Roundup: Threatening marathon votes

Because apparently this Jaspal Atwal issue refuses to die, the Conservatives have decided to spend today’s Supply Day motion demanding that the Prime Minister instruct the National Security and Intelligence Advisory to attend the public safety committee and give the MPs there the same briefing he allegedly gave journalists (on background). Or else.

That’s right – in order to overplay their hands, they’re openly threatening to force some forty hours’ worth of votes on the Estimates as consequence for defeating this motion – because that doesn’t come across as petulant or childish. And while they couch it in the fact that they have a responsibility to hold the government to account – which they do – they’ve also been demonstrably obtuse about this whole affair. The different versions of what happen are not impossible to reconcile – they are, in fact, eminently reconcilable. The PM has defended the facts put forward by the senior officials, and have stated that they did not put him up to it. Media outlets have since dribbled out versions of “reviewing my notes” and toning down some of  their reporting of what was actually said to show that it wasn’t actually as inflammatory as initially reported as (because by the point at which it initially happened, they were focused more on wedging it into the narrative they had all decided on rather than acknowledging what was happening on the ground if it didn’t fit that frame). Nobody has acted responsibly in this – the government, the opposition, or the media. And digging in to entrench the narrative that somehow we have damaged relations with India (not true, unless you’ve conveniently forgotten the fiction about how it led to new tariffs) and that the trip was some giant disaster (forget the investments or the constructive conversations with Indian officials) is just making it all worse for everyone.

The bigger issue, however, is the fact that this committee is not the venue for this conversation to happen, and MPs are kidding themselves if they think it is. We have the National Security Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians to review this kind of intelligence data in confidence, and then issuing a report on what was said. Commons committees have been down this road before, and have actively damaged our national security and intelligence agencies because they can’t help themselves, and now they’re demanding the chance to do it yet again. There are proper ways to hold the government to account. This planned stunt and threat is not it.

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QP: Twin moral panics in play

While Justin Trudeau was off to Toronto, Andrew Scheer was present for Question Period, and he led off with the role that Christopher Wylie, the infamous “Facebook whistleblower” had worked for the Liberals, and demanded answers. Scott a Brison pointed out that the Liberal Research Bureau had already issued a statement saying that they decided not to go ahead with his services and that he had no access to voter data. Scheer lamented that Trudeau didn’t answer — being cute because Trudeau was not present — and when he continued to rail about Wylie, Brison reiterate his response, and hit back with contracts the Conservatives tendered for their own data services. Alain Rayes took over in French to ask the same thing two more times, and Brison repeated his responses (albeit in English). Scheer got back up to rail about the “peoplekind” joke and the apparently scandalous news that Service Canada is not supposed to use the honourifics of “Mr.” of “Mrs.” The horror! Jean-Yves Duclos assured him that they can still use the honourifics, but that they were working to be more inclusive of all gender identities. Guy Caron led off for the NDP, condemning the lack of action on tax evasion despite the $1 billion investment to do so. Diane Lebouthillier got up to assure him that they were looking into tax evasion and had new agreements to get necessary data, and when Caron got up to rail that CRA was slapped with a $1 million fine for abusive behaviour, Lebouthillier reiterated that the case dated back to the Conservatives. Peter Julian got up to repeat the condemnation around tax evasion in English, and Lebouthillier reminded him that they now have the data they need. Julian tried one more time, throwing every thing else in the question, and Lebouthillier retorted that the OECD has recognised Canada’s leadership in data-driven combatting against tax evasion.

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Roundup: What vice-regal appointment process?

Prime minister Justin Trudeau made two notable vice-regal appointments yesterday – new lieutenant governors for both Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia, both women (the first for Newfoundland and Labrador). While the new BC LG is the chair of Vancouver’s YWCA, the new Newfoundland  and Labrador LG is former cabinet minister Judy Foote, which seems like a curiously partisan appointment for a position such as this – especially when Trudeau keeps going out of his way to ensure that there are “independent, non-partisan” appointment processes to other key positions, most especially senators.

The point that none of the stories on these appointments made yesterday was that since Trudeau came to power, he dismantled the process that Stephen Harper put into place to find new vice-regal appointments in a depoliticized fashion. The Harper-era Vice Regal Appointments Committee was headed by the Canadian Secretary to the Queen, had two permanent members, and then had additional ad hoc members for whichever province or territory they had to search for candidates from in order to get the local perspective. Short lists were forwarded to the PM, and for the most part, they were appointments without partisan histories (though the last Manitoba LG appointment was the wife of a former provincial politician it does bear noting). When he came in, Trudeau and his people said that the system was working well, and that they were likely to continue it. Except they didn’t. They replicated portions of it for their Senate nomination committee, but dismantled the Vice-Regal Appointments Committee after they let the memberships lapse, including the post of Canadian Secretary to the Queen (which remains vacant to this day). And the only reason anyone can figure out as to why is because it was simple antipathy to the Harper government, regardless of whether the idea worked. Instead, appointments are made in a black box, and Foote’s appointment seems to indicate that he’s willing to let partisans into these posts in contrast with others.

And don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against Judy Foote personally, and I’m sure she’ll do a fine job, but the whole thing is a bit odd in the context of every other appointment process that Trudeau has put into place (which are interminable and can’t fill any position in a timely manner, Supreme Court of Canada excepted). There was a system that worked. What Trudeau has done instead makes no sense at all.

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Senate QP: Brison talks out the clock

Senate Question Period resumed this week, after a hiatus of several weeks, and the special guest star this week is Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board and temporary minister of democratic institutions. Senator Larry Smith led off, and he worried about marijuana regulations not being pre-published in the Canada Gazette. Brison said that Treasury Board’s work from a regulatory perspective was to work with Health Canada to ensure that the framework was in place by the time that the legislation comes into force. He assured them that there would be no corners cut, before launching into the worn talking points about the point of the legislation. Smith tried to puzzle out the timelines around regulations being published, and he wanted the rationale being made public in terms of why the regulations were not pre-published. Brison reiterated that they were trying to ensure that the regulatory framework was in place prior to the law effect. Continue reading

QP: Circling back to Atwal, yet again

A frigid Tuesday in Ottawa, and all of the leaders were present in Question Period, for a change. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and he immediately returned to the Atwal issue, wondering who was telling the truth about Atwal — him or the Indian government. Justin Trudeau stood up and said that he would always believe the advice of non-partisan public servants over anyone else. Scheer pressed, and Trudeau reminded him that Randeep Sarai took responsibility for proffering the invitation, but he trusted public service. Scheer tried again in French, and Trudeau repeated that same point about believing public servants. Scheer reverted to English, reset his preamble to provide a fresh media clip, and wondered if it was Chrystia Freeland who was telling the truth this time when she said it was an honest mistake. Trudeau reiterated the same point about believing public service. Scheer demanded an answer as to whether the “conspiracy theory” was baseless, and Trudeau reminded him that for ten years, the Harper government diminished and belittled the work of public servants, and the Conservatives hadn’t moved on from those habits. Guy Caron was up next, and worried about the Facebook data used by Cambridge Analytica. Trudeau noted that they take privacy seriously, and it’s why the Minister of Democratic Institutions was looking into electoral interference, and the Privacy Commissioner also indicated he was taking a look. Caron demanded that the issue of data protection be raised at the G7 meeting in June, and Trudeau assured him that they had already had these conversations and they would continue to do so. Hélène Laverdière raised the armoured vehicle sales to Saudi Arabia, and Trudeau first pointed asked her to ask her caucus colleague from London Fanshaw if she wanted them to cancel that contract, but that they were taking the issue more seriously than the previous government did. Laverdière demanded to know if human rights were for sale, and Trudeau took up a script this time to insist that they respect human rights obligations.

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Roundup: The big Mali announcement

The formal announcement was made yesterday – six helicopters (two medical evac, four armed escorts) and approximately 250 personnel are headed to Mali as part of UN peace operations, and while this initial deployment covers off for German and Dutch forces that are pulling out, time there will be spent evaluating other ways that Canada can help build capacity in the country, which will involve training troops from other countries. While there have been some 162 peacekeeper deaths so far in Mali, all but four of those are from less advanced militaries than Canada’s, and the four Western countries’ deaths were related to a helicopter accident and not hostile actions. Chrystia Freeland did a great interview that helps lay out more of the details as to why Mali and why it’s taken so long.

Opposition reaction has been swift, and a bit curious. The Conservatives are demanding a debate and a vote on the deployment (reminder: a vote is wholly inappropriate because it launders the accountability that the government should be held to regarding the mission), while the NDP keep pointing out that this will not fulfil all of the government’s peacekeeping promises (not that they have claimed that it would), while demanding more details. Former senator Roméo Dallaire says that this is a good deployment, and reiterates that Canadians training troop-contributing nations and mentoring those forces will help to modernize peacekeeping.

In terms of hot takes, John Ivison sticks to the point that this is a political move by the government designed to help them get their UN Security Council seat as opposed to having anything to do with national security – err, except that peacekeeping isn’t supposed to be about national security. That’s kind of the point.

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QP: Concerned about Mali

While Justin Trudeau was present after two weeks away, Andrew Scheer was not, spending the day in Winnipeg instead. Lisa Raitt led off in his stead, mini-lectern on desk, and she raised the announcement of a peacekeeping mission to Mali, and the risks that it would entail given the rate of casualties there. Trudeau led off with some words about engaging in peacekeeping and that they were responding to a direct request from the U.N., and would work with the opposition on how to hold a debate on the mission — but didn’t really answer about risks. Raitt wondered about whether our troops there would be able to engage in direct combat. Trudeau took up a script, and recited about how personnel would have appropriate equipment and training, but they couldn’t eliminate the risk. Raitt demanded information on what the risk was, and how many soldiers were projected to be lost. Trudeau insisted that they would remain open and responsible rather than wrap themselves in the flag and use Special Forces troops for photo ops, as the previous government did. Pierre Paul-Hus took over in French, accusing the PM of being unconcerned for troop safety. Trudeau took up a script to remind him that they were alive to the risks and would ensure that troops had equipment and training that were necessary. Paul-Hus demanded the operational guidelines, but Trudeau reiterated the plan to hold a debate in the near future. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, also asking about the Mali announcement, and Trudeau read off some more details about helicopters and medical assistance. Caron switched to English to concern troll about how this promise fell short of the promises. Trudeau noted it was odd how the Conservatives thought we were doing too much with the military and the NDP not enough, before he went off the cuff about the upcoming debate. Tracey Ramsey was up next, demanding the government stand up to US tariff threats. Trudeau noted that he was pleased to meet workers in those industries last week, and to hear their concerns. Ramsey raised Trump’s made-up facts, and Trudeau reiterated how much he enjoyed hearing from workers in those industries.

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Roundup: Expat voting rights on the line

Coming up this week is a Supreme Court of Canada hearing that I’m going to play the role of bad guy with, which is the challenge around expat voting rights in Canadian elections. And by playing the villain, I’m firmly in the camp that I think it’s perfectly acceptable that their right to vote in a Canadian election lapses after about five years, because our electoral system is based on local riding elections. If you don’t live in a riding, and haven’t for years, then your vote soon becomes meaningless because you are essentially voting for a local representative whom you’re not familiar with, with local issues you’re not impacted by, and generally you’re voting for a leader, which isn’t how our system works.

And I know, these expats challenging the law feel like their citizenship is being devalued, but their connection to the riding they’re supposed to be voting in grows ever more tenuous, even if their connection to Canada as a whole doesn’t – but it’s about mechanics. There are complaints that the five-year cut-off is arbitrary, and to an extent it is, but that said, the constitutional rule is that an election must be held within five years of the preceding one (despite the fact that our later fixed-election-date laws tend to operate on four-year cycles – yet another Americanism that we need to disavow because it hasn’t done anything constructive for our system and rather has created a whole new set of ways in which incumbent governments can try to manipulate the field). It makes it reasonable to make it five years, then, in terms of when voting rights lapse when one is absent from a riding.

The way I think about it is that these particular limits make our voting rights more protected, rather than devaluing citizenship. If you’re voting for a riding that you have no connection to, how is that upholding the integrity of the electoral process in that riding? It means that for those who are voting within that riding, it maintains that there is that special connection between the voters in the riding and those who are elected to represent them. You’re unlikely to be paying taxes if you’ve been away that long, so it’s not like a taxation-without-representation issue either, and most likely, those expats are voting in their new host countries by this point as well. Votes should mean something, and in Canada, that means a connection to a specific riding, which we shouldn’t take for granted.

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Help Routine Proceedings expand

Hey, everyone! 2018 is the year I’ve decided to step things up, and launch a channel to provide even more content to you. But in order to do that, I’m launching a Patreon to help fund it. It will also help to me keep up the operation of this blog as well, because it’s been a labour of love up until now, and that’s two to three hours every day spent on doing the reading, the research, and the writing to create the content that everyone enjoys.

I’m hoping for great things in the coming months, and I want to thank everyone for your support.

Roundup: Giving the PBO confidential data

In his report to parliament about the latest federal budget this past week, the Parliamentary Budget Officer made note that some of the information that they requested was given to them on a confidential basis – in order for them to check the maths, but not report on it public (at least for the time being). It’s a bit of an oddity that the PBO says it puts them in an awkward position, and it also raises questions about the government’s commitment to transparency.

Recently, the Department of National Defence gave the same kind of confidential information to the PBO regarding its 20-year expenditure plan, which one suspects may have to do with either sensitivities in the procurement process (remember that they have been insisting on particular secrecy declarations for those involved in the process), or not wanting to tip their hands on how they’re planning on rolling out their procurement just yet. Maybe. The government says that the budget information that was confidential was because it related to departments or Crown corporations whose information had not been approved by Treasury Board or vetted for release, which makes a certain amount of sense, and does give rise to concerns that the real stumbling block is the bureaucracy and not the government. Backing up this supposition has been complaints that Treasury Board president Scott Brison has made around his difficulty in getting departments onside when it comes to the process of reforming the Estimates, so that they reflect the budget rather than the previous fall economic update and subsequently relying on Supplementary Estimates in order to “correct” the spending plans to reflect said budget (and part of that problem has been ever-later budget releases that come after the statutory Estimates tabling dates). And our civil service, for all of the plaudits it gets internationally, is sclerotic and resistant to change, often exacerbating the “culture of secrecy” around any kind of transparency (though one also has to factor in a certain amount of incompetence around that secrecy – sometimes they’re not being secret for the sake of secrecy, but because they’re simply unable to find needed information).

There have been complaints from the pundit class that the Liberals have subverted the PBO in this manner of giving confidential information, but I’m not sure that I’m ready to go there. They could have simply stonewalled, forcing an escalation of tactics, but they didn’t. They wound up caving and giving the PBO way too much authority and way, way too broad of a mandate when they reformed his office and turned him into an Independent Officer of Parliament, and I will reiterate that they did turn over the information. The question is does this start a pattern, or is this a kind of temporary status while they continue to push the departments into making this kind of data available in a timelier manner, much like the Estimates? I’m not willing to make a final pronouncement just yet, but I am going to consider this notice, and will keep an eye on how this progresses (particularly because I do think Estimates reform is vitally important to Parliament, and if we have the same kinds of problems, then it’s a sign that there’s a systemic issue that needs to be dealt with).

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