Not that it’s a big surprise, but Senator Patrick Brazeau has vowed to fight the order that he repay those living expense in the wake of that Senate audit. While he does have a point that he was cooperative and that he met all four residency requirements, unlike the other two Senators, but that doesn’t change the fact that he spent a mere ten percent of the time. Government leader in the Senate has threatened that if Senator Brazeau and Harb don’t repay their expenses – with interest – immediately, the Senate will garnish their wages, which they can do. It’s also not clear with which court they can try to challenge these audit results and the orders that the Senate itself will be voting to enforce, seeing as Parliament is actually the highest court in the land. Meanwhile, Charlie Angus wants the legal opinion that LeBreton solicited regarding Senator Mike Duffy’s eligibility to sit in the Senate based on his residency – which told LeBreton that everything was fine – made public. (As an aside, one does wonder just how many legal opinions on the Commons side are made public.) LeBreton replied that Duffy owns property and maintains a residence in the province he represents, so case closed. Ah, but perhaps not, as it was revealed last night that that there appears to have been a deal struck between Harper’s chief of staff to help Duffy with his repayment two days before he announced it, and while the PM’s spokesperson has said on the record that no taxpayer funds were used, that likely means party funds. I suppose the party may consider it fair compensation after Duffy did all of that fundraising for them, but yeah, this is totally not helping his case any more than Brazeau and Harb’s fight is helping their own. But seriously, the rest of you – the behaviour of three individual Senators is not actually indicative of the institution as a whole, and shouldn’t undo the good work that the other hundred Senators are actually doing, within the rules. The Senate’s strength as an institution is stronger than the damage caused by a couple of bad apples, and people need to be reminded of that.
In the fallout from those Senate audits, the Conservatives have taken to calling Senator Duffy “a leader” for proactively paying back his expenses – even though it appears that he was tipped off that the finding was likely to go against him. But it also needs to be pointed out that the audits also showed that Duffy was not cooperative with Deloitte, as the other two Senators in question were. So there you have it, folks – “leadership.” Wow. Meanwhile, the opposition parties are calling for the RCMP to take a look over those expense claims, which the RCMP are reportedly set to do. Amid this, the government spent QP yesterday blaming the Liberals in the Senate for stonewalling the attempts to reform the spending rules – to which Senator Dennis Dawson later explained that they were being asked to debate audits and proposed rule changes they hadn’t yet seen yet, even though it seemed that certain Senators on the government side had already seen them in advance. Dawson gave the assurance that when the Senate is back – next week Parliament is not sitting – they will debate the audits and rule changes, as they will have had time to study them. (And it does make the government look dickish for trying to paint them as obstructionist).
The audits on Senators Duffy, Brazeau and Harb came out yesterday and found against all three, and while Duffy had pre-emptively repaid all of his expenses, Harb was ordered to pay some $51,482 and Brazeau some $48,744 (both figures include interest). No word on Brazeau’s reaction but Harb is not going down quietly. While he did resign from the Liberal caucus, he has also retained a very prominent lawyer to represent him as he challenges the findings. Because part of the audit also found that there was ambiguity in the rules, and those ambiguities are were Harb really fell into. There was also news that Senator Duffy had improperly charged per diems while he was in Florida on vacation – but he blamed that on a temporary assistant while his usual one was on maternity leave, and that he repaid those expenses immediately upon finding out the error. Meanwhile, the Liberal Senate leader, James Cowan, has said he does want to see if these results can be turned over to the RCMP, the Senate has also adopted new rules that spells the end of the “honour system” that the Senate previously operated under. The Senators that I’ve spoken to have no problem with this, but this isn’t over yet. Susan Delacourt muses about the public reaction to misspending rather than egregious behaviour like these three senators’ entitlements, lying to the House or contempt of parliament, and what kind of signal that sends.
With the March For Life having left the lawn outside the Hill, and Mark Warawa having won his little victory by making a statement on female “gendercide” in the House, Question Period got started with Thomas Mulcair reading a question on whether the government would back the NDP’s opposition day motion on the improperly reported $3.1 billion in anti-terrorism funds. Harper got up and calmly reminded him that the Auditor General himself said the money was not misspent, and they will follow through on improving their reporting on the future. Mulcair then turned to the issue of the Senate audits and made a number of scurrilous accusations about the character of the Other Place. Harper said that the external auditors found ambiguities in the rules but that the Senate expected better of its members and they would be repaying the money owed. For his final question, Mulcair asked about a woman who was denied benefits while she received treatment for breast cancer while on maternity leave. Harper said that they recently changed the rules in order to ensure that these instances wouldn’t happen again. For the Liberals, Dominic LeBlanc asked about the government’s wasteful spending on ads and media monitoring instead of youth summer jobs. Diane Finley rose to take that question, and rejected the premise, and touted the launch of the Canada Summer Jobs programme. Ralph Goodale was up next, asking the same in English — and got the very same response. For his final question, Goodale asked about the demise of the long-form census, noting that some small towns were wiped out because of insufficient data. Christian Paradis responded with the red herring about a larger sample size ignoring the actual statistical invalidity of much of the data.
It’s time for census National Household Survey data! So many things to talk about – starting with the reminder that the quality of this data is not as good as that of other years thanks to the fact that it isn’t as methodologically sound and full of sample bias, they’re now going to charge for the data that used to be free, and a few other facts about how it was collected. Here’s a look at the top line numbers. A lot of the data in this release was about religious demographics – more people without religion (now the second-highest group in the country), more Muslims as they are the fastest-growing religious group, and fewer people who listed “Jedi.” There was also a lot of data on Aboriginals, who were one of the fastest growing segments of the population, but they are also losing touch with their native languages, and more of them are growing up in foster care. Our immigrant population has surged, and we now have the highest percentage in the G8. Some small towns in the Conservative heartland were pretty much wiped out of the reporting because people simply did not reply. Economist Stephen Gordon is less than impressed by the quality of the data, and questions who will find it usable.
It was another day of gross partisanship yesterday as Stephen Harper decided to begin the day by, apropos of nothing while attending the funeral of Baroness Thatcher, calling out Justin Trudeau for not being equivocal enough in his condemnation of terrorism and saying that trying to understand the root causes – so as to prevent it – was somehow “rationalizing” or “excusing” it. And then, just before Question Period, one of his faithful backbenchers repeated the same point for the benefit of the House. Well, that went over well, and after Trudeau called him out over the politicisation, the NDP decided to pile on during the evening political shows and moaned that Trudeau didn’t focus enough on the victims and the first responders. No, seriously. Because apparently a tragic incident can’t escape the narrow partisanship on either side of the aisle. The various statements that were made are collected here. Susan Delacourt, meanwhile, has a fantastic blog post about where narrow partisanship and sarcasm meet over Twitter, and all reason is lost.
The government announced yesterday that it will unveil its “comprehensive” election rules reform bill on Thursday to deal with things like misleading robocalls, and possibly the utter dogs breakfast that are the rules around leadership race financing. That said, the Chief Electoral Officer has not yet been consulted on said legislation, which you might think is a big deal (not that this government is big on consulting, as much as they might claim that they are). And before anyone says it, no, I don’t actually think that the Conservatives are trying to cover up activity in the last election done under their name. I’ve heard enough from the Conservatives that they are just as concerned about the issue as anyone else – despite some of their workers or volunteers feeling otherwise – and this will likely be a genuine attempt to crack down on the problem.
A new book claims that then-Chief Justice Bora Laskin kept political leaders informed as to the status of the patriation reference in the days of the patriation negotiations with London, and now the Quebec government is calling it an erosion of the legitimacy of the court and wants the Prime Minister to turn over all of the records from the period. PMO says no, and the Supreme Court said it’ll investigate the allegations. But seriously – trying to undermine a branch of government for narrow partisan gain? Way to go, guys. Slow clap. Martin Patriquin puts this into perspective with the rest of the Quebec perpetual outrage machine.
Today in the Warawa/MPs’ freedom of speech file, the motion was blocked again by the committee, which means that Warawa has the final appeal to the House itself if he so chooses. Meanwhile, other MPs, including Nathan Cullen gave their responses to Warawa’s privilege motion, and most of them resorted to hockey metaphors – because we have no other form of elegant discourse in this country, apparently. Oh, and it was a bit rich for Cullen to decry the partisan attack SO31s when his own party is increasingly doing the very same, and he once again asks the Speaker to rule rather than taking any kind of agency as a party for their own centralising behaviour. The Globe and Mail reports that caucus heard that Harper was explicit during Wednesday’s caucus meeting that he would use any and all means necessary to keep the abortion issue off the table as he has pledged to the electorate. Chris Hall looks at how this is an example of abortion politics masquerading as a free speech issue. Four Liberal leadership candidates respond to the question of what they would do with this situation – and no, Justin Trudeau was not one of the responders. And if you’re curious, PostMedia gives a breakdown of the current state of abortion laws and access in this country.
On the continuing Mark Warawa “muzzling” drama, the appeal to the Procedure and House Affairs subcommittee on private members’ business met in camera yesterday, and we should find out their decision this morning. Warawa himself does his best to appear loyal to the PM, and doesn’t want to place the blame for this all on him. Aaron Wherry takes note of the circular logic that the NDP seem to employ when it comes to this debate – how it’s bad that the government muzzles, and yet they should absolutely keep the abortion debate under a tight lid. Bruce Cheadle looks back at caucus divisions over the abortion issue among the past governments of the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives. Chantal Hébert sees the possible seeds of a leadership challenge being sown in this Warawa drama. Andrew Coyne (quite rightly) points to the bigger questions of our parliamentary democracy that are at stake by the heavy hand of the leaders’ offices.