Stuff Happens, week 39: Big (yawn) trade deal; Harper plays niqab card; Notley bombs

The big story this week was a trade deal. Wait, wait! Please don’t stop reading.

Canada has joined 11 other countries in something called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a collection of countries including big dogs (the U.S., Japan), middle-sized dogs (Canada, Mexico, Australia) and some pups (Vietnam, Brunei). The combined gross domestic product of the 12 countries is $27.5 trillion US, and it took eight years to put it together. So, yes, it’s kind of a big deal, but not as big as you might think. We already have free trade agreements with the four of the countries which account for 96 per cent of our exports, so this is in some ways small potatoes. The deal has not been released yet, and even when it is there is no doubt it will be total gibberish to all but a handful of Canadians. The only real question is: what does this mean to me? And by me, I mean you, the consumer. Apparently, not much. The biggest impact may be on Canada’s coddled dairy industry, which has been protected from most foreign competition. We pay through the nose for dairy products here thanks to the government, which pretty much guarantees dairy farms are profitable (they are concentrated mostly in voter-rich Ontario and Quebec). But as a concession to the TPP, Canada will allow more duty-free imports of dairy and poultry products, equivalent to 3.25% of of our current dairy production. To compensate the dairy farmers, the Conservatives have promised the dairy industry $4.3 billion for 15 years to further protect an already overly-protected industry. So, we might pay a little less for dairy or get more variety. That’s small cheese. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has said he feels no obligation to sign the deal if he becomes prime minister, making the totally unsubstantiated claim that it will cost 20,000 jobs (pick a number, any number). Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have taken the most sensible stand — let’s take a look at it first. Expert opinion on the deal is split: I read an article in Maclean’s that said consumers were left out to dry, and another in the National Post which said consumers are the winners. In a case like this, it’s just best to forget the whole damn thing. Which is pretty much exactly what the media did: two days after the TPP was signed, it vanished from the airwaves and print media. There are much more important things to talk about, like….

… the niqab. Yes, the non-issue that won’t go away. The matter of a handful of Muslim women who choose to wear full facial covering has become a hot-button topic in the Canadian election, thanks entirely to Stephen Harper. It is the Conservatives who inserted this non-issue into the campaign, a shameless, cynical — and successful — attempt to insert a wedge issue into the campaign. Harper is painting his anti-niqab policies as protecting women from being exploited by men. You see, he’s not anti-Muslim, he’s pro-women! Harper, master of cynical politics, is giving the ol’ ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ to anti-Muslim feelings, which are particularly strong in xenophobic Quebec. Harper, as we know, tried to ban a niqab-wearing woman from attending a citizenship ceremony; his attempt has been shot down in court after court. Now he’s musing niqab-wearing women should not be allowed to work in the civil service. This is a cure for which there is no known disease; the major unions representing federal public servants across Canada say they are unaware of a single incident involving an employee donning a niqab on the job, according to Global news. The niqab question is a sideshow, a puny non-issue that the Harper Conservatives has inserted into the campaign to divide Canadians between right-leaning ‘real’ Canadians and soft lefties who have no respect for Canadian ‘values’.

Something Harper said this week that got little publicity was this gem: the Conservative leader said marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco. I’m no expert on this, but I have never seen a single report of pot killing anyone. If that was the case, Willie Nelson would have been dead years ago. Here’s what a real scientist, Steven Laviolette from Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, had to say about Harper’s statement: “In terms of the statement that marijuana is infinitely more harmful than tobacco, there’s simply no evidence at all to suggest that’s true either in terms of health care costs, or in terms of relative health dangers. The cancers and other source of pulmonary diseases associated with smoking — to use the word infinitely — are infinitely more serious than what we would ever encounter with smoking marijuana and that’s well-established.”

Speaking so stupid comments, last week I wrote about Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, and his callous “stuff happens” comment about America’s most recent mass killing. This week, Dr. Ben Carson — who is second to Donald Trump and rising in the polls — had this to say abut the Colorado killings: “There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking,” Carson wrote, “but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” Yep, that’s right. A bullet riddled child is not as offensive as restricting the sale of guns. I didn’t think it was possible, but Donald Trump is suddenly looking like the voice of reason. (On a related matter, an 11-year-old boy killed his 8-year-old neighbour with a shotgun in an argument over a puppy, according to authorities in Jefferson County, Tenn. The 11-year-old has been charged with first-degree murder in the girl’s death. But at least the constitution is safe.)

I swear this is true: the first item on the Global News noon edition on Wednesday was the breathtaking, shocking, extraordinary news that Andrew Ferrence is no longer the captain of the Oilers.  The 5 pm newscast on CTV also made the Oilers captaincy story as their top pick. Yes, that’s what passes for major news in Edmonton. And still in sports, Canada’s team (cough, cough), the Toronto Blew Jays are in danger of being swept in their series against whoever they’re playing, having lost the first two games of their best-of-five series — and in Toronto, to make matters worse. Or, in my case, better.

Premier Rachel Notley has had a pretty easy time of it since winning election, thanks in large part to a doting media. But the premier stepped in it, big time, in Calgary on Friday. Giving a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, the premier told a crowd of worried oil executives that what Canada needs right now is the “grit, determination and intellect of Thomas Mulcair”. You can imagine how well that went over with a right-wing crowd of Calgary oil types. Crickets chirped, tumbleweeds rolled. There was dead silence, and justifiably so. Making a brazenly partisan statement like that, in front of that crowd, was either courageous or foolhardy. I vote for foolhardy. Nobody wants to hear a partisan rant from a premier during an election.

And finally, what would Stuff Happens be without This Week In Atrocity. In Turkey on Saturday, two suicide bombs went off, with bitter irony, at a peace rally in Ankara. The death toll is 95, and so far no one has taken responsibility.

RIP: Long-time (and old) Edmonton Eskimo fans will remember running back Jim ‘Long Gone’ Thomas, who died this week at at age 76. Thomas spent nine years with the Green and Gold from 1963 to 1971, racking up 6,161 career yards (third on the Eskimos all-time list) on 1,111 carries with 37 touchdowns. He still holds the record for the three longest rushing touchdowns in Eskimos history — a 104-yard TD run on Oct. 9, 1965 against BC, a 100-yard TD run on Aug. 2, 1966 against Winnipeg and a 97-yard TD run on Sept. 4, 1964 against Ottawa. He also recorded 221 receptions for 2,642 yards and 14 touchdowns. Thomas was pretty much the lone bright spot during the darkest days in Eskimo history …  Paul Prudhomme, 75, American celebrity chef, cookbook writer and restaurateur … Billy Joe Royal, 73, American pop and country singer (Down in the Boondocks, Cherry Hill Park, Burned Like a Rocket).

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