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It’s American endorsement day on the campaign trail

News

Welcome to The Hub’s Federal Election 2021 Policy Pulse, where we’ll be tracking all the policy announcements from the major parties, with instant analysis from our crew of experts.

With the election scheduled for Sept. 20, we’ll be monitoring 36 days worth of policy ideas, so watch out each morning for the day’s live blog where we’ll be tracking every announcement as it happens.

4:30 p.m. — It’s American endorsement day on the campaign trail

By L. Graeme Smith, The Hub’s content editor

The 1988 Canadian federal election featured a Liberal attack ad where shadowy free trade negotiators are sitting before a map of North America and, villainously, begin erasing the border between Canada and the United States. 

American intrusion into Canadian culture and politics is a big deal in this country, something nefarious to be condemned and guarded against at all costs. 

That is, until it isn’t:

3:30 p.m. — Why the relative silence on Indigenous issues? Here’s a few theories

By Karen Restoule, contributor at The Hub

As we near the tail end of the federal election campaign, Canadians have taken note of how quiet candidates have been on their plans to move the country towards reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

While each major party has noted within their platforms how they intend to support Indigenous priorities, we have heard very little from the leaders themselves throughout the campaign trail — well, other than at the three debates where it was tabled to them for commentary.

Even Justin Trudeau, who stated in his early days as prime minister that “[n]o relationship is more important to Canada than the relationship with Indigenous Peoples”, has been quiet on the trail. In his most recent interview with Global News, he stopped host Neetu Garcha as she wrapped the segment to point out that they had yet to cover big things that British Columbians cares about, like the pandemic and climate change, to which she replied, “Mr. Trudeau, what people care about is, among many things, is reconciliation.”

The silence has felt misplaced, in contrast to the empathy, sadness, and anger expressed by Canadians over the course of the past few months in light of the growing number of human remains identified in the backyards of residential school sites across the country.

It’s possible that parties are recognizing that Indigenous peoples are not to be politicized, not a “political football” to be tossed around as part of a broader political agenda.

It’s also possible that these events have humanized Indigenous children, families, communities, shedding light on the serious issues created by the Indian Act and the impacts on generations of Indigenous peoples.

Also possible is that parties are recognizing that the issues faced by Indigenous communities can’t be addressed by solutions that align strictly within their political ideology, that the issues are uniquely complex and dynamic and require a relational approach.

Or, have parties been staying mum because they’re recognizing that funding alone won’t see through the much-needed shift towards equity? We’ve all seen that despite historic funding levels into Indigenous affairs by the federal government since 2015, the dial has barely moved on baseline standards of Canadian life, like clean drinking water, healthy housing, education, if at all.

While a segment of the English debate focused on Indigenous reconciliation, and some quick commentary was provided in the two French debates, it would have been appropriate and welcomed for us to hear from each party leader on the priorities outlined by Inuit leader Natan Obed and National Chief Roseanne Archibald, Indigenous business leaders and advocates, and other policy and thought leaders.

On August 31, 2021, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Roseanne Archibald delivered a document outlining the priorities of First Nations and invited party leaders to take action in five areas: truth and reconciliation, climate change, economic growth, respecting First Nations’ jurisdiction, and strengthening First Nations.

On behalf of the Inuit people, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami(ITK) leader Natan Obed tabled 15 priorities on August 24, 2021, for consideration as part of the 2021 federal election. The top three of those 15 priorities include: the completion of the Inuit Nunangat Policy initiated in 2019, Inuit-led suicide prevention measures, and food security among Inuit.

Indigenous business leaders and advocates have expressed through media their expectations in having Indigenous issues discussed among party leaders, economic and social alike.

And, some established thought leaders published options for political consideration. MLI policy expert Ken Coates calls out political inaction in his latest piece and lays out a framework for Canada on how to move forward in partnership with Indigenous peoples. Coates lays out directly – among many important points – the need for Canadians to learn to listen to Indigenous leaders and communities about the true history, contemporary challenges, and future directions, and most importantly, five considerations in the reinvention of Indigenous policy that prioritize empowerment.

Maybe next time, Canadians will get a full debate on Indigenous policy – just like leaders like National Chief Roseanne Archibald has stated in a recent interview: “… [w]here we could really get a sense of what these leaders are prepared to do, what commitments they can make.”

Who knows, the opportunity might come sooner than later.

2:30 p.m. — Should the world waive IP protection for COVID-19 vaccines?

By L. Graeme Smith, The Hub’s content editor

Efforts to vaccinate Canadians have been redoubled, with even Alberta now onboard with a vaccine mandate system to encourage the hesitant and to protect the health care systems from being overwhelmed.

Despite the uneasiness over the country’s current uptake numbers, Canada’s vaccine rate is one of the highest in the world at 146 per 100 people. 

Given the global nature of the pandemic and the ever-evolving threat of variants that could emerge in any corner of the earth, getting as much of the rest of the world vaccinated as possible is in everyone’s best interest. Outside the developed world, however, the numbers are bleak. For instance, Canada had, by June 2021, secured enough vaccines for 434 percent of its population, whereas Jordan had enough vaccines for only six percent of its people. 

In October 2020 India and South Africa led a host of low- and middle-income countries to submit a request to the World Trade Organization, modified as of May 2021, asking the international body to waive IP protection for products and technologies related to COVID-19 prevention, treatment, and containment. The hope is to essentially compel the companies who innovated the new vaccine technology to share knowledge and processes, allowing rival companies in local countries to produce vaccines for themselves. 

America has offered tentative and limited support for the waiver so far, while the UK, Japan, and the European Union remain opposed, with the EU putting forth a counterproposal. Canada has, of yet, not supported or opposed the measure. 

Should Canada support the waiver? The Macdonald-Laurier Institute recently hosted a webinar panel with a host of experts to discuss the issue, which you can watch here. Overall, they conclude, upending the current system would be a mistake. How such a waiver could even be enforced given the complicated nature of the new technologies and processes is also a significant barrier, they explain.

“The proposal is taking a wrecking-ball approach,” says Mark Agnew, senior vice president of policy and government relations at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. “It is not necessarily a tactical or surgical strike that they’re looking at with this, so I think there’s a very legitimate question as to what sort of future signals this would send to the market and to the companies that have to do the innovation at the end of the day if it were to be passed in its current form, certainly.”

Cooperation is already happening between the innovators and other local governments and companies, and it is precisely the protections provided by intellectual property rights, and the ability to sign confidential contracts, that enables trust and collaboration to take place. Safeguarding this system is key to mutual benefit both now and in the future, says Kristina Acri, professor of economics and business at Colorado College. 

“If we dismantle the architecture that protects these intellectual property rights, then we’ve introduced a tremendous amount of risk and uncertainty into the process.” This will, in the end, just lead to less cooperation and sharing than we are already seeing, she says. “Everything is upended when we waive patent rights.”

As to where each of the major parties stand, back in May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canada was working on a “consensus-based solution”, was involved in discussions with “various different partners who have various different opinions”, and that his government is “engaged wholeheartedly in these discussions on various proposals.”

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, in contrast, stated that “Conservatives support a temporary suspension to intellectual property rules in this pandemic to help get vaccines as quickly around the world as possible.”

The NDP platform highlights that the party supports measures “that would waive intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines and ensure technology transfer, so that low-income countries can start making vaccines locally and save lives.”

1:15 p.m. — How much are the major federal parties spending? A look into the numbers

By Amal Attar-Guzman, The Hub’s associate editor and Sean Speer, The Hub’s editor-at-large

Over the course of the election campaign, the parties have announced a dizzying number of policy commitments totalling hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending.

Tracking these pronouncements and their cumulative costs hasn’t been easy. The parties released their individual and overall fiscal costing late in the campaign and in several cases they didn’t avail themselves of the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO)’s independent estimates.

At a high level, while the parties have committed to different mixes of tax and spending measures, the cumulative effect of their respective plans is quite similar. As we observed in an earlier post, higher deficits and more debt is a common characteristic of each party’s fiscal policy.

The NDP, for instance, proposes to add $214 billion to federal expenditures over the next five years which will be partly offset by $166 billion in new taxes and other revenue measures. The net fiscal impact of the NDP plan is therefore $48 billion.

The biggest area of incremental spending for the NDP is health care. In particular, the party proposes to spend as much as $11 billion per year by 2025-26 on a new national pharmacare model. It’s not clear if the expectation is that provinces and territories would be expected to match this spending or if Ottawa would assume the full, incremental cost of these health-care expansions.

The Liberals plan to increase spending and reduce taxes at a total cost of $78 billion over five years which is partly offset by $25 billion in higher taxes. The net impact of their policy promises amounts to $53 billion.

Their biggest single promise is their child care agreements with the provinces and territories which will ramp up to more than $8 billion per year over the five-year period though this funding is already reflected in the government’s fiscal framework. The Liberals’ largest incremental promise is a new mental health transfer payment to the provinces and territories which would reach $2 billion per year by 2025-26.

The Conservatives propose a mix of higher spending and lower taxes totalling $90 billion over five years, offset by $39 billion in spending roll backs — most significantly from abandoning the Liberals’ childcare plan — and some new revenue measures. The net impact on the debt is $51 billion.

The Conservatives’ costliest promise in the medium-term is to double the Canada Workers Benefit which is projected to cost $5.8 billion per year by 2025-26. The party’s commitment to raise the Canada Health Transfer’s growth rate to 6 percent annually will only cost $2.1 billion in 2025-26 but will presumably become its largest fiscal commitment over a longer timeframe.

The upshot: Notwithstanding different tax and spending priorities (which may or may not be good ideas), the cumulative effect of the parties’ respective policy platforms is that they would add between $48 billion and $53 billion to projected federal deficits over the next five years.

11:00 a.m. — All the major parties agree that large-scale borrowing is the new normal

By Sean Speer, The Hub’s editor-at-large

The federal election campaign has been marked by efforts on the part of the political parties to differentiate themselves on both big and small issues. This has led to various campaign claims that tend to reflect political rhetoric more than substantive disagreement.

The best example of such hyperbolic claims obscuring actual policy convergence is fiscal policy. Although the parties have put forward different tax and spending proposals, the cumulative effects of their respective policy promises differs far less than readers may realize. The overall fiscal balance and debt accumulation over the next five years is essentially the same according to the policy platforms released by the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party.

We have, in other words, seemingly reached a new political consensus at the federal level in favour of spending more than the federal government collects in revenues on an ongoing basis. Large-scale borrowing is the new normal for federal fiscal policy.

A note of caution about the fiscal projections in the party platforms: they should mostly be viewed as directional rather than specific. Platform promises are only one part of an incoming government’s policy agenda.

There will no doubt be other tax and spending decisions that contribute to the government’s fiscal policy. There are also of course other factors, including the rate of economic growth, that influence government revenues and expenditures. The parties’ platforms — and the accompanying fiscal costing — should therefore serve as a rough guide of their priorities and overall direction.

Take the Liberal Party’s 2015 platform for instance. It promised to run $10 billion annual deficits for three years before balancing the budget in 2019. But readers will know that’s not what ultimately happened. Cumulative deficits over the three-year period totaled more than $50 billion and a balanced budget was put off indefinitely.

The best that might be said therefore is that the party platforms provide a signal about how the different parties’ generally think about fiscal policy issues. But understanding these signals is still useful for voters to assess the broad direction and relative credibility of the different parties on fiscal and budgetary matters.

Rebekah Young of Scotiabank’s economics team has recently produced analysis that draws on available sources, including the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO)’s itemized costing, to produce an overall fiscal picture for each of the parties. For those interested in fiscal policy issues, you can find her full article here.

Two charts from her short brief are pasted below. They speak to the new red ink consensus among the political parties described above.

Chart 1 displays projected federal budgetary deficits based on the Liberals and Conservatives’ policy platforms. The grey bars are the annual deficits from the 2021 federal budget for the fiscal years from 2021/22 through to 2025/26. They show the federal deficit was projected to fall from $154.7 billion in 2021/22 to $30.7 billion by 2025/26. The dotted line reflects the revised — and slightly improved — “baseline” deficit track estimated by the PBO in August. The red line is the projected deficits under the Liberals’ plan and the blue line is the Conservative plan.

The Liberal and Conservative deficit projections follow essentially the same track over the five-year period. The Conservatives would record a slightly larger deficit in the current fiscal year while the Liberals would record higher deficits in 2024/25 and 2025/26. The cumulative difference over the five-year period is negligible.

Chart 2 tracks the federal debt as a share of the economy over the same timeframe. The change in debt-to-GDP under the two plans is basically indiscernible. The Liberals would add $2 billion more to the federal debt than the Conservatives.

One minor difference is that while the Conservative Party has committed to balancing the budget within a decade, the Liberals haven’t made a similar commitment though they’ve promised to maintain and eventually lower federal debt as a share of GDP. It’s worth noting though that this is the same fiscal anchor that the Trudeau government previously promised but now the federal debt is roughly 20-percentage points higher than it was prior to the pandemic (50 percent versus 30 percent of GDP) which may demonstrate the limits of debt-to-GDP as a serious fiscal constraint.

If one was to assess the different party’s credibility on controlling spending and meeting fiscal targets, the post-financial crisis record of the Harper government was much more credible than the Trudeau government which even prior to the pandemic was growing program spending at roughly 6 percent per year and regularly exceeding its deficit projections. Based on this recent history, it would be generally reasonable to assume that the Conservatives would probably have more upside in their fiscal policy projections than the Liberals.

It’s difficult to know, however, if an O’Toole government could be expected to maintain the previous Conservative government’s sustained fiscal discipline. The party’s platform commitment to reverse the Harper government’s changes to the Canada Health Transfer do not bode well.

The upshot: The major political parties have ceded fiscal issues to marginal parties like the People’s Party (which has promised to balance the budget within four years) and so no matter which party Canadians vote for the most likely fiscal policy outcome is more deficits and debt for the foreseeable future.

8:30 a.m. — The People’s Party is surging because it swapped one taboo for another

By Stuart Thomson, The Hub’s editor-in-chief

As a populist wave swept across the western world, Canada appeared to be a lonely holdout. In a House of Commons with 338 seats, not a single one was claimed by a party advocating lower immigration levels after the 2019 election.

It’s not that Canada is immune to the ideas that fuel populist parties. Somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of Canadians want immigration levels to be lower, with anonymous online polls tending to be on the high end of that range. In fact, an EKOS poll in 2015 found that 41 percent of Canadians think there are too many “visible minorities” immigrating to Canada.

These polling numbers are fairly sturdy over the years and perhaps the most surprising thing is that no politician has effectively exploited them. Some have tried, though.

In the 2019 election, Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada was almost entirely known for a stand against “mass immigration,” which seemed like a tortured Canadian version of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “build a wall” rhetoric. On election day, the PPC flopped, winning zero seats and earning only 1.6 percent of the national vote.

So, why did the PPC fail in 2019?

“Taboos which mark the boundaries of debate are very important in English Canada,” wrote the political scientist Eric Kaufmann, in his book Whiteshift. In almost all mainstream media, and among mainstream politicians, the PPC and its ideas were effectively shut out.

It could also be that while many Canadians would prefer lower immigration numbers, it’s not a particularly salient issue for them. The rigidly enforced elite taboo and the lack of enthusiasm from Canadians on immigration stymied Bernier’s party.

But Kaufmann argues that the taboos work great, until they don’t. Once some populist leader — usually a strong communicator with a wily political sense — breaks the taboo it sparks a wildfire, which seems to come out of nowhere and then burns uncontrollably. The one-third of the population that quietly harboured the taboo opinion is suddenly emboldened.

This is why Kaufmann has argued that endlessly expanding the definition of racism can be reckless, because it casts many more people into the racist outgroup and weakens the taboo. Once people feel like they are being unfairly maligned or that elites are precluding legitimate debate, the populist leader’s job becomes a lot easier.

With that in mind, we can turn our minds to the rise of the PPC in this year’s election campaign.

Among the various polling companies, the PPC is currently attracting the support of anywhere between four and eight percent of Canadians, with highs of 12 percent in previous weeks of the campaign.

This time, though, Bernier has hit on a different elite taboo: the restrictions brought in to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccines that about three-quarters of Canadians have taken to immunize themselves against the virus.

Forum Research poll found that 62 percent of people who support the PPC have not been fully or partially vaccinated and 84 percent of their voters are opposed to vaccine mandates. In contrast, only five percent of Liberal voters are opposed to vaccine mandates, along with 42 percent of Conservative voters. The poll also found that 70 percent of PPC voters are very angry with the federal government.

With broad agreement from most Canadians and a virus that makes policy decisions literally a matter of life and death, the elite taboo on disagreeing with pandemic restrictions has been strong. Anger or skepticism about lockdowns, mask mandates or school closures has been relegated to the fringe.

In 2019, the PPC was pushing populist ideas that had some agreement but no enthusiasm. This year, the PPC is pushing ideas that have less support, but much more enthusiasm. The wildfire is burning, it seems to have come out of nowhere, but it is much smaller than other populist surges that are based on immigration and race.

This phenomenon could also be a sign that PPC voters, many of whom previously voted for the Conservatives, won’t be “coming home” to the party on election day. If the PPC’s voters are highly motivated by pandemic restrictions, they’ll be looking at a federal Conservative Party that broadly agrees with most of the pandemic measures and conservative premiers, like Ontario Doug Ford, who have brought in some of the harshest restrictions in North America.

“I have no doubt that, when the votes are counted, we’ll be able to identify some ridings where the rising PPC cost the Conservatives a win,” wrote polling analyst Eric Grenier, in The Writ, his newsletter that tracks public opinion polling in Canada.

This might be a moment when the PPC’s slogan — “The Other Options Suck” — is particularly resonant with its voters.

7:00 a.m. — Where the leaders are today

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will be in Windsor, Ontario to make an announcement at 9 a.m.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole will be in London, Ontario to make an announcement at 12:30 p.m.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh will be in Sherbrooke, Quebec to make an announcement at 9:45 a.m.

The Aukus security pact pushes Canada further to the margins

News

Welcome to The Hub’s Federal Election 2021 Policy Pulse, where we’ll be tracking all the policy announcements from the major parties, with instant analysis from our crew of experts.

With the election scheduled for Sept. 20, we’ll be monitoring 36 days worth of policy ideas, so watch out each morning for the day’s live blog where we’ll be tracking every announcement as it happens.

5:00 p.m. — The Aukus security pact pushes Canada further to the margins

By Howard Anglin, contributor at The Hub

The Aukus security pact announced yesterday between the U.K. the US and Australia has raised some eyebrows, as has the U.S.’s agreement to share its nuclear submarine technology with Australia.

(Previously the U.S. had only been willing to share their technology with the U.K. Some Canadians might remember when Canada considered acquiring our own nuclear powered submarines in the 1980s and the US was firmly against it and said it was unnecessary given the naval umbrella they provided).

From the point of view of the Canadian election, the pact is interesting for who is not part of it: namely, us. (New Zealand is the other Five Eyes country left out, presumably because of its government’s opposition to nuclear submarines in their waters and Jacinda Ardern’s weakness when it comes to the Chinese Communist regime).  

On the one hand, with the government in purdah for the election, it would have broken with convention for the Trudeau government to join a new security pact that would have encumbered an incoming government. On the other hand, our government was presumably aware of the negotiations and could have requested a delay for a week or two if they were interested in joining ab initio after the election.

It may still be possible for Canada to join the new alliance, although whether we would even be able to in the near term would depend on the pact’s expectations in terms of our commitments and military upgrades. I expect Conservative leader Erin O’Toole would interested, given his platform pledge to join the Quad. I expect he would also be keen on Canada joining any alliance that might secure the Indo-Pacific against Chinese territorial ambitions, especially vis-a-vis the Republic of China (Taiwan). 

I do not expect a re-elected Trudeau government to show the same interest. For one, their election platform was silent on China and Indo-Pacific security. Second, they have expressed little interest over the last six years in strengthening formal ties with other likeminded countries to counter Chinese strength. Finally, new military spending is unlikely to be a priority as they deal with the economic consequences of their pandemic largesse and all the new election spending promises.

In the meantime, as the Five Eyes, of which Canada has been a central player, gives way to the Quad and now a trilateral U.K.-US-Australia pact, Canada drifts further to the margins of international importance. 

Canada is back, yes. Way at the back. 

3:30 p.m. — Canada’s role in the world: A platform comparison

By Livio Di Matteo, contributor at The Hub

As a recently released poll conducted for The Hub by Public Square Research and Maru/Blue illustrated, most Canadians surveyed think that Canada’s standing in the world has gotten worse in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a small open economy, we have generally always been subject to external forces beyond our control but nevertheless it is important how we approach our role in the world as evidenced by our foreign relations and defence policies. A survey of the party platforms suggests that overall, none of the parties have really articulated a fully integrated and coherent strategic long-term vision of Canada’s interests and role in a rapidly changing world marked by technological and economic change, pandemics, climate change, Arctic warming, American withdrawal, and Chinese and Russian resurgence. However, some platforms offer more than others.

To start, the governing Liberal Party platform frames international issues using what they term a principled approach to foreign affairs that lays the emphasis on preserving an open, rules-based system on trade while hedging its bets with new investments in national resilience and supply chain protection. There is a lot on protecting democracy and human rights, Afghanistan refugee resettlement, freedom of expression for diverse minorities, and vaccine donation. Security policy emphasizes working with the United States and our NATO partners including modernizing NORAD to better secure Arctic sovereignty. With respect to defence, there is a statement regarding expanding our airlift capacity for international response.

It is essentially a continuation of our current approach to foreign affairs that emphasizes engaging with the world in our traditional manner with Canadian values as the theme underlying all our foreign policy. It does not discuss in any detail issues such as increased Russian and Chinese interest in our Arctic though it does put forward working with our allies to respond to illegal and unacceptable behaviour by authoritarian states such as China, Russia, and Iran. It also does not offer any new insights on our key foreign policy relationship: the United States.

LPC Summary: Everyone forward with the status quo.

The Conservative Party platform is advanced as a detailed plan to secure and promote the national interest with points on defence and international development. The sections are quite detailed and acknowledge the resurgent great power rivalries and growing security threats. Protecting Canadian democracy from foreign interference is explicitly stated with measures that include a Foreign Agents Registry Act to monitor foreign lobbying as well as amending the Elections Act to restrict foreign source political donations.

Defense policy mentions more resources for Canada’s Cyber command, expanding the Canadian Rangers and surveillance for Arctic sovereignty, modernizing, and extending our NORAD warning systems to the entire Arctic Archipelago and increasing our military commitment to NATO by moving defence spending “closer to our 2 percent aspirations.” There is a commitment to more military hardware including replacing submarines, fast tracking new fighter jet acquisitions and armed ice breakers for the Arctic in the face of increased international activity there.

There is direct reference to China’s new assertiveness and the role of the Indo-Pacific in the 21st century as well as the Middle East, the Americas and international aid and development. In short, there is a specific focus on Canadian interests, lots of detail on the global environment and quite a few concrete proposals dealing with specific regions and issues. The amount of detail can be interpreted as an acknowledgement that the world has changed, has become more dangerous and that business as usual will not be a suitable option but the resource commitment remains aspirational.

CPC Summary: Recognizing that a more difficult world exists.

The NDP makes the case for a better role in the world, but the details are vague. The NDP says they will stand up to China with a strong, coherent, and principled foreign policy based on human rights and global peace and security as support for those facing threats by Chinese entities in Canada. The NDP sees Canada’s global role as helping the most vulnerable by boosting international development assistance and supporting policies to make vaccines freely available as well as a leadership role in helping lower income countries deal with climate change. They also support nuclear disarmament, recommit to peace keeping and will ensure that Canadian made weapons do not fuel conflict and human rights abuses.

With respect to defence, they pledge investment in replacing outdated equipment and training and support for our national defence and international commitments including peacekeeping. In contracting for new military equipment preference will be given to suppliers who will create jobs in Canada. Notably, there is little mention of NATO, NORAD, or Arctic sovereignty.

NDP Summary: Helping Canadians help themselves by helping the world.

The foreign policy and defence platform for the People’s Party is direct and succinct in articulating a vision of Canada on the international scene. It presents the world to date as moving dangerously towards a globalist vision with Canada merging its identity in a post-national quasi-world UN sponsored state with no identity. The response to this perceived situation is a Canada first common-sense foreign policy that will work closely with allies to maintain international peace but not get involved in conflicts unless there is a direct benefit to Canada. The United States will be the priority focus for foreign relations and there will be a withdrawal from all UN commitments that are seen as threatening Canadian sovereignty. Development aid will be phased out and international assistance will focus on humanitarian disaster relief. With respect to defense, there is little mention of new investment in military hardware or defence capabilities or even Arctic sovereignty. It is a very short and simple foreign policy with very sweeping assertive statements and little detail.

PPC Summary. The world is dark and full of terrors so raise the drawbridge.

Finally, the Green Party places their international affairs and defence platform in the Just Society component on their platform. There is a lot of criticism of the current government’s record on the pandemic and international vaccine distribution, greenhouse emissions, Afghan refugees and our reputation in the international community. The Green Party proposes to engage internationally in more egalitarian forms of collaboration with a more diverse set of international partners. They will retool the military to support disaster response while maintaining combat readiness while reconsidering our current network of alliances and trade relationships that have made us overly dependent on traditional allies and authoritarian states. Foreign policy will be characterized by living up to commitments on issues like climate, respect for international law, sustainable international development policy, and international fair trade. As well, they will reinforce Arctic sovereignty through expanded patrols and community infrastructure development.

GP summary: An aspirational foreign policy seeking a global just society.

Overall, the foreign and defence policy platforms of all the parties range from reasonably detailed collections of policies to very vague statements. None of them really present a fully integrated and coherent vision of what Canada’s foreign policy strategy should be but that probably is more the function of a White Paper or Royal Commission.

If anything, the major criticism is the lack of any substantive debate of these issues during the current election campaign. Ignoring these issues is a somewhat myopic splendid isolationism approach that relies on simple platitudes about our past glories as a cooperative and outward-looking middle power under the wings of the U.S. defense umbrella. This will not cut the mustard in the rougher world of the unfolding 21st century.

1:30 p.m. — Our short-term focus is unemployment, but we need a plan for a long-term labour shortage

By L. Graeme Smith, The Hub’s content editor

Jobs, jobs, and a million more jobs. Creating more jobs to get Canadians back to work is a primary focus of each major party platform. All well and good. Doing so is crucial to rebuilding the economy and providing people with stability as the country exits the plague years. 

But in some ways the pandemic-induced spike in unemployment has obscured the bigger and more long-term labour market challenge facing the country: labour market shortages. Soon close to one in four Canadians will be over the age of 65 and this will have profound effects on supply and demand for workers across the country.

There’s evidence in fact that it’s already starting to. Employment-services provider ManpowerGroup Inc. recently surveyed 45,000 employers across 43 countries and found 69 percent of employers reported difficulty filling roles. This marks a 15-year high for talent shortage rates, the provider reports. 

This RBC Economics report looking at the latest numbers highlights that job vacancies in Canada grew 22 percent in June from May, for a total of 800,000 unfilled positions. It notes that the country was experiencing tight labour-market conditions even before the pandemic hit, with the national unemployment rate at a historic low of 5.7 percent in 2019. 

Additionally, Canada’s overall job-vacancy rate climbed to 5 percent in June, which is double the level it was at five years earlier.

Statistics Canada reports that in the first quarter of 2021, one in five job vacancies was in health care and social assistance. 

In the Q4 2021 Net Employment Outlook examining the hiring intentions of Canadian businesses this upcoming quarter, ManpowerGroup Inc. shows that 50 percent of employers plan to hire, 35 percent plan to keep work levels steady, 11 percent expect to let staff go, and 4 percent are unsure about hiring plans. 

The Hub’s editor-at-large Sean Speer spoke about this overall challenge with host Alicja Siekierska on Yahoo Finance Canada’s Crisis Management podcast in June of 2021, highlighting the serious effects this underexplored issue will have on economic growth: 

“I’m not sure we have gotten our collective heads around this new reality. Every time that we seem to be focusing the policy discussion around this long-term secular trend, something emerges that restores unemployment as a matter of concern. Think of the 2008-09 financial crisis, or the experience of the pandemic. But the truth is these temporary experiences don’t change the underlying reality: for the foreseeable future, the primary labour market and, I would argue, economic issue facing our country is the fact that we have too few workers.”

How do the parties seek to address the labour shortage issue? 

The Conservative party platform promises to: 

  • Recognize the need for international farm workers and facilitate their timely entrance into Canada to work on Canadian farms. 
  • Develop a long-term strategy to attract skilled workers to the meat processing sector, which is currently facing a 30,000 worker deficit that is putting Canada’s supply chains at risk and harming our long-term competitiveness.
  • Double the Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit for the next three years to help create more places for apprentices.
  • Invest $250 million over two years to create the Canada Job Training Fund.
  • Create the Working Canadian Training Loan to provide low interest loans of up to $10,000 to people who want to upgrade their skills.
  • Introduce a Construction Mobility Tax Credit to help with expenses construction workers incur when they temporarily relocate for work.
  • Give Québec more input into the assignment of temporary foreign workers to particular regions and their pathways to permanent residency to address critical labour shortages.

The Liberal platform includes the following pledges: 

  • Reform economic immigration programs to expand pathways to Permanent Residence for temporary foreign workers and former international students through the Express Entry points system. 
  • Build on the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot and work with employers and communities across Canada to welcome 2,000 skilled refugees to fill labour shortages in in-demand sectors such as health care. 
  • Establish a Trusted Employer system to streamline the application process for Canadian companies hiring temporary foreign workers to fill labour shortages that cannot be filled by Canadian workers.
  • Grow and improve the Global Talent Stream program by simplifying permit renewals, upholding the 2-week processing time, and establishing an employer hotline, to allow Canadian companies to attract and hire highly skilled workers. 
  • Continue to work with provinces, territories, and regulatory bodies to improve foreign credential recognition.
  • Introduce a new Labour Mobility Tax Credit to allow workers in the building and construction trades to deduct up to $4,000 in eligible travel and temporary relocation expenses giving them a tax credit of up to $600 a year.
  • Make it easier for women and vulnerable groups to access training by requiring businesses supported through the Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program to include wrap-around supports.
  • Introduce a Career Extension Tax Credit: seniors who earn a minimum of $5,000 at their jobs will be able to eliminate tax payable on a portion of their income and receive a tax credit of up to $1,650.
  • Develop a sector-specific Agricultural Labour Strategy with employers and unions to address persistent labour shortages.
  • Create a new stream of the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy Program (YESS) to support 5000 opportunities a year for young people.
  • Double the Union Training and Innovation program to $50 million a year to support more apprenticeship training opportunities and additional partnerships in the Red Seal trades across Canada.
  • Establish a new Apprenticeship Service which will connect 55,000 first-year apprentices in Red Seal trades with opportunities at small and medium-sized employers.

The NDP platform promises to “make important new investments in training Canadians and boost support to traditionally underemployed groups, ensuring that they can access good jobs that pay a fair wage,” but it does not include any specific policies to address talent shortages.

11:00 a.m. — Breaking down the party platforms on foreign policy

By Amal Attar-Guzman, The Hub’s associate editor

With election day looming, and the campaign only seeing the briefest discussions on foreign policy, it’s a useful exercise to compare and contrast the three major party platforms on Canadian foreign policy and its engagement in the world.

I decided to focus on current issues and issues that have not really been discussed during the election campaign.

Trade

The Liberals and Conservatives have similar ideas when it comes to international trade in the Asia-Pacific and African regions. However, when it comes to North American trade, the CPC plans to negotiate a compensation package for farmers and processors impacted by USMCA, the renegotiated NAFTA deal.

The NDP are focusing on more transparency in trade agreements, protecting national industries and ensuring that trade agreements have more enforceable labour, human rights and environmental protections. Further, they plan to ensure trade agreements are consistent with the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, the Liberals promised to increase the number of Afghan refugees being resettled from 20,000 to 40,000. Since the CPC and NDP platforms were released while it was still unfolding, the situation in Afghanistan is not mentioned. In media appearances, Erin O’Toole has promised that a CPC government would resettle at least 20,000 refugees.

China

China is mentioned once by the LPC in terms of foreign interference. The NDP mentioned China four times, planning to stand up to China while working with allies and for its human rights abuses with respect to Hong Kong.

The CPC share similar sentiments with the NDP, but goes further, discussing China in terms of Arctic sovereignty, withdrawing Canada from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, banning Huawei from Canada’s 5G infrastructure, imposing a carbon border tariff, using Magnitsky to sanction China’s human rights offenders. China is mentioned 31 times in the Conservative platform.

Israel-Palestine

On the Israel-Palestine conflict, the CPC plans to defend Israel from being “unjustly [singled] out” by the UN, acknowledges Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans to have the Canadian Embassy relocated there. The NDP supports Palestinian self-determination and want Canada to stop selling weapons to Israel.

Israel-Palestine is not mentioned in the LPC platform.

Cybersecurity and foreign interference

The CPC mention cybersecurity and preventing foreign interference and disinformation campaigns in great length, planning to work with national security agencies, passing the Foreign Agents Registry Act, and cooperate with the Five Eyes allies.

The LPC also plans to work with national security agencies, as well as review and modernize the Investment Canada Act to provide additional resources to them. Further, the LPC plans to introduce legislation to safeguard Canada’s infrastructure and 5G networks, and work with the G7, NATO and other international partners.

The NDP briefly mentions foreign interference, espionage and terrorism, stating that their government will also work with international allies and enhance oversight of security services, while “fully respecting the privacy and Charter rights of all Canadians.”

International assistance

The LPC plans to increase international assistance by an additional $200 million to accomplish the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The CPC plans to legislate $250 million allocation from Canada’s annual International Assistance Envelope to fragile democracies and the NDP plan to boost international assistance with the goal to contribute 0.7 percent of GNI to international aid.

Comparing all the party platforms, the CPC has the most detailed foreign policy platform, followed by the LPC and NDP. In terms of budget, the LPC has more detailed funding than the CPC and NDP.

Regardless of their positions, party leaders are seemingly aware about the importance of Canada’s position in the world.

In a recent Hub Poll, 57 percent of Canadians say that Canada ‘s place in the world is worse since COVID-19. Further, in the CIC’s 2021 “Foreign Policy by Canadians” report, majorities of Canadians are ready for Canada to be more engaged in the world. So, whoever wins this election will have to face this reality.

If you want to read the party platforms yourself, you can read the Liberal Party Platform here, the Conservative Party Platform here, and the NDP party platform here.

8:30 a.m. — The pandemic revealed a big problem in our health-care system and none of the platforms address it

By Sean Speer, The Hub’s editor-at-large

Health care has loomed large in the federal election campaign. That’s probably to be expected in light of the ongoing global pandemic and its immense consequences for provincial health-care systems.

COVID-19 has exposed various structural problems with our health-care systems ranging from too little hospital capacity to the inherent weaknesses of our long-term care model to inadequate numbers of doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals in certain parts of the country.

For all of the talk about the pandemic’s effects on where we work and live, it’s a safe bet that its biggest long-term consequences will be felt in the problems that it has both illuminated and precipitated in our health-care systems.

Most of these challenges are of course not new. They’ve persisted for some time but have gone largely unaddressed by provincial governments for various reasons including resource constraints (health care already represents about 40-50 percent of provincial spending), legal and ideological constraints (the interrelationship between the Canada Health Act and our dogmatic commitment to our current single-payer model), and institutional constraints (the organization of our health-care system has contributed to a path dependency).

The collective failure to break through these constraints and address structural problems in the country’s health-care systems has now led to a new, pandemic-induced crisis: massive surgical and testing backlogs. Take Ontario for instance. The province’s Financial Accountability Office has estimated that by this month, Ontario’s surgical backlog could exceed 420,000 and its testing backlog could reach 2.5 million.

It will take years and billions of dollars to eliminate these backlogs and even that may be overly optimistic in light of evidence that the pandemic has actually obscured the full magnitude of the problem due to lower-than-normal levels of health-care consumption. Consider, for instance, the Quebec government has reported a 24-percent drop in requests to be placed on a surgical wait list during the pandemic compared to a non-pandemic year.

As the pandemic subsidies and people return to normal behaviour therefore, it’s quite likely that there’s further spike in demand for surgeries and tests. This gap between the estimated and actual backlog has been characterized as the “invisible wait list.”

This combination of these structural and pandemic-induced problems would be challenging enough if it was occurring in isolation. But it’s not. It’s happening against a backdrop of the slow yet overwhelming arithmetic of aging demographics.

The growing share of Canada’s population over the age of 65 (which is presently 18 percent but set to rise to more than 23 percent by 2030) and its interaction with health-care consumption patterns is bound to put tremendous pressure on provincial health-care systems. It’s the reason why, that even prior to the pandemic, the Parliamentary Budget Office had assessed that most provincial finances were unsustainable over the long-term.

Which brings us back to the federal campaign. Each of the major parties have made several policy commitments concerning health care.

These policy commitments share one major commonality: they assume that the overall structure of provincial health-care systems is broadly optimal (including, for instance, the mix of public and private delivery and the structure of single-payer financing) and the principal problem is a lack of public resources. The parties therefore have promised varying forms and levels of federal transfer payments to help provincial and territorial governments essentially manage the health care status quo.

This, in my view, is a mistake. It fails to consider role of policy and institutional design in contributing to our poor performance on wait lists, access to specialists, and a role for technology. This seems like a big omission. It’s hard to understand how one could observe the extraordinary failings of our health-care systems in response to the pandemic and think that the only problem is simply the need for more resources.

One of the main reasons why we’ve had such stringent lockdowns is the weak capacity of our health-care systems. Just consider that Canada has 1.95 acute care hospital beds per 1,000 which is fewer than any other OECD country besides Mexico.

Accounting for the inevitable pressures from aging demographics and the risks of future pandemics, one would think that there would be an appetite for more structural changes including, for instance, possibly revisiting parts of the Canada Health Act. But there’s been none of this in the campaign. Instead the party leaders have essentially fought over who’s a bigger defender of the rickety status quo. More federal dollars may temporarily paper over some of the immediate problems. But they won’t solve these structural issues or prepare us for inexorable rise of health-care demand.

Where there have been differences among the federal parties is in the form and structure of new and higher federal transfer payments. The difference mainly lies in how and what strings are attached.

The Conservative Party’s promise is straightforward: it would restore the growth rate of the Canada Health Transfer from a rolling average of nominal GDP to 6 percent per year. The Canada Health Transfer would continue to be subject to the Canada Health Act but there isn’t any indication from Erin O’Toole or the party platform that the Conservatives would attach additional conditions to the transfer payments. There would be, in other words, no new health accords between Ottawa and the provinces.

The Liberal Party and the New Democrats, by contrast, would leave the Canada Health Transfer’s growth rate unchanged and would instead create a number of “side-car” transfer payments for specific aspects of health-care services and delivery. The Liberals, for instance, would establish a new transfer payment for mental health services, provide dedicated funding to hire doctors and nurses and set wages for personal support workers, and extend new funding (dictated by new federal legislation) for long-term care homes.

The NDP similarly has committed to targeted funding in various health-care areas including human resources, pharmacare, dental care, long-term care, and so on.

What’s interesting is that the totality of the Liberal and NDP promises for health-care spending represents a larger cumulative increase in federal transfer payments than the Conservative proposal but they’re doing it in a piecemeal way with various negotiations and conditions attached to these different individual payments.

The upshot: while the federal parties agree that we shouldn’t consider structural changes to our health-care systems and that more federal funding is needed to preserve the status quo, they differ on Ottawa’s role in deciding how and where the provinces spend these incremental federal dollars.

What are Canadians to make of this? Although the parties have substituted money for ideas to address the structural problems facing our health-care systems, the Conservative plan is the least bad for resisting the temptation to micromanage provincial health-care systems from Ottawa.

The good news is that recent provincial responses to the pandemic-induced backlogs — including leveraging greater private delivery as a form of “surge capacity” — may actually help to achieve more meaningful reform irrespective of what the federal parties have said during this campaign.

7:00 a.m. — Where the leaders are today

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will be in Montreal to make an announcement at 9:15 a.m.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole will be in Saint John, New Brunswick to make an announcement at 10 a.m. ET.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh will be in Toronto to make an announcement at 9 a.m.