If anyone knows about the pressures and challenges of governing in Canada, it’s Ian Brodie.
Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff has been busy recently, penning a book about the role of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the limits of its power in our political system — but he’s also kept a close eye on Justin Trudeau‘s Liberal government.
“Your biggest enemy in politics is time,” Brodie told Eric Sorensen on this weekend’s edition of The West Block.
“When you get a majority government, you think, ‘I’ve got four years to do all sorts of things’ … (There’s been) two years of Mr. Trudeau’s government with lots of consultations, now difficult decisions have to be made and they are already starting to think ahead to the next federal election. In a sense, time has run out on them.”
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Brodie’s recent book has been making waves in Ottawa, and as a political scientist, he stands by its central premise that Parliament still matters a great deal. In other words, the PMO doesn’t wield ultimate decision-making power.
During the Harper era, Brodie said, private members’ bills flourished in the House, as did opposition to the government’s attempts to shut down debate.
“Politics is a tough, group sport but the idea that there is just a prime minister, who can come up with some legislation and can have it passed immediately through the House of Commons if he wants to with a majority, I just don’t think that’s true,” Brodie explained.
“I don’t think that’s ever been true.”
Brodie’s book also briefly addresses what became known as “NAFTA-gate,” a now decade-old political scandal that allegedly started during a federal budget lockup.
Brodie was alleged to have conversed with reporters about anti-NAFTA statements in the United States during the Democratic nomination race, suggesting that Hillary Clinton’s people had told the Canadian government to chalk it up to simple campaign rhetoric.
Barack Obama’s campaign was also eventually dragged into the fray.
Brodie still denies he leaked anything, kicking off the chain of events.
“They were both casting great aspersions on NAFTA… which had become a bit of a political tradition in the United States,” he recalled.
“But forward 10 years now, I think we can see in the course of more than a decade… both the Canadians and Mexicans have been tolerant as American politicians have lambasted NAFTA on the campaign trail and then governed differently.”
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Donald Trump upended that pattern, he noted, as the new president could no longer simply talk about modifying or terminating the trade agreement.
“Now we see the cost of that — 20 years of tolerating these attacks on the agreement in the United States — how it’s paid off.”
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