Roundup: Not all omnibus bills are abusive

As if we needed another excuse for the opposition to blow their collective gaskets, the Liberal budget implementation bill clocks in at around 300 pages, and touches on several different Acts. In other words, it’s an omnibus bill.

“Oh!” They cry. “You promised you wouldn’t use them.”

Err, they promised not to abuse them, and in fact were careful in their language so as to not promise that they would never be used, because anyone who knows a thing or two about the legislative process knows that sometimes omnibus bills are necessary, particularly when it comes to housekeeping bills that clean up language across several acts, for example. What separates a proper omnibus bills from abusive ones are the fact that they are around a common theme, and can be studied by a single committee. This is where the Harper bills failed the test – while they claimed that they were under a single theme (i.e. implementing programmes mentioned in the budget), they touched on all manner of subjects that were not all under the purview of the finance committee, and this is really the key. When they put in sections that rewrote the entire environmental assessment legislation – under the dubious rubric of doing it for the sake of stimulating resource projects and thereby the economy, this was not something that the finance committee could necessarily study, and certainly not when the hundreds of pages and tight time-allocated timelines meant no time to do proper study of the various and sundry provisions. That is abusive.

From everything I’ve seen of this new budget implementation bill, it certainly looks like everything is all related to fiscal matters and would be under the purview of the finance committee to study. Yes, it’s 300 pages, which shouldn’t be the determining factor, and this is more about the opposition torqueing the issue in order to make it look like the government was breaking a promise when in fact they’re not included the kitchen sink into the bills in order to bully them through with as little scrutiny as possible.

What disturbs me more is the fact that like prorogation, “omnibus” is becoming a dirty word because the previous government took it upon themselves to abuse the practice, while my media colleagues haven’t done enough to disabuse the notion that just because a practice has been abused that it’s not actually illegitimate in and of itself. Prorogation is a routine practice for breaking up a legislative session and hitting the reset button in terms of plans and priorities, while omnibus bills have their uses (as we’ve already established). Just because Stephen Harper abused them to his own ends – which is party didn’t seem to be railing about as they are with this current omnibus bill – it doesn’t mean they’re all bad. This shouldn’t be rocket science, and yet, civic illiteracy is rapidly determining the narrative.

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QP: Proto-PMQs, take two

Question Period was late today, due to Malala Yousafzai’s address to parliament, and was the only item on the Order Paper for the day. Meanwhile, not all leaders bothered to show up either. Rona Ambrose led off, mini-lectern on desk, lamenting new taxes and the plan to increase user fees in the budget bill. Justin Trudeau insisted that they were proud of their choices and the ways they are helping the middle class. Ambrose spun the question as taxing time-off, and Trudeau responded by praising their decision to offer free passes to national parks this year. Ambrose spun it about camping — as those fees are going up — but Trudeau reiterated his response. Ambrose then asked whether the government planned to pass her bill on sexual assault training for judges, and Trudeau noted his support for survivors, but he also respects Parliament and the work of committees, and he looked forward to those discussions. Ambrose pressed, and Trudeau noted that it was important that they appointed more women to the bench, which they were doing. Alexandre Boulerice led off for the Liberals, railing about the omnibus nature of the budget implementation bill. Trudeau insisted that it was not an abuse of omnibus legislation, all items were included in the budget. Nathan Cullen repeated the question in English, got much the same response, then Cullen railed about the provisions around the PBO. Trudeau noted that it would make him a full Officer of Parliament with greater independence. Boulerice repeated it in French, and got much the same answer.

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Roundup: A ham-fisted trap for the Senate

While Government Leader in the Senate – err, “Government Representative” Senator Peter Harder continues his tour of sympathetic media (the latest being the CBC), crying about how the Conservatives are holding government legislation “hostage” and how he needs to have the rules of the Senate changed, he and his team have been doing everything they can to destroy what collegiality exists with the Senate through ham-fisted procedural moves of their own.

The bill in question is C-4, which is the stated repeal of anti-union bills passed by the Conservatives in the previous parliament, and naturally they would be putting up a fight, tooth-and-nail, to keep their old legislation. Not surprising, but also a doomed fight. The bill was on track to pass the Senate this week, when Harder’s deputy, Senator Bellemare, announced that they would be calling a vote on it before Thursday, claiming that they had the support of all senators to do so, when in fact they didn’t. Reminder: the bill was on track to pass, as the Conservatives had exhausted their abilities to delay it. By pulling this manoeuvre, Bellemare basically sabotaged the working relationship between the caucuses in order to maybe shave a day or two from the bill. Maybe. Rather than letting it go through, she (and by extension Harder) turn it into a fight over procedure and sour feelings. Why? So that they can turn around and whine some more to the media that the political caucuses in the Senate are not working with them and are being obstructionist, therefore “proving” that they need these proposed rule changes that Harder wants. Harder, meanwhile, gets to look like he’s the victim and just trying to be reasonable when he’s the one who hasn’t been negotiating with the other caucuses this whole time.

What gets me is just how obvious he’s being about it. Well, obvious to someone who knows what’s going on in the Senate, but most people don’t, and he’s keen to exploit the fact that the general public – and indeed most journalists – aren’t paying attention, and he can use that to his advantage. None of their actions make sense if they actually wanted a working relationship with other senators and to try and get those bills they’re suddenly so concerned with (despite the fact that they have done nothing so far to try and move them along), which makes it all the plainer to see that this latest effort has nothing to do with trying to get bills passed in the Senate, and more to do with changing the rules in order to advantage his position.

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Senate QP: Morneau talks growth

After a length delay owing to a snap vote in the Commons, Senate QP finally got underway with special guest star, finance minister Bill Morneau. Senator Smith led off, worrying that for an “innovation budget,” it wasn’t doing enough for promoting business investment I order to promote innovation. Morneau responded by reminding Smith that the fundamental challenge they were trying to address was slow growth, and noted that the reduction of unemployment was a sign that their plan was working, creating a level of optimism that would attract future growth. Smith insisted that they should be lowering taxes and giving an EI break for hiring younger people, but Morneau wasn’t sold on Smith’s logic, pointing out flaws with this argument around corporate tax rates and said that they were on track for a higher level of growth.

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QP: Justice delay bafflegab

With the PM still in France, most of the other leaders didn’t bother showing up either today, which places more doubt in their howling insistence that the QP is so important that the PM should be there daily. But I digress… Denis Lebel led off, asking about an accused murderer released based on the Jordan decision fallout. Jody Wilson-Raybould insisted that they had taken steps to ensure that there was a transparent, merit-based process, and more judges would be appointed soon. Lebel moved onto softwood lumber and the lack of progress — never mind that there is no trade representative appointed in the States — and François-Philippe Champagne insisted that they were working the provinces and working to engage the Americans. Lebel pivoted to the question of Syria and doing something about Assad, and Champagne said that Assad must be held accountable for his war crimes and Canada was committed to humanitarian assistance, refugee resettlement, and ensuring a peaceful Syria. Candice Bergen picked it up in English, accused the government of shifting positions, and wondered how hey planned to institute regime change. Champagne repeated his response in English, never quite answering the regime change question. Bergen then moved onto the Standing Orders, demanding any changes be made by consensus. Chagger gave a bland response about the necessity to have a serious conversation. Thomas Mulcair was up next, and wondered how many court cases had been thrown out because of delays. Wilson-Raybould reiterated her plan to appoint new judges, but didn’t answer the question. Mulcair asked why the delays in French, and Wilson-Raybould said that she was meeting with provinces to discuss the issues of delays in order to find a coordinated approach to tackling them. Mulcair moved onto problems with the military justice system, and Navdeep Bains responded that they were planning to work on ensuring reforms to that system. Mulcair sniped that Bains answered, then moved onto veterans’ pensions, and Ralph Goodale asserted that they would have an announcement later this year.

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QP: The most feminist budget ever

With Justin Trudeau off to New York, none of the other leaders decided to show up for QP today, so way to go for their insistence that all MPs should show up five days a week. Pierre Poilievre led off, demanding that the loan conditions to Bombardier to be reopened to ban the money from bonuses, to which Jean-Yves Duclos assured him that they were trying to grow the economy with key investments to the aerospace industry. Poilievre railed about the company’s family share structure, but Duclos’ answer didn’t change. Poilievre then moved onto the cancellation of tax credits, to which François-Philippe Champagne opted to answer, reminding him about their tax cuts. Gérard Deltell got up next to demand a balanced budget in the other official language, and Champagne reiterated his previous response. Deltell then worried that there was nothing in the budget for agriculture, and after a moment of confusion when Duclos stood up first, Lawrence MacAulay stood up to praise all kinds of measures in the budget. Sheila Malcolmson led off for the NDP, demanding childcare and pay equity legislation immediately. Maryam Monsef proclaimed that the budget was the most feminist budget in history, and listed off a number of commitments. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet repeated the question in French, and Monsef listed off yet more budget commitments. Boutin-Sweet pivoted over to the changes to the Standing Orders, and Bardish Chagger deployed her “modernization” talking points, with some added self-congratulation about yesterday’s proto-PMQs. Murray Rankin demanded a special committee on modernization, and Chagger insisted she wanted to hear their views, but would not agree to a committee.

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QP: Bonuses, modernization, and vacations

While there was nothing else on his calendar to indicate why he should be absent, the PM nevertheless was. Rona Ambrose led off, incredulous that the PM was frustrated with Bombardier for their bonuses when he negotiated the deal with no strings. (Note: He didn’t actually negotiate it). Navdeep Bains rebutted that it was a repayable loan with clear strings around protecting jobs. Ambrose railed that the budget nickel-and-dimes Canadians in the face of this, to which Bains insisted that they had a plan around jobs, and touted the job creation numbers. Ambrose and Bains went another round of the same, before Ambrose switched to French to give it yet another round in the other official language. Bains responded in kind, albeit a little more awkwardly, before Ambrose moved onto the topic of changing the Standing Orders, for which Bardish Chagger trotted out her lines about “modernizing” the House of Commons. Thomas Mulcair took up the topic and wondered how Chagger feels having to cover for the PM. Chagger stood up to give earnest praise about being part of a government that consults and listens to Canadians. Mulcair asked in French, and Chagger praised the “new approach” in French in return. Mulcair turned to the Prime Minister’s “illegal vacation” and revelations about payments related to it, for which Chagger asserted that the PM needs to be in constant contact with his office even when out of the country. Mulcair and Chagger then went around for another round of the same.

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QP: Bombardier bonus brouhaha

Starting off the last two-week stretch before the Easter Break, there remained a number of empty desks in the Commons, but all leaders were in attendance, so there was that. Rona Ambrose led off, asking about the possibility of radicalized workers at the Montreal airport. Justin Trudeau assured her that they were working diligently to assure her that they were taking security seriously. Ambrose switched to English to demand those workers be fired (which I’m not sure is his call), and Trudeau reminded her that they were supporting law enforcement agencies who were keeping us safe. Ambrose then switched to the compensation of Bombardier executives, and Trudeau acknowledged that the government gave a loan, but he was pleased to see they were reconsidering that decision. Ambrose switched to English to ask again, and got much the same response. For her final question, Ambrose railed about the loss of tax credits in the light of those Bombardier bonuses, and Trudeau latched onto the transit tax credit portion of the question and noted it was the only thing the previous government did for transit and his government was doing more. Thomas Mulcair was up next, returning to the Bombardier bonuses, to which Trudeau stressed that they made a loan, and again reiterated that he was happy they were changing course on those bonuses. Mulcair switched to French to rail about the lack of job guarantees, and Trudeau insisted that the loan would protect jobs. Mulcair switched to the issue of emissions targets, and Trudeau insisted they were committing their promise to reduce them. Mulcair went for a second round in French, noting that Environment Canada has said that they wouldn’t be able to meet the Harper targets, while Trudeau retorted that the analysis was based on the previous government’s actions, not those of his government.

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Roundup: What to do about Beyak?

The CBC caught up with Senator Lynn Beyak yesterday, and she essentially doubled down on her insistence that she’s said nothing wrong about residential schools, and then compounded the whole thing by insisting that she’s been “suffering with” these residential school survivors because she lives in the area with them and she once went on double dates with an Aboriginal fellow. The mind boggles.

So with this having been said, and Beyak insisting that she’s not going anywhere, people are starting to wonder what’s next (as they demand her resignation, if not from the Senate then at least the Aboriginal Peoples committee). Let’s deconstruct this a little first, shall we?

To start off with, as a member of the committee, Beyak is not really making decisions around Indigenous policy in this country, as some people are suggesting. The government – meaning Cabinet – still makes that policy, and the Senate and in particular the committee does their due diligence in holding them to account. They’re not actually making policy themselves. Add to that, Beyak is one vote out of fifteen (remember that committees in this current session are now oversized because that was how to add in new independent members without a prorogation to reset committee selection), so her vote is even more diluted than it would be in a regular parliamentary session. And given that her views are off-side with her own party’s, it’s not like she’s really going to be the swing-vote in any case. So let’s calm down about that. While the committee chair has suggested that Beyak step aside, it’s not really her call as to whether Beyak is a member or not – that’s up to caucus leadership (or in the case of the Independent Senators’ Group, they volunteered for committee assignments), and there’s nothing the Chair can do about it. But if the Conservative Senate leadership is aware that Beyak being on that committee is a problem, they can probably arrange to have her rotated off of it (if not right away, then certainly when the committees reset at the next prorogation).

Some people has suggested that Beyak be kicked out of Conservative caucus, but I’m less certain that that’s a good idea. For one, her being in caucus allows the Conservative leadership to maintain some level of control over her, and if she’s forced out, where is she going to go? The ISG, where she can look at Senator Murray Sinclair every organizing meeting?

As for the comparisons between Beyak and Senator Don Meredith – because people have been making them – it’s a specious comparison that needs to stop. He’s broken ethics rules (and possibly the law), whereas Beyak’s crime is wilful ignorance. That’s not actually illegal or against the ethics code, and no, you can’t expel her for it. What they can do, however, is maybe consider a policy of phasing her out – making it as unrewarding as possible for her to be there that she eventually leaves. It’s an inexact science, particularly for someone as clueless as Beyak, and this whole episode should serve as one more reminder as to why it’s important to take some care in choosing who to appoint, because they’ll be there for a long time with little recourse for removal (and Stephen Harper quite obviously was not taking care).

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Roundup: The Luddite debate

The NDP held their second leadership debate yesterday in Montreal on the theme of youth, and the first part of the event went pretty much as expected. All four candidates went on endlessly about the need for free tuition without actually seeming to grasp the underlying issues with such a pledge – not only that in Canada, this is an area of provincial jurisdiction (and no, it’s not as easy as giving the provinces a whack of cash and telling them “this is for free tuition!” because watch what happens when you start putting strings on provincial spending), and the fact that there are always limited resources no matter how you slice it. That means that if you’re offering free tuition, that tends to mean you either need to raise the bar for entrance to universities so that it’s higher and weeds people out, or you water everything down and the quality of the education you’re offering for free declines because systems have only so much capacity and you’re not going to find an infinite number of good profs who are willing to make the smaller salary dollars you’re able to offer in order to keep tuition free for all. It’s basic economic theory.

The other issues paid a great deal of lip service were precarious work, and automation, and while there was a lot of talk about it, I’m not sure there were a lot of answers. Just decrying precarious work doesn’t mean that the government has the power to mandate that there be full-time employment, especially when the problem is in part because of demographics (as in, there aren’t enough Boomers retiring fast enough for jobs to be taken up by Millennials in a serious capacity) and the fact that the economy is restructuring itself and we haven’t arrived at sustainable models for a number of fields yet, particularly when some of those jobs bump up against other Millennial maxims like “information wants to be free” and nobody wanting to have to pay for content that they nevertheless want to be paid to create. But this also fits in with the question of automation, which the candidates didn’t have much to answer with either.

Being worried about automation while at the same time insisting that you want “value-added” jobs and the kinds of manufacturing jobs that we saw in the fifties and sixties is kind of like the Trump promise to return to coal-fired electricity, which no longer makes sense in the age of cheap natural gas. Those kind of jobs aren’t going to exist because there’s no economic rationale for them, particularly when our economy is moving more toward being service-based. Not to mention, automation is largely taking over the most menial of tasks, which is why it’s not a bad thing that it’s happening. And sure, there are differing ways to deal with it, from skills retraining (as the Liberals are trying to move toward with aspects of their new budget) to basic income (which Guy Caron is proposing), but that may not in the end be feasible. But you can’t just say that you’ll ban automation or tax it in the hopes of supporting displaced workers, while at the same time demanding greater innovation because things don’t work that way. Innovation will demand disruption, which these candidates seem to want do avoid. If things did with without disruption, we’d still all be labouring on farms. And that’s why I found the leadership candidates to be largely unconvincing on this topic. It is an issue we’ll have to deal with, but you can’t just wish for old manufacturing jobs to come back as the answer. It’s not going to happen.

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