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The Weekly Wrap: The International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Israel’s leadership is outrageous. Why won’t the Liberals say so?

Commentary
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers remarks on recent developments in Israel ahead of the annual Press Gallery Dinner in Ottawa, on Saturday, April 13, 2024. Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press.

In The Weekly Wrap Sean Speer, our editor-at-large, analyses for Hub subscribers the big stories shaping politics, policy, and the economy in the week that was.

The Liberals keep drawing false equivalencies between Israel and Hamas

This week’s petition by the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for “war crimes” provoked the same kind of false equivalence that we’ve come to expect from the Trudeau government since Hamas’ terrorist attacks on October 7.

While U.S. President Joe Biden rightly denounced the announcement as “outrageous,” the best that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could seemingly muster was that it wasn’t “helpful.” It wasn’t clear for whom he thought it was unhelpful—the Israeli hostages, Palestinian civilians, or perhaps his own political standing. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly was even worse. She insisted that “all parties”—presumably referring to Israel’s democratic government and Hamas, the terrorist organization that’s committed to its destruction—“make sure that they abide by international law.” 

It was apparently lost on her that while Israel was evacuating 1 million people from Rafah before fully commencing its military operation in the southern part of Gaza, we were once again confronted by the brutality of Hamas in a video released by the parents of seven Israeli female soldiers in which they’re threatened with murder and rape before being taken into Gaza as hostages. 

It reflects a shameful pattern from the Trudeau government. The prime minister and the foreign affairs minister equivocate with procedural banalities while Liberal Members of Parliament are permitted to freelance on different sides of the issue. MP Anthony Housefather can speak in favour of Israel and others like Iqra Khalid, Salma Zahid, and Sameer Zuberi can downplay Hamas’s actions or distort Israel’s. 

There’s a tendency to assume that the government has adopted this double-speak due to caucus dynamics or electoral calculations. I have admittedly thought and said that at various points over the past several months. But I think it both under- and over-estimates the prime minister and his government. 

It underestimates the extent to which the Trudeau government is actually motivated by a recognizable progressive worldview. This isn’t a government merely following the polls. Its left-wing ideas and values fully underpin its governing agenda. 

It overestimates the Trudeau government for the same reason. One wishes that one could attribute the government’s positioning on the Israel-Hamas war to raw politicking. It would still be objectionable of course. But somehow it wouldn’t be as bad if one was convinced that the government knew what was right but was making unprincipled compromises for crass political reasons. 

The reality though is that the centre of gravity on these issues has shifted within the Liberal Party as it has become a more resolutely left-wing party under Trudeau’s leadership. This isn’t merely a consequence of greater representation of Arab and Muslim voices within the party either. One gets the sense that its prevailing views on these matters are now the same ones reflected in certain parts of academia, the student encampments, and the ICC itself. 

They believe that Israel and Hamas are by and large equally responsible for the bloodshed in the region. The latter may be less legitimate and more brutal but it still deserves essentially the same standing as the former. Both sides are ultimately to blame for the long-standing tensions and the current conflagration. 

As I said on this week’s Hub Roundtable, it’s difficult to empathize with those who subscribe to this viewpoint. It’s hard to understand how one could watch the video of the Israeli women and their tormentors and instinctively side with the latter. 

In his remarks at the Manhattan Institute annual awards gala earlier this month, Douglas Murray said that the Israel-Hamas war was an instance in which “a flare goes up and everybody can be seen precisely where they’re standing.” 

Indeed. 

Conservative Party Leader, Pierre Poilievre, speaks during a Canada Strong and Free Network event in Ottawa, on Thursday, April 11, 2024. Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press.
Poilievre hints that income tax cuts could be his signature policy proposal

Last Sunday, Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre posted another one of his highly successful social media videos in which he spoke with Harrington, a forklift operator at a warehouse, about the burdens of income taxation and the inherent disincentives that it imposes on work.

The 1:18 minute exchange covered complicated tax policy issues, including the harmful effects of high marginal effective tax rates, but one wouldn’t have even necessarily known it. Their conversation was practical and straightforward. It reflected one of Poilievre’s key political strengths which is his unique ability to translate complex policy ideas into simple language. 

What made this particular video more notable, however, is it ended with something of a policy commitment. Poilievre said, “I will be cutting income tax not just to put more money into your pocket and let you bring more home but to reward the hard work of people like you and Harrington.” 

It’s one of the first times that we’ve heard him say that in a world of fiscal scarcity, he would dedicate scarce resources to lowering personal income tax rates. He didn’t clarify what he rates or by how much, but that he made the comment in conversation with someone who’s probably in and around the median earner suggests that he’ll presumably prioritize reductions to the lowest rate or the second rate, or possible changes to the basic exemption. Lowering the higher rates would not only seemingly conflict with Poilievre’s working-class message, but it also wouldn’t likely affect Harrington’s take-home pay. 

The overlooked pronouncement is noteworthy because even without specific details it tells us something about the fiscal distribution of a Poilievre-led government’s policy agenda. Lowering the first or second tax rate—even by a percentage point or two—would carry a significant fiscal cost. Raising the basic personal amount might even be more expensive. (The Parliamentary Budget Office’s Ready Reckoner provides useful rules-of-thumb on the revenue effects of different tax changes.)

If Poilievre is saying that he’s planning to cut personal income tax rates, what he’s really signaling therefore is the centerpiece of his policy platform will be a signature income tax cut. There will be limited fiscal capacity for other big-ticket promises—especially if the Conservatives remain broadly committed to reducing the deficit and ultimately balancing the budget. In fact, it will presumably require some much-needed “right-sizing” of the federal government to bring falling revenues and elevated spending into balance.  

In this sense, Poilievre’s comment in this short video may prove to be one of the most defining policy pronouncements that he makes between now and the next election. He’s effectively told us he’s going to bet on broad-based income tax cuts. It strikes me as a good bet.

Vicky Eatrides, Chairperson and CEO of the CRTC, and Scott Hutton, Chief of Consumer, Research and Communications of the CRTC wait to appear before committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press.

The CRTC kicks the Online Streaming Act can down the road

An underreported political and policy development from earlier this month was an announcement by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that it is delaying the full implementation of C-11 (Online Streaming Act) until after possibly after a 2025 federal election.

Hub readers will recall that the purpose of the controversial legislation is to extend the Canadian content regime—including its mix of levies and quotas—from traditional broadcasters to online streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube.

Although the legislation received Royal Assent in April 2023, its full implementation has always depended on the CRTC setting out rules and directives on its various provisions. The commission launched its consultations in earnest in Fall 2023 and has released periodical updates on its implementation schedule.

In order to convey a sense of urgency, the federal Cabinet issued a directive in November 2023 that required the commission to “make any changes to its regulatory framework that are necessary for the purposes of the implementation of this Order within two years after the day on which it comes into force.”

The legislation’s provisions concerning the treatment of so-called “Canadian content” on streaming, including its definition and prescribed treatment by the streaming services, are anticipated to be its most contentious. The CRTC initially signaled that it would hold consultations on them in winter 2003-24.

On May 8, however, it released a revised schedule that pushes those consultations into spring 2025 and signals that their implementation won’t come into late 2025 or possibly even later.

This is a big deal for three reasons. First, it means that the consultations will be underway as we head into the scheduled federal election campaign. If one assumes that the legislation is generally unpopular—particularly among younger voters—, the consultation sessions (which are bound to pit online cultural creators and legacy industry representatives) will restore it as a top-of-mind issue and renew debates about its costs and consequences for Canadian consumers as we prepare to go to the polls.

Second, the failure to fully implement the legislation prior to the election will leave outstanding questions about its practical effects on content creators and consumers unresolved. The effect will be that many will continue assume the worst-case scenario in terms of their ability to promote or find online content and the government won’t be in a position to point to actual experience as proof that they’re wrong.

Third, if the Conservatives are elected, it will be easier to repeal legislation that hasn’t yet been fully implemented. It’s one thing to take something away from people. It’s another to get rid of it before there are any so-called “winners.” The CRTC’s implementation delays mean that most Canadians won’t even know if (or when) it’s gone.

 

‘History is messy’: The best comments from Hub readers this week

Commentary

This short week, Hub readers discussed Canada’s unique penchant for celebrating Victoria Day, whether or not the BC Conservatives should consider a merger, Parks Canada’s descent into identity politics, and the implications of the ICC issuing arrest warrants for Israel’s leaders.

The goal of Hub Forum is to bring the impressive knowledge and experience of The Hub community to the fore and to foster open dialogue and the competition of differing ideas in a respectful and productive manner. Here are some of the most interesting comments from this past week.

Sign up for our daily Hub Forum email newsletter today.

Canada stands alone in still celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday. That’s a fitting thing, even in our post-colonial times

Monday, May 20, 2024

“Indeed, the birthday commemoration is one of the needed cultural anchors of historical awareness, appreciation, and wisdom for this ongoing, flawed, yet successful collaborative project that we feel in our hearts to be, and to call, Canada.”

— Paul Attics

“Marking Victoria Day recognizes and confirms our historical connection to a great nation from which we forged our political institutions and traditions.”

— RJKWells

“Canada has a tenuous hold on a future separate from our cousins south of the border. Cancel the few distinct traditions we have, expunge our history, write the monarchy out of our Constitution and our younger generations will all have to learn a new song.”

— Michael B

The BC Conservatives are cruising and could even form government—why on earth would they consider a merger?

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

“In the past, many BC Conservatives voted Liberal because they knew the provincial Conservatives had no chance of winning. As the BC Conservatives have gained momentum many folks that are looking for real change from the socialist-leaning NDP government are moving towards the Conservatives. The BC Liberals have not done enough to distinguish themselves (fundamentally) from the NDP. Rather, they have focused on how they would handle certain hot topics differently.”

— Rick Whitehead

Parks Canada chooses identity politics over giving Sir John A. Macdonald his due

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

“Among the many challenges facing a new government will be to reengage Canadians in their history, which by most measures should make us proud, and tied to this is encouraging immigrants to understand their new country’s history and cultural environment.”

— Graham W S Scott

“You cannot view or judge 19th-century historical events (or any other century for that matter) through a 21st-century lens. Realities and norms were not always consistent decade to decade, century to century.”

— Don Palmer

“For me, the interesting thing about history is that you can learn from it. Now what you learn is certainly determined by the authors, so here we must be careful. History, as written, often narrowly describes an event or person to convey some point. In doing so, it often excludes the points of view of others. Much like a court of law or government, history (including monuments) should submit the many different points of view on a matter.”

— Bill Hertha

“History is messy and no one is all good, particularly when applying current thinking to events and decisions 150 years ago.”

— Gord Edwards

An Israeli soldier flashes a V-sign from an armoured personnel carrier as they head towards the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. Ariel Schalit/AP Photo.
Prosecuting Israel for defending itself would mean the end of the liberal international world order

Thursday, May 23, 2024

“There are times when words carry weight. And there are times when you need to hit back hard. The attack on Israel is one of the latter.”

— Tom Barnett

“If when the dust settles there is evidence Israel politically acted deliberately in an inappropriate way during the battle against Hamas then that may call for consideration by the court, but for it to proceed now against Israel would be totally premature and unjustified.”

— Graham W S Scott

Canada truly is broken when it comes to our destructive drug policies

Friday, May 24, 2024

“We don’t let people, generally, openly consume alcohol in public places, like in playgrounds or on public transit. Why do we tolerate this type of behaviour with respect to drug use? I don’t understand the reluctance to call out heavy and stupid drug use behaviour because it will ‘stigmatize’ those individuals. That’s exactly the attitude society follows with respect to use of tobacco and apparently that’s okay and seems to be getting the desired results (fewer people smoking).

— Wester

“This is a wicked problem and it starts in human hearts. The isolation of the addict, the greed and ruthlessness of the suppliers, and yes, the naïveté and ideological blindness of the activists and governments. I don’t know what the solution is, but if what we’re doing doesn’t work, as happened in B.C., we have to stop doing it.”

— Darlene Craig