Roundup: Dumbing down the border debate

The Conservatives were in full performative outrage mode yesterday, with a Supply Day motion to demand a plan by May 11thto stop the influx of irregular border crossers seeking asylum, and for the PM to admit that his “Welcome to Canada” tweet is the cause of the problem. It’s not going to work, but it’s indicative of the way in which they are dealing with complex issues and trying to boil them down in a way that is ultimately disingenuous, while using bogus arguments like how the backlogs in this system are slowing down legitimate immigrants and refugee claimants – the immigration stream is separate and is unlikely to be affected by this influx, and when you’re talking about “legitimate” refugees, there is a great deal of difference between resettling refugees in camps and processing the claims of those who arrive on our shores to claim asylum. Those claims, yes, are slowed down, but it’s more than just this influx that is that problem, and drawing this link is a long-time Conservative tactic of trying to play immigrants and refugees off of one another.

For example, Michelle Rempel has been demanding that the government simply declare the whole border with the US to be an official port of entry for the purposes of the Safe Third Country Agreement, in order for us to simply turn back anyone who crosses from the US. See! Simple! It’s not like we need American sign-off to do so (because it’s their border too), and it does nothing about what has been driving this influx in the first place, which is less Trudeau’s tweet than the tweets of one Donald Trump. And while the government deployed MPs with linguistic ties to communities that were crossing previously, such as Haitians and Guatemalans, the influx we’re seeing right now has to do with Nigerians who are getting tourist visas for the US, and then using those to cross into Canada. To that end, we learned yesterday that the government has been sending officials to Nigeria to try and engage on the ground there, while also working with the Americans to try and get action from them that their tourist visas are being abused, so we’ll see if that has any measurable effect.

This isn’t to say that the current government isn’t blameless in all of this either. While they correctly point to the fact that the previous government made cuts to both the Immigration and Refugee Board and CBSA, which are reverberating to this day, they have had their own problems when it comes to not filling vacancies on the IRB because they changed the appointment process, and like virtually all of their appointment processes, the changes have slowed down the system to a crawl, and have touched off a slow-moving crisis within the whole of government and the courts. That’s on them 100 percent, and that is the problem that’s causing slowdowns with more than just refugee claimants, but also immigration appeals (and they are separate parts of the IRB, so again, it’s not just the influx of claimants causing problems for immigrants). But those aren’t the kinds of issues that the opposition is touching on with this issue, and it’s not the kind of simple solution that they’re trolling for, which is ultimately what’s harming the debate.

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Senate QP: Philpott talks Indigenous concerns

This week’s ministerial Senate QP feature special guest star Jane Philpott, minister of Indigenous services. Senator Larry Smith led off, and worried that there wasn’t a cultural appropriate campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of marijuana for Indigenous youth. Philpott first noted that while it was her fourth appearance it at Senate QP, it was her first in her new role, and then noted that they had funded a task force that was engaging Indigenous communities on the topic, so that they had programmes that were led by Indigenous communities. Smith wanted some more details on this in the interests that there is some transparency, and wondered what elements it included. Philpott took note of the request for details and promised to follow-up before giving some more context about the meetings she has with Indigenous communities around their public health campaigns.

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QP: Border concerns at the fore

All leaders were present, and before QP got underway, Guy Caron, Andrew Scheer, and Marco Mendicino made statements about the van attack in Toronto yesterday. After a moment of silence, Scheer led off, concern trolling that the government of Quebec had to go to the media to get action on irregular border crossers. Justin Trudeau said that they had been rebuilding the relationship with the provinces, and that they were working on the issue with them. Scheer demanded to know why nothing had been done over the past year to stem the flow of migrants, and Trudeau took up a script to list the fact that the previous government made cuts to CBSA and the IRB that they were still investing to clean up. Scheer worried that legitimate refugees or immigrants were not getting processed because of these backlogs, and Trudeau didn’t use a script to call out the Conservatives for having broken the system. Scheer protested that the Conservatives had a “generous” refugee resettlement programme, but Trudeau reiterated the cuts that the previous government instituted. Scheer tried one last time, and Trudeau noted that the backlogs now were as a result of those cuts, while his government was cutting processing times while still respecting the rules around international asylum claimants. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, accusing the government of rigging the Trans Mountain approval process, to which Trudeau deployed a platitude about energy and the environment going together. Caron switched to French to repeat the question, and Trudeau took a script this time to chastise the NDP for their incoherent position before retreating to the platitudes. Hélène Laverdière was up next to demand the suspension of the Safe Third Country agreement, to which Trudeau took up a new script to read about how they were investing in accelerating processing and strengthening the border. Jenny Kwan reiterated the question in English, to which Trudeau worried that the NDP may be trying to stoke fears around asylum seekers as well, before repeating his previous points sans script.

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Roundup: Carbon tax figures in context

The Parliamentary Budget Officer released his latest economic and fiscal outlook yesterday, which included some not unexpected things like warnings that the deficit might be larger than anticipated, or that debt servicing charges might start to increase, or that some government programmes may wind up costing more than stated in the budget. All fair game. But it was his analysis of the federal carbon price that really go the Conservatives (and their mouthpieces) excited – and as usual, it was an exercise in cherry-picked numbers that ignored the context of what was actually said.

In this particular case, the headline number was that by 2022, when the full $50/tonne price is implemented, the price could – and one has to stress could– cost the economy 0.5 percent of GDP, or $10 billion. And this had the Conservatives, and Pierre Polievere in particular, whooping at the government about how this was going to kill the economy. The problem is that the report goes on to say that if provincial governments actually recycle those revenues through reducing corporate or personal income taxes, for example, it would nullify that effect. Not that things like context or nuance, or even truth will dissuade a political talking point. University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe explains more here:

Tombe also found this bit of the report overlooked by other media reports:

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QP: Borders and carbon prices

On a warm and sunny Monday in the nation’s capital, all of the leaders were present, so it was either going to be a really good day…or an insufferable one. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and he noted the unfolding situation of an alleged attack in Toronto with a white van running down pedestrians. Justin Trudeau noted that his thoughts were with those affected, and he would update the House as he learned more. Scheer then asked about the number of irregular border crossers affecting those who “wait in line” — except there’s not a line for asylum seekers, there’s a process, and he’s conflating it with immigration. Trudeau noted that Canada is signatory to international conventions, and that any arrivals are processed and that they go through proper security checks. Scheer tried again, and this time Trudeau wondered if Scheer was suggesting that they violate their international obligations. Scheer then turned to the PBO report on carbon pricing, and he cherry-picked one figure that portended doom (where the report stated differently). Trudeau gave a weary sigh, and reminded him that the economy and the environment go together. Scheer tried to insinuate that there was some kind of cover-up about the “economic damage” that a carbon tax would do, and Trudeau hit back that if Scheer was so concerned about secrecy, he should stop censoring Maxime Bernier. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and after he made a quick statement about the situation in Toronto, he demanded the immediate implementation of a universal pharmacare programme. Trudeau took up a script to say that the system can be improved and they are consulting on a national pharmacare programme — note that he didn’t say universal. Caron asked again in French, detailing previous Liberal promises, and Trudeau said that the NDP wanted to set up something without a clear plan, which is why his government set up an advisory committee to study and evaluate a universal pharmacare programme (not sure if universal was just a translation issue this time). Rachel Blaney took her own turn to demand pharmacare, and Trudeau repeated his answer about needing a plan, emphasising the digs at the NDP in the process. Blaney tried again, and got the same answer.

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Roundup: Convention resolutions to be forgotten?

Coming out of the Liberal policy convention, the party’s top five resolutions were pharmacare, mental health, decriminalizing small amounts of drug possession, decriminalizing sex work, and protecting pensions. Some of the resolutions are controversial to members of caucus, and there’s no guarantee that any of these will show up in the party platform (or the Order Paper beforehand) despite its what the grassroots members allegedly want (big caveats here given how centralized and top-down this process has become under their new constitution), but maybe there will be pressure to implement them. Maybe. Trudeau doesn’t seem keen on decriminalization talk while the marijuana bill is still being debated (and he’s expending political capital on it).

Their big exciting Obama-connected guest (because that’s what the Liberals and NDP have grasped onto for the past eight or nine years) was David Axelrod, who said that the party needs to show that they are still change-makers and not the status quo, while he and Gerald Butts talked about political life. Dr. Danielle Martin, who makes the case for healthcare in the US, spoke about the need for universal pharmacare in Canada. Among the ministers who got up to speak to delegates, Ahmed Hussen talked about being racially profiled while he encouraged Liberals to combat racism. Trudeau’s own speech to the faithful included its share of digs at the Conservatives as still being the party of Harper, so good thing they can still draw on that particular bogeyman. New party president Suzanne Cowan spoke about how they all needed to be fundraisers going forward. And hey, the rank-and-file members were expressing some particular concerns about the rash of self-inflicted wounds that the party keeps enduring.

And because it wasn’t all sunshine and roses coming out of the convention, MP Francis Drouin is now facing an allegation of sexual assault from an incident that happened during the convention, and he’s put out a statement to say that an allegation has been made and he’s cooperating with the investigation – nothing else. It’s probably worth noting that there were harassment workshops at the convention that both Justin Trudeau and Kent Hehr attended, and the facilitator of said workshops noted that Trudeau simply listened and took notes throughout, which impressed her. So we’ll see what transpires from here.

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Roundup: Morale over policy

It’s the Liberal Party’s big policy convention in Halifax this weekend, and it’s already consumed with the pre-election narrative, never mind that said election is a year-and-a-half away. And while it’s supposed to be about policy, and developing the ideas that are intended to shape the next election platform, it’s really more about morale, and finding inspiration to go out and do the door-knocking (as Sophie Grégoire Trudeau’s keynote spoke about). It’s about reminding the party that they need to keep up a united front and “have the Prime Minister’s back,” and totally not worry that they won’t be able to keep all of their seats in Atlantic Canada or the West. No ma’am.

When it comes to the policy resolutions, they are very much of the left-wing/progressive side of the party. Almost entirely so, in fact, some of them exactly the same kinds of demands that the NDP have made, making me wonder what’s left in their big tent for the more fiscally conservative, “blue Liberal” members to grasp onto. The most talked about resolution so far is that around decriminalising small amounts of all drugs so that they can be treated as a public health issue instead of a criminal one, as has been done successfully in Portugal. In contrast to the health minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould says she’s open to decriminalising, and reforming prostitution laws (which is another resolution). In an interview with Power & Politics, however, Petitpas Taylor refused to say one way or the other how the government would consider a successful vote by the convention on the issue, deferring instead to keeping an open mind.

But while everyone is going to talk policy on a superficial level this weekend, I have to raise the point that the party has so centralized their operations and policy machinery that this is only superficially a grassroots movement, and instead is an exercise in confirming the policies that the leader’s office is floating. Because the Liberals have so disempowered their grassroots when they changed the party constitution at their previous convention, there is little hold for the grassroots any longer. This is a problem with how our system is supposed to work, and is a direct result of the ways in which we have so utterly presidentialized party leadership contests so that they are now repositories of vast power that can’t be challenged, and everything is being reworked to be top-down instead of bottom-up. While this is all being done under the rubric of being modern, and nimble, it’s corrosive to how politics is supposed to work in this country, and we’ll see how long it takes for party members – err, “registered Liberals” to figure out that they’re being played and they start to demand their rightful power back.

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Roundup: Beer still imprisoned

The Supreme Court of Canada delivered their ruling in the Comeaucase yesterday, which deals with the subject of interprovincial trade barriers – in particular, those around alcohol. While this case has been widely championed as “free the beer,” what we got came down to an exploration on the nature of federalism in this country – and many observers were keenly unimpressed as they chose to uphold those particular barriers.

First of all, read this Q&A with University of Ottawa vice-dean of law Carissima Mathen about the decision, so that you get some sense of how the constitution operates here, and why the Court is loathe to interfere in something of this magnitude. It’s not just alcohol sales that could be affected – its knock-on effects include supply management schemes (which the Conservatives have yet to reconcile with their “free the beer!” sloganeering), public health prohibitions, environmental regulations, and so on. And more technically, the case that led up to this decision was a lower court judge making an interpretation of settled law that they felt wasn’t robust enough to justify overturning that jurisprudence – not enough had changed – and they upbraided said judge in the ruling. This is also something that can’t be taken trivially in the decision.

And then there are the critics. University of Alberta law professor Malcolm Lavoie says the decision privileges some parts of the Constitution over the other, while John Ibbitson looks at what the knock-on effects could be and wonders if the result wasn’t for the best. Emmett Macfarlane is not sold on that, and feels that the Court feels too bound by old JCPC decisions that undermined the text of the constitution when they should instead be upholding it – that the intent of the Founding Fathers was indeed a centralized economic union. Some commentators think that the decision could legitimize Alberta’s bill to limit oil exports to BC, but frankly I think that analysis is beyond absurd. I do have to say that I have a degree of sympathy for the Court in not looking to overturn the entire federal order, because there would be monumental blowback. But it’s not like they said that it couldn’t be done – what it needs is the political will for the legislatures to come to an agreement on this, and there is a new internal free trade framework that is coming into place where there’s a better forum for having these discussions than we’ve had in 150 years of confederation. And I think that perhaps those who felt that the Court needed to do the work of the legislatures on this issue were doing so a bit inappropriately because we keep insisting that the Court do the hard work that the legislatures won’t, and perhaps this is another wake-up call that we need to do the actual work of making tough decisions in this country on our own.

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QP: Portents of economic doom

 As Justin Trudeau met with Commonwealth Heads of Government in London, and Andrew Scheer spent the day in Quebec, which left Shannon Stubbs to lead off, and she read some declinist fan fiction about the collapse of the Canadian economy because the prime minister allegedly wants to phase out the oil sector. Jim Carr responded by listing some good economic news, including how Alberta is set to lead the country in growth, which the other party apparently couldn’t support. Stubbs read more doom, and Carr responded with the number of approved pipelines that were coupled with their oceans protection plan. Stubbs demanded championing of the sector, but Carr listed that the previous government didn’t get pipelines to tidewater, and that they ignored their constitutional obligations toward Indigenous Canadians. Gérard Deltell took over in French, lamenting IMF forecasts, to which Kirsty Duncan stood up to read some statistics about job growth and economic growth leading the G7. Deltell repeated the demand to champion investment in energy, to which Carr reiterated his lines about the Conservative record in French. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, accusing the government of kowtowing to Texas oil giants, to which Carr reminded him that they took the lessons of the previous government’s failures and engaged in new consultations, which they felt covered off their Section 35 obligations. Caron reiterated the question in French, and Carr reiterated that their process was different than the Harper government’s, because that one had failed. Nathan Cullen was up next, to repeat the same question in English, with some added sanctimony, and Carr’s repeated response had a bit of exasperation creeping into it, and then they went yet another round of the same.

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Roundup: Bernier’s epiphany

All of the drama yesterday was the news that Maxime Bernier decided to spike his own planned book after his chapter blaming his loss on “fake Conservatives” supporting Andrew Scheer, particularly when the defenders of Supply Management took out memberships to stop Bernier. When he did release a statement late in the day, Bernier basically blamed the media for writing about the controversial stuff, which is kind of ridiculous given that he should have known that questioning the legitimacy of Scheer’s win, and putting in print that he planned to renege on his promise to shut up about Supply Management was going to be trouble no matter what else was in the book. (No word on whether he spent his advance already, as he now will have to refund it).

A couple of observations first: Of course the leadership contest was lousy with “fake Conservatives.” That’s what our leadership contests have become in Canada, given that it’s about trying to get as many new members as possible to bestow enough “democratic legitimacy” on a would-be leader so that they can turn the party into their own personal cult. Until we change the system and restore it to caucus selection, this will only get increasingly worse as time goes on. Part of his analysis that his problem was just defenders of Supply Management as the problem ignores the fact that there were a hell of a lot more people taking out party memberships in order to stop Kellie Leitch (and by extension, Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux, but mostly Leitch). They didn’t deliver the contest for Michael Chong, and it’s hard to say how many of those ballots wound up going toward Scheer instead of Bernier. Also, Scheer knew that Bernier was going to be mavericky when he made him a critic on an economic portfolio, so he can’t be surprised that this kind of eruption was going to happen. It’s who Bernier is, and it’s kind of surprising that it took this long for Bernier to realize that maybe it’s not a good thing for the image the party is trying to put forward. (On a side note, every time a leader insists that they’ve never been more united, I brace for a defection, because I’ve heard those insistences too many times).

Paul Wells wrote a very good piece about Bernier and the value of loyalty in politics, which most journalists don’t really grasp, which explains why politicians do the things they do, and compromise in the way that they do. It’s one of the things I do think about and probably don’t wrap my head around enough, but it goes back to the way in which people continue to blame the parties for “making” MPs do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, right up to compromising their beliefs and whatnot. MPs have the choice to do whatever – parties don’t make them, MPs do these things of their own volition. Senators too, for that matter – even when it goes against their best interest, or the normal operations of that chamber. They do it out of loyalty to the leader or the party, take your pick, and while we could have a debate about the effect of method of selection on that loyalty, we need to think more about that lens when we’re having these discussions.

Good reads:

  • In London, Justin Trudeau met with the Queen, as well as Thresa May, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Arden, as well as Five Eyes partners on a security briefing.
  • Chrystia Freeland is headed back to Washington for some crucial decisions on NAFTA talks.
  • While Kinder Morgan’s CEO says the political battles may mean the pipeline remains untenable, BC says that they will file their court reference within days.
  • The Commons health committee released their study on universal pharmacare, which the health minister says will be the basis of their consultations.
  • In advance of the Liberal convention, the health minister has already rejected the policy resolution to adopt a Portugal-style drug decriminalization scheme.
  • Speaking of the convention, Kent Hehr says he will attend, and attend one of the sexual harassment workshops being offered there.
  • UN climate data shows our GHG emission are decreasing – but not nearly fast enough to meet our Paris targets.
  • A report from the former Inspector General of CSIS was uncovered, showing problems with the way the agency conducts interviews with detainees abroad.
  • The agency that was supposed to create guidelines for service dogs for veterans with PTSD has pulled out of the project unexpectedly.
  • Two Catholic Bishops took to the Hill to defend the Pope’s refusal to apologise for residential schools. One Conservative MP blocked a motion to demand an apology.
  • The RCMP are set for their union certification vote.
  • Pierre Poilievre continues to snipe about the guaranteed minimum income report, and cites Ontario’s model as a bad starting point because of costs.
  • Andrew Coyne looks at the PBO report on guaranteed minimum income, and wonders if three points on the GST is a good deal for eliminating poverty.
  • Chantal Hébert reads the polls and wonders if the pipeline debate is really resonating with Canadians, and whether it will affect Trudeau in the next election.

Odds and ends:

Liberal MP Neil Ellis was taken to hospital for an undisclosed condition.

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