QP: Local businesses for local people

With Justin Trudeau off to the United Nations for the rest of the week, we weren’t expecting fireworks, but rather the continued caterwauling about the proposed tax changes, that are sure to doom the whole economy. Andrew Scheer led off, worried about what the tax changes would do to “local businesses,” coincidentally the very new campaign that his party has launched. Bill Morneau reminded him that the changes were about ensuring that the wealthiest Canadians couldn’t use these mechanisms to pay less tax. Scheer talked about two local craft brewers who were “middle class,” and Morneau quipped that he was sure that Scheer was happy to defend the wealthiest Canadians. Scheer wondered how many jobs these measures would create, but Morneau stuck with his points. Alain Rayes then picked up the line of questioning in French, and Morneau insisted, in French, that he was listening and would ensure that the system was fair. After another round of the same, Thomas Mulcair rose for the NDP, worried that th government was looking to do away with the “bilingual bonus” in the public service, to which Dominic LeBlanc assured him that they would ensure a bilingual public service. Mulcair pressed in French, and got much the same response. Mulcair moved onto the topic of Canadians being barred from entering the US post-marijuana legalisation, to which Ralph Goodale reminded him that we can’t dictate to the Americans who they let into their country. Mulcair then asked about cannabis edibles, and Goodale assured him that work was ongoing.

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Roundup: Renewing the tax change battle

Those proposed tax changes around private corporations were big in the news again yesterday, given that Parliament had returned and there was a sense that the fight was about to begin in earnest, now that everyone was paying attention. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation hired a plane to fly a banner above Parliament Hill that read “No Small Biz Tax Hike,” never mind that the small business tax rate isn’t being raised and that the proposed changes aren’t going to affect the vast majority of small and medium-sized businesses. Before the fight got started in earnest during QP, the NDP tried to insert themselves into the debate by trying to insist that the government should instead be attacking the “tax cheats” who use offshore tax havens – which, it must be pointed out, are also using legal instruments and thus are not actually “tax cheats” either, which is language that doesn’t help anyone.

In the Law Times, I have a story on how some lawyers are angry with the Canadian Bar Association over their opposition to the proposed tax changes – something that garnered a fair bit of attention. Global tried to work out what some of those tax changes amount to in terms of how it benefits those able to use the current provisions (though their use of the term “loopholes” rankled some of the economists they quoted). Colby Cosh takes on the semantic warfare in the proposed tax change debate.

And then the Twitter battles were renewed in earnest as well. Lisa Raitt was back at it, but Andrew Coyne took on her points with particular aplomb to show why they didn’t have any particular logic or intenral consistency.

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QP: Tax change melodrama

The first day back in the House of Commons, and all of the leaders were present — Trudeau’s only appearance for the week before he heads to the UN General Assembly, and in between appearances with U.K. prime minister Theresa May. Of note was the bouquet of flowers sitting on Arnold Chan’s desk, to mark his recent passing. Andrew Scheer led off, railing about the proposed changes to private corporations, and insisted that small businesses were being called “tax cheats.” (Note: Only the Conservatives have used that phraseology). Trudeau stood up to remind him that nobody accused anyone of breaking the law, but that these rules were being used by the very wealthy to pay less taxes, which wasn’t fair. Scheer tried again, got the same answer, and Scheer gave increasingly hysterical hypothetical situations (which were not reflected in reality), but Trudeau was unflappable in sticking to his points. Scheer tried then turn this into a dig at Bombardier, and Trudeau reminded him that they were investing in Canadian jobs. Thomas Mulcair was up next, asking about UN talks on nuclear disarmament in light of North Korea, and Trudeau reminded him that they were working on a fissile materials treaty that would include nuclear states, which would have more effect than a symbolic treaty. Mulcair asked again in French, got the same answer in French, before Mulcair turned to the issue of Saudi Arabia and arms sales (Trudeau: We will ensure that our partners follow the rules, and you promised to respect that contract), and then another round of the same in English.

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Roundup: Time allocation’s a-coming

Getting people worked up over the weekend was the revelation that Government House Leader Barish Chagger had sent a letter to her opposition counterparts noting that she planned to use time allocation a little more often this fall, in order to help get the government’s agenda through (with the note that things were taking longer in the Senate as a consequence of some of the changes there). And immediately, a number of pundits got upset with the whole notion, because Trudeau was supposed to be different, and time allocation is a great evil that’s used to “clamp down” on debate, and so on.

Let me be the first to remind you that in and of itself, time allocation isn’t all that bad if used responsibly. Part of why it became a big issue in the last election was because the Conservatives – and most especially then-Government House Leader Peter Van Loan – used it for everything under the sun, because they were inept at House management, and they had so abused things like omnibus legislation that the whole legislative process itself had largely broken down, hence why it became necessary to schedule by means of time allocation. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t responsible, but it got done.

Part of our problem is that all parties in this country have lost our ability to manage our debates. One of the most pressing examples is with Second Reading debate, where it’s supposed to be about the general principle of a bill – is it a good idea or not – and that’s it. It shouldn’t take more than an afternoon, but no. Instead, we have to speechify into the record, and for some reason insist that on routine bills, take days for “is this a good idea or not” debate. More time should be spent at committee, but that’s often where we have been clamping down even further, because apparently, we need more terrible, scripted speeches being written into the record that aren’t debate. The logical result of this broken system of debate is that time allocation becomes a more regular feature because we’re no longer actually debating, we’re speechifying. So if we don’t want to see the government resort to time allocation, then maybe we need to start thinking meaningfully about fixing our broken debate practices so that our debate actually have meaning again. But that may be too novel of a suggestion.

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Roundup: An indefensible communications strategy

If you’ve been wondering what the Conservative communications strategy around the planned changes to private corporation taxation, then it’s your lucky day as VICE got a copy of the talking points and then fact-checked them. In short, it’s predicated on a combination of extreme cases, lies of omission, and misdirection – so pretty much what you’d expect if you’ve been paying attention these past few weeks.

All of this is being further exacerbated by a growing number of Liberal MPs who have become victim to their own government being unable to actually articulate what these changes really mean and who have come up with a communications strategy that is more interested in sloganeering than it is on correcting the active misinformation campaign that has been going on, and which isn’t actually fighting back against said misinformation through a series of pointed questions like “How exactly is income sprinkling the thing that’s spurring entrepreneurship/growth/investment?” like keeps being brought up, or “You read the proposal where reinvesting in the business isn’t being additionally taxed, right?” And while sure, there may be some issues with family farms when it comes to capital gains for passing it on from generation to generation, or with the potential compliance burden to ensuring that any of these ongoing measures are actually above-board, those aren’t what we’re hearing. Instead, it’s this nonsensical braying about how small business “deserves” these tax breaks for “risk” (false – risk was never why these differential tax breaks were introduced, but rather, a lower small business tax rate was introduced in 1972 because at the time, they had difficulty getting bank loans). Braying that nobody is pushing back against, and that’s part of the problem.

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Roundup: Arnold Chan and his parliamentary legacy

News was delivered yesterday morning that Liberal MP Arnold Chan has succumbed to cancer and passed away earlier that morning. The news is a blow for Parliament, as Chan was a very decent and well-liked MP who was serious about the dignity of the institution. Back in June, he delivered a speech in Parliament that was viewed at the time as a bit of a farewell (which he insisted that it wasn’t), in which he implored that his fellow MPs not only demonstrate their love of Parliament, but that they demonstrate it by doing things like ending the reliance on talking points.

At the time that Chan made the speech, I wrote a column about its importance, and why more MPs should heed his words. Scripts and talking points have been suffocating our parliament and our very democracy, and it gets worse as time goes on. That Chan could see their inherent problems and try to break the cycle is encouraging, because it hopefully means that other MPs will too. It’s one of the reasons why I hope that as part of honouring Chan’s legacy, MPs will work to do away with the rules in the Commons that have led to the rise of canned speeches, and that we can get to a place where debate is no longer a series of speeches read into the record without actual exchanges, and where MPs actually become engaged in the material rather than just reading the points that their leaders’ offices handed their assistants to write up for them. Parliament should be more than that, and let’s hope that others follow Chan’s lead.

Here are some more remembrances of Chan by his colleagues.

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Roundup: Media as government whip

The fact that a couple of Liberal backbenchers are expressing reservations about the government’s proposed tax changes to private corporations has journalists salivating about caucus divisions – again.

Never mind that we’ve seen several examples of MPs going against the government in this current parliament – sometimes en masse (like with the genetic privacy bill), and time after time, Justin Trudeau doesn’t rise to the bait, and yet We The Media continue to try to make an issue out of it. Never mind that backbenchers holding their own government to account is how things are supposed to work in a Westminster system, because that’s their job as MPs, the media tends to remain focused on this narrative that all MPs should be in lockstep with their leadership, especially when they form government. No. That’s not true at all. And yet, Power & Politics spent several blocks on this very notion, especially with the interview with MP Wayne Long (not that there was sufficient pushback against Long’s positions, especially because lower tax rates for self-incorporation are not supposed to be a reward for risk, nor did his assertions about these tax rates being responsible for the current economic growth make any logical sense). What was notable in the eyes of the producers was that a government MP was going against the grain, and that needs to be An Issue.

As for Bill Morneau, he seems to have finally clued in that his communications plan for these changes has been nothing short of an omnishambles and is promising better information out this fall as consultations wrap up, but it’s almost too late at this point, considering the loads of utter nonsense coming out from the business community and how much traction it’s getting.

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Roundup: Unexpected PBO problems

As it turns out, there is another problem with the legislation that turns the Parliamentary Budget Officer into a full-fledged independent officer of parliament rather than his current status as being part of the Library of Parliament – it just so happens that they need to request any information from ministers themselves and not from civil servants. And nobody flagged this issue during study of the bill when it was before Parliament. Oops.

The concern from the PBO is that this could automatically politicise the work, as though that wasn’t already happening. After all, the PBO has become the opposition’s favourite cudgel to bash the government with, and shield by which to hid behind in order to insist that the report comes from the “objective, non-partisan” PBO and therefore is sacrosanct. Not to mention, that the creation of the office has meant that MPs have one more person to fob their homework off onto rather than doing it for themselves. After all, math is hard, and they have better things to do. So will the change have any material effect? Hard to say, given that the bureaucracy has been reluctant to share all of the requested information to date, and a government that is happy with the PBO one day can quickly become a government that is unhappy with him the next, and they could start insisting that all information is cabinet confidence. But they can already do that with information being requested by way of the civil service, so perhaps that’s a moot point. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, there have been no efforts to rein in the scope of the PBO’s work, which could become a different sort of problem down the road. Ontario’s PBO-equivalent released a report yesterday that seemed to be a little outside of its mandate, leading to indications that perhaps there are problems brewing.

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Roundup: No, you don’t need a protected nomination

Apparently at the Liberal caucus retreat last week, the subject of the nomination process for the next election came up, and of course, MPs have plenty to say. Not that they’re telling the media, and while this Hill Times piece ended up being pretty thin gruel, mostly retreading their story on the push for protected nominations from early in the summer, I will use it as a chance to re-up my previous piece in Maclean’s about why protected nominations are a very bad thing in our system of government.

I’m sure all MPs like to think that they have very busy and important work to do in Ottawa (and they do!) and that means that they really can’t spare the time and attention that an open nomination would mean, but open nominations are not only a way to engage with the grassroots at the riding level, they’re also an important way of holding the incumbents to account within the party ranks, rather than simply at the ballot box. This means that there are multiple levels of accountability, which is a good thing for democracy. And I get that they need to be careful to delineate their work as MP and as the local party candidate, and that there are an increasing number of rules to enforce the separation between the two, but if they’re doing a good job, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to maintain a healthy membership base that will support them. In fact, I would be concerned if my local MP couldn’t maintain a healthy membership base in the riding association because that means that those grassroots members are not being engaged and that is a very big problem for democracy. In other words, don’t ignore your grassroots, and if you are as an MP, then that means you’re not doing your job.

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Roundup: Digs at the current leader

The NDP had their final official leadership debate yesterday in Vancouver, and it was about as exciting as any of their debates have been so far. But scratching beneath the surface, there was an undercurrent that was playing out which was deeply critical of the way that the party has been run under the leadership of Thomas Mulcair, and why they planned to fix it.

One of the points that was noted several times by both Guy Caron and Charlie Angus was that the caucus was being underutilised when it comes to outreach, and furthermore, Angus was very critical about the way in which the grassroots membership was being taken for granted and dictated to rather than giving input into the process. While this is really par for the course in pretty much all parties these days, thanks to top-down leadership styles brought on by the fact that we now run leadership contests as presidential primaries in this country (and the fact that these very same candidates are playing into it with competing policy platforms that were developed by their own teams rather than the grassroots membership), the fact that they hammered away at the caucus being underutilised was something that stuck out for me, because it certainly implies that Mulcair has been running a party-of-one (and yes, those are shades of Stephen Harper you’re seeing). But while Angus and Caron talked about not enough effort being made to translate what was going on in the House of Commons to their base, one has to wonder how they plan to remedy that, and whether we’re going to see an explosion of YouTube clips of MP speeches (which are generally terrible recitations of scripts into the record) attached to more fundraising demands, demonstrating the “good work” that they’re doing in Ottawa.

Meanwhile, here’s Éric Grenier’s analysis of the various endorsements of the candidates, and what the breakdown of them looks like regionally, while Jagmeet Singh dropped a new policy proposal of decriminalising all illicit drug possession as a harm reduction measure, much as Portugal did.

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