Roundup: The emancipation of Lynn Beyak

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, along with his Senate caucus leader, Senator Larry Smith, announced last night that troublesome Senator Lynn Beyak had been kicked out of caucus after she refused to remove blatantly racist “letters of support” from her website. In true Scheer form, he not only didn’t effectively manage the situation, but waited until there was a media storm before he backed down, just as he did with deciding not to give any more interviews to Rebel Media post-Charlottesville, or having to back down somewhat on his campus free-speech zealotry in the wake of another incident (though he did get back on that bandwagon again after the whole Lindsay Sheppard incident).

While this move was met with a number of people saying “better late than never,” I’m not so sure. In fact, I think that he’s just created a monster now that Beyak no longer has any kind of adult supervision. Indeed, I suspect that he’s just made a martyr out of Beyak, who can now claim that she’s a victim of “political correctness run amok,” and she will quickly attract a group of odious racists and free speech absolutists, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that she’ll be yet another Jordan Peterson-like figure (though likely without the need for the Patreon account, given her Senate tenure).

But that Senate tenure is exactly why this situation should have been better managed, and why expelling her from caucus was possibly the wrong thing to do. At least inside of caucus, she could have been managed, and if they had been on the ball, they should have had a better handle on what she was posting to her website and had it locked down long before now, using whatever means of coercion are available to party and Senate caucus leadership. After all, taking her off of committees didn’t seem to do the trick, but I’m not sure what kinds of measures they were using to manage her once that happened, if any. And that’s key, because as someone who has institutional independence and can’t be fired, managing her was the best possible thing that they could have done rather than letting her continue to court racists. (This being said, the fact that she was viewed as a Pollyanna figure by some of her fellows was probably why they didn’t think they needed to manage her as closely, and look what happened as a result).

Beyak is likely to continue to sit as a non-affiliated Senator, as we can be assured that the Independent Senators Group will want nothing to do with her, especially as they have a new rule that means that they need to have a two-thirds vote to admit her into their caucus. While people will howl for her to resign, I sincerely doubt that she will, given that she’ll have a new crowd of adherents that will flock to her now. She can’t be expelled from the Senate unless she’s convicted of a serious crime or is found to be in violation of Senate ethics rules, and there’s nothing to suggest that she would be (not to mention that there will be great reluctance to push her out for what she’s said, no matter how odious it may be, because free speech is greatly valued in the Senate). Trying to have her charged with hate crimes isn’t likey to work as I doubt she meets the bar for that, and dragging her before the Human Rights Tribunal will make her an even bigger martyr with the free speech absolutists. And so now we’ll be stuck with her until February 2024, because the party leadership couldn’t figure out how to properly manage a problem like her. Well done, guys.

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Roundup: Mid-term check-in

Over in Maclean’s, John Geddes put together a deep dive into the current government’s midterm woes, and it’s well worth the read – and it’s a pretty long read too. But once you’re done (seriously, this post isn’t going anywhere), I would want to push back on some of the things that he highlights.

For starters, I think that there is something to be said for a government that is willing to walk back on bad promises, and they made a few. Most notably is electoral reform, and the fact that they could actually take the step of smothering it the cradle is actually something that they should be congratulated for. We dodged a bullet with that one, and I wish that my fellow journalists would get that through their heads. Likewise, Bardish Chagger taking back her plans to “modernise” the way that the House of Commons operates is similarly another dodged bullet – most of her plans were terrible and would make things worse, not better. Casting them as failures does a disservice to the fact that they backed down from bad promises. When it comes to Bill Morneau and his troubles, I think it also bears mentioning that the vast majority of the attacks against his tax proposals (and his own personal ethics situation) are largely unfounded, based on disingenuous framing or outright lies designed to try and wound him. The attacks have largely not been about the policies themselves (even though there were actual problems that should have been asked about more), and I think that bears some mention.

I also think that Geddes doesn’t pay enough attention to some of the backroom process changes that the government has been spearheading, particularly on the Indigenous files – many of the problems mentioned need to have capacity issues addressed before funding is increased because we have seen numerous examples of places where money was shovelled out without that capacity-building being done, and it made situations worse. Is it frustrating that some of this is going slowly? Yes. But some of the ground-up work of reforming how the whole system works, and ensuring that once more money flows that it can be spent effectively is something that we should be talking more about, because process matters. We simply don’t like to talk about it because we labour under this belief that nobody reads process stories, so we ignore them, which is why I think some of the calls about “failures” are premature or outright wrong – things are changing that we can’t immediately see. That doesn’t mean that changes aren’t happening.

Finally, there is a list of major legislation coming down the pipe, and I think it bears reminding that the focus on consultation before making some of these changes is as much about inoculating the government against criticism that was levelled against their predecessors as it was about trying to get some of this complex legislation right. Do they get it right all the time? No. There is a demonstrated record of barrelling ahead on things with good intentions and not properly thinking through the consequences *cough*Access to Information*cough* and when it blows up in their faces, they’re not really sure how to respond because they think that their good intentions count for something. I’m not sure that simply focusing on the perceived inexperience of ministers helps when it comes to trying to meaningfully discuss these issues, but here we are.

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Roundup: Concern trolling over tax loopholes

There’s been a great deal of concern trolling going on over the past few days when it comes to the planned changes to self-incorporation to close the tax loopholes found therein. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer tweeted out another of his disingenuous messages yesterday, talking about “hiking taxes” on doctors – who are leading the concern trolling charge against this closure of self-incorporation loopholes – which is not surprising, but nevertheless not exactly the truth about what is going on.

Meanwhile, economist Kevin Milligan has been dismantling the concern trolling arguments with aplomb, so I’ll let him take it from here:

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Roundup: Ontario superballots?

One of the many challenges of Canadian democracy is our geography – especially the fact that we have so much of it. Rural and remote regions tend to have large riding boundaries, and that causes its own share of problems, particularly when you have a number or ridings larger than countries like France, and no, that’s not an exaggeration. Ontario has been in the process of redrawing their riding boundaries after the federal government did in advance of the last election – notable because Ontario largely follows the federal riding boundaries, but in the past, they split one of the giant Northern Ontario ridings into two for practical purposes. Under this new redistribution, it looks like they want to split it into four instead. Where this becomes problematic is not only the fact that it far exceeds the usual 25 percent variance in rep-by-pop weighting that the courts usually allow, but it’s being justified in giving votes to francophone and Indigenous communities in the area.

In the National Post, Chris Selley takes on this particular proposition, and makes a very good point in that we don’t have any particular basis in this country for awarding “superballots” to traditionally underserved communities as a means of reconciliation or redress. Add to that fact, that while the commission may talk a good game about better enfranchising these Indigenous communities, they traditionally have lower turnouts not only for lack of access by elections officials, but because in some of those communities, they resist taking part because they don’t see themselves as part of Canada, but as a sovereign nation within Canadian boundaries, and participating in Canadian elections would undermine that sovereignty. I’m not sure that “superballots” would change that particular consideration for them either, which could make the commission’s excuse for naught. Would that mean that in these newly created ridings that the non-Indigenous voters who do participate have their votes count that much more? Quite possibly. And while one does understand the frustration and challenges of an immense Northern riding, there are other ways to mitigate those issues, with greater allowances for offices, staff and travel considerations that the government should be ponying up for. I’m not sure that this new proposal is going to pass the Supreme Court of Canada’s smell test.

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Roundup: A bit of NDP Kremlinology

On New Year’s Day, the leader of the provincial NDP in New Brunswick resigned and quit the party altogether, citing party infighting, and more curiously, took a few swipes at the federal party along the way.

Why is this interesting? Because the federal NDP are in the midst of a leadership race that will double as some soul-searching about the party’s direction. This while the leftist parties in the States saw the “success” of Bernie Sanders (and I use the term loosely but his followers are totally serious about it), and the selection and re-election of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, where there is a definite shift in tone that follwos these leaders. And with that in mind, we saw a series of tweets from former federal NDP (and prior to that, UK Labour) staffer Lauren Dobson-Hughes which helps to put the New Brunswick and general NPD dynamic into context.

What Dobson-Hughes says here I think will have a lot of impact on the NDP leadership contest, and I think explains a little as to why the party wasn’t willing to give Thomas Mulcair another chance in his leadership review post-election. It’s also what the (eventual) leadership hopefuls will be navigating, so I don’t think this is the last of the internal power-struggles in the party that we’ve heard of. And while Cardy’s critics continue to grouse about him in the media, there are tensions at play that we should be cognisant of, and that will matter as the party goes forward.

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Roundup: What free market mechanism?

The Conservative reaction to the imposition of a federal minimum carbon price has been fascinating, in part because of just how counterfactual it would be to how an actual conservative party would behave. You would think that an actual small-c conservative party would believe in market principles and would think that imposing price incentives (the carbon price) would be great because it would force the market to innovate to reduce the costs associated, hence reducing the carbon emissions in the least onerous way possible with the costs being fully transparent.

But no. We don’t actually have a small-c conservative party in this country, we have right-flavoured populists who would rather rail about “taxes on everything” and give sad homilies about how hard done by the workers of this country are, and how carbon taxes are just letting millionaires claim tax credits on the backs of the ordinary people of this country. No, seriously – these are things that the Conservatives have said in QP. And Rona Ambrose then goes on TV and says that the government should be regulating major emitters in a way that won’t cost consumers (never mind that regulations are the most costly mechanism available and it simply hides the true costs). It’s mind-boggling.

And so we now have all but one leadership candidate railing about carbon taxes, and the only one who agrees with carbon pricing, Michael Chong, insists that this is the wrong way to do it, that it should be revenue neutral for the taxpayer (never mind that provinces could institute that if they want, but they are given the flexibility to do with as they choose). Meanwhile, Paul Wells takes a torch to Lisa Raitt’s overwrought homilies about the poor people suffering under carbon taxes, and applies a little math to the analysis, which doesn’t fare well for Raitt. Likewise, Andrew Coyne laments the lack of a serious discussion on carbon pricing as the cheapest and least onerous way to reduce emissions. But this is currently the state of conservative politics in this country.

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Roundup: Incentives and outcomes of electoral systems

After four days of electoral reform committee hearings, the general sense that we’ve come away with is that academics in favour of reform are in favour of their own particular models, and that’s really been about it. (Kady O’Malley’s latest liveblog here). The most discussion that seems to have come out about outcomes from different electoral systems has been largely that one professor said the research hasn’t shown that everything will be sunshine and rainbows if we adopt a new system as each system has their own problems, and a lot of back-and-forth about how other systems will magically result in more compromise and nicer politics will somehow come out of it in the end (against all logic or evidence).

It was with some surprise that I noted that Fraser Institute of all places probably had the most to contribute to the discussion this week with the release of an academic essay (which appears to be the chapter in a forthcoming volume) that actually tested some of the outcomes and incentives for different electoral systems against fiscal policies of countries. While I didn’t find the results all that surprising, others might – that systems that result in more parties and more coalitions tend to have public spending as a far higher percentage of GDP, and much bigger deficits than countries with plurality/majoritarian systems like ours currently.

The logic is fairly simple and the research in the essay proves it – that coalition governments tend to be higher-spending because they require buying off the various parties in said coalitions; higher spending means growth of the public sector, and or deficits. There was also some more serious discussion than I’ve seen all week about the incentives to create smaller parties in PR systems than in plurality/majoritarian systems, where the coalition is more internal to the party, because the need for a coalition gives small and single-issue parties greater power and leverage to make demands as a coalition partner, thus incentivising the creation of more parties. This is not an insignificant consideration when it comes to outcomes from different voting systems, and I hope that this particular essay gets some traction rather than just being shrugged off as yet another Fraser Institute report.

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Roundup: Revolving door alarmism

Oh noes! Civil servants take positions in ministers’ offices! How terribly partisan of them! Yes, it’s time for another head-shaking column from some of our more alarmist media friends, bemoaning sweetheart deals and revolving doors, but as usual, it lacks all pretence of nuance or much in the way of a reality check on the way things work. I find it mystifying that someone would rather have a twenty-something fresh out of university, whose only real qualification is loyalty to the PMO, filling those ministerial office positions rather than professionals with years of experience in the department. Because while yes, some civil servants went to work in ministers’ offices in the Conservative years, there were a lot of these twenty-somethings on power trips, trying to play power games with departmental officials, which one presumes that people who have civil service careers would be less likely to do. And yes, they get good salaries in those positions, but they’re also a) quite ephemeral given the nature of party politics, and b) enormously stressful jobs that have some people working eighteen-hour days, and they should be compensated for it. And the “revolving door” back to the civil service afterward? Again one asks why they shouldn’t be able to translate government experience into the civil service, particularly if they’ve gained some policy expertise? So long as they perform their duties in a neutral fashion once back in the civil service, I’m not seeing why this is a problem. We need good people doing public service in this country, and we have already set up so many barriers that make recruitment a real challenge for anyone not being bridged in from school, and the growing list of restrictions makes work in ministerial offices increasingly unattractive because their post-political opportunities have become increasingly limited. If we’re not careful, all of our political staffers will be twenty-somethings trying to get experience rather than established people of substance, and I’m not sure that’s a situation that anyone relishes.

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Roundup: Pipeline drama queens

It really doesn’t take much to set Brad Wall off these days, and in ways that are both a bit unseemly and frankly nonsensical, and really, really unhelpful in the long run. Yesterday is was Quebec’s environment minister filing a court injunction related to Energy East, but unlike what everyone was up in arms about, it wasn’t to block the pipeline – he made several assurances that he had no opinion on it. Rather, he wanted TransCanada to submit paperwork with the Quebec government for their own environmental process, and TransCanada has thus far said no. It remains to be seen if Quebec’s position holds legal water (there was a precedent in BC that may or may not apply), but from the apoplexy coming from the likes of Brad Wall or Brian Jean in Alberta, you’d think Quebec had declared the project dead on arrival. Except they didn’t. Rachel Notley kept a level head saying she knows it’s not a veto, so she’s keeping her guns holstered. Justin Trudeau said he understands the province’s desire to get social license for the project, but listening to conservatives, both federal and provincial, you would have thought that those terrible lefties had put a stake in the heart of the oil industry. In fact, it’s the opposite of helpful when they are quick to declare a crisis of national unity when really, it’s Brad Wall fighting an election, and the Federal Conservatives and Wildrose party in Alberta trying to assert themselves into the debate in the most divisive way possible (and seriously, guys – that’s not how equalization works, so stop using it as a talking point). Suffice to say, everyone is acting like a bunch of petulant drama queens, demanding approvals to pipeline projects without actually going through the proper process, claiming that Trudeau politicized the process (err, except it was the Conservatives who changed the law so that Cabinet was given final sign-off on these projects, completely politicizing the process), and that if he doesn’t do things their way that he’s destroying the country. That’s a mature way to handle things, guys. Slow clap.

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Roundup: Go knock doors

While I’ve pretty much said my piece on the Manning Conference, one last headline caught my eye yesterday, which was the “Traditional campaigns dead! It’s a digital world now!” variety, which made me roll my eyes a bit, but here it is. The “experts” – all American – talk about how Facebook and digital ads are where it’s at instead of TV advertising, but it seems to me like they missed entirely what happened during the last federal election – you know, something that the Conservatives might have a vested interest in actually learning from their mistakes in, rather than what is going on south of the border, with their utterly insane primary season and unlimited corporate and private money. Because seriously, if they paid attention to what the Liberals did here, it was actually a lot of traditional campaigning, which was door-knocking. Yes, they flooded social media with their “days of action,” which featured candidates and their teams – wait for it – door-knocking. There wasn’t a series of YouTube or Facebook ads that won the election for the Liberals – in fact, the only commercial that anyone remembers is the one with Trudeau on the escalator, and mostly because everyone tried to mock it (not all of it effectively). How often in the last decade did we hear about the Conservatives’ fearsome electoral machine with their CIMS database, and how that was helping them cut swaths though campaigns based on the smiley and frowney faces of voter identification? It didn’t win them the election. Yes, the Liberals rebuilt their own voter identification database (“Liberalist”), but again, what was it used for? Door-knocking, and canvassing donations, but it also bears noting that the Liberals did not spend the most money, disproving that money is what wins elections. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll take the words of these American “experts” that the Conservatives enlisted with a grain of salt, while the traditional shoe-leather method of direct voter engagement and going from door-to-door is putting in the hard work that won a majority of seats.

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