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.

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Roundup: For fear of Mary Dawson

It was a day of juvenile finger-pointing as the big headline from the Globe and Mail was that the Ethics Commissioner said that she plans to speak to Justin Trudeau and Bill Blair about allegations that certain fundraisers may have breached conflict of interest laws, based entirely on innuendo from the Globe (which then gets repeated in Question Period, and that gets written up, and when the Globe adds another new piece of unproven innuendo the next morning, the cycle starts over again). Trudeau’s response? Bring it on – I’ve done nothing wrong.

So where are we? Because I’m not sure at this point. Do we insist that the PM and ministers no longer fundraise? Because that’s happening is that the party is capitalising on their “celebrity” for higher-level fundraisers, which is basic economics. They’re more in demand, so you send them to the higher-priced fundraisers. Should they be disallowed because someone would try to talk to them about their particular hobby-horses? As though they wouldn’t if they met them in the grocery store or on the street? Because I’m not sure that it’s actually lobbying activity, despite the label that has been slapped onto it by the bulk of the media and the opposition, looking to score some points on this. Does this mean that the whole of cabinet should be encased in these bubbles where nobody can talk to them? If the fear is that they get “exclusive” access, the government is quick to point out that they’ve accused of consulting too much and that there are plenty of other opportunities. If the worry is that it’s because they’re rich that they get access, again I’m not seeing the issue because you’re not buying influence for $1500. “Oh, you’re buying good feeling and they’ll think to pick up the phone and call you the next time something comes up” is the latest excuse I’ve heard, and I rolled my eyes so hard that it almost hurt. Honestly? Especially with the accusations that they’re buying the influence of “good feelings” donating to the Trudeau Foundation, which the PM severed his connections to and which provides scholarships? And if the charge is that because many of these rich business people are of Chinese descent, again, I’m not actually seeing any real issue here. They accuse one businessman of donating who had interests in canola that the Chinese government restricting and then Trudeau got it resolved. Conspiracy! Err, except that was the concern of every single gods damned canola farmer in this country so singling out one Chinese-Canadian starts to smack of veiled racist sentiment.

Once again, I’m waiting for someone to show me where there’s smoke, let alone fire. I mean, other than that sickening smell of people who’ve lit their own hair on fire over this. And I would be willing to bet that Mary Dawson is going to shrug and say “they haven’t broken any rules, but I want you to turn over more power to me” like she does all the time.

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Roundup: A catalogue of ineptitude

Over in the weekend Ottawa Citizen, our good friend Kady O’Malley has a comprehensive breakdown of everything that went wrong with the electoral reform committee, and it’s pretty stunning once it’s all laid out before you. It starts with the Liberals’ relenting to allow the makeup of the committee to be more *cough* “proportional” than the traditional make-up of a parliamentary committee (which was not actually proportional, but merely gamed by the NDP to give the appearance of proportionality, and the Liberals relented for what I’m guessing was good faith). From there, it moves to the Liberals putting all newbies on the committee (with the exception of the chair) who didn’t have a clue what they were doing, and their lack of experience, combined with the fact that they no longer had a majority (despite having a parliamentary majority) meant that the opposition party gamed the witness selection in such a way that it meant they were able to self-select witnesses to get the outcome they wanted – namely 88 percent of witnesses preferring proportional systems, and furthermore, because they had motivated followings for their public consultations, it allowed them to self-select their famed 87 percent in favour of proportional systems and a further 90 percent in favour of a referendum. And almost nary was there a voice for ranked ballots. (Also a nitpick: ranked ballots have little to do with the proportionality that people keep trying to force the system into, nor are they about gaming the system in favour of centrist parties like the Liberals. Rather, ranked ballots are designed to eliminate strategic voting, ensure that there is a “clear winner” with a simple majority once you redistribute votes, and to make campaigning “nicer” because you are also looking for second-place votes. Experience from Australia shows that it has not favoured centrist governments).

In other words, this whole exercise was flawed from the start, in large part because the Liberal government was so inept at handling it. In fact, this cannot be understated, and they are continuing to be completely inept at handling the fallout of the broken process that they allowed themselves to be bullied into (lest they face charges of trying to game the system – thus allowing the other parties to game it for them), and rather than either admitting that this went off the rails (because it did) and that it was a stupid promise to have made in the first place (because it was) and trying to either be honest about cutting their losses, they’re dragging it out in order to find a more legitimate way to either punt this into the future, or declare that no consensus can be found (which there won’t be) and trying to kill it that way. But in the meantime, the daily howls out outrage of the opposition because of the way that they have completely bungled not only the committee response (and let’s face it – the report’s recommendations were hot garbage) and the further rollout of their MyDemocracy survey without adequately explaining it has meant that this continues to turn into an outrageous farce. I’m not necessarily going to lay this all at the feet of the minister, or call for her resignation, but this is one particular file where the government has been so clueless and amateurish that the need to pull out of the tailspin that they find themselves in, take their lumps, and then smother this in the crib. Enough is enough.

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QP: A strategic blunder in questioning

Tuesday, and with the Auditor General’s report now on the table, there promised to be more than a few questions about some of his scathing findings. Rona Ambrose was ready, mini-lectern on desk, she read a question about Trudeau telling resource sector workers to “wait it out,” and concern trolled about a national carbon tax plan — you know, one that doesn’t exist. Trudeau reminded her that her government made things worse for Albertans after ten years in power. Ambrose asked again in French, and Trudeau told her that a responsible economy meant being responsible about the environment. Ambrose then called the bill repealing those anti-union bills “payback,” to which Trudeau reminded her that their first piece of legislation was actually lowering taxes. Gérard Deltell took over, asking again in French, to which Trudeau insisted that they rectified the situation when they learned about the illegal donations. Deltell took a swipe at unions, but Trudeau shrugged it off. David Christopherson led off for the NDP, demanding that they fix the items highlighted in the Auditor General’s report. Trudeau said that they were alarmed and were working to repair the damage of the last government. Christopherson demanded proof of commitment, and Trudeau insisted that unlike the previous government, they did more than just make announcements. Brigitte Sansoucy took over to ask again in French, particularly around the Social Security Tribunal, to which Jean-Yves Duclos let her know that he met with the AG and he would do everything in his power to fix the situation. Sansoucy raised the AG report on export controls, to which Ralph Goodale insisted that they intend to follow his advice and that they were implementing an action plan.

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QP: No current vacancy

The days on the calendar running down, but crankiness among members ramping up, all of the leaders were present in the Commons, which was a little unexpected. Thomas Mulcair led off, asking about Quebec Supreme Court justice appointments and the possible attempt to use a backdoor to put Justice Mainville on the bench. Stephen Harper insisted that this was nothing to do with the Supreme Court, but about putting a good judge on the “supreme court” of Quebec. Mulcair pressed about whether the intent was to elevate Justice Mainville to the SCC, to which Harper reminded him that there was no current vacancy, nor a process to select a new one once a vacancy does become available. Mulcair then accused Harper of starting a war with the Supreme Court, but Harper mocked him for trying to launch into another conspiracy theory. Mulcair moved topics, and demanded that the Northern Gateway pipeline be turned town, to which Harper said that the NDP were against all resource development while they underwent environmental assessments and went through a rigorous assessment process. Mulcair listed the opposition to the pipeline, but Harper dismissed their opposition as ideological. Justin Trudeau carried on that line of questioning and pointed out the impacts a spill would have on that coastline, to which Harper accused the Liberals of holding a “deep hostility” toward the energy sector (really? Given their it boosterism for Keystone XL?) and insisted that they had a rigorous process.

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QP: Money in the banana stand

Wednesday, caucus day, and the benches were mostly full. Thomas Mulcair started off by reading a pair of questions about the improperly reported $3.1 billion in anti-terror funds, and showed just how with it he is by making an Arrested Development reference, asking if the money was in the banana stand. Harper ignored it and once again assured him that the Auditor General said that the money was not misspent. Mulcair then turned to the issue of Treasury Board taking an active hand in the collective bargaining of Crown Corporations. Harper reminded him that the government backstops these Crown Corporations, and with some of them in financial difficulty, they had an obligation to ensure that taxpayer’s money was being treated responsibly. For his final question, Mulcair brought up the demise of the mandatory long-form census, as the National Household Survey data was released today. Harper responded with congratulations to Statistics Canada for the data release and praise for how high quality the data was. Justin Trudeau was then up, and after paying mention to the long-form census, he turned to the question of those Economic Action Plan™ ads, and how each spot they run during the playoffs, it costs the same as 32 student summer jobs. Harper first repeated his congratulations to Statistics Canada, before he moved onto the necessity of informing Canadians of how well the economy is doing by way of those ads.

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QP: Somber questions on violence against women

Despite the previous afternoon’s tensions, the bulk of the Members’ Statements prior to QP were in recognition of the École Polytechnique massacre 23 years ago, followed by a minute of silence, and that kept the mood somber and tempers restrained. When QP began, Thomas Mulcair read off a question about a story in the Toronto Star that the government may be looking to weaken gun control laws further. Harper assured him that wasn’t the case, and the prohibited weapons category existed for a reason – namely public safety. Mulcair then read the same question in French, and got the same response. And then Françoise Boivin asked a pair of questions on the very same thing, to which Vic Toews assured her that no, they weren’t going to weaken the regulations. (Note: this is what happens when you stick to scripted questions and can’t think on your feet and actually debate like you’re supposed to). When Bob Rae got up for the Liberals to ask if Harper would consider adding the Chiefs of Police and the perspectives of domestic violence and suicide prevention groups to the firearms advisory council. Harper told him that he would take it under advisement because it is such a serious issue. For his final question, Rae asked if the government would table the KPMG report on the F-35s before the House rises for the winter break. Harper talked around the answer, and didn’t make such a commitment.

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Roundup: Reluctantly opposing exporting carcinogens

The federal government has reluctantly decided to stop opposing the listing of asbestos as a hazardous chemical product, and is blaming the PQ for the move, as they also announce funding to help the communities around Thetford Mines transition to a new economy. No, seriously – they’re actually put out that they have to stop supporting the export of known carcinogens because Pauline Marois no longer wants to play ball. At least one Conservative MP has broken ranks and is happy about the announcement. Paul Wells offers up his analysis here.

John Baird has made a major policy announcement that lists the rights of women and gays and lesbians as priorities with our engagement with emerging democracies, which is an encouraging sign. Jason Kenney wants you to pat him on the back for making Canada a haven for gay Iranian refugees – while politely ignoring the fact that he’s made it more difficult for gay African refugees.

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