QP: Concern about summer vacations

The day was not as hot as yesterday, but tempers were indeed starting to fray in the House of Commons with the threat of procedural shenanigans hanging in the air. Andrew Scheer led off, saying that the PM was eager to get away for summer vacation but lo, there were all kinds of new taxes. Trudeau noted that his summer vacation plans included touring the various federal parks around the country, which were all free, and oh, he lowered taxes on the middle class. Scheer then switched to French to demand a publicly accessible sex offender registry, to which Trudeau noted the existing system worked just fine. Scheer tried again in English, and got the same answer. Scheer turned to the Norsat sale in French, and Trudeau assured him that they listened to their national security agencies and allies. They went another round of the same in English, before Thomas Mulcair got up to ask the same question in English. Trudeau reiterated his response, and Mulcair insisted the answer was “demonstrably false.” Mulcair hammered away in French, but Trudeau stuck to his points about due diligence. Mulcair then demanded the government adopt the NDP’s proposed nomination process for officers of parliament, but Trudeau insisted that they already adopted a new process that got more meritorious diverse appointments. Mulcair tried again in French, but got the same response.

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Roundup: The looming retirement of the Chief Justice

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin announced yesterday that she would be retiring on December 15th, a few months in advance of her mandatory retirement date, in order to give the government enough time to find a suitable replacement. Why that date is significant is because it will be at the end of the Court’s fall sitting, letting her use the next six months that she is able to clear off the files from her desk and work on any outstanding judgments rather than depart mid-sitting and the organizational chaos that would follow.

The next steps are now an important consideration. The government will not only have to name a new Chief Justice, but a new judge from Western Canada (and likely BC given that’s where McLachlin was appointed from). And in order to keep gender balance on the court it will likely have to be a woman, and in accordance with this government’s push for diversity, it will likely be a person of colour, if not someone Indigenous (and let us not forget that said person must also be fluently bilingual, which is another self-imposed criteria that this government has made for itself). This may be easier to find in BC than it was in Atlantic Canada, mind you. And for Chief Justice? My money is on Justice Richard Wagner, whom I know many close the court have already tapped as being the successor if they had their druthers.

Of course, we’ll see if this government can get an appointment process back up and running within the six months. Experience has shown us that they seem to have difficulty with that, especially as there are still some sixty or so federally appointed judicial vacancies still remaining around the country, and a few of the Judicial Advisory Committees charged with finding candidates for said vacancies still not fully appointed either, which is a problem. Of course, they may be able to largely reconstitute the committee that oversaw the nomination of Justice Rowe, with Kim Campbell again in charge of the process, but I guess we’ll see how long that takes.

For more reaction, here’s Emmett Macfarlane on As It Happens and in the Ottawa Citizen, and Carissima Mathen on Power Play.

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Roundup: Constituent consultation

In another instance of MPs breaking ranks, Conservative MP Scott Reid bucked the party by opting to vote to send the marijuana legalization bill to committee on second reading. Reid notes that he has favoured legalization since 2000, and it also didn’t escape anyone’s notice that his riding is home to a major medical marijuana factory which is also looking to scale up for the recreational market.

Of course, Reid is putting this with conditions, which is that he wants amendments to the bill at committee, which includes raising the legal age to 21 (because that will totally help kill the black market), and allowing communities to maintain their own prohibitions (again, good luck with the black market). More interestingly is the fact that Reid is promising a “constituency referendum” on whether or not he should vote for the bill at third reading.

It’s this referendum that I have questions about, but Reid points out in his statement that he has done this thrice before, so I’m not sure by what method he did (phone poll? Online voting?) and it’s more indicative of the Reform Party era where this sort of thing was promised a lot, and then rapidly fell into disuse because it’s not easy to organize, especially on a consistent basis with the volume of legislation that can pass through the Commons in any given session. Nevertheless, it’s novel and likely riddled with problems, and I’m not sure I would want to see MPs doing it on a regular basis because part of why we elect them in the way we do is for their judgment in a representative democracy. But…it’s novel.

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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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