QP: Defence policy concerns

While Monday attendance is usual for the PM, he was nowhere to be seen today, instead meeting with Muslim leaders from around the country. Rona Ambrose led off, worried that the Trump administration would be able to see Canada’s defence policy before Canadians would. Harjit Sajjan said that because the policy was determined in consultation with allies, it made sense for them to see it first. Ambrose accused the PM of meeting with Americans in secret over it, and Sajjan reiterated that it was done with broad consultation and be fully costed. Ambrose turned to Wynn’s law, complaining that the government gutted it (despite the fact that the legal community was not in favour of the bill). Jody Wilson-Raybould said that they felt for Wynn’s widow and supported the principles of bail reform, but the bill didn’t pass muster. Ambrose accused her of looking out for the interests of lawyers instead of victims (as though it’s not lawyers navigating the new problems the bill would create), but Wilson-Raybould reiterated her response. Ambrose’s final question was to demand support for her bill on mandatory sexual assault training for judges. Wilson-Raybould was non-committal in her response, just talking about the importance of the issue. (Note that after QP, the government voted to ram the bill through without further debate). Matthew Dubé led for the NDP, worried about the possibility of tolls and service fees for projects funded out of the Infrastructure Bank. Amarjeet Sohi reminded him that they could leverage investment while freeing up government dollars for things like shelters and housing. Rachel Blaney railed about the risks associated with the investments, and Sohi noted pensions funds that invest in infrastructure in other countries, while they were trying to get those dollars to stay in Canada. Blaney then demanded guarantees for fair treatment at the US border (as if that will work for the Americans), and Ralph Goodale said that any incidents should be reported so that they had a statistical record but so far the figures were on the decline. Dubé reiterated in French, and Goodale told him to follow up on individual cases with his office.

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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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Roundup: MPs shouldn’t become social convenors

Sometimes when former politicians opine on their former profession, it can be insightful, and sometimes inspiring, but sometimes it can be gobsmackingly terrible. Former Ontario MPP and cabinet minister John Milloy ventures into the latter category with a piece in Policy Options on the “future of work” when it comes to parliamentarians. After Milloy correctly asserts that most parliamentarians don’t know their own job descriptions and that leaves them vulnerable to the machinations of unelected political staff, he veers off about how nobody trusts politicians anyway so their actual roles are becoming obsolete and hey, government is too slow to deal with policy in the modern world, so let’s turn our parliamentarians into social convenors.

No, seriously.

Apparently, the real drivers of change and action are service clubs, community groups and church organizations, so what parliamentarians should be doing is trying to bring those groups together to do stuff because they’re not community leaders anymore, so hey, they can be referees or coaches instead!

Head. Desk.

One would think that someone who used to be in elected politics like Milloy was would understand that the whole point of grassroots riding associations is to gather those kinds of voices around policy concerns, where they could help develop those into concrete proposals to bring to the party, or to communicate their concerns to the caucus (whether or not theirs is the elected MP in the riding). A properly run riding association has the hallmarks of service clubs or community groups because they provide both the social aspect around shared values, and work toward the care and feeding of political parties from the ground-up, the way that they’re supposed to. This is the kind of thing that we need to be encouraging if we want a properly functioning political system in this country. Instead, Milloy would see us let that atrophy and let outsiders shout from the side lines while the political staffers continue to consolidate power in the leaders’ offices. No, that’s not how politics are supposed to work. We can’t keep washing out hands of this and dismissing political organizations. Joining parties and getting involved is the way to make change happen, and as for MPs, we can’t just let this trend of self-made obsolesce go unchallenged. The “future of work” shouldn’t be irrelevance – it should be re-engaging with the system and actually doing their jobs. And shame on Milloy for abandoning his former profession to the wolves.

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QP: Taxing Canadians to death

While Justin Trudeau held a media availability earlier in the day, he was not in QP, despite there being nothing else on his agenda. Rona Ambrose led off to decry the carbon tax in the light of the Trumpocalypse and its promises of slashed taxes, and Jim Carr stood up to take the questions, praising the outcome of the meeting with the premiers on Friday. Ambrose insisted that there was no costing for said tax, and Carr reminded her that each province would determine their own system. After another round again on French, Ambrose turned to fundraising and said the PM “bragged” about people discussing government business at fundraisers. Bardish Chagger got to stand up to start the “rules” talking points. Ambrose asked again, and got the same answer. Alexandre Boulerice was up next to raise fundraising, asking in English (unusually for him). Chagger gave her usual points. Ruth Ellen Brosseau stood up to ask in French, and got the French version of Chagger’s speech. Brosseau switched to English to read some confusing question about fundraising and the MyDemocracy survey, but Chagger took this one for the same response. Boulerice, in French, railed about MyDemocracy, and Maryam Monsef stood up to praise it.

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Roundup: Real problems with Monsef’s committee

After a day of Twitter fights about the announcement on the electoral reform committee, let me say a couple of things. First of all, the moment anyone says they want to “make every vote count,” they immediately have lost the argument, and this includes the Prime Minister and minister saying this. Why? Because every vote already counts. No, it doesn’t mean that the person you voted for is going to win every time, but they’re not supposed to. If you believe otherwise, then you’re a sore loser. Whenever anyone brings up that the popular vote doesn’t match the proportion of the seats in the Commons, they are relying on a logical fallacy. The popular vote is not a real number because a general election is not a single event. It’s 338 separate but simultaneous events to elect members to fill each of the 338 seats, and together they form a parliament which determines who will form the government. We do not elect governments. If someone says we do, smack them. If someone gives a plaintive wail that the system isn’t fair, then they’re a sore loser trying to play on emotion, which isn’t actually how we should be making decisions. The fact that Maryam Monsef’s “five principles” for choosing a new system doesn’t mention accountability once is a giant problem, because that’s one of the key features of the current system – that we can punish incumbents and vote them out. Other systems can’t say the same, and we have European countries where parties just shuffle coalition partners and stay in power for decades. This is a problem. That the minister doesn’t seem to recognise that while she deals in emotion-laden words and saccharine emotion appeals is a problem. And it’s a problem that media outlets, in talking about other electoral systems, say nothing about the current system of its strengths. And after all of today’s Twitter fights, and appallingly ignorant statements made by the minister and other MPs on this issue, I’m going to reiterate a very important point that nobody is addressing – that the problem we’re facing is not that the current system doesn’t work, it’s that we have a crisis of civic literacy in Canada and people don’t know how the system works so they assume it’s broken because they buy into emotional arguments and sore loserism. That’s the problem that the minister should be tackling, not trying to upend a system that actually does work very well.

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Roundup: Mulcair’s political demise

Well, that was unexpected. After the NDP voted to adopt a resolution that would see them take the Leap Manifesto back to their riding associations for further discussion – much to the protests of their Alberta delegates – Thomas Mulcair took to the stage to give a lacklustre speech that was basically a rehash of his election speech for the past, oh, ten months, with the whole laundry list of applause lines and nothing about why he deserves to stay at the helm. And when the party voted, they voted 52 percent in favour of a leadership review. Mulcair indicated that he plans to stay on as interim leader until a new one can be chosen, which may be a process of up to two years, but we’ll see how long that lasts once the caucus and national council have had their deliberations. Suffice to say, there has been a tonne of reaction. Jen Gerson digs into the events a little more including some local reaction to the Leap Manifesto resolution adoption, while Jason Markusoff discusses that adoption on the Alberta NDP. Markusoff and John Geddes enumerate eleven signs that showed that Mulcair wasn’t going to win the review vote. Here are the five steps the party needs to take next regarding the leadership, and a look back at the results of leadership reviews in years past. CBC looks at some possible contenders for the leadership contest, while Don Braid advises Rachel Notley to divorce her party from the federal NDP. Chantal Hébert notes that the writing was on the wall for Mulcair from the start of the convention, while Michael Den Tandt says that the Leap Manifesto will sink the NDP permanently. Paul Wells delivers a tour de force with the questions that the party now has to grapple with as they choose that new leader, and the divides that future leader will have to straddle.

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QP: Bélanger presides for a moment

Today was the day that MP Mauril Bélanger was given the role of honorary Speaker, his plans to have run for the post cut short by his ALS diagnosis. Bélanger has since lost the ability to Speak, but thanks to modern technology, he has been using an iPad with a speech emulator, and it was this that allowed him to preside over the Commons after a slow procession to the Chamber. Bélanger oversaw some rather well-behaved (though still somewhat partisan) Members’ Statements, and the first couple of questions. Rona Ambrose led off and recalled the Ice Bucket Challenge, and asked the PM for research dollars for ALS. Justin Trudeau saluted Bélanger first, and urged Canadians to give time and support in finding a cure. Normally Ambrose would get four more questions, but instead Mulcair was up next, and asked about minority francophone rights — a passion of Bélanger’s. Trudeau paid tribute to Bélanger’s efforts over the year. Bélanger then made a statement of thanks through his voice emulator, before Speaker Regan resumed the chair, while the Chamber thundered applause.

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Roundup: A baffling public service pledge

In a bid to win over the public service vote in the Ottawa region, the NDP have pledged a “code of conduct” for ministers and their staff, as well as an end to cuts to the public service, a Public Appointments Commission to end patronage appointments, a restoration of collective bargaining rights, and putting an end to contract staff. Oh, and an end to muzzling “scientists and other public service employees.” And that sends off my alarm bells because it’s a massive reorientation of the role of the public service. While the NDP thinks that they’re trying to remove the politicization around the public service that has been developing, empowering public servants to speak against the governments that they are supposed to serve is mind-boggling. The issue of just what we’re muzzling in terms of scientists was thoroughly hashed out a few months ago when Andrew Leach went against the countervailing wisdom and challenged the “white coat” privilege that these kinds of pronouncements assume, that it’s all a bunch of benevolent climate scientists who can’t speak about their work. What it ignores is that there are other kinds of scientists – like economists in the Department of Finance – for whom this is not even a consideration. Just because it’s politically convenient to think that we want these white coats to denounce the government’s environmental policies, does that mean it should be okay for government economists to denounce fiscal policy? Or government lawyers to denounce the government’s justice policies? (It’s also why their candidate, Emilie Taman was denied a leave to run – the Public Prosecution Service was created to remove the perception of political bias from Crown prosecutions, and having one of your prosecutors running for office defeats that purpose). Public Servants serve the Queen and carry out their duties in a neutral fashion. Making it easier for them to start denouncing the government is a mystifying promise. Also, the promise to bar temps is short-sighted and makes it harder for young people to get civil service jobs. Those temp jobs are often the best way to get one’s foot in the door in the public service and get some experience that can translate into a job, considering how byzantine and nigh-impossible the outside competition process is if one wasn’t lucky enough to get bridged in through a school programme. Conversely, getting new staff in a timely manner or for a specific project is also a ridiculous process for managers. Banning temps makes no actual sense.

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Roundup: Let the equivocation begin

With three weeks left in the race, we’ve started seeing Thomas Mulcair start equivocating – or clarifying in any case – some of the policy planks he’s been running on. In many of those cases, it’s starting to make his promises look far less impressive. Take childcare – he is now talking about sitting down with provinces and using some of their existing spaces toward his “one million spaces” goal. One example was with Ontario, and the two years of full-day kindergarten offered in this province, so how does that get counted into with is childcare pledge, and the funding questions that go along with it? Add to that, with some 900,000 spaces already in existence across the country, does that mean that his plan will simply be to add another 100,000 spaces over the next eight years and make sure that they simply cap the fees at $15/day? Or is it still supposed to be a million new spaces? With his cap-and-trade announcement, he says that provinces can opt-out so long as they meet or exceed the federal objectives. But does that not then become essentially the Liberal position, where the provinces take the lead while the federal government establishes the targets? And didn’t he denounce that very notion? Mulcair has even started back-pedalling a little on his criticism of “useless” senators, saying it was only the institution he was denouncing (which, I’m sorry, is absolutely not what he said at the time). As crunch time approaches I’ll be interested to see how much more “clarifying” happens between the different parties, and how much of that clarifying goes against what they were saying the whole time.

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Roundup: F-35s flare up again

Talk of the F-35 fighters dominated the discussion yesterday, with Harper going full-bore on trying to say that Trudeau was living on some other planet if he thought that pulling out of the F-35 programme wouldn’t “crater” the country’s aerospace industry, while Mulcair – a vocal critic of the F-35s for years – suddenly said they should stay in the competition process. Of course, it sounds increasingly like Harper is trying to indicate the F-35s are the government’s choice all along no matter the procurement process that they’re going through right now with great fanfare, while Mulcair sounds increasingly like Harper – something Trudeau probably doesn’t mind. As a reality check, there are no contracts to tear-up, because we haven’t signed or committed to anything. As well, there is no guarantee that Canada pulling out of the F-35s would damage our industry because those companies supplying parts for the aircraft were chosen for quality, and because we paid into the development process, but didn’t commit to buying the full craft itself. Not to mention, any other plane we would go with (say, the Super Hornets) would have the likelihood of as many if not more regional industrial benefits. (And while we’re on the subject of reality checks, the Liberals apparently really bungled their costing figures for the F-35s in their own backgrounders). As for how you can have an open competition but exclude the F-35s? I don’t think that’s rocket science – it seems pretty clear to me that you simply add the specification to the procurement process that it needs to have more than one engine. That would rule out the F-35 pretty effectively, no? Suffice to say, it’s a lot of sound and fury, and plenty of flashbacks to the last election where this was an issue. Paul Wells writes more about it, and how it positions the leaders.

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