Just as Conservatives across the country were about to begin voting for their next leader, one of the front runners threw a wrench into the works.

Kevin O’Leary, the bombastic TV star (sort of a hairless, much smarter Donald Trump), pulled out of the race, causing a collective jaw drop amongst the Canadian political elite and talking heads. O’Leary, the only recognizable face in a ludicrously overcrowded race, was almost certain to be the early leader in the voting, and a decent bet to the the winner. Speaking to the media about his decision on Wednesday, O’Leary said some shockingly honest things. While he was confident that he could win the Conservative leadership (possibly true), his numbers showed that there was no path to federal victory for the Conservatives with O’Leary at the helm, because he had virtually no support in Quebec (completely true). He said he waited until the last minute to see if “the needle would move” in his Quebec support, but it didn’t.

He is absolutely right. O’Leary could have — and probably would have — won the Conservative leadership, but there wasn’t a single hope in hell that he would become prime minister without being able to communicate with 22% of the population that speaks French. Why it took him this long to come to that obvious realization, I don’t know. Maybe he looked at the agonies of Donald Trump and figured that leaving his cushy lifestyle for the grubby world of politics wasn’t worth it. Or maybe the idea of living full-time in Canada, instead of spending at least half his time in the U.S., wasn’t appealing.  Or maybe it was the pay cut he would have to take. Whatever the reasons, he was smart to quit. He could not become the next prime minister, and playing second fiddle to Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons was just too repulsive to contemplate. Anyway, O’Leary threw his support behind Maxime Bernier, a far right libertarian MP. Bernier was a contender from the beginning, but now he must be seen as the frontrunner. He’s too radical (abolish the CBC, etc.), and too French (his English is worse than Jean Chretien’s), but he is popular with the Western right wing of the party. He might win the Conservative leadership, but in a federal election he will be a loser, just like O’Leary would have been. Only Bernier doesn’t know it.

NAFTA and lumber and … zzzzzzzz

Few issues are more boring than trade matters, but attention must be paid since billions of dollars are at stake. So, here we go.

This week, Donald Trump threatened to immediately pull out of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA is a very big deal in trade circles, and even tinkering with it gives Canada and Mexico palpitations. Trump has said repeatedly that NAFTA was a horrible, horrible, bad, bad, very very bad deal for the U.S. (without even once articulating one single example of how it was bad), and that nice guy Canada snookered the U.S., which is untrue of course, but fun to contemplate.

After Trump threatened to sign an executive order to pull out of NAFTA (he said in an interview today that he was going to sign the order on Saturday, his 100th day in office). Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto both called Trump, and he supposedly changed his mind. It was probably a bluff by Trump to get Canada and Mexico on board with renegotiating the deal, since cancelling NAFTA would result in an economic earthquake for all of North America, and even Trump isn’t stupid enough to do that. But who knows?

Also this week in trade (stay with me here, it’s almost over), the Trump administration slapped hefty duties on Canadian softwood lumber coming into the U.S. If the term ‘softwood lumber’ sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because this is the FIFTH go round for this dispute. The U.S. (or more accurately, the American lumber industry) says Canadian lumber is unfairly subsidized by the government. Canada says this isn’t true, and the Canadian government has won international court challenges on the issue. But the U.S. lumber industry just keeps resurrecting the issue. It’s all insanely complicated, but from my reading of the issue, the continuing spat is a way for the U.S. lumber industry to raise prices, and profits, by making lumber more expensive. This in turn would result in higher home building costs in the U.S., but clearly nobody cares about the consumer. As in all the previous times this phoney has been raised, some sort of deal is ironed out, and everybody forgets about it until the next time.

RIP

Jonathan Demme, 73, acclaimed, Oscar-winning American movie director (Melvin and Howard, Philadelphia, The Silence of the Lambs, the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, Rachael Getting Married).

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