Roundup: Leaking cabinet confidences is a Big Deal

I will readily admit that I haven’t been keeping as close of an eye on the whole drama surrounding the suspension of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman from the post of vice-chief of defence staff, and the alleged leaks surrounding the contract to refit a supply ship for our navy (which currently has none, thanks to consistently bungled procurement processes). It wasn’t until this particular walkthrough from Murray Brewster that the elements of the story all started to crystalize, in part because we finally got some more details about just what was being alleged thanks to a judge ordering the release of information. Over the past couple of days, the extent of those backchannel conversations with certain shipyards and their aim – to use media leaks to publicly pressure the government to go a certain route when they were resistant – may seem like pretty insider stuff, but it actually has some pretty broad implications for our entire Westminster-system of government.

While you may have certain pundits who bemoan the case against Norman is thin gruel, especially in light of the whole lack of convictions in the ClusterDuff affair, I have to say that leaking cabinet confidences is probably a little more significant. As noted parliamentary scholar Donald Savoie notes in this piece, Cabinet secrecy underpins our entire system of government because it relies on government to act with one voice, and to stand and fall in unison rather than with ministers as individuals. Cabinet solidarity is a Thing, and it’s an important Thing. Cabinet secrecy ensures that there can be a full airing of views and that it’s not just a focus group for the prime minister, and this extends to the advice that the civil service is able to provide. There needs to be a certain amount of secrecy to that advice so that there can be a meaningful back-and-forth of ideas and discussion before a political decision can be taken, and then held to account.

What Norman allegedly did was to use his position as a servant of the Crown, who swore an oath to the Queen and not the government of the day, to further his own interests. He was taking the political decision, and allegedly leaking those cabinet confidences in order to force the situation toward his desired outcome. That not only violates the roles of the civil service (and military by extension), but it undermines cabinet government. We The Media may grouse about the extent to which things are declared cabinet confidence, but it is important – particularly because this government is practicing cabinet government more than its predecessors have been, or even many of the provinces. I’ve had conversations with current ministerial staff here who used to work at Queen’s Park who have attested that cabinet government is real here, unlike Ontario, where it was all controlled from the centre. Leaking confidences undermines this, and it is a serious matter – not just the thin gruel that some would have us believe.

Good reads:

  • Apparently it was phone calls from Trudeau and Peña Nieto that convinced Trump not to cancel NAFTA (which he couldn’t actually do). Here’s more of the “strategy.”
  • Bill Morneau and François-Philippe Champagne have been having high-level trade talks with China in the meantime.
  • As it turns out, Kevin O’Leary also met with Andrew Scheer about a possible endorsement before settling on Maxime Bernier.
  • O’Leary apparently tried to convince Bernier to drop out of the race several times, for all the good that did.
  • Some 95,000 people competed in the lottery for 10,000 parent and grandparent immigration sponsorship spaces.
  • Kirsty Duncan is threatening universities that she may force them to step up with recruiting women research chairs, given the current abysmal numbers.
  • The Ethics Commissioner cleared the PM of any wrongdoing in regard to a private fundraising event.
  • The government has launched a new ministerial task force and reallocated more money to fix the Phoenix pay system gong show.
  • The Senate Ethics committee is finalizing their report on Senator Don Meredith, and will likely table it next week, after which the full Senate can debate it.
  • Here’s the recap of Scott Gilmore’s “new conservative” dinner in Toronto.
  • In case you were morbidly curious, former union leader Sid Ryan has opted not to run for NDP leader, and will throw his support behind Niki Ashton.
  • Here are some post-O’Leary takes from Andrew MacDougall and John Moore.
  • Kevin Carmichael urges more focus on trade with Asia, in order to wean ourselves off of the American market and its volatility.
  • Economist Kevin Milligan offers his evaluation of Ontario’s basic income pilot, and how much of the income to single adults will go to students living with their parents.
  • Robert Hiltz wonders if it’s time to just stop playing nice with Trump, since that obviously isn’t a winning tactic.

Odds and ends:

Parliament is still looking for a new Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.