OTTAWA — Parliament Hill was itchy and irritated this week as the high-stakes NAFTA talks stagnated and latent battles over abortion bubbled up from committee rooms.
Large delegations of Mexican and U.S. negotiators were on edge for days, with no central place to stay or congregate as Ottawa hosted the third round of condensed talks to revamp NAFTA by the end of the year. Despite the yellow school buses brought in to carry them around and the sporadic, all-important cocktail parties that sprouted on Ottawa patios, there was little progress — and plenty of crankiness.
Ill humour was pervasive in the corridors of the House of Commons too, as Conservatives put forward a pro-life MP to chair the status of women committee — prompting the Liberals to walk out, and then launch a fundraising campaign on Conservatives' attitude towards women. The Tories fought back with acidity, calling up long-standing arguments for freedom of speech.
Annoyed was the mood of the week, casting a grumpy pall over major developments tied to Canadian culture, Bombardier and its thousands of employees, and quiet talks to alleviate poverty.
Here's how politics affected Canadian lives this week:
BAD LUCK FOR BOMBARDIER
Chicago-based Boeing Co. has won Round 1 in its bitter fight with Bombardier Inc., with the U.S. Commerce Department allowing an enormous 219 per cent tariff on the Montreal-based company's CSeries passenger jets.
The tariff, if it becomes a reality, would triple the cost of the jets and jeopardize thousands of jobs in Canada, the U.K. and elsewhere.
Is this White House grandstanding to intimidate NAFTA negotiators who were holed up in an Ottawa building when news of the tariff came down? The aerospace industry, heavily subsidized around the world, is known for its gloves-off approach to trade remedies, and Boeing's aggressive stance is not a Donald Trump invention. The trade action against Bombardier was started by Boeing, not Trump.
But the size and timing of the tariff decision inspired many a conspiracy theory about the White House's intentions. And the response from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggests the federal Liberals see the Boeing confrontation as political antagonism.
Trudeau has threatened to abandon any plans to buy Super Hornet jets from Boeing and said he won't "do business with a company that's trying to sue us and put our aerospace workers out of business." Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has echoed that statement — much to the consternation of Manitoba, where Boeing employs 1,400.
While Ottawa may be in a bitter jousting match with the U.S. on planes and NAFTA, it is locked in an embrace with U.S. industry on the culture front.
Heritage Minister Melanie Joly rolled out a new cultural-policy road map on Thursday, the result of almost two years of consultation and contemplation. It is meant to redesign and modernize government supports for Canadian content — now called "creative industries."
The centrepiece of her presentation was a $500-million commitment from Netflix to invest in original productions in Canada, with hints of more investment to come from other U.S.-based digital giants. Critics were quick to pounce, pointing out a lack of detail in the Netflix announcement and a heavy reliance on foreign competitors to bolster Canadian industry.
But it's clear the government is not done. Joly said she would open up the Broadcasting Act, the Telecommunications Act, the Copyright Act as well as the mandates of the CBC and the CRTC, the broadcast regulator. There was nothing substantial to help the ailing news media, but neither was there an outright refusal to consider some options in the future.
The pace of government, however, is no match for the pace of globalization and technology.
Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is in the final stages of putting together a national housing strategy, which will be the cornerstone of a longer-term plan to tackle poverty across the country.
But housing is a volatile business in Canada these days, and while all those involved see a need for the federal government to up its game in the realm of affordable housing, there is disagreement over how.
For years, Ottawa supported mortgage payments for some low-income residences. Now, the federal government is moving towards taking that money and putting it towards a benefit that would be attached to the home-dweller rather than the building. The aim is to give the money directly to families so that they can have more freedom to move.
But parts of Canada are in the throes of a housing crisis, where the supply of housing is tight and expensive. If Ottawa takes away its billions in support for those low-income units, critics inside and outside the government fear the housing supply will shrink at a time when it needs to expand, and the homes of tens of thousands of families would be in jeopardy.
They need to reach a solution soon. The strategy is due this fall.
Heather Scoffield, Ottawa Bureau Chief, The Canadian Press