OTTAWA – With the House of Commons not sitting this week, jet-setting — and jets — dominated Canadian politics instead.
The Trudeau cabinet flew out en masse to a resort in Kananaskis, Alta., to spend three days talking about the economy, but it was the beheading of a Canadian hostage in the Philippines that seized all the attention.
The cabinet then fanned out across the country, and Trudeau made his way to a couple of different First Nations reserves — even as the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered his government to live up to its commitments for aboriginal children.
By week’s end, ministers were fending off queries about a big fat new order for Bombardier. Delta Airlines wants to buy up to 125 CSeries jets, prompting some to question why the government would still be considering a $1-billion bailout for the Quebec aerospace manufacturer — a question that remains unanswered.
Canadians are still getting to know their newly elected representatives. This week, they discovered that there are times when the federal government may not always have their back.
Here’s how politics mattered to Canadians’ lives this week:
TALK VS ACTION ON HOSTAGES: News emerged Monday that Canadian John Ridsdel had been beheaded by Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines after seven months in captivity. Three other hostages, including a second Canadian citizen and a permanent resident of Canada, remain in captivity.
Media reports, coupled with Canada’s track record in hostage incidents, began to fuel persistent talk about Canada being amenable to paying ransom in such situations.
So Prime Minister Justin Trudeau emerged to douse the speculation.
“Canada does not and will not pay ransom to terrorists, directly or indirectly,” he said. “…Paying ransom for Canadians would endanger the lives of every single one of the millions of Canadians who live work and travel around the world every single year.”
That prompts the question: what does the government actually do to deal with such hostage-takings besides investigate after the fact? Government policy on kidnapping dictates no compromises with kidnappers — no policy changes, no prisoner exchanges, no immunity from prosecution, no ransom. And given the terrain and the politics of the Philippines right now, a rescue seems unlikely.
TALK VS. ACTION FOR ABORIGINAL CHILDREN: Even as the prime minister visited First Nations leaders in Saskatchewan this week — also dropping in on the isolated Shoal Lake reserve on the Ontario-Manitoba border, where residents have been under a boil-water advisory for 19 years — a key tribunal was telling him to pony up.
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered Ottawa to immediately enact a policy that ensures aboriginal children in need don’t see their health and welfare caught up in federal-provincial infighting. The problem is old and pre-dates the Liberal government, but all parties agreed in the House of Commons in 2007 that the children’s needs should take precedence over red tape.
Trudeau insists his visiting of First Nations is more than just talk.
“I think it is important to underscore that the conversations we are having, the signalling of a renewed relationship based on recognition of inherent and treaty rights, based on respect and collaboration, aren’t just words,” Trudeau said.
“They go to the fundamental nature of how the federal government engages in a responsible and proper way with indigenous communities and individuals across this country.”
NO TALK, NO ACTION ON BOMBARDIER AID: The Montreal-based aerospace company announced Thursday that a multi-billion-dollar deal is in the works with U.S. carrier Delta. The company said it now has a decent cash flow and suggested that any extra money coming its way could be put towards restoring dividends for shareholders.
But at the same time, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, and indeed the company itself, say Ottawa still needs to give Bombardier $1 billion in financial aid, in the name of supporting aerospace innovation.
Federal ministers had very little to say about the changing landscape, given that they’re in the midst of market-sensitive negotiations with the company. Their previous reasons for even considering financial assistance — bolstering the competitiveness of an important industry that employs thousands across the country — are now in limbo.
Their eventual response will offer even more clues about the Liberal government, notably its approach to industrial development, subsidies, job protection — and Quebec.