Roundup: Principle over circumstance

After a weekend of yet more wailing and gnashing of teeth about the Omar Khadr settlement, and despite detailed explanations from the ministers of justice and public safety, and Justin Trudeau reminding everyone that this is not about the individual circumstances of Khadr himself but rather the price of successive governments who have ignored the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we’re still seeing a number of disingenuous talking points and facile legal analysis from players who know better. Here is some of the better commentary from the weekend.

A number of people over social media have insisted that treatment of Khadr, including the “frequent flier” sleep deprivation technique used to “soften him up” before CSIS agents arrived to question him, or the fact that he was strung up for hours to the point of urinating himself (and then used as a human mop to wipe it up) or being threatened with gang rape didn’t constitute torture.

There was some particularly petulant legal analysis from former Conservative cabinet ministers that got pushback.

And of course, the broader principle remains.

Continue reading

QP: Parsing the minister’s answers

A hot Thursday afternoon, and most of the leaders were gone, Thomas Mulcair excepted. Candice Bergen led off for the day, raising the lack of mention of China in Chrystia Freeland’s speech and the sale of a satellite company to China. Navdeep Bains responded that they take national security very seriously and and that the national security review board gave it a pass (and he said national security about twelve times). Bergen wondered why the sale went ahead without a comprehensive security review, and Bains insisted that the comprehensive review under the Investment Canada Act had been undertaken. Bergen insisted this was about appeasing China, and Bains insisted that the Act stipulates that all transactions are subjected to a national security review, and that included this one. Gérard Deltell then took a kick at the same can in French, twice, but Bains gave the very same answer. Thomas Mulcair was up next, and picked apart Bains’ answers, parsing the language particularly between a full review and a standard screening. Bains reiterated that they followed the law and did their due diligence and would take any advice from national security agencies. Mulcair tried again in French, raising a previous sale, and Bains reminded him that the previous process under the previous government had been botched. Mulcair then turned to the nuclear disarmament treaty and parsed the PM’s responses from yesterday. Bains got up again, and to reiterate the PM’s points about getting a fissile materials treaty underway instead. Mulcair tried again, and Bains read the same points that the PM made.

Continue reading

Roundup: The difficulty with tracking spending

The Parliamentary Budget Officer’s latest analysis shows that it’s difficult to track budgetary spending commitments because they don’t often line up with the Supplementary Estimates. And yes, this is a problem. The solution is something that the government has already committed to, which is to reform the Estimates process. Right now, it is out of sync with the budget, where the Estimates need to be out before the beginning of the new fiscal year, but there is no set time for the budget to be released, meaning that the allocation of budget dollars happens before Parliament sees the budget. Later allocations to match the budget are supposed to then show up in the Supplementary Estimates, but as the PBO shows in his analysis, that’s hard to track. And even harder to track is whether those Estimates wound up being spent properly because the accounting systems used between the Estimates and the Public Accounts at the end of the fiscal year no longer match up, so tracking those dollars is also near-impossible. This has been an ongoing problem for decades, and the Liberals were elected on a promise to fix this problem. They have started to, but in recent months, the Treasury Board president, Scott Brison, says he has encountered resistance from the civil service when it comes to how they time things, and he’s trying to fix it. So that’s the hope, anyway.

What I hope comes from this exercise, however, is increased pressure on Brison and the government to carry on with reforming the Estimates cycle so that it better matches the budget cycle, and that the Estimates match the Public Accounts at the end of the year so that money can actually be tracked. What I hope doesn’t happen is for this to turn into calls to turn over yet more power and authority for scrutinizing the estimates to the PBO because that’s the whole raison d’etre of MPs, and they should be demanding that it be in a format that they can use and understand.

And while we’re on the subject of the PBO, here’s Kevin Milligan on the proposed amendments to the new PBO legislation, and why he still has concerns (as I do) about creating a massively powerful Officer of Parliament with no oversight or accountability.

Continue reading

Senate QP: Meandering trade talk

While the tributes to Rona Ambrose carried on in the House of Commons, international trade minister François-Philippe Champagne was down the hall in the Senate Chamber, taking questions on his portfolio. Senator Smith led off, wondering about the state of the NAFTA discussion, and whether we were facing a “tweak” or a massive change. Champagne noted that he was supporting the minister of Foreign Affairs as part of a whole-of-government approach, and he would be meeting the new US Trade Representative this Friday at an APEC meeting. Smith asked about tax competitiveness with the Americans, with proposed US tax cuts, but Champagne said that they were looking to diversify, becoming a bridge between Pacific and Atlantic economies, discussions with India regarding a FIPA, and exploratory trade talks with China. Champagne also noted that NAFTA has been tweaked eleven times to date.

Continue reading

QP: Pink shirts against Trump

With it being caucus day, most of the desks were filled in the Commons, and MPs were ready to go. Rona Ambrose led off, asking about the sale of some BC retirement homes to a Chinese firm with murky ownership. Justin Trudeau reminded her that we are a trading nation, and that means allowing foreign investment in our interests. Ambrose pressed about the Chinese’s firm’s murky ownership, and Trudeau took the rare move of pulling out a note to read off some of the provisions of the deal including provincial oversight and job guarantees. Ambrose turned to the issue of consecutive sentences and demanded that they remain in place. Trudeau reiterated his previous day’s response about supporting judges while doing the broad-based Criminal Code review. Ambrose asked again, and got the same answer, before she turned again to the lack of full-time job growth, and Trudeau retreated to his well-worn talking points about tax cuts and the Canada Child Benefits. Jenny Kwan led off for the NDP, railing about a massive immigration crackdown in the United States and and asked if the PM still thought the US was a safe country for refugees. Trudeau noted that the expectation of this government is to work well with the Americans. Matthew Dubé pressed about refugees heading for our border, and Trudeau noted that he was surprised that the NDP, who are concerned about the rights of workers, would look to jeopardize our economic relationship with the States. Dubé then asked about Canadians turned back from the US border and worried that the pre-clearance bill would make it worse. Trudeau reminded him that pre-clearance means that they still get Charter protections that they wouldn’t have on US soil. Jenny Kwan demanded that Trudeau stand up to the bully Trump on Pink Shirt Day, but Trudeau repeated his answer.

Continue reading

Roundup: Let’s not efface Langevin

A group of Indigenous MPs, along with the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, are calling on the government to rename the Langevin Block – the building that houses the PMO – because it is named after one of the architects of residential schools. And while I understand and respect their feelings on the matter, I would like to add that I think this would be a mistake. Why? Because the average Canadian doesn’t know who Hector-Louis Langevin was, and what his role in residential schools was (let alone that he was a Father of Confederation), so to further efface his name is actually a disservice to the spirit of reconciliation, which they say that this is a part of. What I would suggest instead are additions to the plaque explaining the building and the name, and for signage inside the building, to remind the denizens about the consequences of actions that may be have been well-intentioned at the time. And we have no reason to think that Langevin himself was especially malevolent, but was merely a product of his time. There was all manner of racist policies by the government because that was how they understood the world to be. It’s also a question of who’s next after Langevin? Sir John A Macdonald? I think that we would all be better off to confront Langevin’s legacy and to spell it out to people that what a party does in government can echo for generations and be completely devastating. It would be a reminder for all time that deeds and misdeeds have consequences. And the PMO being confronted with that on a daily basis would seem to me to do more for reconciliation than simply effacing the name and giving it something trite like the “Reconciliation Building” (as Calgary renamed their Langevin Bridge). Let’s teach history – not bury it, which removing the name would be.

Continue reading

QP: Queen’s Park and conspiracy theories

While Justin Trudeau was off in Strasbourg, the rest of the Commons was filtering in, ready for the grand inquest of the nation. Rona Ambrose led off, asking what half-dozen things that the government had in mind that they said could be fixed about NAFTA. Bill Morneau responded by giving some vague generalities, and said that they would talk NAFTA when it comes up. Ambrose worried that the US was cutting taxes and red tape, but Morneau assured her that our economy was still very competitive. Ambrose railed about “Kathleen Wynne’s failed policies” and carbon taxes, to which Catherine McKenna listed companies creating sustainable jobs. Denis Lebel was up next, and worried about how the dairy sector would be impacted by NAFTA renegotiations, to which Lawrence MacAulay assured him that they supported supply management. Lebel switched to English to demand if the government still supported supply management, and MacAulay assured him once again that yes, of course they did. Thomas Mulcair was up next, raising the refugee claimants crossing the border. Ahmed Hussen assured him that there was no material change on the ground. Mulcair switched to French to claim that there were smugglers near the border, and this time Marc Garneau responded in French that they were working with authorities to address the situation. Mulcair then changed topics to accusations that the Liberals were accepting larger than legal donations, at which point Karina Gould reminded him that all parties have instances of overages and all parties pay them back. Mulcair persisted, insisting that the Liberals broke the law, and Bardish Chagger got up to remind him that any questions asked by the Ethics Commissioner would be answered.

Continue reading

QP: Vague tax replies to disingenuous questions

While Justin Trudeau jetted off to Europe, other leaders were present for caucus day and most of the desks were full for QP. Rona Ambrose led off, worrying about the PM raising taxes while the Americans plan to lower them — a dubious premise at best. Bill Morneau responded by reminding her of tax cuts they made and the Canada Child Benefit to help families. Ambrose wanted an example of a fiscal policy changed with the dawn of the Trumpocalypse, and Morneau responded by talking about meetings they’ve had with American counterparts. Ambrose gave some vague concern about the deficit, to which Morneau noted the importance of making investments in the economy and the number of jobs created since. Ambrose decried the movement of the immigration case processing centre in Vegreville as an “attack on rural Canada,” to which Ahmed Hussen reiterated assurances that the relocation would allow for the creation of new jobs in the province. Ambrose noted that it would impact the entire town, but Hussen repeated his points. Thomas Mulcair was up next, decrying that the Liberals didn’t bring up Trump’s “hateful” policies on their trip and that they were doing nothing about things like people being turned away at the border, and Ralph Goodale stood up to assure the House that Mulcair was wrong, and that they were collecting data that could be used to deal with Homeland Security regarding these individual instances being reported at the border. When Mulcair asked again in French, Goodale retorted that repeating a falsehood didn’t make it true. Mulcair went back to English to raise that Muslim student turned away at the border but veered into ethics issues, and Chagger reminded him that the PM would answer all questions posed by the Ethics Commissioner. Mulcair wondered what their response would have been if Harper had been so accused, but Chagger didn’t change her answer.

Continue reading

QP: Programming opposite Trudeau-Trump

With Trudeau away at the White House, it was still surprisingly busy in the Commons with most of the desks filled, but not all of the leaders were present. Rona Ambrose led off with the case of Vincent Li, didn’t mention his schizophrenia, and worried about the government looking to end the bulk of mandatory minimum sentences. Jody Wilson-Raybould reminded her that the review boards determined when those found not criminally responsible were eligible for release and discharge when people were deemed not criminally responsible. Ambrose decried that Trudeau voted against Conservative legislation that would ensure that people like Li were locked up for life, but Wilson-Raybould didn’t take the bait, and spoke in generalities about the need for broader criminal justice reform. Ambrose then raised the issue of carbon taxes, claiming that they would lead to jobs flowing south, to which Scott Brison reminded her that while they have had positive job numbers, the global economy is sluggish and they were working to stimulate growth. Luc Berthold then rose for a pair of questions in French to demand that the government lower business taxes and cut carbon taxes. For his first question, François-Philippe Champagne reminded him of their focus on trade, and for his second, Brison repeated his previous response in French. Jenny Kwan led off for the NDP, demanding an end to the safe third country agreement, to which Ahmed Hussen told her that there was no evidence that the US travel ban was having an impact on the agreement. Hélène Laverdière pointed out the illegal border crossing happening, and Hussen repeated his point that the executive order had to do with resettled refugees, not claimants. Laverdière brought up the case of a Quebecker refused entry into the US, to which Dominic LeBlanc reminded her that the US has the sovereign power to decide who goes into their territory but people could bring up concerns with them. Jenny Kwan asked the same again in English, and got the same answer.

Continue reading

Roundup: Suggested cures for journalism

After six months of study and deliberation, Public Policy Forum came out with its report and recommendations on the state of media and democracy, and came up with a handful of recommendations for things like a tax credits, creative commons licensing, clear mandates for the CBC, the creation of a particular extension of The Canadian Press to cover local news like city halls and court cases in smaller communities, and most controversially, a $100 million fund to help legacy media, well, cope with the new digital environment. Many journalists pooh-poohed much of this, and turned up their noses at the notion of the fund, particularly if it were to be administered by government. Paul Wells summed everything up pretty well with this fairly brilliant column here. And Chris Selley made a few trenchant observations over the Twitter Machine.

(Note that for years, the GLBT Xtra chain – that I used to write for – subsidized their operations by running a phone dating service, and they more recently replaced that by running a hookup site).

I’m not going to pretend that I have any answers here, but I will express a bit of frustration with people who insist that if we just produce better journalism that people will want to pay for it again. Given the way that we have acclimatised people to getting it online for free (remember, newspapers used to do that as “advertising” their paper subscriptions) and this pervasive (and wrong) notion that “information wants to be free,” I think it’s more than just producing better journalism that people will want to pay for. It’s especially insulting when I see people like Paul Godfrey showing up on TV to say that when he’s one of the people who is hollowing out the very papers that he owns as he collects millions of dollars in bonuses. It’s hard to produce good journalism when you have no one to produce it, and those who are left are overloaded trying to do the work of three or four people.

The other thing that bothers me is when people say “look at how subscriptions went up in the States recently!” it’s also because they went through a batshit crazy election and are in the middle of an utter meltdown of their democratic institutions. That’s not happening here (though Trudeau’s popularity has prompted a few outlets, like the BBC, to hire a couple of journalists in Canada given the new interest here), and we are constantly dealing with the false notion that Canadian politics is boring, and that there’s no real stories here. Not to mention, we have a tenth of their population, so we’re dealing with an order of magnitude of difference when it comes to market as well.

So while I’m not sure I have any answers, “just do better” is more of a slap in the face than it is a solution to what is ailing the industry.

Continue reading