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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QP: Talking to elites

While Justin Trudeau was in London, meeting with Her Majesty the Queen and prime minister Theresa May, Andrew Scheer was in fact present today, in the wake of the salacious news that Maxime Bernier had pulled his book that was critical of his leader. Scheer, mini-lectern on desk, led off by reading some concern about investor confidence in the energy sector, and he claimed that the previous government got Northern Gateway “built.” Jim Carr stood up and stated that it was news to him that Northern Gateway got built, and didn’t in fact get its permits revoked by the Federal Court of Appeal. Scheer then got up rue that Trudeau was in Europe with elites, talking down on the energy sector, and Carr reminded him that just days ago he was here talking up the sector and the Trans Mountain expansion. Scheer insisted that Trudeau told his European audience that he was disappointed that he couldn’t phase out the oil sector tomorrow, but Carr rebutted with his line about how incredulous it was that Scheer took to the microphones on Sunday to decry Trudeau’s announcement after the meeting with the two premiers before Trudeau even made it. Alain Rayes got up to decry Trudeau’s lack of leadership in French, to which Marc Garneau stood up to lay out the support the government had given. Rayes wondered how much of taxpayers’ money would be spent on the project, but Garneau merely reiterated that they considered the project to be in the national interest. Guy Caron was up for the NDP, noted that the Health Committee’s study on universal pharmacare would be tabled later, and demanded action on it. Ginette Petitpas Taylor thanked the committee for their work, and she would consider its finding. Caron demanded immediate action in French, and Petitpas Taylor noted the commitments in the budget toward national (but not universal) pharmacare. Charlie Angus was up next, and demanded to know if the government felt their Section 35 obligations were met with Kinder Morgan, and Carr reminded him of the Supreme Court decision around Northern Gateway around consultations, so they went and consulted further for Trans Mountain. Angus pressed, terming it a “Liberal pipeline,” and Carr reiterated his line about the fact that there may not be unanimity, but there are many Indigenous communities who are in support.

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Roundup: Unconstitutional threats

Alberta’s Bill 12, that would give its energy minister the power to declare what can go in the pipelines that leaves the province, is almost certainly unconstitutional (and I think they’re being too cute by half in saying that it’s not because it doesn’t target BC specifically). It’s way overbroad in terms of the powers it gives the minister, and even if it somehow manages to pass constitutional muster, you can imagine that it would certainly be struck down by the courts for the sheer scope of how arbitrary it is. And in case you think that the pressure tactics of raising gas prices in BC are sound, it’ll likely do more damage to their own producers and refineries, whose supplies and production they are curtailing. So bravo for thinking that cutting off your nose to spite your face is good public policy, guys.

The premier of Saskatchewan, Scott Moe, says that he’s going to pass his own version to back up Alberta in their fight. Because that’s helpful. BC, meanwhile, says that because the bill is blatantly unconstitutional, it’s likely just a political bluff – but if it’s not, they’ll sue Alberta for it, as well they should. Alberta’s minister insists that it’s no bluff. So here we are, with few grown-ups in the room apparently, because they’re lighting their hair on fire to do something, anything, now, now, nowrather than coming up with a measured and reasoned response to the situation. And then there’s Michelle Rempel’s take. Oi.

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Senate QP: Qualtrough talks Phoenix

For this week’s ministerial Senate Question Period, the special guest star was Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough, for what was bound to be a marathon session of Phoenix pay system questions. True to form, Senator Larry Smith led off, worried about that Phoenix was affecting pensions for the federal government, as the relevant pay centre just hired 55 new staff to verify transactions. Qualtrough noted that the system was worse for than they initially anticipated, and that they were taking all efforts to verify the data. Smith asked whether they had a date as to when things would be normalised, and Qualtrough said that her goal is stabilising the system, but she’s learned not to set deadlines on this, and while the numbers are going down, it’s not as quickly as they would like.

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QP: Digging up a dead horse

As spring snow fell over Ottawa, Justin Trudeau was in Paris on an official visit, while Andrew Scheer was in Calgary rather than be in Question Period. That left Lisa Raitt to lead off, dredging up the long dead and buried horse of Justin Trudeau once saying that the oilsands needed to be phased out (never mind that he clarified it was a long-term goal in moving toward a decarbonized future). Jim Carr responded that they approved Trans Mountain and have reiterated their support for it continually. Raitt worried about industry uncertainty and the “flight” of capital from the country, to which Carr reiterate that the uncertainty wasn’t coming from them but one province, and that they are having discussions with Kinder Morgan to ensure there was investor certainty. Raitt worried that this lack of confidence was coming from the federal government’s inaction, but Carr reminded her that her government didn’t get a single kilometre of pipeline built to tidewater. Gérard Deltell took over to re-ask the “phased out” question in French, and Marc Garneau reiterated Carr’s points in French, and then they went for a second round of the same. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, railing that the federal government was imposing its will on BC, and Garneau reminded him that the pipeline was federal jurisdiction per the Supreme Court and the constitution, and they were talking with the two provinces involved. Caron switched to English to rail that BC’s government was elected on a promise to stop it and governments are supposed to keep their promises. Carr reminded him that Alberta’s government was elected on a promise to build it, but it was federal jurisdiction. Romeo Saganash got up next to decry that the government wasn’t respecting their obligations to Indigenous communities around the pipeline, and Carr reminded him that they did more consultations than the previous government did, who got smacked down by the Supreme Court of Canada over their lack of proper consultations. Saganash insisted that there were no actual agreements with Indigenous communities, but Carr said that there was no agreement between Indigenous communities, and indeed between NDP premiers, but a decision needed to be taken.

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Roundup: Jean’s version

Yesterday finally saw that long-anticipated Daniel Jean appearance before the Commons public safety committee, and it was…not explosive. Much of it was simply reiterating everything we’ve heard before – that Jean was sensitive to misinformation that was appearing in media outlets that suggested that RCMP and CSIS didn’t take Jaspal Atwal’s appearance seriously, that there was a possibility this was an attempt to embarrass the Canadian government into looking like they didn’t take Khalistani separatists seriously, and that Jean himself suggested the briefing and PMO simply providing him with a list of journalists to reach out to. And when the Conservatives demanded to know about the “rogue elements in the Indian government” or “conspiracy theory” allegations, Jean corrected that he didn’t say those things.

Now, some of the journalists involved in the briefing are disputing a few details, and in particular the notion that Jean had suggested that perhaps Indian intelligence was involved (which he denied yesterday). And there remains this concern trolling that senior bureaucrats don’t normally go to the media like this so he “must have” been put-up to it by PMO, which I’m not really sure is the case, particularly because as we heard in later releases about Jean’s briefing, and in his testimony yesterday, he highlighted the use of “fake news” and propaganda by hostile outlets, which is why we wanted to correct them as a neutral third-party. This is not really a widespread concern just a few years ago, particularly given the way that it was seen as interfering with elections and whatnot, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he wanted to be more proactive about it.

Of course, the real hitch in all of this is that some of the sensationalized reporting around the original briefing, coupled with the torque applied to it by Andrew Scheer and company to the point where the story being proffered in the House of Commons didn’t match reality (which is Scheer’s stock in trade these days) have spun this whole narrative beyond what was a “faux pas,” per Jean. And when Jean’s narrative didn’t match Scheer’s, it was Scheer who tried to insist that Trudeau spoke about the “rogue elements” (he never did – he very studiously avoided any specifics and only said that he supported what Jean said), and that it was up to Trudeau to provide clarity for his apparent contradictions when he didn’t actually make any – it was Scheer himself who put forward a false narrative and has been caught with his pants down over it. But let’s also be clear – a lot of the reporting around this has not been stellar either, between sensationalization and omitting of aspects (like his concern about the misinformation being fed to Canadian media), coupled with a refusal to call Scheer out on his disingenuous framing of the whole thing, has led these false narratives to grow out of control. And they keep getting dragged on longer by things like yet more false claims being piled on, such as with the chickpea tariffs and the allegedly cancelled meeting that never existed, but do we call it out? Not until days later. And some journalists should own up to their role rather than get their backs up (like they did yesterday) so that we can move on from this whole incident because we really do have better things to discuss.

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QP: Not the debunking they were looking for

MPs were almost all wearing jerseys to pay tribute to the Humboldt Broncos on a day where the city was wrecked by an ice storm, while Justin Trudeau was on a official visit in Paris. After a moment of silence for the Broncos, Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk and read some hyperbolic doom about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Jim Carr first offered condolences to the people of Humboldt, and then said that the PM has given instructions and that the pipeline would be built. Scheer then listed some cherry-picked “evidence” about how the government has apparently shaken investor confidence in energy projects, to which Carr listed the approved projects. Scheer then switched topics to demand the government repeat the “debunked conspiracy theory” around the Atwal Affair™, and Ralph Goodale first gave his own tribute to the Humboldt Broncos. Scheer repeated the question, demanding that the government apologise to the Indian government, to which Goodale reminded him that the PM previously said he supported what Jean had to say. When Scheer tried to insist that there was a discrepancy — playing cute that he was the one who created that particular narrative and not the PM — to which Goodale reminded him again that he has not yet taken up the briefing that had been offered to him, and that he was remaining deliberately ignorant of the facts in the case. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, raising Trans Mountain and jurisdictional issues, and Marc Garneau stood up to insist that they had federal jurisdiction as asserted by the Supreme Court of Canada. Caron switched to English to demand a Supreme Court reference on the question, and Carr reminded him that the BC government did approve it, they did not use the same approval process as the Harper government, and that they did unprecedented consultations with Indigenous communities. Charlie Angus then got up to rail that the Indigenous consultations were colonial, and Carr noted that the project was divisive, even within political parties. Angus gave it another go around, and Carr reminded him that they did undertake unprecedented consultations, and that 44 Indigenous communities do have benefit sharing agreements, and also raised the Indigenous-led monitoring committee.

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Roundup: A big meeting, no big answers

Yesterday saw the big meeting between Justin Trudeau and premiers Rachel Notley and John Horgan on the subject of the Trans Mountain expansion, and what was supposed to be a 35-minute tête-à-tête turned into over 90. We didn’t get specifics out of the meeting, but we got some clues, in particular that Horgan is pointing to deficiencies in the government’s ocean protections plan, while Trudeau and Notley will be in discussion with Kinder Morgan about a possible stake in the project to help with risk mitigation, and to get the ball rolling before construction season. Trudeau also noted some kind of upcoming legislation to reiterate federal jurisdiction over the project, but one hopes that they don’t try to declare this under Section 92(10)(c) of the Constitution, because it’s already federal jurisdiction and invoking that when the jurisprudence is already settled would introduce doubt that doesn’t actually exist – no matter what Horgan seems to imply.

And then comes along Andrew Scheer, who demonstrates either a wilful ignorance of history, or a willingness to again demonstrate that he is a fabulist – or possibly a combination of the two. Regardless, his particular assertions about the history of government investment in energy projects is woefully mistaken and wrong.



Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt looks at how the meeting de-escalated the tensions somewhat, while Paul Wells reads everyone’s positions, and wonders if the government’s plans actually address Kinder Morgan’s concerns. Also, here’s a reminder about the last time a BC premier tried to intrude on federal jurisdiction and got slapped down hard by the federal government.

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Roundup: Peter Harder, hero of the Senate

Oh, Senator Peter Harder. The Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative” did the media rounds yesterday to both promote his fifty-page position paper on his conception of the constitutional role of the Senate, and to kick at the Conservatives whom he claims are “sabotaging” his attempts to turn the Senate into a less partisan place. (I have a column reacting to the contents of the paper coming out later, so stay tuned for that). I’m constantly struck by Harder’s attempts to play the hero in this when he’s done virtually nothing to earn the title. Aside from putting out this paper in advance of the Modernization committee’s upcoming report, Harder has pretty much eschewed his actual duties of negotiating with the various caucuses in the Senate on legislative timelines (because negotiating and horse-trading is “partisan”), and he didn’t do his job in canvassing the votes for the marijuana bill, and even though it was in no danger of being defeated, he still got caught with his pants down and was a big drama queen about it. But instead of taking a modicum of personal responsibility for not doing his job, he instead blames the Conservatives for “sabotage” when they’re doing their job as opposition, when he would prefer that Senators never defeat bills (which would make his job even easier and put even less pressure on him to do his job). And yet nobody pushes back against his narratives in the media.

Senator McCoy meanwhile, makes a point that hasn’t been well aired in public yet, which is that Harder has been pushing for the Senate to return to the model of the Clerk being responsible for all of the Senate’s bureaucracy rather than the three-clerk model that they moved to post-Duffy scandal – a model which forces senators to take more responsibility for their actions rather than being able to blame their bureaucracy. Questions about the government’s control over that Clerk are certainly live ones, and it does undermine the notion that the Senate is supposed to be getting more independent. Apparently, that doesn’t extend to its internal operations. Curious indeed.

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