Opinion-Policy Nexus

There are times when a poor befuddled layman wonders whether the left hand knows what the right hand is doing (or vice versa) in government and big business.

Let’s start with Boeing Co. Its military aircraft division had locked up the sale of 18 Super Hornets to Canada’s air force – with the prospect of many more units to come – when its commercial aircraft division took it into its head, via legal action against Montreal-based Bombardier, to challenge Ottawa’s longstanding support for the Canadian aerospace industry and the thousands of well-paying jobs that the sector provides for Canadian workers.

Anyone with any sense of Canadian politics could have told Boeing what would happen, and it did. The government halted the Super Hornet deal. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put it, the government does not do business with people who are suing it. Boeing made itself persona non grata in Ottawa.

Another left hand-right hand example. The Trudeau government is struggling to keep its election promise to lower taxes on the middle class. So what does the Canada Revenue Agency do? Without seeking cabinet approval, CRA announces that it intends to raise taxes on members of that class. Henceforth, CRA declared, it will treat the traditional discounts that retail employees receive on the merchandise they sell as being a taxable benefit.

The uproar was immediate. Larry Rosen, CEO of the Harry Rosen men’s wear chain, was all over the media, making the point that his sales personnel are required to wear the clothing they sell, and the company gives them a discount to make the clothes affordable for them.

What’s so wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, Trudeau acknowledged as he slapped down the CRA. The befuddled layman is left to wonder. Are the managers of the CRA totally insensitive to the priorities of their political masters?  Or are they registering their opposition to the Liberals’ tax reform?

Bureaucratic resistance to political direction is not unknown in Canada. For example, back in 2015, near the end of the election campaign, both the Liberals and New Democrats vowed that, if elected, they would not pursue the former Harper government’s court fight against a class-action suit filed by a group of women who claimed they were wrongly denied Employment Insurance sickness benefits while they were on maternity leave.

That message either did not get through to the bureaucracy, was ignored or was not followed up by the new government. Ottawa’s lawyers continue to fight. By this summer, the legal bill had reached $2.5 million.

Here’s a somewhat similar case. While the Liberals are investing money, energy and political capital in their effort to raise the health standards of Canada’s Indigenous people, the bureaucrats in Health Canada are spending a small fortune to avoid paying for needed orthodontics for a First Nations teenager who suffers from chronic pain for want of dental braces.  The girl’s family filed a claim under a federal First Nations program for $6,000 to pay for the treatment.  Despite the findings of two orthodontists, Health Canada declared the girl’s condition was not sufficiently severe to qualify. It denied three appeals, then took the case to Federal Court, which ruled that the refusal to pay was “reasonable.”

Maybe the decision was reasonable, but the cost to the taxpayer is not. The department has spent more than $110,000 to fight a $6,000 claim, and the lawyers’ meter is still running as the case moves to the Federal Court of Appeal. You could say the Trudeau government is spending public money to diminish its own image among First Nations.

Finally, has the RCMP never heard of Kellie Leitch and her campaign to screen immigrants for “Canadian values?” One might have thought that piece of foolishness was swept away by the election outcome. So why did Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale have to order the Mounties to stop targeting Muslim refugees with a values test that could have been written by Kellie Leitch?

It’s befuddling!


Monday, October 16, 2017 - 09:27