There are a couple of issues arising out of the Senate right now, both of which deserve a bit of exploration. The first is over the selection of the party’s interim leader – the party president has indicated that the Commons caucus would make the selection (per the provisions in Michael Chong’s lamentable Reform Act). Senator David Wells says that no, the party constitution says that an interim leader would be chosen by the Parliamentary caucus, which would include senators. Why is this important? Because right now, the party has no East Coast MPs, nor any from the GTA or Montreal, whereas they have Senators from those regions who can provide some of that input. (In fact, it’s yet another reason for why the Senate is valuable – for years, it used to mean that the only Albertans in the Liberal caucus were from the Senate, until of course Trudeau’s Great Expulsion). And as Wells points out, this is an issue in the party’s own constitution, which makes the party president’s position that much more untenable. The other issue is certain Conservative senators trying to flex their muscles and saying that they’re under no obligation to pass Liberal legislation, much as in 2006, Liberal senators were giving the Conservatives a hard time with some of their bills. This whole thing is problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, this is likely someone talking out of their ass (and I have my suspicions as to who it is). With Harper no longer leader, and no longer PM, any leverage that he had with the Senate has pretty much evaporated. Newer senators no longer have someone to feel beholden to, and there is no longer the emotional blackmail of “You want to support the PM, don’t you?” Those non-existent levers of power that the PMO was trying to exercise (per Nigel Wright’s complaints) no longer have anything to back them up when it comes to threat or reward. And then there’s the matter of 2006 that these oh-so-brave “senior senators” are referencing, particularly the Accountability Act. The problem was that it was a bad bill that had all kinds of problems and loopholes, but they didn’t get fixed on the Commons side? Why? Because the Liberals of that era were so cowed by their election loss that they left the fight up to the Senate rather than take the blowback themselves, while Pat Martin was the Conservatives’ accomplice, giddily rubber-stamping the whole affair in order to punish the Liberals some more. So the Liberals in the Senate did the battling for the needed amendments, most of which they actually got. I’m going to be optimistic and say that the legislation coming from this crop of Liberals is likely to be of higher calibre because they’re not opposed to listening to civil service advice for kneejerk reasons. On top of it all, there has to be enough shreds of self-awareness in the Conservative senate caucus to know that if they start playing games, they’ll damage themselves and the Chamber’s reputation as Trudeau tries to rehabilitate it, and everyone will lose as a result. So you’ll excuse me if I don’t take these threats too seriously.
Today may be the final day the Senate sits – we’ll see if the Liberals are able to tie-up the “union-busting” bill C-377 in procedure for longer than it has been illegitimately time-allocated for today. From that point on, with business out of the way, it looks like senators can spend the summer focusing on some of the more managerial aspects of what has been going on with them of late, being the Auditor General’s report and his recommendations, particularly with regards to the independent oversight committee. It’ll be a tricky thing to get right because the AG did not contemplate the issue of parliamentary supremacy, but you can be sure that there are a number of senators who won’t be silent about that particular issue. It will also be a summer of fending off smears and attacks from MPs trying to use the Senate as a punching bag in their bid to get re-elected – never mind that a few incidents of alleged misspending have nothing to do with the powers or legislative business of the Senate, or the fact that MPs are far more opaque about their own spending practices. To that end, Senate Speaker Housakos told Bob Fife over the weekend that he’s not going to take any lessons on accountability from MPs, and most especially Mulcair with his party’s $2.7 million satellite office issue. And that’s exactly it – MPs aren’t saints by virtue of having been elected, and it doesn’t mean that they are really held to account for those issues because they are rarely brought to light. Witness last week, when the Ottawa Citizen asked MPs about their residential claims, and only 20 out of some 300 actually bothered to respond. Oh, but it’s the Senate that has the problem and with the “entitlement” issue.
The Deschamps Report is now released, and as feared, it’s a black eye for the Canadian military. The report details a highly sexualised culture within the Forces, complete with sexist language, jokes, and unwanted advances leading to date rape and worse, making the Forces a hostile environment for not only women, but also GLBT individuals within the Forces. It was also stated that the more people went up the ranks, the more they became inured to the incidents, making superior officers unlikely to recognise it when it happens. Deschamps made ten recommendations, and the military only said they would accept two immediately, and the others “in principle,” including creating an exterior body that can receive complaints about harassment, which would be needed precisely because it’s outside of the structure of the Forces and won’t be somewhere that complainants would need to fear retaliation, and where they could be taken seriously. It needs to be pointed out that the government distanced themselves from this release – Jason Kenney was nowhere to be seen, even absent from Question Period despite the fact that he was in the Foyer giving a press conference not two hours earlier. (That the official opposition raised the report in a clumsy and scripted way is also concerning but I covered this ground in yesterday’s QP recap). A retired officer who is now a lawyer says that part of the problem is the military justice system, and it needs major reforms if it is to help end this culture. NDP MP Christine Moore, who served in the Forces, noted that she had faced this same kind of harassment the report details. And here’s a Q&A with more information about the report.
'Culture of misogyny' report presser update: CDS Lawson just did it again: called on "Christine" instead of Maj.Gen. Whitecross. #cdnpoli
In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 9-0 that struck down laws around doctor-assisted dying in this country, so long as the person is a competent adult with a condition that they have no hope of recovering from, be it terminal or an acute disability. As well, it’s worth noting that while Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote for the minority in the 1993 Sue Rodriguez case, she led a unanimous court this time. The ruling is welcomed by those who live with pain and who know that it will only get worse, as well as by Conservative MP Stephen Fletcher, who has been fighting for these changes in parliament. The head of the Canadian Medical Association wants there to be a process to set the rules around this new right. Emmett Macfarlane parses the decision and shows how it paves the way for governments, which have been too politically paralysed to deal with these kinds of issues. Carissima Mathen says the ruling not only shows the ways in which laws evolve, but that it’s a call to action for governments – and explains the ruling on Power Play. Jonathan Kay writes about the perversity of the current law, where the assisted suicide that was legal was to starve oneself in a cruel manner. Andrew Coyne fears this is a first step to some kind of death-on-demand system.
House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers has been appointed Canada’s new ambassador to Ireland, which seems like a fitting reward for the his heroic actions on October 22nd. Well, once you get past the questions about his diplomatic credentials (not that Ireland is likely to be a posting with actual diplomatic challenges). It also does leave one wondering about what will happen with the ongoing review of security on Parliament Hill in the wake of the shooting, since Vickers will no longer be around to answer questions. His deputy, Pat McDonell, will be assuming his duties for the time being, but if he doesn’t get the job full-time once Vickers is officially gone, it could mean that we might get a female Sergeant-at-Arms, as one of the other deputies who often sits in the chair is a woman. Kady O’Malley rounds up some of the reaction to the news.
While Danielle Smith continues to declare victory as she defends her defection, insisting that the Wildrose had held two premiers to account and that they had managed to shift the PCs to their position under Prentice, there are one or two things worth noting. While I spoke to other day about the problems with calling this defection a “reunification” of conservatives in the province, I think there are a couple of other facts to consider that the pundit classes keep overlooking in their handwringing about the state of democracy in Alberta now that the official opposition has been decimated. The first is that even in a Westminster democracy, there are no guidelines about the strength of the opposition. We’ve even had cases (New Brunswick, I believe) where there were no opposition parties elected, and they had to find a way of including that balance. The other fact is that nowhere in the country is there an opposition so closely aligned ideologically with the government of the day, where you have a nominally right-wing government and an even more right-wing official opposition. That puts a whole lot of context into the unprecedented move of an official opposition leader crossing to join the government ranks, as there is less of a gap to actually cross.
The big news is that Canada ratified the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (FIPA) yesterday, after months of delays. Immediately the NDP freaked out, while Elizabeth May called it the worse day for Canadian Sovereignty since 1867 (never mind that Canada never actually got treaty-making powers devolved from the UK until the 1920s and control over foreign policy in the Statute of Westminster in 1931). Apparently ensuring fair treatment for Chinese companies in Canada, and perhaps more importantly Canadian companies in China – where the rule of law is not really the same as it is here – is a terrible, terrible blow to our sovereignty. Economist Stephen Gordon, however, is trying to remain the voice of reason:
There is a *huge* chasm b/w what foreign-investor protection agreements do and what excitable nationalists say they do.
Mike Duffy’s charge sheet has been released, which gives us a few more details about the 31 charges he is now facing. Some of those include the contract he gave to a friend for little or no work, of which some of those funds were funnelled elsewhere – including to a make-up artist and personal trainer – and that some of the claimed expenses were to attend funerals or other such ceremonies. Duffy of course denies any wrongdoing. Here is an updated timeline of the whole expenses scandal in the Senate.
Word has it that House of Commons Administration has an independent report prepared on the NDP’s “satellite offices” that will be presented to the Board of Internal Economy, and that it’s going to be blistering. And because this is coming from Commons Administration and not any of the parties or committees, it’s going to be difficult for the NDP to blame this on partisanship or that they’re being ganged up on, which are their usual defences. Unless of course they’re going to claim that the Commons Administration is also out to get them…
It’s the final stretch, as there are four scheduled weeks left for MPs to sit before we send them back to their riding for the summer. And they want to put on a good show of being productive, so they’ll be doing evening sittings the whole way through. Here’s a look at what’s on the agenda for those four weeks. It’s likely the Senate will sit for another week or so after the Commons rises, but it will all depend on how many bills the Commons passes at the last minute, and how much certain Senators want to push back at the government over things like the Fair Elections bill (for which I know there are Conservative senators who are still not happy with it).