QP: Justice delay bafflegab

With the PM still in France, most of the other leaders didn’t bother showing up either today, which places more doubt in their howling insistence that the QP is so important that the PM should be there daily. But I digress… Denis Lebel led off, asking about an accused murderer released based on the Jordan decision fallout. Jody Wilson-Raybould insisted that they had taken steps to ensure that there was a transparent, merit-based process, and more judges would be appointed soon. Lebel moved onto softwood lumber and the lack of progress — never mind that there is no trade representative appointed in the States — and François-Philippe Champagne insisted that they were working the provinces and working to engage the Americans. Lebel pivoted to the question of Syria and doing something about Assad, and Champagne said that Assad must be held accountable for his war crimes and Canada was committed to humanitarian assistance, refugee resettlement, and ensuring a peaceful Syria. Candice Bergen picked it up in English, accused the government of shifting positions, and wondered how hey planned to institute regime change. Champagne repeated his response in English, never quite answering the regime change question. Bergen then moved onto the Standing Orders, demanding any changes be made by consensus. Chagger gave a bland response about the necessity to have a serious conversation. Thomas Mulcair was up next, and wondered how many court cases had been thrown out because of delays. Wilson-Raybould reiterated her plan to appoint new judges, but didn’t answer the question. Mulcair asked why the delays in French, and Wilson-Raybould said that she was meeting with provinces to discuss the issues of delays in order to find a coordinated approach to tackling them. Mulcair moved onto problems with the military justice system, and Navdeep Bains responded that they were planning to work on ensuring reforms to that system. Mulcair sniped that Bains answered, then moved onto veterans’ pensions, and Ralph Goodale asserted that they would have an announcement later this year.

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Roundup: Dealing with problematic senators

While the focus one on one senator’s words regarding residential schools yesterday, a bombshell dropped late in the day with the Senate Ethics Officer’s report into allegations that Senator Don Meredith had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl, and that will no doubt fill the airwaves tomorrow. But while everyone is baying for blood, let me offer a few bits of context.

First, with Senator Beyak and her remarkably clueless statements about residential schools, no, the government cannot ask for her resignation as the NDP are demanding they do. The Senate has institutional independence in order to act as a check on government, so they are powerless. As for the demands that the Conservatives kick her out of caucus, that might do more harm than good because at least within a caucus, she can be managed and hopefully do less harm, and perhaps guided into some education on the subject rather than simply cutting her loose and empowering her to keep making this an issue. And while I think her statement is odious, I also don’t think she meant malice by it, but rather that she is utterly clueless by virtue of framing the issue entirely through her Christianity, and that’s a world view that she’s entitled to hold, no matter what we may think of it. (And seriously, don’t make her a martyr for her religious beliefs). So while I get that there are a lot of people who want to perform outrage and demand her head, I think everyone needs to calm down a little and think through what they’re demanding.

As for Meredith, the report now goes to the Senate ethics committee, but given that the Senate isn’t sitting for the next two weeks, we’ll have to be patient. There are already demands that he be removed, but without a criminal conviction, that’s very difficult to do, and the police opted not to charge him for this (possibly because the complainant stopped cooperating with the police, but I’m not 100 percent sure on that fact, so take it with a grain of salt). With the Ethics Officer’s report, however, one could hope that the police could reopen their investigation. That said, removing a sitting senator without a criminal conviction is almost impossible. There is the possibility that the Senate could vote unanimously to declare his seat vacant, but it’ll be a high bar for other senators to reach that point, because they’re going to want to ensure that he gets due process (which Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were not necessarily given at the time of their expulsion). But one can be sure that the Senate will want to take their time and deliberate on this one, so while it’s possible that we’ll see a suspension motion when they return, it could be a while before they decide on how to deal with him on a longer-term or permanent basis.

And barring that, maybe the Senate needs to consider a policy of phasing out certain senators…

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Roundup: A mystifying new delay

It yet another attempt to throw a spanner into the workings of the legislative process trying to bring genetic privacy legislation to fruition in this country, the government has decided to hold yet more consultations while they simultaneously are attempting to gut the bill at report stage, despite the objections of the Senate (which passed the bill originally) and the Commons justice committee, which studied the bill, heard from witnesses, and gave it an all-clear.

Jody Wilson-Raybould is suddenly brandishing letters from three provinces who have “concerns” about the constitutionality of the bill, despite the fact that they never objected in the years – and I will stress years – that this bill has been wending its way through parliament, both in the previous parliament and the current one. Seven provinces indicated support, and there are legal and constitutional scholars that have testified that the mechanisms in the bill are perfectly sound and within federal jurisdiction. None of this should be in dispute, but for as much as the government professes to care about this issue, the fact that they are quick to try and gut the bill and leave it up for a patchwork of provincial laws for the insurance component of genetic discrimination – which is a very big issue – it’s mystifying. I have heard grumblings that the only kinds of bills that they favour are their own, which I get, but at the same time, this is a piece of legislation that has already withstood a great deal of scrutiny and is something that is critically needed, as we are the only western country that doesn’t have these kinds of protections. With any luck, the Liberal backbenchers are going to push back on the attempts to gut the bill and it can move ahead, but right now, the constant delay is lacking coherence.

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Roundup: How to dissect a handshake

So, the Justin Trudeau-Donald Trump meeting happened, and we got our expected blanket coverage, starting with the handshakes. And how they were endlessly dissected, and made memeable.

Trudeau and Trump then had a “working luncheon” with female business leaders, Trudeau having ostensibly recruited Trump’s daughter Ivanka to the cause. Around that time, Trudeau gave Trump a gift of a photo of his father having met Trump in 1981, while Trump said that he admired the elder Trudeau, though how well he actually knew Pierre Trudeau is somewhat in dispute. (and it’s exactly the kind of photo that would appeal to Trump’s vanity).

Later, during the press conference, there were two takeaways – that Trudeau wasn’t going to lecture Trump on how to run his own affairs, and that Trump felt they were only going to “tweak” NAFTA as far as Canada is concerned. Also, no talks of walls, and hints that maybe we’ll be exempt from “Buy American” provisions, while any talk of the climate change file was done in coded language.  Trudeau later met with the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader before heading home, reminding each of the importance of trade with Canada in case they got swept up in any talk of border taxes or the like. Oh, and we’re being told that Sarah Palin won’t be named ambassador to Canada, so you can exhale now.

In commentary, we have Chantal Hébert considers it a first date that went well, while John Ivision asserts that flattery got Trudeau everything he needed out of Trump. Carl Meyer wonders how different things are in the Trumpocalypse from our own Harper years, pointing to the number of parallels. Paul Wells demonstrates how Trudeau used the photo of his father and the meeting with Ivanka to play into Trump’s particular instincts in order to gain the “insider” status that he needs to effectively deal with him.

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Roundup: Tough on the mentally ill

Yesterday, news came out that Vincent Li (now known as Will Baker) was given an absolute discharge; he of course was the man who beheaded someone on a Greyhound bus in 2008 while in the midst of a psychotic episode due to undiagnosed schizophrenia. He was later deemed not criminally responsible because, as stated, he was not in his right mind when the incident happened, and has since received treatment and is unlikely to reoffend. And predictably, social media lit up with outrage, particularly from the Conservatives who declared this an absolute travesty and an insult to the family of Li’s victim, Tim McLean, and how this “proved” that our justice system cared more about the rights of criminals than it did the victims. Rona Ambrose brought this up in QP a few days ago, when Li’s release was pending, and not once did she mention the fact that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was found not criminally responsible. (In his response, Justin Trudeau didn’t either, for the record).

But here’s the really galling part. Just days ago, Ambrose and many of these very same Conservatives were all over social media for #BellLetsTalk Day, talking about how important it is to take away the stigma of mental illness. And now here’s Li, who is as much a victim in this as McLean was because he was mentally ill, and the Conservatives are considering him to be an unrepentant murderer because of his mental illness.

So what is it? Are you serious about having adult conversations about mental illness, even when it’s inconvenient to your political agenda of being “tough on crime” (never mind that the courts established that he wasn’t criminally responsible because he was mentally ill)? Or are you going to insist that people who were mentally ill and have received treatment remain locked up in perpetuity, thus “proving” why people with mental illnesses should be stigmatized and marginalized from society? Because it’s one or the other. You’re all looking like a bunch of hypocrites right now, and like you were lying to the Canadian public when you wanted to #BellLetsTalk about mental illness.

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Roundup: The measure of a political promise

There’s been a lot of hay made, ink spilled and electrons converted into pixels over the last 36 hours or so about the value of political promises, and how terrible it is when politicians break them. It makes people so cynical, and it’s no wonder that people hate politicians, and so on. We had Liberal MPs Nate Erskine-Smith and Adam Vaughan prostrating themselves about how sorry they are that the promise was broken, voter reform groups wailing about how terribly they’ve been betrayed, and columnists pontificated on broken promises (though do read Selley’s piece because he offers some great advice, not the least of which is telling PR advocates to tone down the crazy. Because seriously).

But in the midst of this, we had Conservative leadership candidates laying out a bunch of promises of what they would do if they a) won the leadership, and b) won the next general election, and some of those promises were hilariously terrible. For example, Maxime Bernier thinks it’s cool to freeze equalization payments so that the federal government can tell provinces how they should be managing their own fiscal houses, or Andrew Scheer saying that he would enshrine property rights by using a novel approach to amending the constitution through the back door, as though the Supreme Court of Canada would actually let that pass.

And while everyone was tearing their hair out over Trudeau’s “betrayal” and “lies,” what were these two other, equally implausible promises as Trudeau’s on electoral reform, met with? A few pundits tweeted “good luck with that” to Scheer. And that was about it. So forgive me while I try to calibrate my outrage meter on political promises here, as to which ones we should take seriously and which ones we know are bad or wholly improbable but can safely laugh off.

To be clear – I’m not looking to give Trudeau a free pass on this one, and I’ve written elsewhere that I think he needs to own up to the fact that it was a bad promise made when he was a third-place party who were blue-skying a number of things. And I think that it should give parties and candidates pause so as to caution them against being overly ambitious in what they promise (preferably, though, without draining all ambition out of politics). But come on. Let’s have a sense of proportion to what just happened here.

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Roundup: Postcards for values

Yesterday the National Post reported that the government is planning on sending a postcard to every household in the nation and asking them to head to a website to answer questions about their democratic values. Immediately the Twitter-verse went into full-snark mode, wondering why the government would do this rather than hold a referendum, and wondering at the cost of such an exercise, but there were a few phrases that struck me as I read it, and that goes back to the fact that they’re asking Canadians what values they’re looking for in their voting system as opposed to asking them to choose a system. Why does that matter? Because it basically allows the government to justify whatever decision they end up making by selling it as living up to the greatest number of the “values” they got feedback on. And when the committee report comes back a deadlock with several dissenting reports (as it inevitably will), the government will be further empowered to finally suffocate the whole ill-fated enterprise and list all of the ways the current system conforms to the majority of the “values” that they polled Canadians on, and lo, we shall never speak of this again. Or something like that.

Meanwhile, PEI had their plebiscite on electoral reform and with a stunningly low voter turnout of 36 percent even with several days of voting, lowering the age to 16, and giving people a myriad of options to vote including online, it came down to several preferential rounds where Mixed-Member Proportional won a very narrow 52 percent win. This again translated into two very different sets of reactions – elation from the PR crowd for whom this validates their crusading on the topic, never mind that the mandate for said system is really, really weak (between the low turnout and the fact that it took several drop-off rounds to get that bare majority vote), or the fact that the plebiscite was by definition non-binding and there is more than enough opportunity for the government to get out of it (and really, I’m not sure that such a low vote is mandate enough to make such an important change). The other reaction was a sense of somewhat smugness from proponents of a referendum on electoral reform at the federal level, basically telling their opponents (who insist that such a referendum would favour the status quo) that they’re wrong. But if you think about it, such a low turnout and the fact that MMP barely squeaked past may indeed be an indication that there was more of a desire for the status quo than is being acknowledged. Nevertheless, both groups are going to be insufferable for days to come.

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Roundup: Walking out on Wallonia

Talks to save the Canada-EU trade agreement broke down yesterday, and after more than two days of direct talks, trade minister Chrystia Freeland walked out of the meeting and basically declared that it was now impossible for the EU to come to an international trade deal. And really, this was about the Walloons in Belgium who weren’t letting this go through. Wallonia’s president tried to sound an optimistic tone, and said that “difficulties remain” around largely the investor-state dispute resolution mechanism and wanted Justin Trudeau to hold off on his planned trip to Europe next week to finalize the deal so that the Walloons could have more time.

While Freeland said she was ready to get back on a plane and go home to see her kids, it looks like the EU president managed to keep her around for more talks, which may have been the whole point of Freeland’s exit – so that the rest of the EU could pressure Wallonia to come to their senses. While Belgium’s ambassador to Canada also said that the deal wasn’t dead, we did see some of the usual suspects line up to applaud the potential demise of the agreement, like Elizabeth May, the NDP, and the Council of Canadians.

Throughout this, however, I will admit to more than a little distaste at the snide tone of the Conservatives throughout all of this. In QP yesterday, Candice Bergen laid this at the feet of Freeland personally and declared that she would have to “wear it.” Gerry Ritz said that Freeland should have “rolled up her sleeves” and stayed at the table (which she had already been doing), and Rona Ambrose demanded that Justin Trudeau get on a plane and smooth this over himself. And there is this overall tone that the deal had been “gift wrapped” for the Liberals (after Harper had already done two symbolic signings of the agreement before it had been ratified), which is specious and facile. The Liberals have countered that the deal was essentially dead before Freeland resurrected it, largely through reopening some of the negotiations and through declaratory statements to clarify the language in the provisions of the deal, so it’s not like they didn’t do nothing. Quite the opposite, in fact. And one fails to see how it’s Freeland’s fault when pretty much everyone agrees that this is now an internal EU matter that Canada really can’t do anything about. Then again, the Conservative message around other trade deals like softwood lumber are equally fantastical (how they could have forced the Americans to come to an agreement when they clearly aren’t interested is beyond me, and there was a lot of unhappiness with the deal they signed when they first got into office that gave the Americans a victory). Sure, they signed a bunch of deals with small countries with small economies. Sure, they got CETA and TPP off the ground, but they still protected a lot of industries that didn’t necessarily deserve it, nor did they seal those deals either. Trade is a difficult business, and I’m not sure they have the moral authority to be as frankly abusive as they have been on the file.

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Roundup: Fundraising fears

It’s been a curious thing the last few days, watching in QP as the Conservatives are tearing their hair out over this Bill Morneau fundraiser in Halifax and raising the spectre of the wealthy contributing to politics, and calling Bill Morneau a millionaire like it’s a bad thing. As though suddenly the Conservative Party of Canada has become overrun by socialists or something. Really, it’s just their cheap populism run amok, trying to cast themselves as champions of ordinary Canadians (never mind that their policies disproportionately aided wealthier Canadians during their decade in power), and if they really were the champions of the working class, you would think the rest of their policies to date would be different (such as around labour unions or the Canada Pension Plan, or anything like that), but no. And if you think this is really a question about ethics or conflicts of interest, well, no, the Ethics Commissioner herself has stated that this fundraiser was above board, but hey, if they wanted to tighten the rules around fundraising, she’s been asking them to do that for years and after a decade in power, they wouldn’t do that either. So here we are, with a desperate attempt to frame perfectly above-board fundraising as “cash for access” and somehow comparable to the situation in Ontario, which it’s not. Meanwhile, Howard Anglin had a perfectly apropos tweet storm on this, so I’ll let him finish off here.

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Roundup: About those revocations…

Everyone has been making a big deal about citizenship revocation lately, particularly post-Maryam Monsef birthplace revelation, but as it turns out, the situation is not as black-and-white as presented, particularly in some media depictions like this one from CBC. So the former chief of staff for the department sent out a tweet-storm of context and correction that is worth reading, and shows why it’s wrong to conflate that issue with the other revocations that are taking place. This is also interesting context to add to the questions that John McCallum faced in Senate QP last week where he stated that he’d look into a moratorium on these revocations that are happening without much in the way of due process or an appeal mechanism, but it does shape the issue in a different fashion, so again, it does give pause as to what the moratorium being demanded is really asking for. It’s something to keep an eye on, but for now, here’s that boatload of context for consideration.

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