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Fire, splinters and mail: Three ways federal politics touched Canadians this week

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
May 07, 2016 - 2:30 PM

OTTAWA - Partisan politics took a back seat to partnership this week as Parliament Hill came together in support of the people of wildfire-ravaged Fort McMurray.

The terrifying images of residents fleeing down towering corridors of encroaching flames obscured some subtle yet fundamental shifts in Canada's political landscape, as well as astute observations about the federal government's first six months in power.

Both illustrated themes that are sure to impact how Canadians interact with their elected officials in the coming years.

Here's how politics touched the lives of Canadians this week:

FLAME WARS: political parties are expected to set their rivalries aside in the face of tragedy. As wildfire pushed the population of Fort McMurray into a state of homelessness, the non-partisan reaction went a step further as politicians asked the public to set their own critiques aside as well.

"There have always been fires. There have always been floods," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"Pointing at any one incident and saying, 'Well, this is because of that,' is neither helpful nor entirely accurate. We need to separate a pattern over time from any one event."

Climate-change politics were clearly not welcome. Similarly, there was no chatter about the auditor general's report, which chided the government for not preserving the ranks of its military reservists — a vital resource in times of crisis. No one really questioned the sufficiency of the federal response — neither the level or type of support, nor the speed at which it was provided.

Old habits, however, die hard: by week's end, the Liberals had sent supporters an electronic pamphlet that highlighted the spirit of unity and soliciting donations to the Red Cross. When does making a political virtue out of non-partisanship become partisan?

SPLINTERS: Alberta conservatives gathered in Red Deer to hash out ways to unite the province's fractured right, with a push to create a third conservative party that would pull together supporters from Wildrose and the Progressive Conservatives. In Quebec, the brief political career of Pierre-Karl Peladeau came to a screeching halt as he resigned less than a year into his leadership of the separatist Parti Quebecois — leaving the door open for a new leader who could, perhaps, bring back the social democrats who have broken away.

As those two forces struggle to find unity and relevance in opposition, a group of federal Conservatives has been sizing up interim leader Rona Ambrose as their answer to coherence. The 'Draft Rona' campaign was short-lived, though: she made it clear she doesn't want to be the party's permanent leader.

Now, as candidates for the race to replace Stephen Harper come forward, their challenge is to win — but without tearing the party apart along regional or ideological lines.

All of it is taking place before the backdrop of an electoral system the federal Liberals have promised to completely reform — a promise they repeated again this week.

So much of choosing a leader is about strategy for the next election. But without knowing what system will guide voters the next time they cast their ballots, it's very difficult for opposition parties to prepare.

'CONSULTATION CONSTIPATION' AND THE MAIL: Three political veterans got together this week to talk foreign policy — but they couldn't resist offering Trudeau some free advice. Former Liberal leader Bob Rae, former Quebec premier Jean Charest, and former foreign minister John Manley zeroed in on the penchant the governing Liberals have for talking. And talking and talking.

All three warned that task forces, advisory groups and the like have their place, but shouldn't be an excuse for doing nothing. Manley was blunt, calling on the government to be mindful of "consultation constipation."

Also this week, the government announced a four-member task force to look into the future of Canada Post, including whether it should resume door-to-door delivery in some form, or even get back into banking.

During the campaign, the Liberals promised to restore home mail delivery. The $2-million panel is to produce final recommendations by the end of the year, but opposition critics have made it clear they smell another broken promise.

And there ends the spirit of co-operation.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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