By Heather Scoffield, Ottawa Bureau Chief
THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA -The cult of celebrity that has seized Canadian politics was on full display this week.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in New York for March break, wowed an audience stacked with top diplomats when he attended a Broadway show _ flanked by his wife, cabinet ministers and Ivanka Trump, the daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump.
The diplomats gave him a standing ovation as he made a short speech before the production of Come From Away, about Americans stranded in Gander, N.L., after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
There was similar gushing from civil servants, the Conservatives revealed in documents this week. Embassy staff in Washington went out of their way to track down larger-than-life cut-outs of the prime minister to display for selfie opportunities at Canada Day celebrations.
But when it comes to the Conservative leadership campaign, candidates are trying to turn the celebrity status of TV star Kevin O’Leary against him. The week was also notable for pre-budget anticipation and more turmoil in the Senate. Here are three recent ways politics touched Canadian lives:
There are only a few days left before party membership sales end in advance of the Conservative leadership selection. So it’s no surprise that the race to replace Stephen Harper is heating up.
On Thursday and Friday, it boiled right over after O’Leary, considered a front-runner, sent out a message saying the membership drive was tainted with fraud and vote-rigging.
The accusation appears to be a thinly veiled attack against another front-runner, Maxime Bernier, who is now fighting back against O’Leary _ accusing him of bluster to make up for his ineffective use of celebrity as a crutch.
While he’s been building “an army of supporters,” Bernier said O’Leary has been “vacationing in Florida, filming in L.A. and shilling on a home shopping channel trying to sell his line of O’Leary wine to American buyers. It’s not even available in Canada.”
Regardless, the race is certainly more intriguing than in previous months. But will it have the credibility it needs to assure thousands of Conservative members that their votes are being properly accounted for?
ANTICIPATING BUDGET 2017
The federal budget is being billed as a low-key affair that will emphasize continuity rather than change in the government agenda.
But there are some interesting developments on the horizon, especially around child care, affordable housing and scaling up promising young companies.
Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says he has heard the pleas from child care advocates for long-term, dependable funding. And sources say the budget will take those pleas into account.
Similarly, on affordable housing, the government is poised to give municipalities much of what they have asked for, dedicating a large chunk of social infrastructure funding to that sector.
The government is also going to change the way it interacts with dynamic, young companies so that the billions Ottawa spends on procurement every year can do double-duty as incentives for innovation.
The overall goal, Duclos says, is “inclusive growth” _ an economy that is competitive and always expanding, but also doesn’t exacerbate inequality.
Two senators found themselves announcing this week that they would not resign, adding to the reputational woes that have plagued the unelected body for years.
Sen. Lynn Beyak was under fire for saying there was an “abundance of good” in Canada’s residential schools that had been ignored. The chair of the aboriginal peoples committee she sits on asked her to give up her seat, and others have asked her to leave the Senate completely. But, no.
The pressure on Beyak was nothing compared to that on Sen. Don Meredith over his sexual relationship with a teenager. Ever since the details came to light in a Senate report earlier this month, the calls to resign have been deafening.
Meredith has finally broken his silence, saying on Thursday he is sorry, and admitting to a “moral failing.” Will he resign? Not quite yet. He needs to consider his options.
Meanwhile, the dull hum that is reverberating around Parliament Hill these days is a mass gritting of teeth from senators who have thrown themselves into re-establishing their institution’s reputation after years of scandal.