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 two days of arguments at Federal Court, the judge there will deliberate on whether he should be providing clarity to the mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer – and no, it’s not a cut-and-dried question. As lawyers for the Speaker asserted, it is a matter for Parliament to decide upon – and remember, Parliament is actually the highest court of the land – and Parliamentarians should not be going to the courts every time the government doesn’t turn over its numbers. And while Page’s request for clarity was just that – clarity – there are some inescapable and fundamental issues at the heart of the matter, and that is that MPs themselves have abdicated their role as guardians of the public purse. While journalists and the public hail Page as being a hero, what’s missing is that he has been saddled with the role of “watchdog” because MPs have decided they’d rather have him do their homework for them, because math is hard, and they can then invoke the magical talisman that is his independence to prove that the government is in the wrong with its numbers. That Thomas Mulcair sent along his own lawyer as an interested party is part of what muddies this issue and makes it look partisan – because Mulcair and company want Page and his successors to do the dirty work for them. This is not really an issue about the government arguing against the fiscal oversight position that they created, but about Parliament itself, and whether or not MPs on both sides of the aisle can take their own jobs seriously. That they are placing all of the emphasis on Page and his office to do their work for them is an indictment that they continue to refuse to.
Tuesday before Budget Day, and all leaders were in the House. Thomas Mulcair started off QP by reading off questions about cracking down on tax havens, but Stephen Harper was eager to continue needling him about his trip to Washington, and how he apparently undermined the economy. For this second supplemental, Mulcair read a pair of questions about reversals in fiscal policy, not that Harper let up on his attack against Mulcair’s position on Keystone XL. For his final question, Mulcair asked about Peter Penashue’s resignation, to which Harper assured him that Penashue did the right thing and that he was the best MP from Labrador in the history of ever. Bob Rae carried on that line of questioning — off the cuff and without scripts, mind you — not that Harper’s answer was any different.
Interrupting a day of debate on wanton constitutional vandalism, QP started off with Thomas Mulcair reading off a question about EI auditors “shadowing” claimants, to which Harper responded with some bog-standard response about EI being there when they need it. Mulcair then moved onto a question about Flaherty’s back-and-forth policy changes without consultation, and treated the Peter DeVries and Scott Clark article as though they were still currently employed by the department. Harper sang Flaherty’s praises in response. Mulcair carried on, citing Flaherty’s breach of ethics over the CRTC letter, not that Harper’s vigorous praises were diminished any less. Chris Charlton finished off the leader’s round, asking about EI training funds, but Jim Flaherty assured her that they consulted broadly on the budget. Bob Rae was up next, keeping up the issue of the EI training funds, but Harper touted just how transparent his government is as a non-sequitur response. Rae then brought up Dr. Arthur Porter’s party donations while he was SIRC chair, and wondered how he managed to escape a security clearance. Harper insisted that none of the allegations against Porter had to do with his time at SIRC — skirting the issue of donations. For his final question, Rae wondered why there wasn’t an inquiry into Jeffrey Delisle’s security breaches, but Harper told him that they’re not unique to Canada, and brought up the Bradley Manning case in the States.
It’s time to look at the absenteeism rates over in the Senate once more, and Senator Romeo Dallaire currently has the highest rate, largely because he’s doing research at Dalhousie on child soldiers and advising the UN – things he’s not declaring as Senate business and isn’t claiming expenses or time on. The promised review of absenteeism rules is still ongoing, but has become a bit of a backburner issue with the other things going on at the moment. And no, you can’t actually find out what the absenteeism rates of MPs are, because they don’t make that data available, whereas the Senate does (even if you do have to head to an office building during business hours to find out). As for the allegations of misspending, there are suggestions that they turn the investigation over to the Auditor General because it may be too much for the three-member committee to handle – though I know there has been reluctance to have the AG look at their expenses because he reports to them. Oh, and Senator Wallin’s travel claims are now being added to the list of things to be checked by the outside auditor – even though Harper himself asserted that her travel claims are not out of line, which he has not done for Senator Duffy.
A couple of different reports on military procurement came out yesterday. One of them, from the Commons public accounts committee, which looked into the F-35 procurement reports by the Auditor General and PBO, completely watered down the findings so as to tone down the criticism of the government’s handling of the file. So, good job there in holding the executive to account, government backbenchers! Meanwhile, an independent panel report recommended that Canadian companies take the lead with building from scratch or taking the major role with follow-on support contracts for the various military procurements being undertaken, though Rona Ambrose noted during QP that the government was better suited to be a customer of Canadian industries than a subsidizer, so take that for what you will.
With all party leaders back in the House today, things got started with Thomas Mulcair reading a screed about the “corruption” in the Senate, to which Harper rejected the categorisation and noted how quickly they responded to the allegations. Mulcair moved onto the “fraud” of the Saskatchewan push-polls, earning him a warning from the Speaker about QP being for government business, not party business, but Harper responded anyway, talking about how everyone had a right to give input to the electoral boundaries process. For his final question, Mulcair asked about job creation, giving Harper a chance to tout his record. Peggy Nash was up next, asking about long-term unemployment and changes to EI, for which Jim Flaherty gave a rundown of their job creation numbers with a tone of exasperation. Bob Rae was up next for the Liberals, and taking up the theme of Bell’s Let’s Talk day about mental health, and wondered why recommendations by the Mental Health Commission. Harper reminded him that they set up the commission, and that they were looking to their recommendations going forward. For his final question, Rae asked about a parliamentary inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women, but Harper
In a shocking revelation yesterday, the government, by way of Rob Nicholson, announced that it got something wrong, and it was smothering one of its own bills in the crib. That bill, of course, was C-30, the lawful access or Internet surveillance bill – which I guess means that this government is also on the side of the child pornographers. But more seriously, enough pressure was brought to bear, and they realised that they had a problem, and that it was untenable to continue. Of course, we can also be certain that the NDP will claim responsibility for this victor in QP tomorrow, but that’s another story. Moving forward, the government has tabled a bill to allow warrantless phone tapping for emergency situations like kidnapping or bomb threats, which sounds a lot less contentious, but we’ll see if it too passes constitutional muster.
Monday afternoon, and the Chamber was still a bit sleepy after the weekend. Only one leader was in the House today, being Thomas Mulcair, and he began things by reading off a litany of condemnations against Senators Brazeau and Duffy, and demanded the whole institution be abolished — because a) that’s helpful, and b) two or three bad apples out of 105 detracts from the good work of the rest of the Senate, including when they pick up the ball when MPs drop it, as with the sports betting and royal succession bills. James Moore, the designated back-up PM du jour, assured him that the Senate’s Internal Economy Board was investigating these senators. For his final question, Mulcair read a question about EI reforms, to which Moore assured him that the reforms were helping get people working. Peggy Nash was up next and said that it was false that there was no mechanism to extend Kevin Page’s term as PBO, pointing to his term being renewable. Tony Clement said that there was a process in place to find his replacement. (On a related note, the PBO is not the only accountability mechanism available — it just happens that accountability is the actual role of MPs). Ralph Goodale was up for the Liberals, warning of a weakening economy while everyone was worrying about other distraction issues, and wanted the budget tabled by the end of February. In response, Moore read off a number of good news talking points. Stéphane Dion was up last, and demanded that the government undo its “job-killing” EI reforms.
CIDA is funding a homophobic Christian group to do work in Uganda – you know, a country that Harper and Baird have called out for their government-sponsored anti-gay legislation, and one of the reasons why Uganda is no longer part of the Commonwealth? I have to wonder what John Baird thinks of this, considering how much he’s touted gay rights as part of Canada’s foreign policy – much to his credit. I can’t imagine he’ll be happy, but I also don’t imagine that anyone will take the blame except for the bureaucrats who “made the decision” when this gets brought up in QP today.
Senator Mike Duffy’s “neighbours” in PEI say that they never see him, and cast doubt on some of his other claims, like how much he’d allegedly spent in converting his cottage there into a year-round residence. Just to keep that particular story of residency requirements going (seeing as it could mean his removal from the job).