Impaired driving trade and flooding how federal politics touched us this weekadmin October 17, 2019 0 COMMENTS
OTTAWA – Parliament Hill seemed downright cosy this week as the surrounding areas shivered through days of wet basements and home-destroying floods.The Conservatives devoted much of their week to chipping away at their case that Justin Trudeau is too entitled, pointing out the $2,000 cost of cardboard replicas of the prime minister and attacking his Christmas helicopter ride to the Aga Khan’s private island.Their righteousness was kept somewhat in check by the reluctant resignation of a senator named by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper. Don Meredith was facing expulsion because of his sexual history involving a teenaged girl.Beyond the scoffing about the rain, the life-size cutouts and the sex scandal, there were solid developments on drunk driving, trade with the United States and the fallout of flooding. Here are three ways politics touched us this week:DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCEThe legislative path towards legalizing marijuana has begun — with a move to crack down on drunk driving and a government on the defensive to explain why police should have more power in this area.When the Liberals put forward their legislative package to legalize pot last month, they proposed allowing police to ask drivers at random to submit to a breathalyzer test as part of their efforts to prevent impaired driving. Some experts say the government is headed for a constitutional confrontation in court if it goes ahead.Asking for breath samples, Jody Wilson-Raybould argued this week, is no different than asking drivers for their licence and registration. She says other countries that do it have shown a substantial reduction in alcohol-related accidents and deaths.NIXING NAFTA?The U.S. Senate has finally approved Robert Lighthizer as the U.S. trade representative, putting in place a major piece of the puzzle to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. He is seen as calm, rational and experienced — so the process should be more predictable, right?Not so fast: U.S. President Donald Trump now wants to start the clock ticking on the NAFTA talks, and the changes need to be “massive” — or else he’ll ditch the agreement altogether.The Trump administration has signalled it wants better terms for dairy, lumber, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and the dispute resolution system. The supply chains and competitive advantages of many a Canadian company, worker and farmer are at stake.But can Trump do “massive” and quick at the same time? That’s hard to do in trade negotiations — especially with a Mexican election now in the offing.FLOODINGWith thousands of homes in Gatineau, Ottawa and Montreal under water this week, and the view from Parliament Hill marred by angry brown water in the Ottawa River, there was no escaping the serious and mounting problem of costly natural disasters. And now, British Columbia is facing a similar calamity.Since 2011, the federal government has spent an average of $360 million a year dealing with the fallout of such disasters — three times the annual cost from previous decades.And it’s never enough. Fires and floods bring chaos and wreak havoc on personal finances, forcing provinces and individuals alike to turn to Ottawa for help.That pattern played itself out again this week, prompting pleas from Trudeau and his ministers to build more disaster-resistant structures in the future.But while this specific Ottawa River flood was impossible to predict in advance, the growing number of climate-related floods, fires and extreme weather events has been a subject of frequent discussion for years.That hasn’t stopped cities from shying away from, or even sitting on, the mapping of flood zones so that construction can be designed appropriately. Documents this week revealed that some municipal officials have avoided mapping the risk of flooding because they don’t want to face angry constituents who would see their property values decline.Chances are, that trade-off means little to those whose homes are in the swamp right now along the Ottawa River.