Roundup: No knockout punch from Dawson

As expected, former Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s appearance at the Commons ethics committee yesterday was a show for the cameras. Throughout the hearing, opposition MPs kept trying to get Dawson to insist that it was a big deal that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated conflict of interest rules, and she kept rebuffing them, not giving them the clip that they were looking for. Because really, ever since former Auditor General Sheila Fraser remarked that the Liberals “broke every rule in the book” when it came to the Sponsorship Scandal, reporters and partisans have been trying desperately for another officer of parliament to give them a similar line (kind of like how everyone keeps looking for a “knockout punch” in a leadership debate that won’t ever come). Dawson also wouldn’t play ball when it came to the Conservatives trying to insist that the PM repay all of the costs of the vacation, and in fact seemed to defend some of them, so too bad for that attempted clip.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t some value in the exercise. For example, while the PM and Dawson will dispute the extent of Trudeau’s friendship with the Aga Khan for the purposes of the Act, had she agreed that they were close personal friends, Trudeau would have been found to have contravened the Act in another fashion when he sat in on two meetings related to the Aga Khan Foundation (even though she didn’t find that he unduly influenced those meetings based on his relationship). Nevertheless, the “friends” exception in the legislation was cause for some level of debate and indeed consternation among MPs, but it’s something that Dawson thinks they might as well just get rid of in the statute.

And amending the Act was part of the discussion as well, both with regard to closing loopholes, and the discussion on penalties. Regarding loopholes, Dawson said that she needed to interpret that Morneau was within his rights to indirectly hold his shares in holding companies because she had previously recommended that said loophole be closed (and, shockingly, MPs ignored the suggestion). If she suddenly interpreted the legislation differently, that would have been a problem, hence her need to apply the law in a consistent manner. Regarding penalties, Dawson said that she feels that naming and shaming political figures is punishment enough, which didn’t sit well with MPs who wanted a sliding scale of penalties to demonstrate the severity of the offence. (Andrew Coyne also advocates “meaningful penalties” but won’t say what qualifies). The problem with this, of course, is that it turns any violation into a political circus as MPs fall all over themselves to demand the stiffest possible penalties for their opponents in order to score points, ignoring that the whole exercise is one designed for political consequences, which Trudeau has and continues to face. The other aspect is that greater penalties also create the conception that these are criminal sanctions, which the opposition has already been exploiting with language about how Trudeau “broke federal laws” to give the impression that he has committed a criminal offence (which he has not). Changing the rules to encourage this kind of demagoguery doesn’t help our ethics system in the slightest, and would probably do far more harm than good in the interest of scoring a couple of cheap points.

Good reads:

  • At his Hamilton town hall, Trudeau said that faith groups and churches can still apply for summer job grants, but not those whose purpose is to fight abortion rights.
  • Trudeau also assured the crowd that Canadians can trust that they can trust that security and intelligence services are dealing with returning ISIS fighters.
  • While some media reports say the Americans are on the verge of tearing up NAFTA, other observers of the negotiations dispute this characterisation.
  • The US has moved to slap new duties on imports of newsprint from Canada, while Canada launched trade complaints against the US at the World Trade Organization.
  • The Conservatives have put out Facebook ads to say that “Trudeau’s carbon tax is now in effect.” Err, except it’s not true. (Shocking, I know).
  • Former staffers talk about how male MPs and other staffers are silent bystanders to harassment that happens on the Hill.
  • The government has announced $291 million over five years to improve First Nations policing, and want the provinces to pony up even more.
  • New information shows that the RCMP is investigating the alleged “sonic attacks” in Havana used on Canada and US staff, but no such weapon is known to exist.
  • The Canadian Forces are looking to recruit more women to the Special Forces, but currently none have managed to qualify for the training.
  • The RCMP is looking to develop special deep-learning software to combat child porn, but their legal memo continues to complain about privacy rights.
  • Here is a look at those Haitian migrants in Canada, and the problems with the refugee system that is under-resourced.
  • Here is the case for why Health Canada increasing its user fees for drug regulation compromises safety because it makes them beholden to fee-payers.