September 25, 2016 - 6:00 AM
OTTAWA - First the limos, now the fat moving packages.
Members of Parliament returned to the House of Commons this week in a predictably feisty mood, with Conservatives pouncing on Liberal disclosures about how much was paid to relocate their senior staffers to Ottawa.
The controversy — and other recent ones like it — highlight the Liberal government's political vulnerability after nearly a full year in office over what the opposition describes as the party's ever-present sense of entitlement.
Conservatives spent several summer weeks attacking Health Minister Jane Philpott's spending on personal cars. Now, they've set their sights on two top Trudeau aides and best friends for how much they charged taxpayers for relocating to Ottawa.
In both cases, Liberals backed down with apologies, partial reimbursements and promises to review spending and the rules that govern it.
But the bickering belies deep differences of opinion that divide the political parties on fundamental decisions the Liberals are in the midst of making on core issues like climate change, foreign policy in China and health care.
Here's how federal politics affected Canadian lives this week.
One day soon, says Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, every jurisdiction in Canada will have a price on greenhouse gas emissions, whether a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade market. And the carbon price, while it may start low, will increase as necessary to meet Canada's international climate-change obligations.
But first, McKenna needs to win over the provinces so that they can agree on how to make such a system work — a negotiation that won't be pretty or quick, and will culminate in a First Ministers' meeting later this fall.
In Ottawa, the lines in the sand were clearly drawn this week. The NDP says the Liberals have betrayed voters by merely adopting the previous government's emissions targets. The Conservatives say carbon pricing will destroy the economy.
Justin Trudeau, in the meantime, has a new tag line that he rolled out at the United Nations in New York: "We're Canada, and we're here to help."
Trudeau says that "help" includes ratifying the Paris agreement on emissions reductions very soon — but whether he'll have a meaningful domestic plan to back that up remains to be seen.
For the second time in less than a month, Trudeau met with a top-ranked Chinese leader, this time in Ottawa instead of Beijing. Amid the pomp that greeted Premier Li Keqiang, the government's ambitions of broadening economic ties with the Asian behemoth were laid bare for all to see.
The fruits of the visit included better access to the Chinese market for Canada's canola, and the elimination of some trade barriers for Canadian beef. Canada also agreed to formally explore free trade talks.
At the same time, Canada and China will look into an extradition treaty — jarring news for opposition critics, human rights advocates and pundits who fear Ottawa would turn a blind eye to China's use of the death penalty and reputation for torturing prisoners.
When asked directly, Li unflinchingly defended his country's use of the death penalty and denied allegations of torture.
Canadians learned this week that federal Health Minister Jane Philpott is ready to get tough in enforcing the Canada Health Act, which is meant to uphold the principles of medicare and prevent the creeping threat of privatization.
Ottawa and the provinces are deep into tense negotiations over how to renew their funding agreements, with the provinces insisting they need more money and the feds holding the line until they see the provinces get serious about improvements in areas like home care and mental health.
This week, Canadians learned of a federal letter to Quebec that threatened to claw back funding to make up for user fees charged to patients in 2014-15, even as the province announced it was moving to abolish the extra billing.
Under the Conservative government, former finance minister Jim Flaherty harshly reminded the provinces who was boss when he unilaterally cut the escalator of federal health funding to the provinces without notice.
Could this be Liberal health-care hardball of a similar sort?
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016