Roundup: Turning down the committee

It was pretty much as expected. The Commons ethics committee met yesterday and the opposition MPs assembled pleaded with the Liberal majority on the committee to think of the children – err, I mean, think about the meaning of holding the government to account when it came to the demand to call for the PM to appear to answer questions about the Ethics Commissioner’s findings regarding his vacation to the Aga Khan’s island. I will grant that the Liberals could have insisted that they go in camera for this, but didn’t. Rather, they simply said that, having read the report, and taking into account that the PM had apologised, answered questions in the media, and would be answering questions in QP on this topic, that it was enough. And so the motion was defeated 6-3, which surprised no one.

From the arguments presented, there is a little more that we could dig into. For example, Nathan Cullen said he wanted the PM’s suggestions on how to improve the rules – but if he cared about those, he would have taken the many suggestions that Mary Dawson has been making over the past decade and implemented those, but he, nor his party, nor any parliamentarian, has been keen to do that. And his worrying that the PM is ultimately accountable to parliament is true, but that ultimately means that if Cullen is so concerned, he can move a motion of non-confidence in the PM on the NDP’s next Supply Day and try to convince the Liberal ranks of the merits of his argument. As for the Conservatives, they seemed far more interested in seeing some grovelling the PM, and demanding that he repay the full cost of the trip (which would include the Challenger and security costs), never mind that during the Harper era, his “reimbursement” for his own private trips was supposed to be at economy fares, but nobody could find fares as low as the ones he was repaying (and there were several incidents of party stalwarts getting subsidized airfare improperly). And that whole incident nearly six years ago when they wanted Harper to appear to answer questions on the ClusterDuff Affair? Well, that was then and this is now, and Trudeau promised to be more open and transparent. (Err, remember when Stephen Harper rode into office on the white horse of accountability and transparency? Yeah, me neither).

And while opposition staffers chirp at my on the Twitter Machine about how it’s the role of MPs to hold the government to account – true – and that a committee setting is less theatrical than QP – not true – I will reiterate that the point of this exercise is not actually about accountability, but rather about gathering media clips under the protection of parliamentary privilege. If you think there would be sober questions asked, and that this would be a serious exercise in accountability, then you’re sorely mistaken. It remains a political calculus, and Trudeau has determined that it’s not worth it to spend an hour having the most torqued accusations hurled at him in the hopes that something sticks, and hoping for that “gold” clip that they can share around social media. If we’re going to lament the lack of accountability, then everyone needs to take a share of responsibility there – not just the PM.

Good reads:

  • Justin Trudeau had his first town hall in Lower Sackville last night, and got a lot of questions that were not the softballs his critics were expecting.
  • Trudeau also told media that his security team raised no red flags with the Joshua Boyle meeting, and defended the slow pace of legislation this past fall.
  • Independent senators are asking the Senate Ethics Officer, as well as the Senate’s Internal Economy Committee, to look into Lynn Beyak’s activities.
  • Chrystia Freeland is in Washington for NAFTA-related meetings, while Andrew Scheer and several critics head there next week.
  • Ahmed Hussen says the government isn’t being complacent and has plans in place in the event of a wave of Salvadoran migrants crossing the border.
  • Apparently, Canada has withdrawn some of its diplomatic staff in Havana after those suspected sonic attacks.
  • Rona Ambrose says that party leaders need to tell the men in their parties that harassment is unacceptable. Err, is she subtly nudging Scheer there?
  • The RCMP has put out a tender for a 3D printer for making models of vehicle accidents for use in court, and other analysis tools.
  • CRA and the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy say that they weren’t asked to do a background check on GG Julie Payette during her appointment process.
  • The opposition parties, dutifully, are making some hay out of this vetting revelation.
  • A trip that the PM made to a Winnipeg fire hall at the request of a local union apparently had no paper trail, and is now deemed an HR matter.
  • The RCMP turned over their files to prosecutors on VADM Mark Norman and the alleged leaks during the summer, but still no word if he’s being charged.
  • Elections Canada is putting out a new interpretation document for how “volunteer labour” qualifies for self-employed individuals during election campaigns.
  • Churches and religious organizations are complaining that the new “attestation” requirements for summer jobs funding means they won’t be eligible.
  • The government is moving on regulations to ban asbestos, including the sale, import and export.
  • Here’s a longread about how First Nations are fighting back against child apprehensions by the child welfare system that acts like residential schools.
  • Saskatchewan’s former Speaker has thrown his hat in the ring to vie for the federal Conservative nomination against Brad Trost.
  • Jagmeet Singh is unlikely to run for a seat unless an NDP MP steps aside for him. Which is exactly what would have happened if they respected parliamentary norms.
  • Here’s a look at Singh’s new staff, and the challenges they’ll have to overcome.
  • Stephen Gordon looks at an interesting study about the perceptions of credibility of think tank studies.
  • Susan Delacourt pitches London, Ontario, as a great “populist test kitchen” for the government to get back in touch with the average Canadian.
  • My column looks at what happens next with the Lynn Beyak saga, and the sad fact that she’s going to be there as 2024 as a new free speech martyr.

Odds and ends:

Former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin’s crime novel Full Disclosure will be released in May.