Federal financial picture eroding, as government announces new capital spending, infrastructure bank

Jason Fekete, Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA – The federal government’s fiscal position has deteriorated by billions of dollars since the budget, at the same time it’s ratcheting up capital spending and creating a new Canada Infrastructure Bank to dramatically overhaul how large projects are planned, funded and delivered across the country.
As the federal financial picture continues to erode – and spending increases – the Liberal government said Tuesday in its fall economic update it has no timetable for balancing the budget and acknowledges it doesn’t know when the gusher of red ink will end.
The new Canada Infrastructure Bank is one of the federal government’s centerpiece items announced in an economic update that – once again – downgrades projected growth and forecasts that a worsening financial situation will soon gobble up all of the billions of dollars in fiscal contingency that was included in the spring budget.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau also announced in the economic update the government is committing $81 billion in new infrastructure spending over the next 11 years on public transit, green projects, and social infrastructure. However, most of the funding is earmarked for several years down the road, beyond the government’s current four-year mandate.
“Today is about the long term,” Morneau told reporters prior to delivering the economic update in the House of Commons.
“We know that the economic situation that we’re in is challenging.”
The Liberal government projects its budgetary balance will be $1.7 billion worse in the current 2016-17 fiscal year than it forecast in the budget, when factoring in economic developments, new spending and announcements.
Add it up, and the government’s fiscal position is $31.8 billion worse over the next five years than it forecast in the March budget, completely devouring within two years the $6 billion in annual contingency that was built into the forecast to absorb unexpected economic shocks.
Between 2016-17 and 2021-22, the government is expecting to run approximately $130 billion worth of combined deficits.
The government now projects the deficit will hit $25.1 billion in 2016-17, but it will only hit that target after using all of the $6 billion contingency that had been included in the budget. The budgetary shortfall is expected to increase to $27.8 billion in 2017-18 after using the $6 billion contingency next year.
By 2021-2022, the government believes the deficit could still be nearly $15 billion, and there’s no timeline or apparent plan for getting finances back into balance.
“We lost the contingency… Now it’s gone, we spent it. And we have this $130 billion of additional debt,” said former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, now the head of the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa.
“Hopefully in the budget we’ll see a stronger fiscal planning framework, more fiscal rules, more deficit targets, maybe spending rule targets.”
The government, at this point, is no longer planning a contingency for future years amid a fragile economy. It is instead using the $6 billion that was allocated as contingency each year to lower its deficit projections in future years.
Starting in the upcoming 2017-18 fiscal year, the Liberals will start rolling out the next phase of its infrastructure funding, promising $81 billion more over 11 years.
The funding will include: $25.3 billion for public transit projects such as subways and light rail; $21.9 billion for green infrastructure like interprovincial transmission lines, renewable power projects, and water treatment facilities; and $21.9 billion for social infrastructure such as affordable housing, early learning and childcare, and cultural and recreational infrastructure.
As well, $10.1 billion will be allocated to a trade and transportation fund for more efficient corridors to international markets, and $2 billion for rural and remote communities for projects like building roads and expanding Internet connectivity.
“We’re talking about big, bold, historic investments in infrastructure,” Morneau said.
The Liberals will table legislation in 2017 to create the Canada Infrastructure Bank, a Crown Corporation the government says will provide “innovative funding and financing” to help get more infrastructure projects built in Canada, in partnership with municipal, provincial and Indigenous partners.
The infrastructure bank will target large institutional investors to help finance “transformational” projects in Canada and get them built more quickly and at less of a financial risk to taxpayers. The government hopes to leverage potentially $4 or $5 of private sector investment for every $1 in federal, provincial and municipal funding for a project.
For example, a major $500-million infrastructure project that would traditionally be equally funded between three levels of government could instead see municipal, provincial and federal governments contribute $100 million combined, while private investors would cover the other $400 million.
The infrastructure bank will invest at least $35 billion from the federal government into large projects that boost economic growth, through loans, loan guarantees and equity investments.
Roughly $15 billion of the federal funds will come from funding already announced for transit, green projects and social infrastructure, with another $20 billion available for investments that result in the bank holding assets, either in equity or debt.
“The Canada Infrastructure Bank, governments and investors will work together to identify a pipeline of potential projects and identify investment opportunities that provide the biggest economic, social and environmental returns,” says the economic update.
Other initiatives announced in the economic update include:
The government will create a new Global Skills Strategy that seeks to implement a two-week standard for processing visas and work permits for low-risk, high-skill talent for companies doing business in Canada;
The Liberals are planning to spend $218 million over five years to create an Invest in Canada Hub, which it calls a “high impact sales force” to promote the country globally and convince companies to invest in Canada;
Introduce new legislation to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer an independent officer of Parliament, giving it more autonomy and greater access to information held by government departments and Crown corporations. The PBO’s new mandate will also include costing of political party platform proposals; and
New legislation for Statistics Canada to give the Chief Statistician of Canada greater powers over the production and release of official statistics, and appoint the chief statistician to fixed five-year terms based on merit. The National Statistics Council will also be replaced with a newly created Canadian Statistics Advisory Council to improve independence, relevance and transparency for national statistics.
The Liberals are also promising to open up the doors to the ultra-secretive Board of Internal Economy, the multi-party committee that makes spending and administrative decisions for the House of Commons and members of Parliament.

Sabi Marwah and Howard Wetston make list of Senate appointments

BY Barbara Shecter

Two Bay Street stalwarts are on the list of new Senate appointment recommendations Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled Monday: Howard Wetston, former chair of the Ontario Securities Commission, and Sabi Marwah, who was a longtime senior executive of Bank of Nova Scotia.

Wetston, a former Federal Court of Canada trial judge and one-time chief executive of the Ontario Energy Board, retired last November from the OSC, where he had served as chair and CEO since 2010. In April, he joined Toronto-based law firm Goodmans LLP as counsel.

As head of the OSC, Canada’s largest capital markets regulator, Wetston beefed up enforcement by launching the Joint Serious Offences Team, a partnership between the OSC, the RCMP Financial Crime program and the Ontario Provincial Police Anti-Rackets Branch. He also put the wheels in motion for the creation of a paid whistleblower program, and a disclosure regime intended to promote more women on corporate boards and in senior management.

Dale Lastman, chair of Goodmans LLP, said he doesn’t yet know whether Wetston will be able to continue working with the law firm.

“If he can stay, we’ll be delighted to have him, and if he can’t stay, then we’ll be sad from one perspective but he’ll be helping our country from another,” Lastman said in an interview.

He said the former regulator has primarily been providing internal advice and mentoring at the firm.

“If smart and classy and nice and decent and caring and being passionate are qualities that would make a good senator, then Mr. Wetston will make a good senator, as would Mr. Marwah, who I also know,” Lastman said.

Marwah, who joined Bank of Nova Scotia as a financial analyst and climbed the ranks to the positions of vice-chairman and chief operating officer, retired in 2014 after 35 years at what is now Canada’s third-largest bank. The influential former bank executive has also served as a director on the boards of Torstar Corp., Cineplex Inc., George Weston Ltd., and Telus Corp.

Marwah’s official biography posted online by the Prime Minister’s office notes that he is from India, and that he has worked extensively over the past 15 years “to showcase the rich diversity of Sikh and South Asian art and culture.”

Warren Jestin, who was chief economist at Bank of Nova Scotia until his retirement in February, said Marwah’s range of experience in the business, health, and education sectors, including sitting on the boards  of the Hospital for Sick Children and Ryerson Futures at Ryerson University, make him an obvious choice for the Senate.

“You think of him as a guy who ran the day-to-day operations of Scotiabank, be his interests and skills are far wider than that,” Jestin said in an interview.

Marwah and Wetston were recommended for Senate appointments alongside, Lucie Moncion, chief executive of the Alliance des caisses populaires de l’Ontario, Gwen Boniface, the first female commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, University of Toronto School of Public Policy professor Tony Dean, and Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

Trudeau’s six recommendations to the Governor General were chosen using a new merit-based process, which is intended to ensure that the Senate is “independent, reflective of Canada’s diversity, and best able to tackle the broad range of challenges and opportunities facing the country.”

For the first time, the process was opened to Canadians to apply, which generated more than 2,700 applications. The submissions were reviewed by an independent advisory board for Senate appointments, which then provided “non-binding” recommendations to Trudeau.

Trudeau defends Iraq mission secrecy, accuses Tories of endangering lives

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government’s clampdown on information about Canada’s mission in Iraq is necessary to protect Canadian soldiers on the ground.

But interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose says the government is trying to hide the fact the troops are engaged in combat with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The heated exchange in the House of Commons came after military officers revealed recently that Canadian soldiers are spending more time on the front lines and engaging in more firefights with ISIL.

But neither the officers nor the government would provide specific details.

Speaking in question period, Ambrose said the military held more briefings and provided more information about Canada’s role in the fight against ISIL under the previous government.

She also said Canadians shouldn’t have to learn about the mission from Twitter.

But Trudeau accused the Conservatives of putting Canadian soldiers in harm’s way with their openness while they were in power.

He said that unlike the previous government, the Liberals would not endanger soldiers for a communications exercise.

The Canadian Press

Cost of passengers’ food and drinks on Trudeau flights to Philippines, Turkey — $1,300 per person

OTTAWA — Passengers who accompanied Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his first two international trips were apparently well fed.

The government has revealed, in response to a written question by the Conservatives, that the cost of food and beverages supplied aboard a government Airbus used for the trips amounted to just over $1,300 per person.

Conservative MP Blaine Calkins calls the price tag “outrageous.”

But a spokesman for National Defence, which is responsible for the government’s fleet of air craft, says the total includes the actual cost of catering and delivering multiple meals on each round trip, as well as related costs such as disposable cutlery, napkins, dish washing, airport administrative fees and security charges and local taxes.

Daniel Lebouthillier said the defence department “tries to keep costs to a minimum” when choosing items from a catering company’s menu. But the department’s options are “sometimes quite limited” when dealing with caterers at overseas airports.

Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian PressPrime Minister Justin Trudeau departs after attending the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey on Monday, November 16, 2015., en route to the APEC Summit in the Philippines. The government has revealed, in response to a written question by the Conservatives, that the cost of food and beverages supplied aboard a government Airbus used for the trips amounted to just over $1,300 per person.

The total also includes the cost of feeding and watering journalists who covered the trip, which would have been wholly or partially recovered since media outlets pay hefty fees for a seat on the prime minister’s plane.

Given the number of legs in each of the lengthy trips and the number of meals served, the Prime Minister’s Office said the cost actually works out to $54 per person for each meal — which compares favourably to the $41.70 per person the previous Conservative government acknowledged spending in 2009 on meals during trips on Challenger jets, smaller air craft which are used only for short-haul flights within Canada and occasionally the United States.

Calkins was not mollified by the explanation.

More than $1,000 for food and beverages per passenger per trip “is more than the average Canadian earns in two weeks,” he said.

“Again, I’m just not sure anybody’s minding the store when it comes to remembering that it’s taxpayers who are on the hook for all these things.”

Calkins said the meal tab is part of a “pattern” of excessive spending by the Trudeau government, which has been plagued for weeks by the disclosure of generous expenses claimed by political staffers, including the prime minister’s top two aides, for relocating to Ottawa and by ministers for limousine and photographers’ services.

Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian PressTrudeau arrives in Manila, Philippines on Tuesday, November 17, 2015, to attend the APEC Summit. The Prime Minister’s Office said the cost actually works out to $54 per person for each meal — which compares favourably to the $41.70 per person the previous Conservative government acknowledged spending in 2009 on meals during trips on Challenger jets.

Some of those expenses, including a portion of the Trudeau aides’ moving expenses, have been reimbursed.

The latest disclosure shows that $72,040 was spent on food and beverages for 55 passengers — including almost two dozen journalists — aboard the prime ministerial plane during a trip to Turkey and the Philippines last November for a G20 summit and an APEC leaders’ summit.

Another $81,383 was spent on food and drink for 62 passengers — including more than a dozen journalists — aboard the prime minister’s plane for a trip later the same month to London, where Trudeau met the Queen, Malta, where he attended a Commonwealth summit, and Paris, where he participated in a United Nations climate change conference.

For security reasons, the prime minister is required to fly only on a government plane, even for purely personal trips.

By Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Surrey man accused of running ‘terror camp’ near Mission

A Surrey man is accused of running a “terror camp” near Mission that’s plotting attacks in the Punjab, according to an India news report.

By CHERYL CHAN

An article published Monday in the Times of India cited a report by Punjab intelligence identifying Hardeep Nijjar as the “operational head of (the) Khalistan Terror Force (KTF).” 

According to the report, Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, has lived in Surrey since 1995. 

He is wanted in India in connection with a blast at a cinema in Ludhiana in the Punjab province, where six people died in 2007. 

The report alleges Nijjar has been training at least four Sikh youths on how to use AK-47s for the purpose of carrying out attacks in India. 

The training took place “in a (rifle) range near Mission where they were made to fire for four hours daily,” said the report. 

One of the trainees, Mandeep Singh, was arrested two weeks ago, said the Times. Singh arrived in India in January from Canada and is accused of being involved in a terrorist plot. 

The report claims Singh was on a reconnaissance mission and that Nijjar was to arrange weapons from Pakistan.

The Times said India intelligence agencies have alerted Canadian authorities to the alleged camp, and have already submitted an application seeking Nijjar’s extradition.

Global Affairs Canada wasn’t available for comment late Sunday.

This isn’t the first time India authorities have requested Canada track Nijjar. In 2015, India police requested RCMP track his whereabouts after he was suspected of a plot to transport ammunition by paraglider over the Pakistan-India border. 

That plan was foiled after the arrest of Jagtar Tara, described as the former chief of the KTF.

Full Pundit: Canada re-embraces the Liberals.

Chris Selley

National Post

This will be interesting.
What happens next?
“Stephen Harper simply wore out his welcome,” Sun Media’s David Akin observes. “And MPs from his Conservative Party and from Thomas Mulcair’s NDP paid with their jobs.” Canadians wanted change; it seems they wanted it in even greater numbers than they did in 2006; Justin Trudeau was the “change agent” they chose. Sorry, Mr. Mulcair. Congratulations, Mr. Trudeau.
There are many ways in which Justin is not like Pierre Elliott. For one thing, Graeme Hamilton observes in the National Post, Pierre was “parachuted into one of Canada’s safest Liberal ridings when he entered politics in 1965,” whereas Justin slogged it out in Papineau. Whereas Pierre “famously proved his mettle when he refused to leave the reviewing stand at the St-Jean-Baptiste parade in Montreal as protesters hurled rocks and bottles,” Justin proved it “in batting aside the relentless negative messaging thrown at him” ever since he arrived on the scene. You have to give the man his due.
Oh, and extra points to Hamilton for not mentioning that stupid bloody boxing match, which obviously did not matter. Let us never speak of it again.
Alain Dubuc, writing in La Presse, cautions against selling Trudeau short. He did more than just exceed low expectations and tug at our hope-strings. “He scored points off seasoned opponents,” says Dubuc. And he displayed an “ability to occupy the centre,” where most Canadians want their prime ministers to be.
Now that he’s set to become prime minister, mind you, he’s got some agenda to fulfil from the centre. The Liberal platform was pretty ambitious; one wonders if its authors really thought he’d be in a position to implement all of it.
“The smile that spread across the lips of the Canadian elites during the last week of this election, when Harper was reduced to posing with Rob Ford and his brother , … was almost wolfish,” Neil Macdonald writes in a good piece at CBC. And the elites will no doubt have been chuffed with Trudeau’s very Obama-lite speech. But the fact is, as Macdonald says, “Trudeau now bears the weight of impossible expectations that he himself largely created.” And “it didn’t take long for Obama to hit a bog of reality once his public rapture wore off six years ago.”
The world is going to come at Justin Trudeau pretty fast now. This will be interesting
The Globe and Mail’s Campbell Clark observes there’s a G20 summit coming up in three weeks; he imagines Trudeau’s “plan to withdraw from the air strikes against Islamic State… will be of interest” there. (Indeed. While a few Canadian jets doesn’t make much of a difference either way, it’s a bit of a clunker as one of his first acts in office. Trudeau has never explained why the mission is sound, but not Canada’s role in it.)
Then there’s the climate change summit in December, after which Trudeau is committed to “hammering out a federal-provincial (emissions) deal within 90 days.” Back at home, says Clark, Trudeau is going to have to put together a cabinet and figure out how to conduct himself in such a way that honours his hopey-changey promises of politics-done-differently while also of necessity “imposing (his) authority.”
The Financial Post’s Terence Corcoran suspects Trudeau’s headline economic promises will soon fade into the background once he starts dealing “with the real drivers of the Canadian economy — the price of oil, persistent global economic uncertainty, Middle East conflicts, the international refugee crises, trade agreements, international and local debt, along with the great global monetary policy muddle and the future of interest rates in the United States.”
Climate is first on the agenda at next month’s Paris summit, and Corcoran doesn’t like the tight timeline. “There is therefore some risk of stumbling into an international carbon control regime that will damage the Canadian economy,” he argues. If so, hopefully it’ll be another regime the Liberals can just ignore.
Adam Dodek, writing in the Globe, explores Trudeau’s very ambitious democratic reform agenda: decentralizing power to his cabinet and letting members actually talk about their files to the media; liberating backbench MPs to be themselves and speak their minds; “reinvigorating” the public service and enforcing transparency upon it; and following through on some kind of non-constitutional Senate reform. It’s not just a matter of reverting to pre-Harper days, as Dodek says. “In many cases — like the concentration of power in the PMO — Mr. Harper did not create the problem, but continued and exacerbated it,” he reminds us.
In that regard, at Policy Options, Dan Gardner offers some sage policymaking advice to the Liberals: resist the urge to undo things or do the opposite of things just because Stephen Harper did those things; and recognize that Canada was not perfect before Harper came along. The status quo ante isn’t the goal; improvement is. (The obvious exception is home mail delivery, which achieved perfection late in 2003.) Criminal sentencing is a perfect example, as Gardner says. They could “simply go down the list of newly passed mandatory minimums and repeal them one by one” — but the Criminal Code has been “a mess” for decades. So address the mess!
Dodek doesn’t even mention electoral reform, incidentally, and on Tuesday Trudeau reiterated his commitment that Monday’s would be our last first-past-the-post election.Bernard Descôteaux, writing in Le Devoir, suspects the New Democrats will firmly be reminding him of that commitment as time goes on. We’d frankly be astonished if Trudeau made good on that promise, but depending on what they come up with we’re prepared to be pleasantly astonished.
Trudeau’s agenda is not an incrementalist one like Harper’s, the Post’s Michael Den Tandt observes. And a wide-open governance style would be at odds with his “disciplined and gaffe-free” campaign. “With glasnost, and the broad loosening of the PM’s grip on cabinet and caucus that would accompany it, will come opportunities for mistakes,” as Den Tandt says. “It remains to be seen to what extent Trudeau and his advisors will tolerate the risk of relaxing central control.”
Oh, dear. Richard Martineau is unimpressed. “So the new prime minister will be a former drama teacher who wouldn’t even be qualified to run a small-to-medium-sized enterprise,” he writes in Le Journal de Montréal. His misery-guts colleague Mathieu Bock-Côté is even less impressed, lamenting that Quebecers have returned in such numbers to a party and a family name with such a “morbid aversion to Quebec and hostility in principle to any constitutional recognition of its identity.”
“The Québécois people clearly have no political memory,” Bock-Côté concludes. It makes him question their survival instinct. But then, a rainy summer morning or a sub-par meal makes him question Quebecers’ survival instinct.
Given the history, you would have expected the Liberal surge to have driven some votes to the Bloc Québécois, Michel David observes in Le Devoir: if the NDP were on the way out, better for sovereigntists to park their vote somewhere safe and warm. Nope. David therefore asks: “Must we conclude that Quebecers are now ready to accept Canadian federalism, to wipe clean the slate on repatriating the constitution, the Clarity Act and the sponsorship scandal?”
Yup! We’ll never hear about those things again.
In La Presse’s editorial, Pascale Breton notes that Quebec in general and Montreal specifically now have far more clout in Ottawa than they have had in years. (Get readyfor your new toll-free Champlain Bridge, Montrealers!)
But the Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson wonders who will now speak for mostly blue-and-orange Alberta. “Is it the province’s Conservative MPs? … Is it the four Liberal MLAs? … Is it Premier Rachel Notley, who proudly and loudly backed the wrong horse?” Thomson sees some common ground between Notley and Trudeau on oil patch matters; it’s certainly better news for her than another Conservative government in Ottawa. But her counterproductive intervention still stands as “her first real stumble,” in Thomson’s view.
What happened
It’s a myth that governments usually defeat themselves, argues Postmedia’s Andrew Coyne. But Stephen Harper’s Conservatives? Yeah, they defeated themselves — with a “dull, purposeless” campaign amounting to little more than “a series of morosely staged photo ops featuring Stephen Harper with nothing really to announce.” Mind you, Coyne says, they were so unpopular beforehand — again largely thanks to their own actions — that only a minority was likely in play anyway, and “only if the opposition vote remained almost perfectly evenly divided.”
Tom Flanagan, writing in the Globe, argues the Conservative campaign was far too short on positive elements that hadn’t already been announced, such as the Child Care Allowance, income splitting and tax-free savings accounts — which the Liberals were easily able to counter with their own giant novelty cheques.
“At its best, the Conservative campaign was lacklustre. Where was the bold plan for the future? The new initiatives?” John Ibbitson asks in the Globe. “At its worst, the campaign was debased. The niqab debate. The Ford brothers.” Oh right. That actually happened.
The Tory base came out, Andrew MacDougall notes in the Ottawa Citizen. No problem there. “The problem for Harper is that was it,” he says. “As a result, the Liberals grew from 34 seats to form a majority government. It might have been Iggy who told Liberals to ‘rise up’ but it was Trudeau who produced the electoral Viagra that has put the Liberals back in pole position.”
OK, that was totally unnecessary.
Harper “could not articulate a single bold thing he wanted to do if given one last term in power,” the Globe’s Adam Radwanski observes. And while “the Tories were less guilty than the New Democrats of underestimating Mr. Trudeau,” he argues “they overestimated … the ability of Mr. Harper to win over swing voters in the absence of much resembling a forward-looking agenda.” Instead they spent all their times “attacking the alternatives.”
Jason Kenney delivered a quote for the ages in Calgary last night, as related by Susan Delacourt at iPolitics: “I think where we went wrong was on tone.” We think he’s dead right, and he can tell it to the mirror. At immigration he did any number of unpopular things the Liberals did as well, and created about 10,000 times the controversy they did, for the simple reason that he seemed to revel in doing them.
The Toronto Star’s Tim Harper suggests Kenney’s leadership prospects may have been seriously damaged Monday, so “inextricably tied” is he to “this night of infamy.” Indeed. No disrespect intended to the guy, but he is simply of the wrong temperament to be the next leader of this party.
Delacourt hopes the “consumers who went to the ballot box looking for discounts on their taxes in the past few elections may have remembered that they were citizens as well as ‘taxpayers’ in this one.” A nice idea, but there was no shortage of basic economic pitches in the Liberal campaign, was there?
The Calgary Herald’s Don Braid provides a little perspective: as thumpings go, this is hardly “catastrophic” for the Tories. “With victories in 99 ridings, they remain a significant political force that could easily revive with a popular new leader, one with some gift for human contact that Harper could never muster in public,” he writes. Kenney has that gift, no question. After Monday’s defeat he “almost immediately said the party needs a ‘sunnier’ and more optimistic conservatism,” Braid observes. But fairly or not, he’s also seen as a cartoon villain.
“Harper will wear this defeat for all time,” Chantal Hébert writes in the Star — and not just the defeat, but the epic Liberal comeback in reasonably good economic times. ”Whether the Conservatives can agree on a successor without tearing the party apart is not a given.”
Ibbitson, however, argues the stains will eventually wash out, leaving “much that Stephen Harper can be proud of”: uniting the conservative movement, bringing “the West into the heart of the federal government,” trade agreements, not screwing up the financial crisis, “a decade of peace … between Ottawa and the provinces,” putting more money back in our pockets and just generally making “the federal government mean less in our lives, which was what this most conservative of prime ministers wanted more than anything else.”
Uh huh. And then we all went out and elected Captain National Strategy, the first guy in yonks to campaign on running deficits. Ouch.
Oh, and just by the by, the Star’s Heather Mallick regales us with tales of her hard work against the Harper government, and of how ever so much she has suffered for her art.

Relaxed pot laws would hurt Canadians’ health, Stephen Harper says

OTTAWA—Conservative Leader Stephen Harper says his party still remains staunchly opposed to relaxing marijuana laws, despite federal polling indicating a majority of Canadians would support the move.

Speaking at an election campaign event in Markham on Tuesday, Harper said both his party and a majority of Canadians oppose the “full legalization” of marijuana.

“When you go down that route, marijuana becomes more readily available to children, more people become addicted to it and the health outcomes become worse,” Harper told reporters.

While most Canadians don’t support “full legalization,” an overwhelming majority do support the loosening of marijuana laws, according to the federal government’s own polling. In fact, only a small minority of Canadians support the Conservatives’ pot policy.

Of 3,000 Canadians polled last year, a full 70.7 per cent said the government should either legalize marijuana (37.3 per cent) or decriminalize the possession of a small amount of pot (33.4 per cent).

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has spelled out why he opposes making  marijuana legal.

 Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has spelled out why he opposes making marijuana legal.

Only 13.7 per cent said they support the status quo — essentially what the Conservatives are proposing — while 12 per cent said they believe Ottawa should impose harsher penalties.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has spelled out why he opposes making marijuana legal.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has spelled out why he opposes making marijuana legal.

The poll was conducted in early 2014 by Ipsos-Reid for the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic wing that supports the prime minister. In a series of focus groups, the pollsters found Canadians’ current understanding of marijuana laws is somewhat hazy.

“There was a great deal of confusion about whether the possession of small amounts of marijuana is a crime, a ticketable offence or completely legal,” the report stated.

“Participants often used the two terms ‘legalization’ and ‘decriminalization’ interchangeably and did not demonstrate a clear understanding of the distinction between the two.”

But the Conservatives clearly believe pot is a political winner for them. Harper, as well as former health minister Rona Ambrose, rarely miss an opportunity to point out that the Liberals under Justin Trudeau support legalization.

In the year leading up to the election, the Conservative government spent more than $5 million in public money on advertisements warning about the negative health effects of smoking marijuana.

On Tuesday, Harper claimed that Trudeau’s position would necessarily mean marijuana would be sold in stores like alcohol or tobacco.

“It is a dangerously misguided idea that would only serve to make drugs more accessible to our children,” he said. “Unlike the other parties, we will not introduce misguided and reckless policies that would downplay, condone or normalize the use of illegal drugs.”

Harper said a re-elected Conservative government would boost resources to enforce existing drug laws. The proposal would include a new telephone helpline to assist parents with concerns about their children’s drug use, a renewed 10-year mandate for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, together with a new focus to examine links between substance abuse and mental health.

Harper also promised more funding for the RCMP teams that target the production of illegal drugs.

The Conservatives

The party has long championed an enforcement-focused strategy to curb drug use. That includes opposing safe injection sites and refusing to relax marijuana laws.

Stephen Harper says if his party is re-elected, they would increase enforcement funding to the RCMP, create a telephone hotline for concerned parents, and a new mandate for the Mental Health Commission of Canada to look at connections between substance abuse and mental health.

The NDP

The New Democrats under Thomas Mulcair are nominally for decriminalization, albeit with the caveat that more study is required before any law is changed. However, the party says nobody should go to jail for possession of a small amount while that study happens.

The party’s grassroots has previously pushed for full legalization, but heading into the October election the official policy is still decriminalization.

The Liberals

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, the only party leader to have publicly admitted to having smoked marijuana on one occasion, is for full legalization. What a legalized system would look like, however, is not yet clear.

The party said Tuesday that taxing and strictly regulating the production and sale of marijuana would take organized crime out of the pot business, while better protecting Canadian children.

The Greens

The Green Party supports the legalization of marijuana and an end to the “war on drugs.” The Greens’ platform envisions a system of strict regulation, small and independent growers, and taxing marijuana like tobacco.

The Greens’ also propose increased public awareness about the dangers of drugs, including tobacco, decriminalizing other illicit drugs due to the cost of law enforcement, and increased funding for safe injection sites.

TheStar.Com