How politics touched Canadians this week

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OTTAWA – The pageantry of the Donald Trump inauguration absorbed most of the political oxygen in Ottawa this week, mainly because the subtext was a growing realization that so many facets of Canadian politics have been turned on their head.

The Jenga tower of assumptions that have allowed the Canadian, and global, political economy to function on a relatively stable basis is being disassembled from the bottom, threatening to wobble before policy makers understand how to react.

Even the many women’s marches in Washington or across Canada on Saturday to protest sexism have turned into partisan events — many Canadian politicians are staying out of the fray to preserve Canada’s relationship with the United States.

While Trump has barely had an official moment in the White House, his ruminations have already begun to affect Canadians in material ways — from puzzling through investment strategies to the value of the Canadian dollar.

Here are three ways politics touched us this week:

BORDERLINE AMBIGUITY

Trump has made it clear that he has the U.S. borders in his sights, hoping to keep more investment within his country and prevent the departure of jobs and profits.

“We’ve made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon,” Trump said. “But that is the past.”

How he plans to proceed is a matter of much confusion.

Earlier this week, Trump told the Wall Street Journal he was not impressed with a Republican proposal for a border adjustment tax on some imports, and said there should be a simpler solution. Where Canada and its key export sectors fit in that calculus is unclear.

Later, Wilbur Ross, on tap to be the next commerce secretary, said revamping the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada is Job 1. Again, the concrete ramifications for Canadian exporters are not yet known.

What is clear is that volatility and unpredictability are now the order of the day. The Canadian dollar, for one, has been jumping all over the place — only the most overt and immediate effect of the new era.

ENTER O’LEARY

Trump has long been an influence in the fractious Conservative leadership race, and that ramped up this week with a formal declaration from investor-turned-television-star Kevin O’Leary that he intends to run.

O’Leary has added some intrigue to the race, which now has 14 candidates and four months to go before party members vote to replace Stephen Harper.

Similarities between Trump and O’Leary are easy to list: they are both brash outsiders with no experience in politics who pull public support (or hope to, in the case of O’Leary) from voters beyond the traditional party base.

Beyond style, similarities of substance are less obvious. O’Leary’s interventions so far suggest he is no fan of identity politics and is not a social conservative. Rather, he has indicated he plans to run a pro-business, fiscal conservative campaign, targeting Justin Trudeau for his deficits and for his perceived lack of compatibility and chutzpah with the new Trump administration.

HEALTH TRADE-OFFS

Ottawa has knocked off one more province in its race to sign them all up for a long-term health-funding agreement before the February federal budget.

On Tuesday, Saskatchewan grudgingly signed a bilateral deal with the feds, joining New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and the territories in agreeing to 10 years of three-per-cent annual increases in federal funding as well a chunk of extra money for mental health and home care.

Ottawa also agreed to look the other way for a while, and let Saskatchewan continue to allow private clinics to offer MRI scans — despite Ottawa saying the practice contravenes the Canada Health Act.

The holdout provinces are facing some pressure from mental-health advocates who desperately want to see targeted funding for their sector. But those provinces say they won’t be guilted into a side deal, mainly because other areas of health care would take a hit even as mental health would receive dedicated funding.

But as their own budget days approach, how long can the remaining provinces withstand the appeal of federal funding?