The change in the weather you're feeling is not the approach of autumn – it's hot air from Ottawa colliding with the cold front of turbulent outrage that hangs over modern politics.
And now the news. Parliament is back, and the fall session is going to be a real doozy. The Trudeau government has a startling number of hot-button and critical issues on its plate, including NAFTA negotiations, marijuana legalization and major tax reform. Brace yourselves: Any one of these on their own could dominate the news cycle for months.
The Conservative Opposition is stoking the outrage-making machinery, which is what oppositions are supposed to do. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet – Finance Minister Bill Morneau, in particular – will be on the hot seat in Question Period. It's going to get noisy. Here's a quick guide to possible takeaways to watch for.
TAX REFORM: Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer says the government's proposed elimination of tax loopholes available to small businesses and individuals that incorporate is a threat to economic growth and job creation, and nothing more than a tax grab. "I won't just stand by and let the Liberals drive them into the ground," he says.
Posturing and catastrophizing aside, this is an important fiscal issue. It is perfectly legitimate for a government to close loopholes that are exploited unfairly by a wide range of interests, even if those loopholes have reasonable benefits when used by the smaller group for whom they were originally intended.
It's not a black-and-white issue. There are people who will pay higher taxes if the changes are implemented who nonetheless publicly support them, because they feel they are fair.
But this is not just about fairness, as the government claims. Fairness in taxation is hard to define. Why lower or raise the marginal tax rate for some income earners and not others? Why close one loophole and not another? Is this part of a serious effort to reform the tax code with a view to making everyone pay their just share, or a one-off for political gain? Why this? Why now?
These are questions the government hasn't answered. Prizing out the Liberals' motives for this fiscally defensible, if politically mystifying, reform should be a life goal for anyone watching Parliament this fall.
MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: This is another important and legitimate issue, and it's one that other countries are dealing with, too. Pot busts clog up the courts and saddle good people with criminal records in jurisdictions where marijuana is illegal, and all the profits go to organized crime.
The Trudeau government has responded by proposing to legalize and regulate recreational pot consumption – a far better answer than the previous government's tough-on-crime stance. The problem is that, under the current proposed legislation, pot will be legal as of next July, and much remains unsettled.
Some of the provinces, which will be responsible for the sale and distribution of pot, are lagging behind in their preparations. Some police forces are also uncertain they will be ready.
Meanwhile, the foreign legal liabilities for companies that get involved in pot production here are unknown. There are questions about whether or not pot companies with U.S. investors will be able to trade on Canadian stock exchanges.
The Trudeau government is bringing about a revolution in Canadian drug culture in the space of two years. It has put forward a defensible policy but may have failed to foresee the logistical difficulties involved in implementing it across so many jurisdictions. It will be interesting to see whether this government has the spine required for it to stick to its timetable.
NAFTA: U.S. President Donald Trump says he will tear up the North American free-trade agreement if it doesn't get renegotiated in ways that favour his country. But this is also a man who is for the deportation of the children of immigrants, and against it; who is a Republican and also a Democrat; who may build a wall on the Mexican border or just renovate parts of the existing fencework; who hates Obamacare but wants Americans to have all the health-care benefits provided by Obamacare, and so on.
In other words, please be patient. Our federal government is doing its best. It has done a smart job of building alliances with the right people in the U.S., and our negotiators have stuck to their guns on important NAFTA clauses.
But no one should lose sight of the fact that this is a critical moment for Canada. Any failure of the NAFTA talks would punch a giant hole in our economy – one that would make the closing of a loophole here or there feel like a gnat bite in comparison.
We'd feel better if the Trudeau government was able to focus on NAFTA alone, and wasn't going to be distracted by controversies it has inflicted upon itself.