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Canada in Review

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Issue: 1 Section: Canadian News Geography: Canada Topics: John Manley, NDP, liberal

May 17, 2003

Canada in Review

by Noel Baldwin

As the Canadian winter thaws in some parts of the country, and a bizarre confluence of international controversies recedes from the national press organs, Canadians find themselves with a dire lack of "news". Canada's contribution to the post-war Iraq and the Toronto centred SARS outbreak seem suddenly unimportant despite the fact they remain far from resolved. Our attention is drawn elsewhere, for better in the cases where light is now shone onto events of significance, for worse where shadows are now elongated covering moments of importance.

John Manley: funded by a laundry list of lobbyists and corporate backers.
Canada's only national moderately progressive political party, and its newly minted leader Jack Layton, have unveiled their first campaign since opposing the war in Iraq stopped scoring any political points. The New Democratic Party (NDP) announced a campaign to bring Proportional Representation (PR) to Canada. The NDP announced that it will bring a bill before Parliament to hold a referendum on changing the electoral system to a PR system. While the bill is unlikely to succeed (few Private Members Bills do) the subtext is clear – to position other parties as being against Democracy, a tough sell. The NDP's campaign is in clear juxtaposition to the Liberal Party's coronation ceremony and handled effectively will position this as an election issue in a year to a year and half when the next federal election should be held.

That very same Liberal leadership race is proceeding with all the purpose of a three toed sloth on land. Former Finance Minister Paul Martin is "challenged" by John Manley and Sheila Copps. While Prime Minister Chretien would have it otherwise there seems to be little doubt as to the outcome. In fact, little has been interesting since Manley's comment that few consider Copps "a real challenger", except for disclosures of the candidates' financial backers. When Manley revealed his backers they read like a laundry list of lobbyists and corporate backers. Democracy Watch, a public interest group, says of Manley's disclosures, "many of the donations place the Deputy Prime Minister in an apparent breach of ethics rules." Democracy Watch noted that Martin and Copps continue to offer their donors the option of contributing anonymously through blind trusts.

The financial square dance of the Liberal Party's leadership candidates comes as a split opens the party over election finance reform legislation. Liberal Party President Stephen LeDrew, recently visited opposition parties in an effort to amend the bill. The Bill would see corporate and labour union donations to national political parties banned and limited to $1,000 to individual ridings. LeDrew claims this would put the Liberal Party in severe financial constraints, despite provisions in the bill which would provide public funding to make up the shortfall. Several Liberal MPs oppose the bill, but like LeDrew, they are supporters of Martin whose public spat with the PM continues to harm the public work of Parliament. The bill will likely pass even without full Liberal support in the Commons as it is broadly supported by both the NDP and Bloc Quebecois.

"While the [NDP's] bill is unlikely to succeed (few Private Members Bills do) the subtext is clear - to position other parties as being against Democracy, a tough sell."
Campaign finance restrictions are also making news in Manitoba where the NDP government is seeking re-election in the first provincial elections since major restrictions on campaigning were imposed. While it appears the NDP will win a second straight majority government what is most striking is the tenor of the campaign. With restrictions in place on corporate and union donations, as well as on campaign advertising, the campaigns of all three parties are less visible. Most hurt by the new law seem to be the provincial Tories, who are reportedly $400,000 in debt.

In the midst of all this politicking, other movements are afoot. Economically, Canada's position is clouded in the face of stumbling US economic trends forecasted for years. The Canadian dollar hit more than 73 cents US for the first time since 1997. This predictably sent investors scrambling and vacationers cheering. Employment and price indicators remain steady in Canada with only small increases in unemployment and the price of consumer products.

"This week the Liberal government joined the US in its WTO challenge of European rules that ban the import of Genetically Modified Foods. Essentially, Canada's position is now to dictate the European diet."
Naturally ignoring eco- nomic news, the Liberal party seems set to announce major changes to the criminality of marijuana. Two of the most prominent features of the Cannabis Reform Bill are the decriminalization of driving while under the influence of marijuana and differentiated, lower fines for young people caught in possession of marijuana.

The government has also announced changes to some international policy. This week the Liberal government joined the US in its WTO challenge of European rules that ban the import of Genetically Modified Foods. Essentially, Canada's position is now to dictate the European diet. Additionally, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham announced, Canada would seek to join the US in pursuing a missile defense shield. This ends long speculation that the government's initial policy was in fact not a policy, but merely a position, to be changed.

As these stories disappear in a haze of smoky backrooms, tinged green, we should not forget that the insurance industry has started to deny life insurance to Canadians traveling to Asian countries with suspected SARS cases. And we thought the SARS scare was over.

Noel Baldwin

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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