Human rights, fumbles and the economy: how politics touched us this week

OTTAWA — Parliament Hill politicos were sliding into a summer slumber this week until whispers of someone new in their midst began to make the rounds — the next Governor General.

David Johnston's term will come to an end this fall, and the rumour mill about who would replace him kicked into high gear after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau popped by to see the Queen in Scotland earlier this month.

The announcement on Thursday — former astronaut Julie Payette will be the next GG — was met with a mixture of glee and curiosity from across the political spectrum and some gentle warnings from government critics who had hoped to see an Indigenous face at Rideau Hall. Next time, they suggested, they won't be so gracious.

The week also brought concrete developments on the economy, human rights and the fumbling attempts to make the lives of Indigenous women and girls safer. Here are three ways politics touched Canadian lives this second week of July:

DRIVERS OF THE ECONOMY

As the Bank of Canada sees it, things are looking up for the Canadian economy, and now, after seven years of crisis management with rock-bottom interest rates close to zero, it is time to start nudging them back to something resembling normal. The central bank raised its trend-setting rate by a quarter of a percentage point to 0.75 per cent — a far cry from neutral but the first such move since the global financial crisis, and a hint of more to come.

Canada is moving in tandem with other countries in edging interest rates back to a level where central banks would at least have some conventional room to manoeuvre if the global economy takes another spiral.

But increasingly, economic growth in need of a lift is dependent on government action — fiscal policy — rather than central bank measures and monetary policy. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz has made that point clear, crediting the Liberals' deficit-financed Canada Child Benefit and infrastructure spending for lending the economy a hand.

Most economists say Canadians are ready to withstand the slightly higher price of borrowing that the rate hike implies. It's the extra rate hikes that may be down the road that will leave more of a dent, especially in indebted households.

INNER THOUGHTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS

A key part of the Trudeau government's plan to juice the economy is to deepen Canada's trade and investment relationship with China. The current governor general, David Johnston, and a large entourage of politicians spent much of the week in that country, furthering that very agenda. But it's a plan that has alarmed the opposition and some human rights advocates even as it opens doors for business and consumers.

This week, documents obtained through the Access to Information Act show what Canadian government officials really think about the state of human rights in the middle kingdom.

Respect for human rights has been declining, crackdowns on the media and political dissent are creeping up, and freedom of expression is under pressure, the government's internal rights assessment on China finds.

The Chinese ambassador to Canada said recently in an interview that the Canadian media were ill-informed about human rights in China and had forced the issue onto the public agenda based on exaggerated pretenses.

IMPERILLED SAFETY

Ottawa was dealt a jolt this week with the resignation of one of the five commissioners selected to lead an inquiry into the issues underlying so much violence and despair among Indigenous women and girls.

Marilyn Poitras, the inquiry's Metis commissioner, quit on Tuesday saying she could not work with the process involved, echoing complaints that have been simmering for months in the backrooms of the inquiry as it struggles to get off the ground.

In response, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Trudeau both talked about the need for better communication and understanding.

But behind talk of process and public relations is a fear among those who the inquiry is trying to help. It's a fear that after finding the courage to contemplate speaking about the horrors that underpin violence against Indigenous women and girls, the words of the vulnerable will fall into a vacuum, or — worse — into the hands of perpetrators.

Heather Scoffield, Ottawa Bureau Chief , The Canadian Press

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