Roundup: Trying to measure independence

As Senators have made their way back home for the summer, we’re having another round of them poking each other, like kids in the backseat of the car on a long trip, over just who are the “real independents” in the Senate. It’s getting a bit tiresome, especially with the Conservatives insisting that they’re the only ones because they vote against the government more often. The problem is that it’s a fairly flawed metric because they’re the Official Opposition and are supposed to vote against the government on a consistent basis. That doesn’t make them independent – it makes them the opposition.

The big problem with the metric about voting as a measure of independence ignores the broader procedural issues. If the government could really command the votes of its new independent appointees, then bills would be making it through the Senate a lot faster, and they’re not. The logistics of getting legislation through the chamber when you don’t have a whip who is organizing votes is one of the measures by which you can tell that these senators are more independent than the Conservatives in the Senate give them credit for. While the Conservatives, Senate Liberals and Independent Senators Group are getting better at organizing themselves in trying to come up with plans around who will be debating what bills when, the fact that the Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative,” Senator Peter Harder, refuses to negotiate with those groups to prioritize some bills over others, has been part of the reason why some bills went off the rails and took forever to pass. If he did negotiate, or could command votes to ensure that bills could be pushed through when needed, I would buy the argument that these senators aren’t really independent. The fact that there is this lack of coherence in moving legislation is one of the markers in the column of greater independence. This is also where the argument about the need for an Official Opposition kicks in.

While the dichotomy of strict Government/Opposition in the Senate has been upended with the new group of Independents, ending the duopoly of power dynamics that contributed to some of the institutional malaise around the rules, I will maintain that an Official Opposition remains important because it’s important to have some focus and coherence when it comes to holding the government to account. Simply relying on loose fish to offer piecemeal opinion on individual pieces of legislation or issues risks diluting the effectiveness of opposition, and it also means that there is less ideological scrutiny of a government’s agenda, which is also important. Partisanship is not necessarily a bad thing, and the Senate has traditionally been a less partisan place because there was no need for electioneering within its ranks. Trying to make it non-partisan will not make it better, but will make it less effective at what it does.

Good reads:

  • The Canadian government is waiting for more details before they announce how they’ll deal with the partially reinstated travel ban in the US.
  • The government is launching a counter-radicalization centre, and will name a special adviser in the coming months.
  • As expected, a second wave of tariffs were slapped on some Canadian softwood lumber, but three Atlantic provinces were spared.
  • There are calls for the new feminist foreign aid policy to fund small grassroots organizations, but the government may be structurally ill-equipped to do so.
  • RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is apparently making “patronage appointments” on his way out the door, and is being accused of nepotism.
  • New rail safety regulations around dangerous goods were announced on Friday, but they lack specifics.
  • Canada is lifting trade restrictions against Belarus despite its dubious human rights record, apparently because the US and EU have already done the same.
  • Canada signed a no-hacking treaty with China, for what that’s worth.
  • Former senator Don Meredith’s lawyer says it’s a bad idea to carry on the harassment probe into Meredith’s office as he did the right thing and resigned.
  • Some Liberal MPs are agitating for protected nominations. (Really?!)
  • Ways to protect Parliament Hill are a constant security challenge, but some are hoping the renovations will be an opportunity to embed some new measures.
  • Here is an interesting discussion on the shelf-life of defence white papers.
  • Stephanie Carvin looks at C-59 and wonders if the Public Safety cabinet portfolio needs to be broken up once again.
  • Colby Cosh casts an eye at the unregulated Alberta political landscape of soon-to-be phantom parties and PACs and declares it to be the real political insanity.
  • Chantal Hébert offers her political watch-list for the summer.

Odds and ends:

Lawrence Cannon was re-appointed as ambassador to France, which was a bit of a surprise to everyone.

We have a new Chief Public Health Officer and House of Commons Clerk now.