Bruce Uzelman. (File photo)

Bruce Uzelman. (File photo)

Uzelman: Incompetence and indifference In federal politics

New column from Bruce Uzelman

~BW Uzelman

The Federal Liberal Government is displaying a disturbing lack of competence over a wide range of files. And, unusually, the Leader of the Opposition is reluctant to engage on many of these files and issues.

The Trudeau government understandably spent aggressively when Covid first impacted Canadians, but when the medical and economic crisis was past, they didn’t quit. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland claimed to discover the virtues of restraint in the April 2022 Budget, “we knew we had to chart a fiscally responsible course – and we did.” But she has not managed to restrain a free-spending Prime Minister.

The Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Critical Minerals Strategy, recently announced, will each have budgets of several billion dollars. The Pacific strategy promises to deliver a clear-eyed approach to China, which will be refreshing. The minerals strategy seeks to deliver faster environmental reviews, and will attempt to limit each mining project to one review, again a commendable goal. But the proof will be in the government’s actions, not in its words. There are many projects already mired in multi-year reviews.

The Liberals have bungled defense acquisitions from day one. They opposed the effort of the Harper Government to buy F-35 fighter jets. Over six years after gaining power, they finally chose a fighter – the F-35! The Canadian Forces are short 10,000 personnel and essential equipment. Andrew Leslie, a retired general, earlier in 2022, told the CBC that Canada needs to procure drones, submarines and aircraft, but the Department of National Defense doesn’t have the personnel capable of doing this.

The size of the core public service grew by fully 30% from 2015 to 2022. Yet, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has failed to issue passports in a timely manner. And many applicants for residency have been deported before the department has ruled on their cases. Of the 40,000 Afghan refugees the government committed to resettle by year end, only about 25,000 had arrived by December 4.

Though the government has funded new programs for multibillions of dollars, it has been reluctant to increase funding for a new healthcare agreement with the provinces. PM Trudeau has refused to meet the premiers. That is indefensible. The medical system, facing unprecedented demands, risks collapse.

The OECD projects Canadians’ real income growth will be the last of 40 developed nations from 2020 to 2060. This is largely a result of ineffective federal productivity growth policies, and no industrial policy.

Just a few recent scandals follow. First, China interfered in our 2019 federal election. Trudeau refuses to respond clearly to serious questions. Second, in the US, Hytera, a Chinese company, was charged with espionage. The Government of Canada in 2021 signed a contract with a subsidiary of Hytera, to provide security for RCMP communications. Trudeau blames the public service, not the Minister to whom they report. Third, the Ethics Commissioner revealed that Mary Ng, Minister of International Trade, violated the Conflict of Interest Act when her department awarded a contract to her friend.

Finally, the Auditor General says a minimum of $27.4 billion of Covid related payments needs to be investigated as ineligible. She criticizes the government for not adjusting the programs to eliminate such payments as the programs were rolled out, and for examining potential overpayments too slowly.

All of these failures of the Liberal Government, many ongoing, present Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leader, with an opportunity. Yet, he seems indifferent to many of them. We get that inflation is awful, and that it’s all the Liberals fault! Poilievre tells us interminably. (In truth, the culprits cast a broader shadow.) But there are other issues, too, that require his attention.

Columnist John Ivison says that Poilievre has built his support by, “being ambiguous about many policy areas – the theory being that equivocal messages allow voters to underestimate the difference between their position and the candidate’s.” But Poilievre neglects major issues at his peril. A September Angus Reid poll revealed that Canadians see inflation as our top issue, followed by healthcare, environment and housing. Voters await Poilievre’s reactions to all, and would welcome an income growth policy too.

Poilievre largely refuses interviews with the national media. He has had two press conferences in the last three months. It’s not a winning strategy. He is restricting his press coverage and the transmission of his message to Canadians. (Trudeau is very accessible to the press, and they cover his appearances.)

Over the last 3 months, Leger Opinion polled a 2% to 3% spread nationally, favouring the Conservatives over the Liberals. The CPC margin is not impressive, considering the government’s poor performance. Recent history has shown that thin CPC leads produce Liberal minority governments. Poilievre would be well advised to broaden his critique of government policies, and to be far more open to the media.

Bruce W Uzelman

I grew up in Paradise Hill, a village in Northwestern Saskatchewan. I come from a large family. My parents instilled good values, but yet afforded us, my seven siblings and I, much freedom to do the things we wished to do. I spent my early years exploring the hills and forests and fields surrounding the village, a great way to come of age. My parents owned a successful general store. My siblings and I were required to help out in the business, no choices allowed there!

I attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. I considered studying journalism at one point, but did not ultimately pursue that. However, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts, Advanced with majors in Economics and Political Science in 1982.

My career has consisted exclusively of small business, primarily restaurant and retail. I was originally based in Alberta, and then BC, first in Summerland, then Victoria and finally Kelowna (for over 20 years). I was married in Alberta, and we have two daughters, who have returned to Alberta as adults for career reasons, as did my now ex-wife. My daughters are successful, and now have families of their own.

I have maintained a healthy interest in politics throughout my adult years, and wish to put that and my research skills to work as a political columnist.

Contact: urbangeneral@shaw.ca

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