Sorting out federal election issues

Columnist Tom Fletcher on upcoming federal election issues

VICTORIA – The first, and perhaps the only complete English-language debate in this long federal election campaign has helped define the issues, and the non-issues.

I’m not going to try to tell you who “won” or “came out swinging,” because this is not a sporting event. If you’re paying attention in August, bless you, and you probably have a favourite already.

First, let’s deal with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s diabolical scheme to extend the length of the formal election period. This, according to national pundits, is an extension of his evil plot to attract more financial supporters than the other parties, and spend the money. In other words, it’s a non-issue and any opponent who dwells on it looks like a whiner.

This is the first election in modern Canadian history to follow a four-year schedule. National pundits spent months telling us Harper was going to use a loophole in his own election law to call a spring vote before the economy tanked. Didn’t happen, and now the Conservatives are rightly under scrutiny about their economic management. Incumbent manipulation of election timing is over, and that’s good.

Scheduled elections by their nature create longer campaigns, as demonstrated in B.C. and the United States. So they should be conducted under formal campaign rules, which limit the noise of public sector unions and other special interests.

Another non-issue is the non-existent deficit and recession that supposedly grips Canada. On actual results, there is a slim surplus, and if – a big if – Saudi Arabia continues to depress world oil prices, there may be a modest deficit by next spring.

The Bank of Canada’s recent move to devalue the dollar has already produced a rebound in exports and tourism, which any government would appreciate. Have you tried to find parking at the mall lately?

Of particular interest to B.C. voters is the contest between NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Green Party leader Elizabeth May. May used what may be her only national debate appearance to press Mulcair to oppose the TransMountain pipeline expansion project before hearings are complete.

Mindful of Adrian Dix’s disastrous 2013 decision to do the same in B.C., Mulcair insisted he would wait for the federal review, even though he considers it to be inadequate.

This is, of course, all theatre. Based on their actions, the NDP, Green Party and Liberals are all opposed not just to oil pipelines but export gas pipelines as well. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau wants to cancel capital cost allowances for liquefied natural gas investment that have been granted by B.C. and Ottawa, which could be a deal-breaker for LNG.

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan formalized his opposition to the TransMountain expansion last week, in a letter filed with the National Energy Board. But we’re expected to believe that Mulcair has a different position, for now.

Harper was forced to admit that his long effort to persuade U.S. President Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline has failed, and the project will have to wait until Obama leaves office next year.

The debate also confirmed positions on Canada’s modest role in bombing Islamic State terrorist positions in Iraq and Syria. The Conservatives are for it, and the Liberals, NDP and Greens are against it. Trudeau set the stage for the contest in Quebec, which B.C. voters can only watch from afar to see if it once again decides the shape of their federal government. Trudeau pushed Mulcair on his cynical bid to court the separatist voters who suddenly swung to Jack Layton’s NDP in 2011. Like petroleum prices, it’s beyond our control.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca)