly, whose visit to Canada last winter when he was secretary of homeland security was so enthrallingly normal that political insiders in Ottawa took some heart.Beyond the Scaramucci gossip and some outrage over sweltering Air Transat passengers stuck on a plane on a runway for six hours, federal politics brought changes on NAFTA, the NDP and government’s approach to economics.Here are three ways politics mattered this week:NAFTA TogethernessThe Liberals’ strategy on renegotiating NAFTA shifted into high gear this week as the first round of talks on Aug. 16 drew closer.One of Canada’s top negotiators, Kirsten Hillman, has been named deputy ambassador in Washington. New consuls-general have been dispersed across the U.S. to sing the praises of Canadian trade. A multi-partisan advisory council that includes National Chief Perry Bellegarde and former Conservative leader Rona Ambrose has been set up. And the premiers have all committed to showing a united front with Ottawa — as long as they are kept in the loop.Missing in all this togetherness is the broader public, which needs to stay convinced that renegotiating NAFTA is in its best interests. Listening to public opinion could prove tricky at times: Can Canada’s negotiators resist the U.S. push for more competition in the telecommunications sector — which would threaten the market dominance of big Canadian companies — if it means lower fees for Canadians’ devices? Can Canada ignore the U.S. demand for larger volumes of internet purchases to cross the border duty-free at a time when Canadians are embracing online shopping? At what point do Canadian dairy-farm supporters become fans of cheaper milk?For all of Ottawa’s deliberate knitting together of alliances, the U.S. has some natural allies of its own in Canada.Money and the NDPThe race to become the next leader of the federal NDP has become more well-defined now that party members can see clearly how each of the candidates is faring at fundraising.Numbers released this week from Elections Canada show Ontario legislator Jagmeet Singh is well in the lead in terms of money, although he is second place in terms of the number of donors. His support is highly concentrated in his home base of Brampton, Ont., but he has raised more money than his competitors in the biggest provinces — Ontario, B.C. and Quebec.MP and former punk-rocker Charlie Angus comes in second for the amount of money raised since January, and first in the number of donors. Niki Ashton and Guy Caron place third and fourth.If political donations are a measure of party-member engagement and enthusiasm, there are undoubtedly many NDPers taking a closer look at all the party totals for the year so far. The NDP is a very distant third place behind the Conservatives and the Liberals at a time when the left-wing party is struggling with debt.A new tag lineJob creation numbers were up again in July, for the eighth month in a row, and unemployment is now at 6.3 per cent — the lowest since before the global financial crisis of 2009. The report comes after last week’s news that the economy as a whole expanded by a juicy 0.6 per cent in May.As is becoming a habit, federal Liberals quickly associated themselves with the strong numbers, along with a new tag line: “Lots of hard work still to come.”The tag line is more than idle chatter.The Bank of Canada is responding to the strong growth by tightening up the very loose monetary conditions that have fuelled domestic spending for so long. And market economists are asking whether the federal government should be tightening up too, just as major infrastructure funding is starting to flow in a serious way.The tag line suggests that no, they will not rein it in, and that they see a lot more room for fiscal expansionism in the future.
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Reading an agreed statement to the press, Ambassador Samantha Power of the United States, which holds the Council’s rotating presidency this month, said its members again strongly condemned the detention of 45 Fijian peacekeepers “by a Security Council-designated terrorist organization.”The Fijian peacekeepers, serving with the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), monitoring a ceasefire established in 1974 between Israel and Syria, were detained on 28 August, by armed elements of the Syrian opposition in the vicinity of Al Qunaytirah.In a separate incident, 72 Filipino peacekeepers that had been surrounded by armed elements in two different locations in the Golan were later safely relocated.Ms. Power said today that Council members welcomed news that all Filipino peacekeepers are now safe, and they commended the efforts of UNDOF’s Quick Reaction Force.“They reiterated their call for the peacekeepers’ immediate and unconditional release. There can never be any justification for attacks on or the detention of UN peacekeepers,” she said. Further to the statement, she said the Council insisted that UNDOF’s mandate, impartiality, operations, safety, and security must be respected. To that end, Council members demanded “all groups other than UNDOF must abandon all UNDOF positions and the Quneitra crossing point, and return the peacekeepers’ vehicles, weapons, and other equipment.”Council members commended UNDOF’s peacekeepers for their bravery in facing the threats and challenges in their area of operation, Ms. Power said, adding that they called on all parties to cooperate with UNDOF in good faith to enable it to operate freely and to ensure full security of its personnel.“They also called upon countries with influence to strongly convey to those responsible to immediately release the peacekeepers,” she added.The Council’s statement came immediately after a closed-door briefing by Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous concerning the welfare of UNDOF peacekeepers in the Golan. Speaking to reporters, Mr. Ladsous explained that for years, UNDOF’s area of operation had been “relatively quiet,” but as the situation in the region became more dangerous and unpredictable, especially amid the ongoing conflict in Syria, the area had seen the increased presence of armed groups. Those groups were increasingly engaging with Syrian armed forces.“This was the case last week when large numbers of armed groups launched an attack in the area of separation [monitored by UNDOF]. As things stand, we still have 45 peacekeepers from Fiji still being detained,” he said, adding: “It is our goal – and what we demand – to achieve the immediate, safe and unconditional release of these peacekeepers.” The situation made clear that it was very important that UNDOF’s mandate continue, said Mr. Ladsous, noting that the situation is “very challenging” and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is sparing no effort to ensure the safe return of the detained peacekeepers, while also working to improve the mission’s military equipment and medical facilities. He went on to commend the performance of the peacekeepers and especially the UNDOF Force Commander, Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha. Responding to questions regarding the reported tender of resignation of another ranking Filipino UNDOF military official, Mr. Ladsous said it was important to recognize that all the detained Filipino troops had either escaped or been recovered during the operation launched by the Quick Reaction Force.“The situation on the ground is a fluid one and the decision was to launch the Quick Reaction Force to extract the peacekeepers. General Singha exercised good, solid judgement [throughout] the process,” said Mr. Ladsous. To another question on adjustments to UNDOF in the wake of the recent incidents and the spate of similar incidents the peacekeepers faced last year, he said the mission’s mandate was based on the 1974 agreement between Israel and Syria, and that would remain the framework of UNDOF’s operations. “[Yet] no one could have factored in what is currently going on in the area of separation,” he said, so while it would be up to the parties to discuss changes, DPKO has been working to address safety issues, medical care and adjust patterns of monitoring patrol.