Roundup: A lack of scrutiny

While again noting that I don’t often write about provincial matters, sometimes they can be a microcosm or a vanguard of broader themes happening in different legislatures across the country, including the federal parliament, and this item out of Queen’s Park raises alarm bells because it is a telling sign. The province’s Financial Accountability Office – the provincial equivalent of the Parliamentary Budget Officer – tabled his annual report that essentially states that there’s not enough scrutiny happening within the legislature. And yes, that’s a very big problem.

While I am a bit surprised that his office is being underutilized, the fact that backbenchers aren’t doing the work of scrutinizing the actions of Cabinet – particularly on budget matters – is not unique to the province. Here in Ottawa, we see too many instances of MPs passing the Estimates with the barest of glances, and when ministers appear before committee to discuss them, they are generally bombarded with questions about issues of the day rather than what’s in the Estimates. That most of the scrutiny of the Estimates now happens in the Senate is Ottawa’s saving grace – something that provinces like Ontario can’t claim.

Part of the problem is that our civic literacy has so degraded that most MPs or their provincial counterparts (MPPs, MLAs, MNAs – style them how you will) don’t understand that their actual constitutionally mandated job is to hold the government to account by means of controlling the public purse. That, by definition, means scrutinizing budgets, the Estimates, and the Public Accounts. That MPs and their provincial counterparts don’t want to do that job – or at the very least are ignorant that it’s their responsibility – has meant the creation of more Officers of Parliament like the PBO, and the FAO in Ontario, to do that homework for them, and that’s a huge problem for the health of our democracy. But so long as MPs and their counterparts opt to stick their heads in the sand and play American lawmaker, spending all of their time and energy on private members’ business (when they’re not cheerleading for their particular leader), then our system suffers for it as governments aren’t held to account properly.

Good reads:

  • Julie Payette is officially now the Governor General-designate, and there is some requisite lament that it wasn’t an Indigenous choice for the office.
  • Justin Trudeau offered a more full-throated explanation for the Khadr settlement, as an Ontario judge rejected Sgt. Speer’s widow’s attempt to freeze Khadr’s accounts.
  • Trudeau is off to the meeting of US governors, where steel and softwood lumber are high on the agenda.
  • A group of veterans was on the Hill to bemoan the Khadr settlement. (One would think they would appreciate upholding the rule of law since they fought for it).
  • Here’s a distressing look at allegations of racism, sexism and homophobia within the ranks of CSIS.
  • The big project to consolidate all federal government websites onto a single platform is failing, and the current government isn’t doubling down on it.
  • The IMF gives the Liberal government a passing grade on their economic plans, but raises a couple of notes of caution going forward.
  • Former insiders of the MMIW inquiry are taking to the National Post to gripe about how it’s being run and that it’s mandate is too broad.
  • The Canadian Press’ Baloney Meter™ looks at Ralph Goodale’s statement on the Khadr settlement and how the government had no choice.
  • Jagmeet Singh is apparently leading in NDP leadership endorsements, but not in the polls.
  • Paula Simons offers righteous indignation at the attempts by far-right and white supremacist groups to co-opt the Red Ensign as a Canadian Confederate flag.
  • Colby Cosh looks at the Senate report recommending additional transfers to provinces based on demographics, and how it might cause more resentment.
  • Andrew MacDougall offers some praise for the way Justin Trudeau is handling the Trumpocalypse.

Odds and ends:

Kady O’Malley recalls the new Senate interim clerk from her testimony at the Duffy trial.