TORONTO - For every action there is a reaction. It is as true in politics as it is in physics, even if the casual observer is often oblivious of his environment. In a world consumed with attention directed towards the swearing-in of President Trump, the election of Antonio Tajani as President of the European Parliament could not have happened at a more propitious time for Canada.
Mr Tajani is a committed Eurocentric politician. A former journalist whose political roots are fiscally conservative, his sorties into Italian politics have never resulted in elected office, Nationally. The consequence is that over the last two decades he has honed his personal, political skills as a non-partisan, Euro Parliamentarian – a “Europe Firster”, to coin a phrase – one dedicated to a federalist “bigger picture”.
His urbane, sometimes self-effacing, non-confrontational, approach won over the majority of Euro Parliamentarians from the Centre and Centre-Right of the political spectrum. He will be a welcome change from his predecessor, President Martin Schulz whose sometimes abrasive and dismissive demeanour resulted in extra work for those tasked with building consensus.
Mr. Tajani could prove to be an invaluable ally in Canada’s goal to ratify the CETA. He has a demonstrated history of supporting those strategies aimed at growth and expansion rather than at austerity and retrenching. His approach is globalist more than Nationalist.
Canada, which is committed to and reliant on market access for its own well-being, especially in the face of a currently, outwardly protectionist President-elect Trump, will need friends in the world’s biggest economic trading block – Europe – to mitigate its risks.
It is helpful that both Global Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland and International Trade Minister, Francois Philippe Champagne, speak Italian. While that is not a pre-requisite for dialoguing in a truly multi-ethnic and multi-lingual environment like Europe, it helps to build the natural affinity and ease of relationships with people who may not require the use of translators except for the exactness of official documentation.
Equally important for the Canadian team is the relationship between Mr. Tajani and his former political colleague, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, who is also the leader of the Centre Right political segment of the Italian Parliament.
Mr. Alfano has recently begun to express himself in language that is decidedly more ultra-montane. Perhaps it is a reflection of the impact of his chief of staff, former Ambassador to Canada, Gian Lorenzo Cornado. The Ambassador is an unabashed Canada-phile, having served here in three separate tours of duty. He knows Canada, its Canada-US dynamic and the country’s reliance on extra-territorial trade like no other Diplomat in recent memory.
Italy will be key in the re-organization, real or cosmetic, of the European Union. Mr. Tajani defeated a fellow Italian and close personal friend, Gianni Pittella, around whom the European Left-leaning Parties coalesced. Mr. Pittella is also a personal friend of current Prime Minister Gentiloni and former Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, now Party secretary of the PD.
The point of all of this is that regardless the challenges of a new Administration in Washington, to which Canada must rightly direct much attention, our international interests are not limited to one deck of cards.
TORONTO - “What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” - Walter Scott.
Ahh ... The Auto Industry. The last remnant of a once thriving manufacturing industrial sector in North America. Its leaders run it with a style and ethic reminiscent of nineteenth century "robber barons" whose operating principle is best reflected by the old Industry adage: what’s good for GM is good for the country.
Today, their devotion for research and innovation to meet competitive dynamics and satisfy customer seems to revolve around inserting software into their products so that they can defeat safety and environmental legislation. The only legislation they support is the one that protects them against competitors or market penetration of innovative competitors.
They have become expert at stock market manipulation and at begging for government grants. They resist vehemently any effort to have them comply with regulations and laws introduced by democratically elected bodies to bring them into line with the expectations of civilized societies.
In the last several years, one after the other, the major auto assemblers have been brought before Congressional Committees, Transportation Agencies, and Civil Courts tasked with arbitrating class action lawsuits by aggrieved consumers, First Toyota’s President was compelled to justify before the American Congress why his company’s products were putting lives at risk, unnecessarily. Then, GM was faced with fines and recalls over their reluctance to replace a corrective part costing pennies.
The "biggies", so to speak, involved VW’s elaborate scheme - according to the Environmental Protection Agency, in the USA - to circumvent the rules against the emissions of toxic gases, thereby defeating the intent of the law, the objectives of legislation and thus gaining an unfair advantage in the marketplace.
VW was fined 4.3 USD billion and is facing a further loss of 17 USD billion in civil court. Moreover six of its senior executives are facing criminal charges and jail time, if convicted. Five of them probably cannot be extradited from Germany.
Not to be outdone (sarcasm intended), one of the Detriot Three - [Fiat] Chysler Automotive (FCA) - in this last year has been the target of recall notices for hundreds of thousands of defective vehicles; fined in excess of $700 million USD for misreporting sales in order to boost share value on the Stock exchange; and, now, for allegedly installing "defeat mechanisms" in its diesel-powered vehicles. In essence, despite the denials of its CEO, Sergio Marchionne, FCA, appears to have been as guilty as VW.
Mr. Marchionne, some readers may recall, famously called himself a "shark" when he demanded a $700 million CDN subsidy for FCA from the "minnows" in Ontario in order to stay at the Brampton plant, says there is no comparison.
One would have to be stupid to deliberately install this technology, he is reported to have said to US Media. He could not explain how it was discovered in at least 104 000 of his North American vehicles. Nor did he know anything about this investigation prior to the EPA allegations on Thursday, he says.
Wonderful. The German government has been trying to tag the government of Italy with the responsibility for Fiat’s contravention of similar legislation in Europe. Even if one puts aside the fact that FIAT is headquartered in England, and that the German tactic is probably designed to place both the British and Americans on alert that trade relations with Europe cannot be easily altered, Mr Marchionne cannot have been completely asleep at the switch.
In a show of bravado and support for incoming President Trump, On Tuesday he had announced that FCA would be prepared to invest $2 Billion USD in the USA. Only a cynic (sarcasm again) would suggest that there was a connection between the EPA’s allegations revealed Thursday and his effort to ingratiate himself to Trump.
The potential fine of $4,6 Billion USD represents about 35% of the company’s market capitalization on the New York Stock Exchange. Add that to the virtually unbearable debt burden of the company and its aging product line relative to those of its competitors, it hard to see a rosy picture ahead for FCA.
In an Auto sector meeting in Detroit last week, Mr Marchionne got the "Theresa May treatment": he was virtually shunned.
A few short years ago, mr. Marchionne was heralded as the saviour of FIAT. Now he is saddled with the perception that his accomplishments were achieved by breaking the rules.
Has he been caught? Time will tell, but the courtship aimed at selling Fiat to VW is all but over.
TORONTO - Only the Prime Minister can create Cabinet Ministers. We, the Public, provide him with the working material by electing his party members to the House of Commons from where he draws his Ministerial candidates.
Our involvement ends there. His choices are not subject to any Parliamentary Committee hearings or any other “approval process”. Observers and citizens can only ask “why John and not Joanne?” But it ends there. This is not the USA where Secretaries – Ministers – must first run the gauntlet of Congress/Senate hearings before they are confirmed in their posts.
The truth is that there is nothing that any individual MP can do that would compel the Prime Minister to choose him/her over a colleague. Such is the case in a majority government.
Gone are the days – if they ever existed – when Ministers had to demonstrate a competence in a particular area before they could be considered “worthy”.
Given the role that Ministers have in shaping Canada’s future and our collective identity in it, some might resent that. I am not one of them.
Cabinets are much more about symbolism and messaging than they are about “building”. For that, we have Deputy Ministers, whose task it is to ensure that the day to day affairs of the Nation are properly discharged.
Sometimes, they are about the “ground game”, the political adeptness of individuals to convince the public, garner support for the government and, yes, votes for the Party. Without the ground game and the appropriate symbols, even the most competent of governments have a difficult time to survive.
No Prime Minister forgets the importance of symbols with which the electorate identifies, or ignores the need to establish an on-the-ground infrastructure. Policy goals and public buy-in dictate on going nutrition of the Base upon which a responsible government relies for longevity.
For the Corriere Canadese, Toronto’s third longest running daily newspaper, the inclusion of person-symbols from the readership we serve (Canadians of Italian origin) in Canada’s Cabinet represents the extent to which that readership is viewed as part of the Canadian fabric.
We did not see any in this latest shuffle.
Yet, there is no shortage of “talent” – professional, entrepreneurial and “social” – among the eleven MPs elected from our segment of the Canadian community. Hard-working and dedicated, even. So a recent National Post article described one of those MPs, Francesco Sorbara, from Vaughan.
Gender Parity, Diversity, Visible Minorities, etcetera … it is all Identity Politics. Regrettably, we continue to be overlooked.
Perhaps the Government is not offering up any policies for Canadian growth and development that require our support. We continue to be Canadians nonetheless.
TORONTO - A political wag from Ottawa called the cabinet Shuffle a “facelift” – no big deal, just a fresh me up. When something comes virtually out of the blue, like this one, the political pundits and “experts” are left scratching their heads with bemusement and speculation.
The alleged issue that prompted movement was the election of Donald Trump as president of the USA. The assessment, so goes the speculation (undoubtedly fed by the Prime Minister’s personal friend and Ambassadorial appointee to the USA), is that President-elect Trump will only respect a hard- nosed negotiator as a spokesperson for Canada.
Enter Minister Freeland of recent CETA negotiating fame. Out with the “more cerebral” Dion. But negotiations are typically handled by the Minister for International Trade rather than the Minister for Global Affairs anyway; so, enter Francois- Philippe Champagne to do that heavy lifting in that portfolio.
A more likely scenario is the one widely discussed last Fall that saw Dion musing ever more publicly about his desire to leave the political realm entirely, and hopefully replace it with a future as an Ambassador.
In either event, the changes would serve as cover to usher out some Ministers whose performance sputtered when it came to exciting the public’s imagination and converting policy into reality. If there is something that is more of a threat to a bureaucracy’s sense of purpose and empire-building than an activist Minister, it must surely be the presence of a Minister whose aversion to risk earns dismissive reactions around the Cabinet table.
Heading into the middle of the Mandate, that meant John McCallum’s days at Refugee and Immigration were numbered, as were Those of MaryAnn Mihychuk at Human Resources. McCallum at least landed in an Embassy (China). Mihychuk is in the Backbenches.
Their replacements are untested. If they have new insights into their respective portfolios, only time will tell. If they have the strength to carry out what Italians call a “mandate of purpose” (assuming there is one) will depend on the latitude the Prime Minister’s Office will give them. There is an inscription in the first Canto of Dante’s Divine Comedy that captures the moment.
The Prime Minister will have recognized by now the superficiality of the talent that was at Cabinet’s disposal. His personal attractiveness served as great cover during the learning curve for some Ministers. But, politics is a brutal row to hoe.
Political capital gets used up quickly. If the Prime Minister is the only asset the government has to play with, once the terrain becomes arduous, a lot of people will fall by the wayside.
Hence, “people projects” like the Ministers for Democratic Reform and Labour needed to be abandoned before they, and the policies they represented, became toxic. The moronic effort at public consultation for input in a future electoral architecture smacked of uninformed dilettantism at its worst.
Who knows if these moves will benefit Canada in the medium and long term? Clearly, the government is trying to shore up its own survivability in the face of the flagging fortunes of its provincial cousins (particularly in Ontario) and the ever-increasing presence of a potential alternative among the Conservative Opposition.
So far, the changes are a muted admission that in the first 15 months this administration ran on a questionable strategy of auto pilot.
It would have happened sooner or later, as these things go. Some people will be hugely disappointed, despite their hard work. Others who will have done everything to ingratiate themselves to the “powers that be” will be overjoyed.