Canada’s military mess

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Welcome to Ottawa Playbook. Let’s get into it.

In today’s edition:

→ Canada’s defense spending loomed large at an annual confab in Halifax. Playbook was there.

→ The House is back. We’re watching a motion to fast-track a Liberal housing-and-competition bill through the Commons.

→ In our 2024 Watch: U.S. President JOE BIDEN is 81 today.

RUNNING A TIGHT SHIP Canadians talking politics at the Halifax International Security Forum had a hard time escaping the current belt-tightening moment. The military is struggling with a host of problems, from the C$1 billion in expected cuts to recruitment woes and aging equipment.

IAN BRODIE, a chief of staff to former Conservative prime minister STEPHEN HARPER, told Playbook on the sidelines of the forum that looking out past the next election, Canada will have fewer international tools at its disposal.

“The sense of priority has to be sharper because the number of possibilities are smaller,” he said of international engagements.

“A 30-year-old Navy fleet, which is having increasing problems being at sea, planes that are being replaced, but not fast enough. In a sense, the Canadian world is shrinking, whether we like it or not.”

Where will that leave the Conservative vision for foreign policy? There’s not been much public discussion on that beyond the Middle East, Brodie says.

“Although there are lots of changes in the party since 2015 and PIERRE POILIEVRE has struck his own agenda here, the Harper agenda of engaged internationalism on the Conservative side continues to be the dominant view, certainly in the caucus.”

— Fixer upper: Gen. WAYNE EYRE, Canada’s chief of the defense staff, appeared on a panel with POLITICO’s LUIZA SAVAGE and made headlines when he said it will be a “challenge to sustain Canada’s frigates operating in the Indo-Pacific as the military its balances resources” and faces a “very, very hard time” given the current path for maintenance funding.

— Nods to concerns: Defense Minister BILL BLAIR in his first state-of-the-union style speech at the defense forum made a budget pitch of sorts, calling for backing up Canada’s “aspirations” with “resources” and “investment.” It turned some heads.

Conservative defense critic JAMES BEZAN told Playbook the “rhetoric doesn’t match with what’s happening on the ground.”

— Policy update, update: Blair was about the long-delayed policy refresh in a scrum with reporters in the hotel lobby. “Now we’re right in the middle of some very important fiscal discussions with the finance department, with the Prime Minister’s Office. We’ve made it very clear about what our requirements will be to meet those aspirations and I spoke out,” he said, couching the need to be “respectful” of the difficult fiscal climate.

— Main Halifax scuttle: Will the U.S. maintain its resolve in Ukraine? That fear was the big thread running through the annual homecoming for military and defense politicos of democracies, POLITICO’s defense team reports.

China not talking flyby: Eyre also told POLITICO’s PAUL MCLEARY he has not spoken to his Chinese counterpart since the unsafe Chinese intercepts of Canadian aircraft over the Pacific.

“Like many countries and ultimately, mil-to-mil communication is non-existent … attempts were made at the ministerial level, and so far, it’s been no.”

“I’m heartened to see what came out of the leaders talk with the U.S. and China about re-establishing contact. I’m a firm believer that regardless of the political relationship, maintaining that military-to-military channel is vital in avoiding escalation.”

— Calls to step up our game: Pro-Ukraine advocates at the Halifax conference called for countries to go bold on sanctions against Russia.

Chess grandmaster GARRY KASPAROV’s message to Canada: “Just do something about it.”

That’s after World Liberty Congress, a pro-democracy civil society group he co-founded, alleged in a recent report that Russia wound up with 193,536 electronic explosives detonators made in Canada that passed through Kyrgyzstan last year, bypassing sanctions.

“It’s unfortunately not surprising,” he told Playbook at the security forum, as Central Asia is becoming a major “springboard to supply Russia” by getting around sanctions. “Russia is operating with a very small circle of countries. So, how about simply checking these countries and punishing those who are selling detonators? It’s a $3.7 million purchase.”

— Unexpected concurrent session: On the sidelines of the event Saturday (10 minutes down the street and in no way related to the forum), Playbook stumbled upon a large crowd gathered in the pouring rain chanting “one more bowl!” as “Potato Salad GuyRILEY MERRY attempted to eat five pounds of potato salad just outside a cemetery — an event he originally planned to take place at the grave of former prime minister JOHN SPARROW DAVID THOMPSON.

Merry explained to Playbook the idea was inspired by tough economic times: “It’s hard going. People don’t have extra money to do anything, so I just thought this would be something fun to do.” The salads were C$2.50 off at Costco.

What does he think of Canada’s place on the world stage? “For a guy eating potato salad … I don’t have much to say.”

— Spotted at the Halifax International Security Forum: Liberal MP DARREN FISHER, lobbing Defense Minister BIlLL BLAIR a tricky question on his panel appearance about media fatigue with the war in Ukraine.

A swath of Parliamentarians, including MPs JAMES BEZAN, JOHN MCKAY, PIERRE PAUL-HUS, MICHAEL CHONG (seen making a passionate argument among folks scattered around a couch after a Friday late night off-the-record panel), SHERRY ROMANADO, ALI EHSASSI, ANDY FILLMORE, SHUVALOY MAJUMDAR and RICK PERKINS.

Canadian senators PETER BOEHM and REBECCA PATTERSON, chatting with Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada YULIYA KOVALIV.

Ukrainian World Congress President PAUL GROD, joining the 5K run led by Gen. WAYNE EYRE.

Former Defense Minister PETER MACKAY, chatting with delegates in the lobby with a spring in his step (as he faces will-he-or-won’t-he speculation about another run for office).

Former Israeli Prime Minister EHUD BARAK, taking a call outside an event room.

Foreign policy expert JANICE STEIN of the Munk School of Global Affairs, sporting bold-colored glasses in licorice red and black as she expertly moderated the opening panel.

Ipsos pollster DARRELL BRICKER and columnist ANDREW COYNE, chatting over coffee.

Also in the halls: Manulife’s MARYSCOTT GREENWOOD; President of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress ALEXANDRA CHYCZIJ; Media bubble folks including MERCEDES STEPHENSON filming West Block on location and CPAC’s MICHAEL SERAPIO with the CPAC hot seats set up in the Westin lobby.The late FRED ROGERS, appearing in one of the convention’s many splashy intro videos. East coast lobster, paraded by bagpipe procession into the opening gala dinner.

20 DAYS LEFT IN 2023 — Liberals won’t cap the year with a big legislative win unless Bill C-56 is the law of the land by the time Ottawa empties for the holidays.

Royal assent for C-56 would allow the government to implement a sales tax rebate on rental housing construction and to sharpen the teeth of the Competition Bureau. Liberals would love to spend the holidays talking about building more homes and preventing price gouging.

— The fast-track blueprint: Enter the 857-word motion on today’s House agenda that emerged from Liberal-NDP backroom negotiations. Conservatives will raise hell, but the motion will likely send the bill to the Senate before long and deliver NDP Leader JAGMEET SINGH a victory for a future fundraising pitch.

“Government Business No. 30″ expands the scope of C-56 to incorporate elements of a private member’s bill Singh introduced to crack down on oligopolies (read: grocery stores). The expanded bill would, for instance, hike fines for anti-competitive behavior.

Don’t be surprised if the government moves closure — aka curtails debate — on No. 30, because time is short and even a fast-tracked bill takes some.

→ Getting the bill to committee: The motion would limit the remaining second reading debate on C-56 to one MP from each party, including the Greens — 20-minute speeches, with 10-minutes apiece for questions and answers.

When debate comes to an end, MPs would vote on the bill immediately. Liberals and New Democrats have the votes. C-56’s next stop would be the House finance committee.

→ How the committee would work: The committee would hold two extended meetings, each running 3:30 p.m. until midnight. The first meeting, two sitting days after the House vote, would hear from witnesses. The committee would meet again another two sitting days later for clause-by-clause consideration. In between those gatherings, MPs would have a small window to submit amendments to be considered during clause-by-clause.

Once again, the Liberals and New Democrats will have the votes — so it’ll be back to the House for report stage and third reading.

→ The final steps: Report stage debate would last a single sitting day, capped by a vote that could not be deferred. Same goes for third reading debate: one sitting day, with a final non-deferrable vote that day.

Barring some sort of deus ex machina that threatens the viability of the space-time continuum, Liberals and New Democrats will send C-56 to the Senate.

→ X-Factor: If the sober second thinkers in the other place feel rushed with the clock ticking down until Christmas, the government would have little control over what happened next. Government Business No. 30’s powers end at the door to the House of Commons.

— Prime Minister JUSTIN TRUDEAU is in the national capital region for a 1:30 p.m. meeting with Saskatoon Mayor CHARLIE CLARK, Edmonton Mayor AMARJEET SOHI, Regina Mayor SANDRA MASTERS and Winnipeg Mayor SCOTT GILLINGHAM.

— Deputy Prime Minister CHRYSTIA FREELAND is in Ottawa for “private meetings” on Fall Economic Statement Eve.

8:30 a.m. A few talkers from Statistics Canada are out this morning. The agency reports on building construction investment, residential and non-residential property assessment values, and “the advantage of parental property ownership for their adult children in the Canadian housing market.”

3:30 p.m. Brace for potential fed-prov fireworks when the House finance committee meets to discuss a motion from Liberal MP RACHEL BENDAYAN that targets Alberta Premier DANIELLE SMITH’s “dangerous plan” to withdraw from the CPP.

3:30 p.m. Today in Canada-China politics: Innovation Minister FRANÇOIS-PHILIPPE CHAMPAGNE is at the House science committee to take questions about the use of federal money by Canadian universities and research institutions that have connections to entities linked to the Chinese government.

HAPPY… BIRTHDAY? — U.S. President JOE BIDEN turns 81 today. As POTUS celebrates, his reelection campaign is facing tough questions, even from donors, about how to talk about the president’s age.

Over the weekend, POLITICO’s ELENA SCHNEIDER, HOLLY OTTERBEIN and JONATHAN LEMIRE laid out the campaign’s primary defense against father-time detractors. Don’t focus on the big 8-1, deputy campaign manager QUENTIN FULKS told a September fundraising retreat. Talk about Biden’s accomplishments.

— In other words: “I think everyone knows it’s an issue, and we have to address it,” said RON KLAIN, who served as Biden’s chief of staff for his first two years in the White House. He added that it’s important to “emphasize [that] it gives him more wisdom and experience, how he’s navigated this difficult problem in Ukraine.”

— Warning signs: Obama campaign architect DAVID AXELROD gives Biden “no better” than a 50-50 shot at reelection.

STEPHANIE LEVITZ reports via senior federal official — aka a strategic leaker — that the Fall Economic Statement will include a crackdown on people profiting from short-term rentals like Airbnb.

KARINA ROMAN of CBC News shares this FES leak via a senior government source: Billions to be announced for housing construction in federal fiscal update.

— Michael vs. Michael:BOB FIFE and STEVEN CHASE revealed MICHAEL SPAVOR blames MICHAEL KOVRIG for their detention and is seeking a settlement from Ottawa.

— CBC’s The House produced an opioid headline you might not have expected: Canadian-made fentanyl is an international problem.

— “The United States should begin consultations with Ukraine and its European partners on a strategy centered on Ukraine’s readiness to negotiate a cease-fire with Russia and to simultaneously switch its military emphasis from offense to defense,” Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan argue in Foreign Affairs Magazine.

— In case you missed it: The Narwhal’s CARL MEYER explains why the Canadian Museum of Nature is rethinking its relationship status with Enbridge.

For POLITICO Pro subscribers, our latest policy newsletter by ZI-ANN LUM and KYLE DUGGAN: Xi gives Trudeau the cold shoulder

In other news for Pro readers:

5 things to know about the $100B U.S. climate aid infusion.

US pledges to finish the job on IPEF.

The battle for the world’s airwaves.

No more ads on Elon’s X, EU Commission tells staff.

Birthdays: HBD to Ontario Premier DOUG FORD, MP CHRIS WARKENTIN and former MP RYAN CLEARY.

HBD + 1 to Crestview’s LAILA HAWRYLYSHYN, who co-headlined a 30th birthday bash with ALEX BYRNE-KRZYCKI Friday at Queen Street Fare.

Got a document to share? A birthday coming up? Send it all our way.

Spotted: House Speaker GREG FERGUS, getting the Poli-Lego treatment — with custom-made speaker’s chair courtesy of KATE DALGLEISH.

Movers and shakers: The new headquarters of Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada (a.k.a. “PacifiCan”) will be at Station Tower near City Centre in Surrey, British Columbia. ETA opening: Fall 2024.

Media mentions: TRAVIS DHANRAJ, former parliamentary reporter and current co-host of CBC’s Marketplace, will be the new host of CBC’s Canada Tonight. He starts in January.

— The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will open public consultations in the form of a three-week hearing on new policy directions released this week. The CRTC is looking to modernize its regulations and the first hearing will focus on online streaming services’ contributions to Canadian and Indigenous content.

11 a.m. The House human resources committee meets for the fourth time to study the implications of Artificial Intelligence for Canadian workers.

11 a.m. The House national security committee meets to pick a chair.

11 a.m. The House foreign affairs committee continues study of the situation at the Russia-Ukraine border and implications for peace and security.

3 p.m. The Senate national security committee will continue its study of Bill C-21.

3:30 p.m. Innovation Minister FRANÇOIS-PHILIPPE CHAMPAGNE will be at the House science committee.

3:30 p.m. Sen. PIERRE-HUGUES BOISVENU will be at the House status of women committee to take questions on Bill S-205.

3:30 p.m. The House transport committee meets to take Bill C-33 through clause-by-clause consideration.

3:30 p.m. The House access to information committee continues its study on the use of social media platforms for data harvesting and the unethical or illicit sharing of personal information with foreign entities. Communications Security Establishment Canadian Centre for Cyber Security Head SAMI KHOURY is up as a witness on the first panel.

3:30 p.m. The House finance committee meets to discuss a motion from Liberal MP RACHEL BENDAYAN related to the Canada Pension Plan.

Behind closed doors: The House official languages committee meets; the House health committee will meet to discuss their study on breast implants, women’s and children’s health; the special Canada-China committee meets to plan “future business”; the House agriculture committee will meet to discuss a draft report on its animal biosecurity preparedness study.

JOIN THE FRAY — A question for Washington readers of Ottawa Playbook: With a total of nine official and unofficial visits, which U.S. president visited Canada the most? Consider that one your warmup for Ottawa Playbook Trivia in Washington. Monday, Dec. 4 at Astro Beer Hall.

Registration is open. Space is limited. RSVP via this Google Form.

Doors open at 7 p.m. First question at 7:30. Ambassador KIRSTEN HILLMAN will join us as guest quizmaster.


Friday’s answer: The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was the pride of the American side, of course.

The shipwreck was immortalized by the late GORDON LIGHTFOOT, who was born Nov. 17, 1938. We posed the question on Friday, which would have been the legend’s 85th birthday.


Monday’s question: Name the MP with the all-time longest continuous service. For bonus marks, connect your answer with today.

Send your answer to [email protected]

Playbook wouldn’t happen without: POLITICO Canada editor Sue Allan, editor Emma Anderson and Luiza Ch. Savage.

Want to grab the attention of movers and shakers on Parliament Hill? Want your brand in front of a key audience of Ottawa influencers? Playbook can help. Contact Jesse Shapiro to find out how: [email protected].