Yesterday being the UN International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, The Walrus had Robert Jago write a polemic about the sense of betrayal that some Canadian Indigenous people are feeling about the current Liberal government, which promised much but appears to have delivered little. While one could easily argue that much of the litany of complaints are cherry-picking examples and casting some of them in an uncharitable light – many of the promised changes haven’t happened yet because they are complex and systemic, which coupled with a slow-moving bureaucracy that resists change by its very nature, and that means that things take time, not to mention that consultations per Section 35 of the Constitution add time to the process, especially when the government is committing to rebuild many of them from the ground-up. While it’s all well and good to complain that they haven’t poured more money into the system, there are just as many valid reasons for pointing out that pouring money into a broken system is just as likely to exacerbate problems than it will to have any meaningful impact, and we have seen numerous instances of just that – adding money where there is no capacity to effectively spend it has added to burdens being faced by some of these communities.
This, however, wasn’t what bothered me about Jago’s piece, but rather, his recounting of his dipping his toe into the political process and then walking away from it. Buoyed by the soaring Trudeau rhetoric, Jago took out a party membership, tried to get involved, found the party too remote and unresponsive and quickly walked away from the convention he was supposed to attend. What irks me about this is that while I do understand that the disappointment-based disengagement is a Thing, and there is a whole Samara Canada study on the topic, is that this kind of narrative is self-justifying, and Jago goes on a tangent about resistance by refusing participation. Why I find it a problem is that change is difficult, and it generally requires a lot more organisation and agitation within the system than he seems to have offered.
The civics lessons that we’re not taught in this country should include the lesson that if you want to make change, you need to be involved in the process, which means taking out party memberships and organise, organise, organise. Because we’re not taught this, it’s allowed central party leadership, in every party, to amass a great deal of power that leaches power away from the grassroots, and a grassroots that doesn’t know any better doesn’t jealously guard that power. It’s why the Liberals voted overwhelmingly for a new party constitution that absolutely kneecapped the rights of the grassroots in that same convention that Jago refused to attend – because they no longer know their rights, and a slick leader managed to convince them to turn over that power to “modernise” things. And that’s why the party needs active and organised grassroots members to push back and reclaim that power. Walking away at the first sign of resistance just allows the central leadership to hold onto that ill-gotten power. It’s going to take time and a hell of a lot of organisation on the part of grassroots members if we want to start rebalancing the power in this country, but if everyone walks away at the first bit of disappointment, then the party leaders have already won.
Today’s special guest star for Senate Question Period was Health Minister Jane Philpott, whose birthday it also happened to be. Senator Ogilvie led off, and he raised the social affairs committee’s report on dementia, which the full Senate endorsed last night, and he wanted to know if she was aware of its contents. Philpott said that she has had a preliminary briefing on the report and she personally has experience with the file, given her own father suffers from it and she was looking to working on the file together.
It was the one day that the PM was going to be in QP for the week, this being a busy travel season, but not all leaders were in the room. Rona Ambrose first tried to note that Trudeau had not been present since November 2nd — and got chastised for it — and raised the latest fundraising story with a Chinese billionaire present. Trudeau noted that the previous government had a poor record for growth, and by the way, there was no conflict of interest at that fundraiser. When Ambrose tried to raise that said billionaire was connected with a bank seeking authorization, Trudeau noted that the previous government signed off on it, not his. Ambrose switched to the announcement about fighter jet replacements, and the process that the government just announced. Trudeau said that they were engaging in a full process but there was a capability gap. Ambrose tried another round but got the same answer. For her final question, Ambrose raised an Ontario court decision where a judge struck down a mandatory minimum sentence on child sex offence and if the government would ensure that those remained under mandatory sentences when they contemplate justice reform. Trudeau assured her that they respect the judiciary and would not politicize it. Alexandre Boulerice led off for the NDP, asking a pair of questions on that latest fundraising allegation, and Trudeau reminded him that $1500 was a level that everyone was comfortable with when it comes to financing without undue influence. Murray Rankin then rose on a pair of questions about the government not complying with a Human Rights Tribunal order on First Nations child welfare funding, to which Trudeau reminded him of their investments in Indigenous communities and they have a lot of work still to do.
Rona Ambrose complains about Trudeau's, as though Harper's attendance record was anything to be proud of. #QP
While Justin Trudeau returned from the APEC summit somewhere around 5:30 this morning, it was not a real surprise that he wasn’t present in QP as a result. Then again, none of the other major leaders were present either. Denis Lebel led off, railing about the lack of new trade agreements signed and wondered if the government would fumble other agreements. Chrystia Freeland assured him that they ensured that CETA got signed, and when Lebel repeated the question in English, Freeland didn’t stick to her notes, but reminded Lebel that it was her government that got CETA signed for real. Lebel tried to switch to softwood lumber, but Freeland stuck to chastising him about CETA. Gerry Ritz tried to move the topic to the TPP, but because he mentioned CETA, Freeland stuck to those points with a reminder that they were still consulting on TPP. Ritz tried to press on TPP, and Freeland reminded him that there was a two-year consultation period on TPP, which they were pursuing. Tracey Ramsey led off for the NDP, railing about the flaws in CETA, and Freeland hammered on the progressive credentials of the agreement and the fact that socialist governments in Europe supported it. Ramsey pounded on the effect that CETA would have on drug prices, but Freeland stuck to her points about CETA’s progressive credentials. Ruth Ellen Brosseau then rose on a pair of questions decrying the inadequate compensation for dairy producers under CETA, but Lawrence MacAulay assured her that they sat down with the producers and designed a programme based on that, and that they were protecting supply management.
With the funeral for Senate Speaker Nolin taking place at the same time in Montreal, there were no leaders present in the Commons save Elizabeth May, and ensuring that it was going to be a pretty miserable day. Peter Julian led off, returning to the issue of Mike Duffy’s residency upon appointment (never mind that the story he was quoted about Duffy’s own concerns was repudiated). Paul Calandra responded by bringing up the satellite offices, and added in the new allegations of union representatives using parliamentary resources. They went again for another round of the same, before Julian raised job losses in the auto sector. Joe Oliver, present for a change, praised their investments in the sector and the tens of thousands of jobs that they saved. Sadia Groguhé was up next, asking a pair of questions about manufacturing slowdowns in French, and Oliver repeated his answer about all of the help they’ve given. Joyce Murray led off for the Liberals, raising the Deshcamps Report on sexual misconduct in the military. James Bezan responded that the culture was unacceptable, and they accepted the recommendations and were putting in place an Action Plan™. Murray listed off more of the horrors in the report, and wondered why no money was in the budget to address the issue. Bezan insisted that they were taking action. David McGuinty read more of the allegations in French, and accused the government of abandoning those victims. Bezan said that they were addressing the problems and would change the culture.
The first day back from the Easter break, and the day before the budget, and attendance was pretty depressed, and none of the major leaders were present. Megan Leslie led off, demanding the government table a budget that helps families. Kevin Sorensen said she’d have to wait for tomorrow to get the details, but they were going to fulfil their provinces including tax breaks for families. Leslie insisted regular Canadians would face cuts, but Sorenson was not deterred from his good news talking points. Leslie then changed topics to the constitutionality of Mike Duffy’s Senate appointment, to which Paul Calandra reminded the NDP of their satellite offices and demanded they repay them. Peter Julian repeated the question in French, got much the same response, and for his final question, Peter Julian decried cuts to marine safety as demonstrated by the fuel leak in English Bay. Lisa Raitt responded by commending the Coast Guard on their actions, and reminded them that the ship transiting Canadian waters who is solely responsible for their pollution. Scott Brison led for the Liberals, decrying the planned balanced budget legislation, and asked the government to make the law retroactive to repay the five percent penalty for the years that we weren’t in recession. Sorenson praised balanced budgets, and didn’t take Brison’s bait. Brison then decried the doubling of the TFSA limit as helping only the wealthy, and Sorenson responded with some non sequitur past quote of Brison. Brison wanted more help for students instead of advertising (Poilievre: You would raise taxes on students).
The next election marker has been set, which is the budget date – April 21st, shortly after MPs return from the Easter break. Joe Oliver says it’ll be balanced, but the real trick will be finding out how he did it, either by raiding the contingency reserve, or cutting a programme somewhere, or delaying some kind of capital expenditure, quite possibly from a military procurement project that is bogged down in a lengthy and probably broken procurement process. Their marquee spending plan, their family tax package including income splitting, has already been introduced as a standalone piece of legislation, inexplicably, unless you look at it through the lens that they want to see the spectacle of the opposition parties voting against it because of the income splitting portion of the bill. They’ve already been mindlessly parroting the talking points about these tax measures, which will supposedly not only help parents with childcare (not really) but also provide just the kind of economic stimulus the country needs (err, childcare?) and do whatever else the question asked of the government was. It’s not that it matters, because they want to set up the narrative that the opposition parties will rip the money out of the wallets of parents if they get to power, which is why the government deliberate set up that this programme would give those parents a lump sum cheque in the middle of summer – so that it’s in their wallets closer to the election so that their warnings resonate, never mind that the warnings aren’t true either – both opposition parties have stated that they won’t touch the enhanced benefits, just income splitting, which most households won’t see any real difference from anyway . It’s not that they haven’t abandoned their other talking points either – Greg Rickford was just in Calgary giving fabulist tales of the kind of carbon scheme that Justin Trudeau would introduce, never mind that it has no grounding in reality. It’s not just that they repeat these fictions endlessly, but that they are now non sequitur answers to any question put to them. We’ve apparently reached the stage in our political evolution where Conservative MPs have become these dolls with pull-strings that will play you one of a small number of randomly selected phrases. And if this is what we’re going to be subjected to for the next six months, I may yet go insane before then.
Caucus Day, and the only other day of the week when we can expect all party leaders to show up — because they’re showing how much Parliament matters. Thomas Mulcair led off, asking where the budget was, to which Stephen Harper read off a laundry list of measures they have already brought forward. Mulcair noted job losses, to which Harper decried NDP tax hikes. Mulcair brought up the Governor of the Bank of Canada’s statement about the state of the economy being “atrocious,” but Harper kept up his same line of answers. Mulcair noted that the costs of our military missions being classified in budget documents, but Harper ignored it and touted their family tax cuts. Mulcair then brought up Jason Kenney’s misleading statements about smart bombs, and Harper again claimed the NDP would take away the family tax cuts, before decrying how awful ISIS is. Justin Trudeau was up next, and noted unemployment figures and demanded a real plan. Harper responded by claiming that the Liberals would also take away the family tax credits. Trudeau gave a jab about spending taxpayer dollars for benefit gain, to which Harper gave a bog standard “$40 million dollars” response before he again claimed the Liberals would take away programmes from Canadians. For his final question, Trudeau asked about partisan advertising, before making a dig another the absent Liberal party platform.
It being Tuesday, the leaders were all present and ready to go, because apparently it only counts two days a week now. Thomas Mulcair led off, asking about the new numbers from StatsCan that showed that GDP shrank ever so slightly last month. Stephen Harper touted his family tax cut legislation instead. Mulcair demanded a budget, but Harper demurred. Mulcair decried “all of the eggs” in the oil basket — actually not true — and continued his demand for a budget, but Harper kept insisting that they are continuing their Economic Action Plan™ and that it was working. Mulcair then moved onto this morning’s PBO report that said that families with older kids and those without kids in childcare will be getting more benefits than those with kids in childcare. Harper first insisted that the NDP wanted to raise taxes, and then insisted that all families would get an increase in after-tax benefits. Mulcair decried those families with kids in childcare being punished, but Harper repeated his answer. Justin Trudeau was up next, and he returned to the reports of negative growth in three months of the past six, and wondered when the government would come up with a plan to get the economy moving. Harper responded with a laundry list of their recent announcements, and insisted that the Liberals only wanted to raise taxes. Trudeau noted that giving a tax break to the rich wouldn’t help, but Harper insisted that forecasts still showed growth, and wanted support for their family tax break bill. Trudeau asked again in French, and Harper repeated his answer in French.
Tuesday in the Commons, and all of the leaders were present. Apparently Mondays don’t count. Thomas Mulcair led off asking about Mohamed Fahmy and demanded that the Prime Minister contact the Egyptian President directly. Stephen Harper responded by saying that they have raised it at all levels, including his own, and that they would continue to press the case. Mulcair said that it wasn’t a clear answer, and asked it again. Harper repeated the substance of his answer, and and dead his disappointment in the lack of progress. Mulcair moved onto C-51, to which Harper dismissed the criticisms as “ridiculous.” Mulcair then asked if Harper felt that SIRC was adequate oversight when even SIRC’s members indicated otherwise. Harper expressed dismay that Mulcair compared Canada’s human rights record to Egypt’s, and read a passage about judicial authorization — nothing to do with the question. Mulcair then changed topics to ask about a backbencher’s musing about using the Notwithstanding Clause on the doctor-assisted dying issue. Harper said he respects the decision of the courts, and was listening to Canadians. Justin Trudeau was up for the Liberals, and wondered if they would support their supply day motion on creating a special committee to study the issue. Harper said that it was a delicate issue and threw it to the Commons justice committee to study it if they wish. Trudeau noted the time crunch, to which Harper repeated that it was a non-partisan issue and repeated his previous answer. Trudeau noted that Harper hadn’t actually answered on the Notwithstanding Clause question, and asked again — not that he got a different answer.