From terror and war, to entitlement and economy

The next chapter in this country’s political debate opened with elusive Finance Minister Joe Oliver standing in Toronto’s Canada Goose factory in front of a gaggle of employees who could have been charitably described as bemused.

The next chapter in this country’s political debate opened with elusive Finance Minister Joe Oliver standing in Toronto’s Canada Goose factory in front of a gaggle of employees who could have been charitably described as bemused.

We had moved from terror and war. We have now entered a phase that could be known as economy and entitlement.

Stephen Harper’s anti-terror bill and his extension of a mission against the so-called Islamic State appears to have solidified the Conservative core vote.

But the economy decides elections and entitlement gets the voters’ blood boiling and if the two become intertwined, this could be a volatile period for Harper.

They dipped a toe in these perilous waters carefully, Oliver at the Toronto factory, Harper taking questions in New Brunswick with a cheering section behind him, the House of Commons, as usual, ignored. The symbolism was obvious, Canada Goose usually being described as a Canadian success story.

Left unsaid by Oliver was that Canada Goose is now majority-owned by Bain Capital, the asset management firm founded by defeated Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Left unanswered by Oliver was the fact that Canada Goose is facing a complaint before the Competition Bureau that it is unethically sourcing its fur by using inhumane trapping practices.

The company maintains it is built on “honesty and authenticity” and is transparent about its use of government-regulated trapping practices, but Animal Justice says the company is misleading the country, and Oliver didn’t seem to know about this when asked by a reporter.

This may all be a sideshow to the bigger issue, of course, except when you ignore a perfectly functional House of Commons with its braying opposition members, scrutiny of your chosen venue becomes fair game.

Left unremarked by anyone — until a couple of hours later in question period by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair — was the fact that Sen. Nancy Ruth, Ottawa’s Camembert Queen, also once suggested using Canadian geese to feed the poor. Will the poor get Camembert or goose, Mulcair wondered, a stretch to be sure, but an effort to link the two.

Harper and Oliver promise a balanced budget, are expected to find more money for veterans and will make good on promises to provide an adult tax fitness credit and double the limit of Tax Free Savings Account contributions.

But after years of styling themselves as the responsible custodians of the purse in a turbulent world, the economy is no longer the Conservatives’ security blanket.

The April 21 budget will be released against a backdrop of a disheartening streak of retail closures and job losses and the free fall in oil prices, which Bank of Canada governor Steven Poloz said would have an “atrocious” effect on the economy in the first quarter.

The Harper Conservatives have already delivered enhanced family payments and tax cuts in an income-splitting program, which both opposition parties have decried as a handout to the rich that they would roll back.

That may leave us with a bit of an ice-cold Camembert and broken cracker budget that looks over the horizon and forms the basis of a re-election platform. Just to be sure, the government will spend $7.5 million promoting its effort, just in time for the NHL playoffs.

Before we get there, however, Tuesday’s opening of the Mike Duffy criminal trial will throw the focus back on Senate largesse and Nancy Ruth (she has no last name) threw out the first indignity of the entitlement season earlier in the week. Harper didn’t send oil prices tumbling and he didn’t appoint Nancy Ruth, although she sits as a Conservative.

But he must wear her comments, just as he must wear Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin, the former facing an array of charges, the latter under investigation. Harper will wear any revelations coming from the Duffy trial and any of the Conservative spending improprieties ferreted out by the industrious auditor general Michael Ferguson.

Liberals are also culpable. Former senator Mac Harb faces charges and they will not escape Ferguson’s deep audit, but Justin Trudeau expelled the Liberal senators from his caucus and he appointed none of them.

Economy and entitlement will go forward hand-in-hand. Canadians anxious about their financial future will have no patience with wanton Senate spending and complaints about cheese in business class.

They need only be reminded Nancy Ruth chose to complain on the day she received a 2.7 per cent pay hike, bringing her base salary to $142,400.

Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer. He can be reached at