It’s time for census National Household Survey data! So many things to talk about – starting with the reminder that the quality of this data is not as good as that of other years thanks to the fact that it isn’t as methodologically sound and full of sample bias, they’re now going to charge for the data that used to be free, and a few other facts about how it was collected. Here’s a look at the top line numbers. A lot of the data in this release was about religious demographics – more people without religion (now the second-highest group in the country), more Muslims as they are the fastest-growing religious group, and fewer people who listed “Jedi.” There was also a lot of data on Aboriginals, who were one of the fastest growing segments of the population, but they are also losing touch with their native languages, and more of them are growing up in foster care. Our immigrant population has surged, and we now have the highest percentage in the G8. Some small towns in the Conservative heartland were pretty much wiped out of the reporting because people simply did not reply. Economist Stephen Gordon is less than impressed by the quality of the data, and questions who will find it usable.
Some Conservative MPs are grumbling because they’ve been good little soldiers and submitted their names to the speaking list, and when those “rogue” MPs stand up and get recognised instead, they feel put out. Aww, the poor dears. Never mind that we should abolish the lists entirely and make MPs stand up and actively participate rather than follow up and read prepared speeches into the record in faux debate like good little drones, as what our parliament has degraded to. If the poor dears have something that needs to be said, they can stand up too and hope to be recognised.
As it happens, charities like World Vision and Engineers Without Borders have been using their funds to send MPs on trips to regions that they’re assisting. Rather than, you know, spending those thousands of dollars on their projects to help the poor and needy in developing countries. This isn’t to say that the MPs are being improper, or that they’re using the trips as some kind of vacation because let’s face it – nobody could argue that case at all. But it does remind us that there are reasons why we should give MPs travel budgets so that they can do trips like this in the service of their duties, rather than forcing charities to pay for it, or for them to take trips from foreign or corporate interests. Of course, any travel that does happen gets people like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in a big twist because OMG taxpayers’ hard earned dollars are supporting MPs on foreign travel isn’t that just horrible and awful! Erm, except that if we expect them to learn about their files and the policies they’re legislating on – and that can mean more than just the MPs on the foreign affairs committee – then we should also realise that we should be able to pay for it too.
In a somewhat surprising move, the Bank of Canada has named Stephen Poloz as its new governor, and not Tiff Macklem, as had long been speculated. Poloz, who was most recently the head of Export Development Canada, has worked at the Bank of Canada in the past, but at the press conference yesterday, Mark Carney stressed that it’s a team effort at the Bank, so Macklem will still play a role, and so on. Maclean’s gives you the ten things you need to know about Poloz, John Geddes writes about what we’ll miss about Carney, and John Ivison writes about Poloz’s challenge of working with the government’s agenda.
At long last, the budget implementation bill was tabled yesterday, and at around 125 pages, it’s far less of the omnibus bills that the government was so fond of last year. Not that it’s too unexpected, given that the budget itself was a pretty thin document, and so Flaherty’s joke is that this one is a “minibus.” It does have a number of measures including the tariff changes, the attempt to revive the National Securities Regulator, integrating CIDA into Foreign Affairs, and taking things like Winterlude and Canada Day back from the National Capital Commission.
Monday in the House, and most of the leaders were absent. Thomas Mulcair was present, and read off a pair of questions about the temporary foreign workers programme changes. Jason Kenney, the designated back-up PM du jour, stood up to insist him that Mulcair was wrong, and that these workers would be paid at the prevailing rate range, and only if Canadians were being paid at that same rate, and added that they need to ensure that the unemployed accept jobs in their regions. Mulcair transitioned the the lockout at US Steel, to which Kenney insisted that the question was pure demagoguery, and this was about a labour dispute. Chris Charlton stood up to ask the very same temporary foreign workers programme questions, to which Kenney gave her the same response, and brought up the many times that the NDP were begging him to allow more of said workers in their ridings. Marc Garneau led off for the Liberals, asking about the “payroll tax” of EI premiums. Kenney stood up to insist that the Liberals wanted more benefits without the increase in premiums, and that they wanted to repeal the GST cuts. For his last question, Garneau revisited last week’s theme of youth unemployment, to which Kenney insisted that no government has done more than theirs to help youth employment.
After allegations were made that the Supreme Court of Canada somehow intervened during the patriation of the Constitution, the Court’s investigation has turned up no documents to suggest that this is the case. Not that there was anything that they could really be expected to find – phone records from 1982? And every justice on the bench at that time is now deceased, so it’s not like they could ask any of them. This, however, is not good enough for either the PQ government in Quebec, nor Thomas Mulcair, who seems to think that the Supreme Court is somehow covering something up. No, really, though one is left to wonder how much of this is yet another attempt to pander to nationalists in Quebec. And thus we can add another institution that Mulcair has “respect” for – the Senate, the Crown and now the Supreme Court. So much respect…
After what appeared to be a breakout of actual debate during the Orders of the Day relating to the NDP’s opposition day motion on climate change, no eruptions of MPs trying to catch the Speaker’s eye during Members’ Statements, and a moment of silence for workers killed on the job, it was time for QP. Tomas Mulcair started things off by reading a condemnation of Joe Oliver’s trip to Washington and his insulting of a climate scientist. James Moore, the designated back-up PM du jour, insisted that the NDP doesn’t understand economics, and that the government was fighting to create jobs. Mulcair then switched topics and read a question about the concerns the Conservative premier of New Brunswick has about the EI changes. Moore assured him that they were working with the premier as they were helping get people back to work. Yvon Godin then asked the same thing in French, turning puce with outrage as he read his script. Diane Finley responded with her stock assurances that they were helping Canadians get back to work. Bob Rae was up for the Liberals, and after making a reference to Harper’s admonition about “committing sociology,” he turned to the party’s topic of the week — youth unemployment. Moore assured him that they had created programmes to help youth and were addressing the problem. For his final question, Rae asked about the growing number of reports of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, to which Deepak Obhrai assured him that they were monitoring the situation, which they found unacceptable.
The press gallery was full at the very start of Members’ Statements, hoping that MPs would take the Speaker’s advice yesterday and start standing up to catch his eye, in order to bypass the dreaded Whip’s list. And no, nobody tried to catch the Speaker’s eye, and the list carried on unabated, with Warawa on said list to talk about a local talent show. Breathless anticipation, all for naught. When QP got underway, Thomas Mulcair read off a gimme question about meeting with Rehteah Parsons’ parents, and the need for cyberbullying legislation. (Funnily enough, the NDP voted against a bill to do just that by Liberal MP Hedy Fry, ostensibly because it was poorly drafted, yet not offering amendments). Harper agreed that there was a problem that needs to be addressed, and that they need to make it clear that the Internet was not a free pass for criminal behaviour. Mulcair moved onto the topic of the Federal Court decision regarding the Parliamentary Budget Officer, to which Harper replied with the implication that the previous PBO, Kevin Page, was partisan. Mulcair changed topics again, and moved onto the issue of privacy breaches, to which Harper assured him that they take those issues seriously and have developed action plans when breaches happen. Charmaine Borg asked the very same again, to which Tony Clement gave her the same reassurances, but with an added gratuitous shot at the former Liberal government. For the Liberals, Joyce Murray asked about the topic of the week — youth unemployment. Harper assured her that they had all kinds of programmes in place to help youth find jobs. For the final questions the round, Bob Rae asked whether Canada would try to get the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting moved here, and to take over the chair from Sri Lanka given their human rights abuses. Harper agreed that they were concerned about the Sri Lankan situation, and would be monitoring the situation. Elizabeth May and Bruce Hyer stood up for pretty much every question in this round, trying to catch the Speaker’s eye, to no avail.
After much anticipation, the Speaker delivered his ruling on the whole Warawa privilege complaint. The verdict – no prima facia breach of privilege, but MPs need to grow up and behave like MPs. In other words, the lists the whips provide are just suggestions, and the Speaker can choose to ignore those lists if he sees fit, but that means that MPs need to want to participate in the debate, not simply assume that they have that spot and that he’ll wait for them to use it, or that someone else won’t be interested instead. Some MPs responded here and here, Aaron Wherry parses the meaning of the ruling, and John Ivison gives his own take of the ruling.
This all having been said, let me offer my own two cents – that this is a good first step, but that it really does fall on MPs to make the change they want to see. And unfortunately, because there is such a reliance on scripts, that we’re unlikely to see too much uptake on this invitation by the Speaker for MPs to behave like MPs. We’re going to see almost no uptake by the NDP, because in their need for uniformity, nobody wants to speak out be anything other than unanimous, as that would be unseemly. The Liberals already have far less of a firm hand on the whip, which means the real test of this change is going to come from the Conservative backbench – how many of them will want to do their actual jobs as an MP and hold the government to account rather than just suck up and support blindly, how many of them want to ask questions of substance during QP rather than deliver a fawning tribute or a thinly veiled attack on the opposition in the form of a question, and how many of them will want to eschew the “carbon tax” talking points and the likes while still ensuring that they have their say and are not being punished for not following those talking points. We will have to see how many of them are prepared to take that step and show that integrity and respect for parliamentary democracy.