Roundup: Disappointment and disengagement

Yesterday being the UN International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, The Walrus had Robert Jago write a polemic about the sense of betrayal that some Canadian Indigenous people are feeling about the current Liberal government, which promised much but appears to have delivered little. While one could easily argue that much of the litany of complaints are cherry-picking examples and casting some of them in an uncharitable light – many of the promised changes haven’t happened yet because they are complex and systemic, which coupled with a slow-moving bureaucracy that resists change by its very nature, and that means that things take time, not to mention that consultations per Section 35 of the Constitution add time to the process, especially when the government is committing to rebuild many of them from the ground-up. While it’s all well and good to complain that they haven’t poured more money into the system, there are just as many valid reasons for pointing out that pouring money into a broken system is just as likely to exacerbate problems than it will to have any meaningful impact, and we have seen numerous instances of just that – adding money where there is no capacity to effectively spend it has added to burdens being faced by some of these communities.

This, however, wasn’t what bothered me about Jago’s piece, but rather, his recounting of his dipping his toe into the political process and then walking away from it. Buoyed by the soaring Trudeau rhetoric, Jago took out a party membership, tried to get involved, found the party too remote and unresponsive and quickly walked away from the convention he was supposed to attend. What irks me about this is that while I do understand that the disappointment-based disengagement is a Thing, and there is a whole Samara Canada study on the topic, is that this kind of narrative is self-justifying, and Jago goes on a tangent about resistance by refusing participation. Why I find it a problem is that change is difficult, and it generally requires a lot more organisation and agitation within the system than he seems to have offered.

The civics lessons that we’re not taught in this country should include the lesson that if you want to make change, you need to be involved in the process, which means taking out party memberships and organise, organise, organise. Because we’re not taught this, it’s allowed central party leadership, in every party, to amass a great deal of power that leaches power away from the grassroots, and a grassroots that doesn’t know any better doesn’t jealously guard that power. It’s why the Liberals voted overwhelmingly for a new party constitution that absolutely kneecapped the rights of the grassroots in that same convention that Jago refused to attend – because they no longer know their rights, and a slick leader managed to convince them to turn over that power to “modernise” things. And that’s why the party needs active and organised grassroots members to push back and reclaim that power. Walking away at the first sign of resistance just allows the central leadership to hold onto that ill-gotten power. It’s going to take time and a hell of a lot of organisation on the part of grassroots members if we want to start rebalancing the power in this country, but if everyone walks away at the first bit of disappointment, then the party leaders have already won.

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Roundup: The downside of leaks

The thing that had everyone’s tongue wagging yesterday was the release of those Trump Transcripts™ detailing calls to Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and the inevitable Canada angle in which Trump says that there’s no problem with Canada, that they don’t even think about us. Some friend and neighbour.

All joking aside, this piece by Andrew MacDougall explaining how readouts of calls with foreign leaders work is crucial reading to understanding why it’s important for diplomacy that world leaders be allowed to have open and frank conversations without these kinds of details leaking out. While yes, these Trump leaks are more about the damage to his domestic agenda, they’re not revealing much about him that we don’t know already, but it remains an issue that it sets a very bad precedent, and that could have bigger and worse repercussions down the road, not only for the ability of politicians to speak freely to one another, but also for the likelihood of there being note takers in the room with Trump in the future, and neither is a good thing.

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Roundup: One bill passed, one deferred

After very little drama, the budget implementation bill passed the Senate, their tempers cooled overnight. Not that it was ever going to be a real constitutional crisis – blame some garden variety torque for that one, but this wasn’t a meek climb down. The Senate did launch one final jab at the Commons, reminding them that while they are passing the budget bill this time, they nevertheless have the authority to amend or veto budget bills if they so choose – a pointed rebuke to the provocative boilerplate language of the Commons’ rejection of their amendments.

This having been said, what the Senate didn’t do was pass Bill S-3, which aims to remove certain types of discrimination from the Indian Act. The Senate amended the bill to remove all of the discrimination, while the Commons nixed said amendments, and the Senate was more willing to dig their heels in this one. By deferring debate and votes on this until September, it puts the government into a particular legal bind because they were under a court deadline of July 3rd to pass this bill in order to comply with a court order. This didn’t happen, and one suspects that it’s because the senators at the centre of this want to put more pressure on the government to accept their amendments and remove that discrimination.

Meanwhile, Dylan Robertson got a copy of the court decision that refused to extend the timeline for the government.

We shall see what the government’s next move is. I suspect it will be another court extension, but whether the summer to think over the amendments in light of the judge’s ruling may prompt a change of heart. Maybe. Time will tell.

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Roundup: The looming retirement of the Chief Justice

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin announced yesterday that she would be retiring on December 15th, a few months in advance of her mandatory retirement date, in order to give the government enough time to find a suitable replacement. Why that date is significant is because it will be at the end of the Court’s fall sitting, letting her use the next six months that she is able to clear off the files from her desk and work on any outstanding judgments rather than depart mid-sitting and the organizational chaos that would follow.

The next steps are now an important consideration. The government will not only have to name a new Chief Justice, but a new judge from Western Canada (and likely BC given that’s where McLachlin was appointed from). And in order to keep gender balance on the court it will likely have to be a woman, and in accordance with this government’s push for diversity, it will likely be a person of colour, if not someone Indigenous (and let us not forget that said person must also be fluently bilingual, which is another self-imposed criteria that this government has made for itself). This may be easier to find in BC than it was in Atlantic Canada, mind you. And for Chief Justice? My money is on Justice Richard Wagner, whom I know many close the court have already tapped as being the successor if they had their druthers.

Of course, we’ll see if this government can get an appointment process back up and running within the six months. Experience has shown us that they seem to have difficulty with that, especially as there are still some sixty or so federally appointed judicial vacancies still remaining around the country, and a few of the Judicial Advisory Committees charged with finding candidates for said vacancies still not fully appointed either, which is a problem. Of course, they may be able to largely reconstitute the committee that oversaw the nomination of Justice Rowe, with Kim Campbell again in charge of the process, but I guess we’ll see how long that takes.

For more reaction, here’s Emmett Macfarlane on As It Happens and in the Ottawa Citizen, and Carissima Mathen on Power Play.

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Roundup: Not seeing the cannon fodder

After thinking a bit more about it, and seeing some of the reaction over the Twitter Machine over the weekend, I find myself coming back to Chantal Hébert’s weekend column about Trudeau treating his rookie ministers like cannon fodder, and I really have a hard time with it. Part of why I have difficulty is because it ignores some of the actual day-to-day realities as to why there were so many rookies in cabinet, which was that there were not a lot of veterans to choose from, and in order to maintain regional and gender balance, while still ensuring that you had enough veterans to do the other jobs of being a party in power, like having committee chairs who had some experience, then of course you were going to have rookies in cabinet. As well, the fact that Trudeau is behaving far more in the ethos of government by cabinet than his predecessor means that some of these rookies are going to be saddled with responsibility (and yes, this is a far less centrally-controlled cabinet, as I’ve spoken to staffers who used to work at Queen’s Park and have regaled us with the vast differences between how things operated between them).

I also find the implicit notion that it’s young women ministers being thrown under the bus to be a problem, because I’m not so sure we’d hear the same complaints if it were a male minister who has been handed a tough file and it doesn’t go according to the expectations of the pundit class. Yes, Joly made a bad call with Madeleine Meilleur, but I would hardly call Joly incapable, and she is juggling a lot of other files on her plate at the moment. She’s not incompetent, and Trudeau hasn’t thrown her under any bus. Maryam Monsef? She handled a file that was basically a flaming bag of dog excrement and managed to come out intact with a promotion to a line department with a hefty agenda (whereas “Democratic institutions” is a make-work project with staff assigned from PCO). Monsef did her job, better than most people give her credit for, and the fact that the Rosemary’s Baby that was electoral reform got smothered in the cradle is not a black mark on her because she didn’t micromanage the committee. The fact that the Liberals on that committee dropped the ball and didn’t make their own case, and in fact let themselves be railroaded by the other parties is not Monsef’s fault (though one has to wonder how much blame to assign to her for letting Nathan Cullen manipulate her into accepting the “proportional” nonsense in committee make-up that doomed it). If anyone blames Karina Gould for electoral reform being cancelled, they’re the ones at fault – not Gould. Trudeau made that call (rightfully), and has taken his lumps for it. And if Hébert or anyone else (like Ed Broadbent for one) thinks that these poor young women should have been either kept out of cabinet instead of being given difficult files and a chance to prove themselves because they’re women, then I think that’s a bigger problem. I’m not seeing any cannon fodder – just some ministers doing their best with some of the problems handed to them.

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Roundup: Paris Accord disappointment

The inevitable happened yesterday, where Donald Trump announced that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Accords – a process that could take up to four years – with the intention of immediately trying to renegotiate re-entry on more favourable terms. Why that makes no sense is because the Accords were flexible enough that each country was supposed to set their own targets, so there was no actual need for him to pull out other than to look tough, but what can you do with a chaos generator like that? Justin Trudeau was one of the leaders who immediately contacted Trump to express his disappointment, while Catherine McKenna said that Canada was moving ahead regardless, and would be hosting a ministerial summit with China and the EU in September regarding next steps with emissions reductions.

We are no doubt going to hear some grousing from the Conservatives over the next few days about this, with renewed caterwauling about scrapping the federal carbon tax (which is actual a national carbon price, and any tax would only apply to a province that doesn’t have a price of their own that meets the target – namely Saskatchewan at this point), and concern trolling about how this makes us uncompetitive. The problem, of course, is that industry is all moving in the direction of favouring carbon pricing because it allows for stability and predictability, and it’s also a market-based mechanism to drive innovation – something that sector-by-sector regulations don’t do. And indeed, the business community in the States, including some major oil companies, are reacting negatively to Trump’s decision, and the heads of several companies are resigning from Trump’s business council in protest. And it shouldn’t be understated that the potential for a clean tech is real with price incentives that carbon pricing provides.

Meanwhile, French president Emmanuel Macron issued a statement in English, aimed to the Americans, inviting those scientists to France to continue their climate work there instead, which is a bold move.

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Roundup: Senator Greene’s grievous error

The strange fascination with Senator Stephen Greene’s ouster from caucus has consumed far too much time and attention, and yet things keep cropping up that demand a response. Today it was his op-ed in the National Post describing what happened, and then he dropped this little gem at the end of his piece.

No. Greene is completely and utterly wrong.

The Senate may not be the confidence Chamber – that is rightfully the House of Commons – but that doesn’t mean that the Senate doesn’t play an accountability role because the whole point of Parliament is to hold the government to account. The Senate is part of Parliament. This is elementary civics for a Westminster democracy.

The way in which the Senate exercises its accountability role is different from the Commons, but it exists nevertheless. It’s not a copy of the Commons’ processes either, nor can it be redundant because composition matters. Sober second thought is actually a form of accountability that relies on checking government legislation from a less partisan lens that is removed from the grasping for votes that afflicts most MPs, for whom populist considerations can blind them to bad policy – something the Senate can call out by virtue of the fact that they’re not seeking re-election.

That institutional independence – not seeking re-election, tenured so that they can’t be easily removed by the government of the day, given job security until age 75 so that they’re not compromising themselves in seeking post-Senate employment – it all adds up to the ability to hold the government to account in a way that the House of Commons simply cannot do. That’s why the Senate has the unlimited veto power that it does – because sometimes a government with a majority will pass blatantly unconstitutional legislation because it’s politically popular to do so, but as we all know, populism is not democracy, and the Senate safeguards that principle. That is an accountability function.

That Greene is unable to make that distinction is a problem, and it’s especially a problem because he’s been leading the charge with the modernisation push in the Upper Chamber, and his is a vision that is looking to see partisan caucuses diminishing. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, the ability to have a coherent opposition in the Senate is a key Westminster feature and a guarantor off accountability, which simply cannot be done effectively if the Chamber is a collection of 105 loose fish. That the Senate is more vigorously examining and amending legislation now is not a bad thing, but we are probably at the peak of what we can or should be expecting in terms of activism without senators engaging in overreach. But to think that this isn’t accountability is simply ignorant.

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Roundup: Exit Meredith, at long last

It is perhaps not entirely surprising, but it seems that soon-to-be former Senator Don Meredith had the tiniest shred of shame left in him after all, and he announced yesterday that he would be resigning from the Senate. Well, sort of. He wrote a letter where he implied that he was resigning but didn’t actually say it, and made himself out to be a hero for not putting the Senate through a Constitutional challenge around its powers to expel a member. It took calls to Meredith’s lawyer to confirm that yes, he was resigning, and then more calls to confirm that yes, the letter stating that had been sent to the Governor General (who has to get it and then inform the Senate Speaker of that fact) but just hadn’t arrived during the evening political shows.

So now there are a couple of questions remaining. One of them is what happens to the two ongoing investigations into harassment in his office, which would normally be suspended given that they are considered moot given that he’s no longer there. That could change, however, if the Senate Ethics committee decides to let them continue in order for everything to be aired. Given the current mood, that may still happen.

The other question, and we’ll hear no end of sanctimony about it, is about Meredith’s pension. That’s the one thing that most reporters immediately glommed onto yesterday, because of course they did. Apparently, Treasury Board gets to make this call, and they’ve apparently reached out to PMO on the issue, so I’m sure we’ll get some kind of a political determination around it within a couple of days. At that point, we’ll see if Meredith decides that it’s a fight he wants to take on, despite the fact that he’ll have popular opinion against him. He may, however, have the law on his side, but more to the point, the desire to preserve one’s pension has been a driving force for getting bad actors to resign gracefully. Taking that option away will disincentivise future bad actors to do so, which is a bigger problem long-term than the public outrage about this one public figure.

Meanwhile, this means that the Senate’s powers to expel one of its own members will remain untested, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m not sure that it’s preferable for them to have gone ahead with it, even as a test case, given the historical message that it sends. Regardless, here’s James Bowden laying out the case for why the Senate does have the power to expel its own members, should it become necessary once again in the future.

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QP: Coming at Sajjan on two fronts

While a gas leak evacuated buildings a couple of blocks from the Hill, QP got underway undaunted. Rona Ambrose led off, immediately boarding the sanctimony train with regards to the Harjit Sajjan apology, and Justin Trudeau reiterated that he continued to have full confidence in his Minister. Ambrose demanded Sajjan’s ouster, and Trudeau reiterated that he was proud of Sajjan, and listed numerous accomplishments. Ambrose demanded to know if Trudeau knew of Sajjan saying this in 2015, but Trudeau got around it. Ambrose ladled on some more sanctimony before demanding his ouster yet again, but Trudeau praised Sajjan’s contributions again. Ambrose then accused the government of not supporting the military, but Trudeau was unmoved. Thomas Mulcair was up next, decrying that there was no inquiry into the Afghan detainees issue. Trudeau said that Sajjan spoke with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner and she closed the file. Mulcair reiterated, saying that it wasn’t the question, but Trudeau repeated that the file was closed. Mulcair tried to sort out whether Sajjan knew nothing on that file or if he was an architect of Op Medusa, and Trudeau reiterated praise for Sajjan. Mulcair then moved onto the Parliamentary Budget Officer, accusing Trudeau of attacking him, and Trudeau disputed that, insisted they gave him more resources and more independence.

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Roundup: Suggested cures for journalism

After six months of study and deliberation, Public Policy Forum came out with its report and recommendations on the state of media and democracy, and came up with a handful of recommendations for things like a tax credits, creative commons licensing, clear mandates for the CBC, the creation of a particular extension of The Canadian Press to cover local news like city halls and court cases in smaller communities, and most controversially, a $100 million fund to help legacy media, well, cope with the new digital environment. Many journalists pooh-poohed much of this, and turned up their noses at the notion of the fund, particularly if it were to be administered by government. Paul Wells summed everything up pretty well with this fairly brilliant column here. And Chris Selley made a few trenchant observations over the Twitter Machine.

(Note that for years, the GLBT Xtra chain – that I used to write for – subsidized their operations by running a phone dating service, and they more recently replaced that by running a hookup site).

I’m not going to pretend that I have any answers here, but I will express a bit of frustration with people who insist that if we just produce better journalism that people will want to pay for it again. Given the way that we have acclimatised people to getting it online for free (remember, newspapers used to do that as “advertising” their paper subscriptions) and this pervasive (and wrong) notion that “information wants to be free,” I think it’s more than just producing better journalism that people will want to pay for. It’s especially insulting when I see people like Paul Godfrey showing up on TV to say that when he’s one of the people who is hollowing out the very papers that he owns as he collects millions of dollars in bonuses. It’s hard to produce good journalism when you have no one to produce it, and those who are left are overloaded trying to do the work of three or four people.

The other thing that bothers me is when people say “look at how subscriptions went up in the States recently!” it’s also because they went through a batshit crazy election and are in the middle of an utter meltdown of their democratic institutions. That’s not happening here (though Trudeau’s popularity has prompted a few outlets, like the BBC, to hire a couple of journalists in Canada given the new interest here), and we are constantly dealing with the false notion that Canadian politics is boring, and that there’s no real stories here. Not to mention, we have a tenth of their population, so we’re dealing with an order of magnitude of difference when it comes to market as well.

So while I’m not sure I have any answers, “just do better” is more of a slap in the face than it is a solution to what is ailing the industry.

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