Pot, power and unreliable growth: how federal politics touched us this week

Three ways politics touched us this week

OTTAWA — She inspired. She joked. She drew tears to their eyes.

Malala Yousafzai, the passionate 19-year-old who was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in Pakistan five years ago, brought Canadian politicians from both sides of the aisle to their feet — even as she provoked them, eye to eye, to do so much more for the education of girls around the world.

The granting of honorary Canadian citizenship to the young Nobel prize winner on Wednesday reminded MPs why they chose to run for office, prompting corridor conversations about their common goals.

Malala was a momentary respite. The ground shifted in federal politics this week, first with a quick and dramatic reshaping of global power in the wake of the U.S. bombing of a Syrian airfield, and then at a domestic level when the Liberals introduced legislation to make marijuana legal.

At the same time, the Bank of Canada sent mixed signals about the stability of the Canadian economy, raising the alarm about real estate speculation.

Here’s how politics touched Canadians this week:

POT

The Liberals were on a mission Thursday to tone down the light-hearted party rhetoric that so often accompanies talk of legalizing marijuana, introducing a rule-heavy regime that they say is meant to keep the drug away from children, eliminate the black market and dissuade organized crime.

Before legal pot becomes a reality, the pair of contentious government bills will take well over a year to claw their way through the House of Commons and Senate; and the federal government will need to navigate negotiations with the provinces and law enforcement across Canada.

Eventually, sales would be restricted to those over 18 years — or older, if provincial governments exercise discretion. Adults would be able to carry 30 grams at a time, and grow four plants not more than a metre tall. No edibles quite yet, and exuberant advertising would be verboten.

The bills determine thresholds for police to check for impaired driving — not just for drugs but alcohol too. The legislation makes it easier for police to demand a breathalyzer. For now, police need to have a reasonable suspicion that a driver is drunk in order to demand a test; in the future, they could jump straight to the test.

POWER

U.S. President Donald Trump shook the world like a snow globe this week — again. Even as the ties between his election campaign and the Russian government are under scrutiny, the Trump administration singled out Russia for its support of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad in the wake of his use of chemical weapons on innocents.

Trump also changed direction on China, backing away from earlier accusations that the Middle Kingdom was a currency manipulator — an allegation that usually comes with trade retaliation. And NATO, just recently considered “obsolete,” is now quite the opposite, according to the president.

The dramatic changes are a good fit for Ottawa. Here, there’s no love lost for Russia because of its annexation of parts of Ukraine. China is the land of opportunity and the target of future trade talks. And NATO is a reliable alliance that helps keep Russia at bay and leverages Canada’s weight in Europe.

UNRELIABLE GROWTH 

Normally, economy-watchers would be jumping for joy. The Bank of Canada has raised its growth expectations for 2017 to 2.6 per cent — up from a previous forecast of 2.1 per cent, and substantially higher than the federal government’s budget projection of 1.9 per cent.

But the central bank warns that the growth may well be fleeting, driven by one-time factors such as the resumption of spending in the energy sector and the increase in federal child benefits. More concerning is that the pickup is also driven by residential investment — home-buying, which in Toronto and Vancouver is in a fevered state.

After doing nothing in last month’s federal budget to chill those hot markets, Finance Minister Bill Morneau is convening a meeting next week of provincial and municipal leaders about the Toronto-area market — which the central bank now says is speculative. But it’s not clear the federal government can do much except wring its hands, for fear of causing harm to other markets in Canada that are more stable.

Heather Scoffield, Ottawa Bureau Chief, The Canadian Press

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