Appointments NAFTA and tax avoidance how federal politics touched us this week
OTTAWA — The week in politics was supposed to be all about kids and playing in the park.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau popped up in disparate corners of the country to highlight Canada 150 free passes to national parks and to celebrate — with cake and all the trimmings — the first anniversary of the Canada Child Benefit, his government’s multi-billion-dollar attempt to deal with income inequality.But the questions that followed him were more about the prime minister’s accountability and appointments than motherhood and apple pie.The U.S. list of objectives for the upcoming NAFTA negotiations and the finance minister’s new proposals to crack down on tax avoidance also loomed large over the past few days.Here’s how politics touched the public this week:ACCOUNTABILITY AND APPOINTMENTSOpposition critics are ratcheting up their questions about the Liberals’ methods in choosing who lands the big, powerful jobs in Ottawa.Three recent appointments have attracted attention because of transparency concerns.Last month, it was Madeleine Meilleur for official languages commissioner. This week, it was Julie Payette for Governor General and then Ian Scott for chairman of the CRTC, which regulates broadcast and telecommunications.With Meilleur, the former provincial cabinet minister withdrew her nomination after relentless pestering about her Liberal connections and donations to the party. With Payette, no one is opposing her appointment in the wake of revelations about a quickly dropped charge of second-degree assault, but the opposition is concerned that the prime minister’s appointment process was opaque. And with Scott, there are concerns his close ties with the telecommunications industry will make him biased.The questions about appointments will undoubtedly persist, partly because the list of vacancies in the top echelons of government is alarmingly long and partly because Trudeau has promised more transparency in governance.NEEDLING ON NAFTAThe U.S. Trade Representative has released its list of objectives to revamp NAFTA, and it’s clear negotiators in all three NAFTA countries have their work cut out for them when they start their talks next month.Many of the American objectives have been aired before, making them no surprise to insiders. But when mapped out over 18 pages and surrounded by vague text that may or may not mean major changes afoot, the list is eye-catching.Canada should expect to have to play defence on dairy production, wine sales, investment in telecommunications, government procurement contracts and rules for cross-border shopping over the Internet. But the biggest fight will probably be over how to settle fights of the future. The United States wants to get rid of that chapter altogether, and in the past, dispute settlement mechanisms have been a deal-breaker for Canada.What does Canada want from the talks? So far, the federal government won’t say much for fear of giving away its negotiating position.TAX AVOIDANCEBorrowing a phrase from his Conservative predecessor Jim Flaherty, Finance Minister Bill Morneau rolled out a “tax fairness” plan this week. It aims to eliminate the ways some high-income earners spread out and record their income so that the government applies a lower tax rate to their earnings.The goal is to prevent rich people from setting up private corporations just to lower their tax bill.Finance Canada says the number of self-employed individuals who have incorporated has almost doubled in the past 16 years.By closing just one of the three loopholes under consideration (income “sprinkling” by putting family members on the payroll), the government figures it will affect about 50,000 families and bring in an extra $250 million a year.Small business owners, doctors, accountants and lawyers are already showing their displeasure. They have 75 days of consultation to change the government’s mind.