Roundup: Jean’s version

Yesterday finally saw that long-anticipated Daniel Jean appearance before the Commons public safety committee, and it was…not explosive. Much of it was simply reiterating everything we’ve heard before – that Jean was sensitive to misinformation that was appearing in media outlets that suggested that RCMP and CSIS didn’t take Jaspal Atwal’s appearance seriously, that there was a possibility this was an attempt to embarrass the Canadian government into looking like they didn’t take Khalistani separatists seriously, and that Jean himself suggested the briefing and PMO simply providing him with a list of journalists to reach out to. And when the Conservatives demanded to know about the “rogue elements in the Indian government” or “conspiracy theory” allegations, Jean corrected that he didn’t say those things.

Now, some of the journalists involved in the briefing are disputing a few details, and in particular the notion that Jean had suggested that perhaps Indian intelligence was involved (which he denied yesterday). And there remains this concern trolling that senior bureaucrats don’t normally go to the media like this so he “must have” been put-up to it by PMO, which I’m not really sure is the case, particularly because as we heard in later releases about Jean’s briefing, and in his testimony yesterday, he highlighted the use of “fake news” and propaganda by hostile outlets, which is why we wanted to correct them as a neutral third-party. This is not really a widespread concern just a few years ago, particularly given the way that it was seen as interfering with elections and whatnot, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he wanted to be more proactive about it.

Of course, the real hitch in all of this is that some of the sensationalized reporting around the original briefing, coupled with the torque applied to it by Andrew Scheer and company to the point where the story being proffered in the House of Commons didn’t match reality (which is Scheer’s stock in trade these days) have spun this whole narrative beyond what was a “faux pas,” per Jean. And when Jean’s narrative didn’t match Scheer’s, it was Scheer who tried to insist that Trudeau spoke about the “rogue elements” (he never did – he very studiously avoided any specifics and only said that he supported what Jean said), and that it was up to Trudeau to provide clarity for his apparent contradictions when he didn’t actually make any – it was Scheer himself who put forward a false narrative and has been caught with his pants down over it. But let’s also be clear – a lot of the reporting around this has not been stellar either, between sensationalization and omitting of aspects (like his concern about the misinformation being fed to Canadian media), coupled with a refusal to call Scheer out on his disingenuous framing of the whole thing, has led these false narratives to grow out of control. And they keep getting dragged on longer by things like yet more false claims being piled on, such as with the chickpea tariffs and the allegedly cancelled meeting that never existed, but do we call it out? Not until days later. And some journalists should own up to their role rather than get their backs up (like they did yesterday) so that we can move on from this whole incident because we really do have better things to discuss.

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Roundup: A big meeting, no big answers

Yesterday saw the big meeting between Justin Trudeau and premiers Rachel Notley and John Horgan on the subject of the Trans Mountain expansion, and what was supposed to be a 35-minute tête-à-tête turned into over 90. We didn’t get specifics out of the meeting, but we got some clues, in particular that Horgan is pointing to deficiencies in the government’s ocean protections plan, while Trudeau and Notley will be in discussion with Kinder Morgan about a possible stake in the project to help with risk mitigation, and to get the ball rolling before construction season. Trudeau also noted some kind of upcoming legislation to reiterate federal jurisdiction over the project, but one hopes that they don’t try to declare this under Section 92(10)(c) of the Constitution, because it’s already federal jurisdiction and invoking that when the jurisprudence is already settled would introduce doubt that doesn’t actually exist – no matter what Horgan seems to imply.

And then comes along Andrew Scheer, who demonstrates either a wilful ignorance of history, or a willingness to again demonstrate that he is a fabulist – or possibly a combination of the two. Regardless, his particular assertions about the history of government investment in energy projects is woefully mistaken and wrong.

Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt looks at how the meeting de-escalated the tensions somewhat, while Paul Wells reads everyone’s positions, and wonders if the government’s plans actually address Kinder Morgan’s concerns. Also, here’s a reminder about the last time a BC premier tried to intrude on federal jurisdiction and got slapped down hard by the federal government.

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Roundup: Pallister’s dubious threats

Manitoba premier Brian Pallister is looking to talk tough with the federal government, essentially daring them to increase the carbon price that he’s instituting in his province with a threat to take the federal government to court if they do. This after Pallister’s government already explored the notion of taking the government to court over the imposition of a federal carbon price backstop in the first place, and deciding that it wasn’t something they could win. For reference, Pallister’s government says they’ll implement a $25/tonne carbon tax, and leave it there rather than raise it every year (the point of which is, of course, to drive businesses and consumers to make choices that mean paying fewer of these carbon prices), and Catherine McKenna is basically saying “That’s great, but if your price doesn’t increase in 2020 like it’s supposed to, we’ll charge the difference.” While Pallister is trying to stand with other small-c conservative leaders – most of whom aren’t yet in office – I’m really not sure where he thinks he has the legal footing on this one.

Why does this matter? Well, recall the Environment Commissioner’s report last week that was done in concert with provincial auditors general, and as Paul Wells points out in this excellent piece, they could demonstrate that it wasn’t just the Harper government not doing their part (as McKenna was so quick to focus on), but rather the provinces weren’t doing their part either – especially those who were talking a good game. Nobody is taking this seriously, and the ability to hit our targets gets further away. And in the midst of Wells’ excoriation of these political leaders and their big talk on the environment, he drives home the message that we can’t believe any of them. And he’s right. Which is why we can’t believe Pallister’s rhetoric in this either, as he claims that his province’s plan is better than the federal one, so they shouldn’t have to add the increased carbon tax as part of that. Sorry, but no. The common carbon price across the country is about more than just reductions as it is about preventing carbon leakage to other jurisdictions in the country (and possibly elsewhere, depending on how well its designed), and he should know that. But just like the federal conservatives playing cute with trying to insist that McKenna should be able to tell them exactly how many megatonnes a $50/tonne carbon price will reduce, it’s not how this works. A carbon price is not a scrubber in a smokestack – it’s a market mechanism that is supposed to drive demand and innovation, and it works in jurisdictions where it is implemented properly. It’s not just about a claim that their system with a lower price will be better, which is a claim we shouldn’t believe anyway. It’s time for everyone to play hardball with politicians and these promises, and that means more than just disingenuous questions or demands, but actual accountability for what mechanisms are supposed to do and how they’re being implemented.

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Roundup: The AG’s vacancy problem

The Auditor General was on Power Play yesterday to talk about his recent examination of the Great Lakes Pilotage Authority, and how the lack of appointments to the board meant a lack of oversight for the CEO, who then abused his expenses. Michael Ferguson then went on to talk about the greater pattern of unfilled vacancies by this government (which will be the focus of one of his upcoming reports), and it’s a verifiable problem that this government has, in large part because as part of their reform of the system to ensure that more women and minorities were appointed, they changed to a system of seeking out nominees to having people apply for positions. For as much merit as ensuring more diversity among appointees has, the way they’ve handled it has been a gong show.

All of this is well and good to point out, but where I have a problem is where the AG suggests that if governments can’t fill these positions in a timely manner that we should consider a system where these boards have their own nomination committees to make their own appointments. This should raise a major alarm because it’s a sign of creeping technocracy and undermining accountability and responsible government. Government makes these appointments so that there is someone who can be held to account for them. Who is accountable if boards nominate their own members? How do we ensure that they don’t turn into cesspits of nepotism after we worked long and hard to ensure that we have taken patronage out of our current appointment systems?

Unfortunately, this is not a surprise with Ferguson, whose recommendations around an external audit committee for the Senate ignores the detrimental effect that this would have on Parliament’s ability to be self-governing. I do think it’s problematic that you have an officer of parliament who keeps advocating for greater technocracy and the undermining of our parliamentary democracy (and worse, that nobody in the media will dare to call him on it, because apparently we worship auditors general and believe that they can do no wrong). His observations about the problems around appointments are valid, don’t get me wrong. It’s his solutions that are untenable in the extreme.

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Roundup: The 21-hour tantrum

If there is a parliamentary equivalent to a toddler having a full-on meltdown and screaming and pounding the floors after not getting their way, then you pretty much have the setting for the 21-hours of votes that the Conservatives forced upon the House of Commons. Which isn’t to say that I don’t think there was value in the exercise – I think having MPs vote on line items in the Estimates is a very good thing given that the Estimates are at the very core of their purpose as MPs, and we should see more of this (in a more organized fashion that they can do in more manageable chunks, mind you). But this wasn’t the exercise that the Conservatives billed it as.

Scheer’s framing is completely disingenuous. These votes were not blocking their efforts, and had nothing to do with the Atwal Affair, or the attempt to get Daniel Jean hauled before a committee. That particular motion was proposed, debated, and voted down on Wednesday. Forcing individual votes on the Estimates was a tantrum in retaliation. It was not about transparency. And it was tactically stupid – there would be far more effective ways to go about grinding Parliament to a halt to get their way rather than this tactic because there was an end point to it (and one which would have been at some point on Saturday if they hadn’t decided to let everyone go home).

The other reason it was stupid is because they forced votes on line items, it allowed the Liberals to spend the whole time tweeting about the things that the Conservatives voted down, like money for police, or veterans, or what have you. They handed that narrative to the Liberals on a silver platter. (The NDP, incidentally, voted yea or nay, depending on the line item, rather than all against, looking like they actually took it seriously). And what did the Conservatives spend their time tweeting? Juvenile hashtags, attempts to shame the Liberals (“You have the power to stop these votes. Just get the PM to agree.”) And in the end, it was the Conservatives who blinked and called it off (but declared victory and that they “drew attention” to the issue, of course).

This all having been said, there are more shenanigans to be called out amidst this. There was a whole saga about whether or not PCO offered Andrew Scheer a briefing, which his office denied, and then suggestions that Scheer wouldn’t accept it because he wanted as much of it made public as possible (again, with more conflicting versions of how much they wanted to be public and how much in camera). But even with the demands for public briefings, it trips up the parliamentary notion that public servants aren’t called to committees – ministers are, because they’re responsible. (Deputy ministers can be called as the accounting officers of their departments, but the National Security Advisor is not a deputy minister). And with that in mind, why exactly would the government put a long-time civil servant up for the sole purpose of having the opposition humiliate him? Because we all know what happened to Dick Fadden when he was hauled before a committee to talk about his fears about Chinese infiltration, and it damaged our national security because MPs couldn’t help themselves but play politics over it. Nobody covered themselves in glory over this exercise, but this wasn’t some great exercise in preserving the opposition’s rights. This was a full-on temper tantrum, and the more attention we pay to it as though it were a serious exercise, the more we reward the behaviour.

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Roundup: Artificial cannabis vote drama

It started with a bunch of headlines about how it was do-or-die day for the marijuana bill in the Senate. Apparently, nobody can canvas vote numbers any longer, so there was the suggestion that it was going to be close, and that that it could be defeated. The Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative” even went before the cameras to play up the drama of not knowing the votes. As context, a number of senators were travelling on committee business, and there was a scramble to get them back to town in order to ensure they could vote on the bill (and while CBC gave the headline that it was the “government” scrambling, that would imply that it was actually government staffers doing the calling, not the ISG’s coordinators, as it actually was). The bill eventually passed Second Reading, and it wasn’t even a close vote.

With a new captive audience, reporters who don’t normally tune into the Senate got the Conservative senators’ greatest hits of over the top, ridiculous denunciations of the bill, and the usual canards as though this was just inventing marijuana rather than controlling something that some twenty percent of youths (and the 45-to-65 crowd as well) have used in the past year. Senator Boivenu got so emotional that he called the bill a “piece of shit” that won’t “protect people.” And on it went. From a press event in New Brunswick, Trudeau said that Senators are supposed to improve bills, not defeat them, though to be clear, they do have an absolute veto for a reason, and they refrain from using it unless it’s a dire circumstance because they know that they don’t have a democratic mandate. This bill, however, doesn’t really come close to qualifying as a reason to defeat a government bill (though I’m not sure all of the senators have the memo about using their mandate sparingly).

Since 1980, the Senate has only defeated three government bills, and in each time it was at third reading, which means that they let them go through committee before deciding to defeat them. In two of those cases, it was Charter rights at play, and the budget implementation bill in 1993 included some cuts to programmes and “streamlining” or boards and tribunals that were a straw too far even for some Progressive Conservative senators that they voted against their own government. This particular bill doesn’t rise to either of those particular tests. As for what would happen if it were to be defeated, well, the government can’t introduce the same bill twice in a single session. The way around that? Prorogue and reintroduce it. It would only delay, which may in fact hurt the Conservatives in the end.

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Roundup: Threatening marathon votes

Because apparently this Jaspal Atwal issue refuses to die, the Conservatives have decided to spend today’s Supply Day motion demanding that the Prime Minister instruct the National Security and Intelligence Advisory to attend the public safety committee and give the MPs there the same briefing he allegedly gave journalists (on background). Or else.

That’s right – in order to overplay their hands, they’re openly threatening to force some forty hours’ worth of votes on the Estimates as consequence for defeating this motion – because that doesn’t come across as petulant or childish. And while they couch it in the fact that they have a responsibility to hold the government to account – which they do – they’ve also been demonstrably obtuse about this whole affair. The different versions of what happen are not impossible to reconcile – they are, in fact, eminently reconcilable. The PM has defended the facts put forward by the senior officials, and have stated that they did not put him up to it. Media outlets have since dribbled out versions of “reviewing my notes” and toning down some of  their reporting of what was actually said to show that it wasn’t actually as inflammatory as initially reported as (because by the point at which it initially happened, they were focused more on wedging it into the narrative they had all decided on rather than acknowledging what was happening on the ground if it didn’t fit that frame). Nobody has acted responsibly in this – the government, the opposition, or the media. And digging in to entrench the narrative that somehow we have damaged relations with India (not true, unless you’ve conveniently forgotten the fiction about how it led to new tariffs) and that the trip was some giant disaster (forget the investments or the constructive conversations with Indian officials) is just making it all worse for everyone.

The bigger issue, however, is the fact that this committee is not the venue for this conversation to happen, and MPs are kidding themselves if they think it is. We have the National Security Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians to review this kind of intelligence data in confidence, and then issuing a report on what was said. Commons committees have been down this road before, and have actively damaged our national security and intelligence agencies because they can’t help themselves, and now they’re demanding the chance to do it yet again. There are proper ways to hold the government to account. This planned stunt and threat is not it.

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Roundup: Reading the constitution and a map

The constitutional lunacy taking place in Alberta shows no signs of abating, especially now that Jason Kenney has taken his seat in the legislature. Already they have debated a motion to back the province’s fight for pipeline access in BC, but the demands they’re making that Justin Trudeau invoke Section 92(10)(c) of the Constitution are wrong and bogus. Why? That section applies to projects that are of the national interest but are only within a single province’s boundaries – which this pipeline is not. So here’s Andrew Leach to pour some necessary scorn onto the whole thing, while Carissima Mathen, a constitutional law professor, backs him up.

Meanwhile, Kenney is playing an utterly disingenuous game of semantics with his objection to the province’s carbon tax, insisting that it didn’t give them the “social licence” to get their pipelines approved. But to suggest that was the only value of such a tax is to be deliberately misleading. The real purpose of a carbon price is to provide a market signal for industry to reduce their emissions, by providing them a financial incentive for them to do so. It’s proven the most efficient way to reduce emissions in the most cost-effective manner possible, and while correlation may not be causation, it has bene pointed out that those jurisdictions in the country that have implemented carbon pricing have roaring economies, while those resisting one (such as Saskatchewan) don’t. Whether there is a correlation or not, provinces like BC have shown that the carbon tax allows them to lower other taxes which are generally less efficient taxes regardless. As for social licence, it’s part of the overall balancing act to show that there is a sufficient plan to achieve reductions as part of transitioning to a low-carbon future, but I’m not sure that anyone suggested that it would magically end all protests (and if they did, they were fools for doing so). But for Kenney to claim that this was the promise is utter nonsense.

Like the bogus calls to invoke Section 92(10)(c), it’s all about putting forward a plausible-sounding argument in the hopes that the public doesn’t bother to actually read it to see that it’s actually bullshit. But that is apparently how political debate works these days – disingenuous points that don’t actually resemble reality, or lies constructed to look plausible and hoping that nobody calls you on it, and if they do, well, they’re just apologists or carrying water for your opponents. This isn’t constructive or helpful, and it just feeds the politics of anger and resentment, which in turn poisons the discourse. They all know better, but keep doing it because it’s so addictive, but never mind that the house is burning down around them.

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Roundup: Trudeau’s concern trolls

Thursday night, Canadian journalists and pundits started making a big deal out of the fact that the Daily Mail, the most widely-read newspaper in the UK, posted a hit-job on Justin Trudeau. What they didn’t bother to post was that the Mail is a tabloid rag that literally makes stuff up all the time, and lo and behold, it turns out that not only did they get a number of facts wrong in their piece, but they even posted photos that were not of Trudeau, but someone else entirely. And while those same pundits seemed to think that this was an honest mistake rather than the kind of trash “journalism” that is their stock in trade.

And then comes the concern trolling, lumping this kind of thing in with Pierce Morgan’s railing about Trudeau’s “peoplekind” joke (also in the Daily Mail), and other negative press from the India trip. Apparently, this is the fault of Trudeau’s senior staff, who should have given him firmer advice to “rein in his worst impulses,” but reading the analysis seems a bit…facile, and frankly blinkered. One would think that the pundit class in Canada would have the ability to try and see context around the press that Trudeau receives, but apparently not. For example, Piers Morgan is a Donald Trump ass-kisser who has a history of misogynistic comments, for whom Trudeau’s avowed feminism would rankle his sensibilities. And the Daily Mail is a rabidly homophobic publication for whom Trudeau’s tendency to do things like show emotion in public is anathema to their worldview of alpha males. They were never going to praise Trudeau, and he certainly hasn’t “lost them,” so I’m puzzled as to why our pundits are acting like he did. Likewise, many of the Indian publications that criticized Trudeau on his trip were of a stratified slice of society who have a particular agenda when it comes to foreigners. But there is also something particularly white male about this kind of concern trolling as well, which doesn’t look to why Trudeau makes some of the choices he does because those choices aren’t speaking to them as an audience. The traditional garb in India, for example (which was apparently five events in eight days), was showcasing Indo-Canadian designers and targeted both the Indo-Canadian community, but also the classes in India who weren’t the rarified elites in the media (and in India, these are actual elites rather than the just populists referring to us as such in Canada), and those rarified elites have particular denigrating views of their own diasporic communities. Not that a white male pundit who doesn’t look outside his own circle will pick up on these things.

This isn’t to say that Trudeau’s senior staff don’t still have problems on their hands, because clearly they do. Their ability to manage crises is still shambolic, and we’ve seen time and again where they let their opponents come up with a narrative and box them into it before they start fighting back, and they’ve done it again with this India trip. And yeah, Trudeau keeps making bad jokes that he finds funny but not everyone else does (and the Canadian press gallery are notoriously humourless). But there is a hell of a lot of myopia going on in the criticism and concern trolling, and we need to recognize it and call it out for what it is.

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Roundup: Notley’s unconstitutional threats

In Alberta, Rachel Notley’s NDP government had a Throne Speech yesterday that promised all manner of action to try to pressure BC’s NDP government when it comes to the Trans Mountain pipeline problem. Notley, however, decided to take some of Jason Kenney’s bluster and make it her own, promising the ability to block oil shipments to BC that they need for their domestic use. The problem? The Trans Mountain pipeline is regulated by the National Energy Board, meaning it’s federal jurisdiction, and that neither province can do anything to block it or affect what it carries. She’s also echoing the comments that the federal government needs to lean harder on BC, never mind that the NEB has quasi-judicial authority on the issue, and the fact that all BC has done to date is announce a study, or that the federal government has repeated “This pipeline will get built.” It’s a bunch of chest-thumping and borrowed demagoguery that ignores the historical context of what Peter Lougheed threatened in the 1980s, and is rank hypocrisy in that they’re threatening unconstitutional action to combat BC’s threatened unconstitutional action. It’s time for everyone to grow up.

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