Roundup: On leaders, interim or “parliamentary”

In the wake of the Patrick Brown resignation, the Ontario PC caucus gathered behind closed doors to name Vic Fedeli as their “parliamentary leader,” a term that irks me to no end. Fedeli came out and called himself “party leader” rather than “interim” or “parliamentary,” clearly signalling that he wanted this to be permanent going into the election, but within hours, the party insisted that they would indeed hold a full leadership contest to be concluded by March 31st, where the party membership would vote on a leader (and yes, Fedeli will be running while still acting as the interim/“parliamentary” leader).

The adoption of the term “parliamentary leader” is recent, and as far as I know was only first used by the NDP to give a name to what Guy Caron is doing as Jagmeet Singh’s proxy inside the Commons while Singh refuses to get his own seat, and generally avoids being in Ottawa as much as possible. Caron is left to be the de facto leader, even going so far as to make key decisions around staffing in the leader’s office in Ottawa, which would seem to make him de jure leader as well and Singh to be some kind of figurehead, wandering the land. But why it’s offensive as a concept is because it attempts to normalize this notion that the leader isn’t in the parliamentary caucus – something that is an affront to our Westminster system. The Ontario PC party using this term both affirms the use of this term, and opens up the notion of a similar arrangement where a new leader could be chosen by the membership while not having a seat, further taking us down this road to debasing our system.

Mike Moffatt, meanwhile, has the right idea – all leaders should be considered “interim,” because they should be able to be removed at a moment’s notice by the caucus (given that the caucus should select the leader, and that the leader should live in fear of the caucus). What happens instead with electing leaders by the membership is that they feel they have a sense of “democratic legitimacy,” which they feel insulates them from accountability, and they wield their imagined authority over the caucus, meaning that it’s the caucus who has to fear the leader instead of the other way around – especially if the rules persist that the leader signs their nomination papers. That’s not the way our system was designed to function, and it’s caused great damage to our system, and it gets worse as time goes on, with each iteration trying to turn it more and more into a quasi-presidential primary. The way the Ontario PC party has had to deal with this Patrick Brown situation within the context of their bastardized rules (and fetishizing the 200,000 members signed up in their last leadership contest, the bulk of them by Brown and his team) is utterly debasing to Westminster parliaments. More than anything, the events of the past week should be an object lesson in why we should restore caucus selection, should anyone be listening.

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Roundup: Hehr out of cabinet

In the hours that the drama around Patrick Brown was playing out, another accusation was levelled over Twitter, this time around Liberal cabinet minister Kent Hehr, which seems mostly to involve lewd suggestions he made to female staffers in private during his time as an MLA in Alberta. When news of that reached Davos, Justin Trudeau said he would follow-up and have an answer before they left the country. And just before the plane took off, we had our answer – Hehr had tendered his resignation from cabinet, and during his “leave of absence,” Kirsty Duncan would take over his responsibilities while an investigation was carried out. Hehr remains in caucus, no doubt pending the results of that investigation. Maclean’s spoke with Hehr’s accuser here.

Politically, it’s fraught for Trudeau given that both of his Calgary MPs – both of them veterans of the Alberta Liberal Party – have been taken down by allegations of sexual misconduct. And in a related story, the investigation promised into Kang’s actions has not contacted one of his accusers, however many months later, and that goes for both federal and provincial investigations.

Speaking of Brown, here’s a detailed look at how Wednesday night played out, and some further conversations with his accusers. One of Brown’s (former) deputy leaders called the incident a “hiccup,” and later had to apologize for it.

Meanwhile, Supriya Dwivedi talks about politics’ #metoo moment, and the fact that the Bro Code is breaking down, while Aaron Wherry talks about how #metoo has arrived on Parliament Hill. Chris Selley looks at the path ahead for the Ontario PC party in Brown’s demise, and it’s a messy path given the rules in the party’s constitution, with just four months to go before the election.

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Roundup: Cyberwarfare oversight concerns

The University of Toronto’s CitizenLab issued a report on Bill C-59, and the powers that it gives the Communications Security Establishment to engage in offensive cyberwarfare operations, rather than just sticking to being on the defensive. According to their report, these kinds of activities wouldn’t require any kind of judicial oversight – just the sign-off from the ministers of foreign affairs and national defence – and will have little other oversight other than the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. And as Stephanie Carvin explains below, that’s actually not a bad thing, because offensive capabilities are not the same as intelligence gathering – one of CSE’s other activities.

And this is pretty much the point – a Crown prerogative doesn’t require the same kinds of oversight, and does not necessarily bind the activities to being Charter compliant because it’s not directed at Canadians, thus is not concerned with their particular rights and freedoms. And as Carvin points out, these kinds of operations have their own particular oversight mechanisms, which are simply different than the once that CitizenLab identifies. It’s perfectly fine to wonder if CSE is really the agency to be doing this kind of work, but that also means asking who else would be doing it, and if the answer is to build new capabilities within the Canadian Forces, is that the best use of scarce resources? Perhaps, perhaps not. It’s certainly a topic worthy of debate, but “no judicial oversight” is not right argument to be making in this case.

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QP: Morneau’s surprise announcement

As is not unusual for a Thursday (somewhat unfortunately), neither the prime minister nor leader of the opposition were present for another day of scripted outrage and conspiracy theories. Pierre Poilievre led off, and railed about the prohibition of ministers owning stocks, and demanded to know if Bill Morneau owned stocks from other companies in his numbered corporations. Morneau regaled the Commons with his meeting with the Ethics Commissioner, and his intention to donate any profit made since he was elected. Poilievre was caught a bit flat-footed by the answer, and stumblingly wondered if he would donate the tax credit from that donation to paying off the deficit, and Morneau stood up to wax lyric about ethics and others conducting their own affairs. Poilievre returned to his demands to know what is in Morneau’s other numbered companies, but Morneau retreated to his more standard pabulum about how they were helping Canadians. Alain Rayes was up next, and spouted the Morneau Shepell/Bombardier conspiracy theory as if it were a mathematical equation. Navdeep Bains was up to list off their support of the aerospace industry. Rayes tried to list the various Morneau Shepell tentacles, to which Bains reiterated the support for aerospace. Guy Caron was up next to lead for the NDP, and he raised the Morneau Shepell/Bill C-27 conspiracy theory, to which Morneau praised their work on pension reforms and the work they’ve done to date. Caron switched to French to list previous resignations due to conflicts, and tried to wedge the C-27 conspiracy theory into it, but Morneau reiterated his commitment to going above and beyond the ethics rules. Ruth Ellen Brosseau was up next, and demanded the government tell the Senate to pass Rona Ambrose’s bill on sexual assault training for judges. While the question should have been disallowed, Jody Wilson-Raybould stated how proud she was the support the bill, but obviously would not comment on the Senate’s internal business. Scott Duvall was up next to demand changes to bankruptcy laws, but Bains wouldn’t make any promises, only promising to help Sears employees.

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QP: Responding not in anger but with pity

Wednesday, caucus day, and Justin Trudeau was present for QP, ready to take all of the questions. Whether he would actually answer them, well, remained to be seen. Andrew Scheer led of, mini-lectern on desk, and read about the reach that we call the Morneau Shepell conspiracy theory, Bombardier edition. Trudeau stated that it was false, there was not conflict of interest, and that they were supporting the aerospace sector. Scheer switched to English, asked the same thing, and Trudeau simply reiterated the support for aerospace, but didn’t denounce the accusation. Scheer tried again, and Trudeau said that the opposition was only interested in slinging mud because they couldn’t fault their economic growth. Scheer tried to pivot to the tax credit for diabetics, and Trudeau insisted that they would never be as mean as the Conservatives to cancel refugee healthcare or closing veterans offices. Scheer tried to riff on how “mean” the Liberals were to businesses or farmers, or indeed diabetics, but Trudeau hit back with his economic record that the Conservatives failed at. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and he railed about the Morneau Shepell conspiracy theory, Bill C-27 edition, to which Trudeau denounced the accusations, and reminded him of the ethics screen. Caron demanded a closing of loopholes, and Trudeau expressed his disappointment in the NDP for going for the Conservative tactics of personal attacks. Nathan Cullen was up next to sanctimoniously denounce Morneau Shepell and its various tentacles, and Trudeau responded by regaling him with tales of visiting Alberta and Quebec of the last few weeks and he heard about how everyone praised the Canada Child Benefit. Cullen stated that he was moving a motion at the Ethics Committee to call Morneau before them, to which Trudeau listed the programs they feel are making a difference for Canadians.

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Roundup: Economic update choices

The fall economic update was released yesterday, and while the rapid pace of economic growth has meant more revenues and a smaller deficit, it also means that the government isn’t going to put too much more effort into getting back to balance anytime soon, keeping the focus on reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio instead (which is going down faster). Instead, finance minister Bill Morneau insisted that they would be “doubling down” on investing in the middle class, mostly by indexing the Canada Child Benefit to inflation earlier than planned, as well as enhancing the Working Income Tax Benefit (and I will note that this part of his speech seemed to be one where Morneau acknowledged that singletons existed and needed a hand up too). There was some additional programme spending in there as well (for more, the National Post outlines eight things in the update).

While the economy is growing at an enviable pace, it could put the government and the Bank of Canada in a bind as the need to start withdrawing stimulus measures comes to the forefront, and deciding whether fiscal or monetary policy should make the first move. There is also a marked shift between last year’s update and this year’s in that the focus is moving away from longer-term goals to short-term ones (and that could be political reality setting in). Critics accuse the government of using the update to try and change the channel on the recent headlines around Bill Morneau’s assets and disclosures, while Andrew Coyne gives his signature scathing look at the choices of the deficits, and around the rapid growth in government spending.

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Roundup: Those amended tax proposals

Bill Morneau unveiled his latest tweaks to his tax change proposals in New Brunswick today, and it looks like a pretty serious attempt to continue to close the avenues for tax avoidance by means of using Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations, while at the same time trying not to completely dissuade the use of those corporations to help businesses save for rainy days or mat leaves, etcetera – in other words, that he’s taken the concerns seriously. So here are economists Lindsay Tedds and Kevin Milligan to break down the new proposals.

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QP: Having confidence in the Ethics Commissioner

While Bill Morneau was off in New Brunswick to talk tax changes, Justin Trudeau was present for the first time this week, so it was guaranteed to be a gong show. After a moment of silence, Andrew Scheer, led off, mini-lectern on desk, lamenting that Morneau still “controlled” millions of dollars of his own wealth (which I’m not sure is an accurate portrayal of the situation). Trudeau reminded him that Morneau had followed the Ethics Commissioner’s advice, and had additionally just sent her a letter to see if there was anything he could do to go above and beyond her request. After another round of the same in French, Scheer read a portion of Morneau’s mandate letter and demanded to know when Trudeau knew that he was in a conflict of interest. Trudeau reiterated his previous response, calling it the kind of integrity that Canadians expect. Scheer accused Morneau of attacking small businesses while protecting his own wealth. Trudeau returned to questions of tax fairness, and when Scheer pressed, Trudeau produced a copy of the Liberal campaign platform and read that it was a promise made then that they kept. Guy Caron was up for the NDP, and he too pressed on Morneau’s shares, and Trudeau reiterated that Morneau worked with the Ethics Commissioner. Caron proffered the latest conspiracy theory that Morneau tabled Bill C-27 for the sole benefit of his old company, and Trudeau reiterated the Commissioner talking points. Nathan Cullen reiterated the claims in English, and Trudeau tripped up in referring to the Commissioner as the “Conflict of Ethics Commissioner,” to great uproar. Cullen tried again, and got the same answer — including the same slip-up.

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Roundup: Holding companies and crying wolf

The fixation on Bill Morneau and his family wealth is becoming mind-numbing, with new conspiracy theories and allegations of conflicts of interest arriving daily. While the Conservatives made him the subject of their Supply Day motion, demanding he produce all documents he shared with the Ethics Commissioner while continuing to promulgate the absurd conspiracy theory that he was pushing through the private corporation tax changes for the benefit of his company, while the NDP crowed about more alleged “appearances” of conflicts with his tabling a pension reform bill that his family company could, in theory, benefit from. And the subject of whether or not he still controls shares in said family company went through the media cycle like a tornado, with confirmation from the Ethics Commissioner in committee testimony that she didn’t tell Morneau to place his shares into a blind trust – because, as it turns out, he doesn’t control them, having already offloaded them into a holding company that he doesn’t control (apparently his wife does), and none of this is subject to current rules under the Conflict of Interest Act. In response to it all, Morneau sent a letter to the Commissioner requesting a meeting to see if there’s anything else he can do to further comply with the rules that he’s already complying with per her advice.

Two things here – one is that the Commissioner has raised this exception to the Act in the past, and when the Act last came up for review in 2014, she flagged it then and it wasn’t acted upon. Guess who was in power then? The Conservatives, who also pushed through all of those changes to various accountability legislation in 2009, along with the NDP. The second point is that we have constantly been bombarded with constant baseless accusations about the “appearance” of a conflict of interest for everything under the sun. And with these various conspiracy theories being put forward, even Occam’s Razor will tell you that the idea that these changes being put forward, either to pensions or private corporation taxation, for the benefit of Morneau’s company are absurd on the face of it. Pension reforms have long been debated, and there are reams of data about the problems that these private corporations are being used for reasons they were not intended to be by wealthy individuals in order to avoid taxation. Trying to use Morneau as an excuse to make the government back off on either is absurd and shows just how debased our ability to debate is in this country if debate is being replaced by personal attack. Never mind the fact that there has been a whole lot of crying wolf. If everything is a conflict, then nothing is a conflict. Sooner or later a wolf will come, and nobody will care anymore, having been completely numbed by the constant cries beforehand.

(Incidentally, Dawson also called on the government to amend their fundraising bill to include parliamentary secretaries as those who must report, for what it’s worth).

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QP: Selling shares, ad nauseam

While the PM was in Toronto and Bill Morneau in Montreal, it was promising to be an insufferable day in Question Period. Andrew Scheer led off, accusing Morneau of evading Canadian taxes while labelling small businesses as tax cheats (not true), and Bardish Chagger got to stand up to read that Morneau followed the advice of the Ethics Commissioner and that they trust her. Scheer tried again, and Chagger read that they are making changes to their proposals based on what Canadians told them, and hey, lower small business taxes! Scheer switched to English to worry that Morneau didn’t place his shares into a blind trust, and Chagger read another trite statement. They went another round, Chagger trying to play up small business week, and then another round again. Guy Caron was up next, leading for the NDP, raising the supposed conflicts of interest that Morneau was involved in — per the letter that Nathan Cullen sent to the Ethics Commissioner — and Chagger reminded him that they cleared everything with the Commissioner and after another round of the same in French, Cullen got up to reiterate and tried to get Duclos to respond based on pension legislation that could, theoretically, benefit Morneau’s family company, but Chagger gave her stock response. When Cullen chastised her for responding instead of Duclos, the response didn’t change.

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