Roundup: The obtuse Atwal angles

Because the Jaspel Atwal story refuses to go away, due to equal parts of inept messaging by the government and obtuseness on the parts of both the opposition and much of the media, it seems like we should dig into a few more aspects of it. If you haven’t yet, read John Ivison’s column that threads the needle on just what the senior bureaucrats were warning about with regard to the possibility of “rogue elements” in India’s government, and the invitation that MP Randeep Sarai extended to Atwal while Atwal was already in the country. If more people read this, we would have far fewer of the questions we’re hearing about how both “versions” of the incident can be true. And hey, people familiar with both Indian politics and security services are adding that this is more than plausible.

In the meantime, opposition parties are trying to use their parliamentary tools to continue to make hay of this. Ralph Goodale got hauled before the national security committee yesterday, and he was unable to give very many answers – completely understandably – and suggested that MPs use the new National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians to discuss classified issues like this. It didn’t stop the opposition from trying to call the National Security Advisor to committee, but that was blocked. But as Stephanie Carvin points out below, MPs are not great at this kind of thing, and risk doing even more damage (and We The Media aren’t helping).

In case you were wondering why the Conservatives dropped their planned Supply Day motion to try and wedge the government over support for a united India as a pretext to bash the Atwal issue some more, they faced an outcry of Sikhs in Canada and backed down (but are insisting that the motion is still on the Order Paper and can be debated on a future Supply Day).

In the meantime, India raised their tariffs on imports of pulses, and suddenly every single Canadian pundit joined the Conservatives in blaming it on Trudeau’s India trip and the Atwal accusations. Not one of them noted that India is having a bit of a domestic crisis with its farmers, and there is a global glut of pulse crops, which is depressing prices (for which India is trying to boost domestic production). But why look for facts when you can try to wedge it into a narrative you’ve already decided on? Cripes.

Continue reading

Roundup: Beyak’s website battle

Unaffiliated Senator Lynn Beyak is preparing to go to war over her website on Monday. A motion had been moved in the Senate by Independent Senator Kim Pate to have Beyak’s website removed from Senate servers because of the letters that she posted on there, some of which have been deemed racist. Beyak is going to argue that if the motion passes, her privileges will be violated as it will impede her ability to do her job because she can’t inform her constituents about her work or to “address the concerns and opinions of all Canadians.”

For starters, I think Pate’s attempt to remove Beyak’s site is a bit of a stretch, given that Beyak isn’t posting anything that rises to the level of criminal hate speech (despite what her critics may say). The Senate places a great deal of value on free speech, most especially for its members, so it will be very difficult for them to make the case that Beyak should be denied it because she holds some objectionable views. Gods know that there have been plenty of abhorrent views expressed by other senators in the past about other minorities (thinking in particular about one senator’s views about the LGBT community), and she was not censured by the Chamber in any way. While there are different players in the Senate currently and this is the “era of reconciliation,” I still think that there is an uphill battle to take down Beyak’s site.

The other thing is that it would take very little effort for Beyak to port her website onto a different server, and just have a link from her Senate bio page, as many other senators have done, where there is simply a disclaimer next to it saying that it’s not an official Senate site. In other words, Pate’s measures are pretty much symbolic only, which may be fine on the surface, but won’t actually addess the real issues with Beyak’s views, or her promotion of views that are objectionable. Is this a battle worth having? I guess we’ll see.

Continue reading

QP: Attempting to litigate the Ethics Commissioner’s report

After some six weeks away, MPs were all back in Ottawa, including the four new MPs who won by-elections in December. When things got underway, Andrew Scheer, mini-lectern on desk, got up to read some disappointment about the Prime Minister’s response to the Ethics Commissioner’s report, and lamented the PM’s “illegal actions.” Trudeau noted that he took responsibility and has put in new measures to ensure that it could not happen again. Scheer tried again, got exactly the same response, and Scheer switched to French to concern troll about decisions related to the Aga Khan, and Trudeau insisted that he had no part in any decisions related to those files. Trudeau returned to his same response, and Scheer reiterated his concerns in English, and in this response, Trudeau elaborated that they need better guidelines into what constitutes a friend. Guy Caron was up next, lamenting the wages of CEOs in English, when compared to the plight of former Sears employees. Trudeau reminded him that the very first thing they did was lower taxes on the middle class and raised them on the wealthy, plus investing in cracking down on tax avoidance and tax evasion. Caron repeated the question in French, got the same response in French, and Ruth Ellen Brosseau gave a statement about believing victims before asking what actions parliamentarians can take to shift the culture. Trudeau gave his assurance that they were committed to improving the situation, and pointed to Bill C-65 as a good start. Brosseau switched to French to demand electoral reform to elect more women, and Trudeau said that he recognised that electing more women was key, and they were working on it. Continue reading

Roundup: Morneau cleared – mostly

On her way out the door, now-former Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson released a statement saying that there was no ethics issue or conflicts of interest with Bill Morneau’s share sales, which blows the hysterical arguments about “insider trading” out of the water. As well they should be – these claims were never serious to begin with, and were part of the attempt to throw everything at the wall in the hopes that something, anything, would stick. This of course leaves the “investigation” into Morneau introducing Bill C-27 on pension reform while he still indirectly held those Morneau Shepell shares, and the opposition are still waving their hands around this and trying to insist that this is some kind of Major Ethical Issue, never mind that the allegations themselves depend on a fundamental misunderstanding with how ministers sponsor bills, and ignoring the fact that clearing bills with the Ethics Commissioner before they are tabled would be a violation of cabinet confidence and parliamentary privilege. But hey, we’ve already established that we don’t need plausibility or facts to get in the way of laying allegations – it’s simply about trying to build a “narrative” by whatever means necessary.

Meanwhile in Maclean’s, Paul Wells has a lengthy interview with Morneau about how his last six months have gone, and it’s a good read. The major takeaway in all of this is that Morneau and the cabinet got complacent after a string of successes, where they managed to get some pretty big wins despite initial grumbles from provinces around things CPP reform or healthcare premiums. The fact that they shopped those planned changes to private corporation tax rules several times and got no pushback meant that they let their guards down, and then with a combination of misrepresentation around what those changes were, and reporting that didn’t question those narratives, Morneau wound up blindsided, which was compounded by his dislike of being scrappy enough to respond to allegations and mistruths forcefully. One hopes that he’ll have learned his political lessons and that he’ll start stepping up a little sooner – and communicating better – but time will tell.

Continue reading

Roundup: Ethics committee theatre incoming

We can look forward to a heap of bad political theatre next week as the Commons’ ethics committee plans to sit on Tuesday and Wednesday in order to demand that the PM appear before them to answer questions in regards to the Ethics Commissioner’s report into his Xmas vacation with the Aga Khan, and to hear from the now-former Commissioner on the report the following day. And you can expect that it’s going to be nothing short of howls of sanctimonious indignation. Oh, and there may be legitimate procedural roadblocks to their plans given that the report hasn’t been presented to the Commons yet, according to a former Commons procedural clerk.

Regarding the demands that Trudeau appear, it would be highly unlikely that the Liberals on the committee will let that go ahead (and they have the votes to block it if necessary). And if the Conservatives cry foul, they can turn around and point to the fact that they blocked an attempt by the committee in the last Parliament to have Stephen Harper appear before them to answer questions related to the ClusterDuff Affair, and fair is fair, besides which, Trudeau has answered in Question Period and the media on this issue. And really, why would a PM expose himself to an hour of MPs trying to play Matlock, asking questions that are all traps designed to get him to incriminate himself, and then baying at the moon when he refuses to answer. It would be worse than the performances we see in Question Period these days (which are generally terrible), and we’d get the same quality of answers from Trudeau, which will be some fairly pat and trite lines unless they trip him up (which is the whole point).

Oh, one might say (and Althia Raj did on Power & Politics last night), if they want to show that this is really a new era of accountability and transparency, they it might be in their best interests to go ahead and have him go before the committee, to which I remind people what happened when Thomas Mulcair appeared before a committee to answer questions related to the satellite offices issue. Mulcair blustered, obfuscated, and then proffered a fiction that Conservatives did it too (they didn’t – the “evidence” was a riding office and a party office in the same mini-mall but several doors down from one another, but hey, they were on the same sign by the parking lot), and as he did so, all of his partisans flooded social media praising that “this is what accountability looks like.” I’m not really sure that this is the kind of thing we want to revisit.

As for Dawson’s appearance, it’s “as an individual” since she will be officially retired by then, and we can imagine that it will be much the same – each side fishing for a media clip that fits their established narrative, which they will then flood social media with – assuming that she can answer, given the procedural issue identified. And we can imagine how many questions about Bill Morneau will be asked, followed by the Liberals asking how many investigations she conducted on Conservative ministers, and on and on it will go. It won’t be a constructive use of anyone’s time, but why does that matter when you’ve got cheap political theatre to perform?

Speaking of Dawson, here’s her exit interview with the Globe and Mail in which she defends how much time she took to write that report, confirms that she didn’t discuss Bill C-27 with Morneau (never mind that doing so would violate cabinet confidence and cabinet secrecy – funny how the Globe continually ignores that fact), and defends the advice she gave to Morneau about a blind trust (“You know what the hell’s in there. That’s a defect on a blind trust”).

Continue reading

Roundup: The authentic Andrew Scheer

It’s year-end interview time, and Andrew Scheer gave a couple yesterday that gave me a bit of pause. First was his interview in the National Post, where off the bat, he lays out this gem: “I am younger, I am modern and I have a different take on Conservative principles than my predecessors.” But does he lay out what that different take is? Nope. Scheer says that he can offer “authenticity” like a Bernie Sanders or Ron Paul, which is…curious. He’s spent the week talking about how middle class he is, unlike Justin Trudeau. This immediately elicited some reminders from Twitter – that the only job he held outside of politics was working at his friend’s insurance company for six months, that he got elected at 25 and has a $3 million pension by age 38; his political career includes being Speaker and Leader of the Opposition, each of which comes with an official residence and a driver. So he’s authentically middle class. Later, Scheer talked about how he’s spent the past six months “setting down markers” about the Conservative approach. Markers like putting everything in a disingenuous or outright mendacious frame and treating people like idiots? Okay, then.

Meanwhile, over on CTV’s Power Play (starts at 8:15), Scheer went on about how Conservatives do better when they present a positive approach (which I totally see with the aforementioned disingenuous and mendacious manner in which they go about their role), and then added this: “We are actually more caring than Liberals because we actually care about results, and they just like to send signals and show their good intentions and they don’t care about what actually benefits people.”

That’s…interesting. Because immediately preceding that was Scheer was outright virtue signalling about free speech on university campuses (which, I will add, is an issue that the alt-right has weaponized, and Scheer is playing directly into it). And if you look at the Conservative record over the past decade, it’s replete with sending signals that didn’t actually benefit people, whether it was tough-on-crime legislation that was either unconstitutional or created backlogs in the court system (as mandatory minimum sentences did), or gutting environmental laws (which only ended up in litigation and didn’t get any further projects approved), or their actions in making cuts to show that they had a paper surplus (which led to the massive gong show that is Shared Services Canada and the Phoenix pay system fiasco, not to mention the loss of capacity in a number of other departments). All of it was the very signalling that they criticize the Liberals for. So you’ll forgive me if I find Scheer’s particular assertions to be a bit unconvincing.

Continue reading

Roundup: Legislative hostages

Every few months this story comes around again – that the government misses have a senate that acted more like a rubber stamp than the active revising body that they are. And the government – and Trudeau in particular – will say oh no, we believe in an independent senate, and we want them to do their jobs, unless of course that means amending budget bills, in which case they invent reasons why the Senate isn’t supposed to amend them, because they’re money bills (not true – the Senate is only barred from initiating money bills, not from amending them), and so on. And lo, we have yet another example this past weekend, but this time over the transport bill that is currently in the Senate. But because this is an omnibus bill with several parts to it (which isn’t to say that it’s an illegitimate omnibus bill – these are all aspects dealing with transportation issues), and because the government wouldn’t let it be pulled apart, the easier stuff couldn’t get passed first while they dug into the more challenging parts. But, c’est la vie.

What does bother me, however is this particular snideness that comes from some of the commentariat class over these kinds of issues.

The three senators in this case were Senators Carignan, Mercer, and Lankin. Two of the three, Carignan and Lankin, had previously served in elected office. They’re no more or less unknown than the vast majority of MPs, and “unaccountable” is one of those slippery terms in this case because they exist to hold government to account. They’re also just as much parliamentarians as MPs are, for the record, not simple appointees. Gilmore also has this bizarre notion that the business of accountability – which is the whole point of parliament – is somehow “holding hostage” the work of the elected officials. Last I checked, the point of parliament wasn’t to be a clearing house for the agenda of the government of the day, but rather, to keep it in check. That’s what they’re doing, just as much as judges – you know, also unknown, unaccountable appointees – do.

The one partial point I will grant is the “self-righteous” aspect, because some senators absolutely are. But then again, so are a hell of a lot of MPs. The recent changes to the selection process for senators may have amped up some of that self-righteousness for a few of them, but to date, nobody has actually held any legislation hostage, and the government has backed down when they knew they were in the wrong about it. So really, the process is working the way it’s supposed to, and that’s a good thing.

Continue reading

Roundup: The Order Paper is not a race

The House of Commons has risen for the season, but still has a number of bills on the Order Paper slowly working their way through the process. And as usually happens at this time of year, there are the big comparisons about how many bills this government has passed as compared to the Conservatives by this point. But those kinds of raw numbers analyses are invariable always flawed because legislation is never a numbers game, but is qualitative, as is the parliamentary context in which this legislating happens.

Part of the difference is in the set-up. Harper had five years of minority governments to get legislation in the wings that he couldn’t pass then, but could push through with a majority. He went from having a Senate that he didn’t control and was hostile to his agenda to one where he had made enough appointments (who were all under the impression that they could be whipped by the PMO) that it made the passage of those bills much swifter. And they also made liberal use of time allocation measures to ensure that bills passed expeditiously. Trudeau has not had those advantages, most especially when it comes to the composition of the Senate, especially since his moves to make it more independent means that bills take far longer than they used to, and are much more likely to be amended – which Trudeau is open to where Harper was not – further slowing down that process, particularly when those amendments are difficult for the government to swallow, meaning that they have taken months to either agree to them or to come up with a sufficient response to see them voted down. And then there are the weeks that were lost when the opposition filibustered the agenda in order to express their displeasure with the initial composition of the electoral reform committee, the first attempt to speed through legislation, and the government’s proposal paper to “modernize” the operations of the Commons. All of those disruptions set back legislation a great deal.

This having been said, Trudeau seems to remain enamoured with UK-style programming motions, which he may try to introduce again in the future (possibly leading to yet more filibustering), because it’s a tool that will help him get his agenda through faster. So it’s not like he’s unaware that he’s not setting any records, but at the same time, parliament isn’t supposed to be about clearing the Order Paper as fast as possible. Making these kinds of facile comparisons gives rise to that impression, however, which we should discourage.

Continue reading

QP: One last go at the PM

On what promises to be the final sitting day of 2017, all of the leaders were present, and duelling Christmas poems by Mark Strahl and Rodger Cuzner, things got underway. While some of Strahl’s lines raised eyebrows (particularly the line about Scheer’s virility), Cuzner’s annual poem didn’t disappoint.

Andrew Scheer led off, railing about the “devastating” small business tax changes. Justin Trudeau reminded him that small business taxes were being lowered, and restricting income sprinkling was about ensuring that people couldn’t take advantage of loopholes. Scheer insisted that the changes spelled doom, and Trudeau responded that the opposition had become so partisan that they treated a small business tax cut as a bad thing. Scheer listed off the supposed ways in which the government has apparently attacked taxpayers, but Trudeau insisted that they were doing everything to grow the middle class, and noted how many jobs had been created. Scheer pivoted mid-retort to decry Trudeau’s “erratic behaviour” on the trade file, to which Trudeau reminded him that they weren’t going to sign any deal, but only wanted good deals for Canada. Scheer was concerned that Trudeau was endangering the NAFTA talks, to which Trudeau reminded him that capitulation was not a trade strategy. Guy Caron was up next to bay about the nomination process for the new Ethics Commissioner, and Trudeau noted that they started engaging the opposition for criteria of this process last June, and if they didn’t have confidence, they should say so. Caron insisted that their dispute was with the process not the candidate, and that they couldn’t trust a process where the committee was dominated by cabinet staff. Trudeau responded with a defence of that process, with a slightly disappointed tone. Alexandre Boulerice was up next, and he railed that the Commissioner wouldn’t promise to carry on current investigations and insinuated that the government was trying to sweep everything under the rug. Trudeau insisted that the process was merit-based, and when Nathan Cullen got up to list the alleged ethical violations of the government, Trudeau responded with disappointment that the opposition was relying solely on personal attacks.

Continue reading

QP: Lebouthillier has had enough of your accusations

With Justin Trudeau on his way back from China, and Andrew Scheer again absent, it was left up to Lisa Raitt to once again carry the day. Raitt led off, concerned about tax changes affecting small businesses, and demanded specifics. Dominic LeBlanc reminded her that they were cutting small business taxes, and details on income sprinkling would come before January 1st. Raitt then mocked the government for spending on advertising, to which Scott Brison got up to remind her that when she was in government, they spent a lot more on advertising, while the current government changed the rules to ensure that it wouldn’t be partisan. Raitt raised the concerns of small business owners in New Brunswick communities she visited, and LeBlanc, himself from the province, noted that the member of that riding had already made those concerns known and the government was listening. Alain Rayes was up next to offer the concern trolling on small business taxes in French, and LeBlanc assured him that they listened to concerns before they are implemented. Rayes tried again, and LeBlanc assured him the details would be known shortly. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and railed about the American decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and wanted louder condemnation from the Canadian government. Mélanie Joly assured him that they were allies of Israel and that the status of Jerusalem could only be determined in larger negotiations. Hélène Laverdière tried again in English, and got the same answer from Joly in English. Caron was back up, and referred to the Auditor General’s report on the CRA and wondered when they would be accountable to Canadians. Diane Lebouthillier listed off the measures that were being undertaken to correct the situation, and Caron tried again in English, and Lebouthillier repeated her response.

Continue reading