Senate QP recap: Fisheries under the microscope

For the first ministerial Senate Question Period of the year, fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc was the special guest star. Leading off as always was Senator Larry Smith, who first wished LeBlanc well given his cancer treatment, and then asked about the impact of the Phoenix pay problem on the Coast Guard. LeBlanc noted that this was a problem and he was working with the senior management of the Coast Guard on the problem, he acknowledged that it was an unacceptable situation that was costing them personnel that had a cascading effect on their capacity, which is why they were trying to deal with it. Smith asked if there was a timeframe to sort it out, and LeBlanc said that because previous timeframes have slid, they were simply continuing to do the work to deal with the most urgent cases and working toward stabilising the system. Smith asked if this message was relayed personally to the Coast Guard members, and LeBlanc said that he had every time he visited a Coast Guard facility. Continue reading

QP: Litigating actual litigation

While the PM flew off to Chicago to begin his US tour, the rest of the benches in the House of Commons were full and ready for another scintillating day of bad litigation drama. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, but with the PM away, today he led off on the news story of a government fighting a sexual harassment lawsuit from a Canadian Forces member, but wedged in an Omar Khadr reference at the end, because of course he did. Harjit Sajjan said that they were committed to a harassment-free environment in the Forces, but couldn’t speak to the specifics of the case — despite the fact that earlier this morning, the PM stated that he would have the case looked into. Scheer tried again, but got the same response. Scheer amped up his dramatics for the third attempt, and tried to draw in the justice minister, but Sajjan got back up to reiterate his points, including pointing out how many people they have discharged for sexual misconduct. Lisa Raitt got up next, and repeated the question with full-on anger, but Sajjan reiterated the commitment to Operation Honour, and they went again for another round. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, demanding taxation for digital giants, and Mélanie Joly said that they wanted to ensure that there wasn’t a piecemeal approach to digital platforms over the long term. Caron tried again in English, noting that Trudeau would be meeting with Amazon on his trip. Ruth Ellen Brosseau was up next to read her condemnation of the government’s actions with that lawsuit, and Sajjan repeated his points. Brosseau read the question again in French, and got the same reply. Continue reading

Roundup: Romanticizing a political “success” story

It’s not a secret that Globe and Mail editorials have a tendency to be terrible, but one yesterday was particularly misinformed to the point of being criminally negligent. The subject? That politics needs more Ruth Ellen Brosseaus. The thrust of the piece is that politics doesn’t need more lawyers or titans of industry, but plucky individuals with a common touch. What they completely ignore is how much support the party gave Brosseau to turn her from the assistant manager of a campus bar who spent part of the campaign in Vegas (who never actually went to her riding during the campaign) into the eventual NDP House Leader that she is today.

To wit, after the 2011 election, the party sequestered Brosseau, put her through intense French immersion to get her proficiency in French back up to an acceptable level for the francophone riding that she was accidentally elected into during the Orange Wave, and then carefully kept her away from the media except for select clips to show how great her French was. Her early interventions in the Commons were brutal – I recall one particularly memorable nonsense question in QP about how, as a busy single mother, she didn’t have time to worry about all of the Conservatives scandals. Riveting stuff. She was given a deputy portfolio that kept her very constituency bound, and again, she was largely kept away from the media spotlight for four years, and when she was in the media, it was for personality pieces and not policy. During the last election, the party put her forward to every outlet conceivable to showcase her personality and endear her to voters, and she did win again. And good for her.

But what the Globe piece misses entirely is that plucky everywoman Brosseau was given a hell of a lot more support than any other candidate or MP gets, because they wanted to rehabilitate her image, and to demonstrate that they didn’t make a mistake in putting her name on the ballot in the manner that they did. And sure, maybe we need plenty of everyperson candidates, but we also do need lawyers and corporate types who have policy experience as well, because part of the danger of just nominating your everyperson candidate is that it puts them in the position to be the puppets of party apparatchiks run out of the leader’s office. We already have too much central control in politics, and there is a real danger that candidates who are unprepared for political life will become fodder for those machinations, which will do no favour to our political system. So sorry, Globe editorial board – maybe you need to do a little more homework before you file a piece like this.

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Roundup: Absurd procedural objections abound

There are times when I don’t get the way that the opposition is trying to do its job – and I don’t mean the epic levels of disingenuousness and mendaciousness by which Question Period is operating these days. Rather, it’s the procedural objections to the way in which the government plans to handle Bill C-59, being the major national security bill that they’ve tabled. They’ve stated that they want the bill to head to committee before Second Reading, which is unusual, but still procedurally sound because it means that it will allow for a wider variety of amendments to be proposed and adopted, as a vote at Second Reading means that the bill is “locked” at its principles, and changes made at that point tend to be fairly technical. One would think that proactively taking this move would generally be appreciated, because it’s a recognition that it’s a tough subject that they want to get as much input on as possible, and are open to a wider degree of changes than usual. But no.

Instead, the opposition are now crying foul because they say that the government is trying to “fast track” it by doing his – not necessarily true, given that it can stay at committee for a long time, and they haven’t invoked any time allocation – that they’re trying to “evade” second reading debate (which, again, is absurd given the procedural move of allowing a greater scope of amendments), and that they’re avoiding the possibility that the Speaker could break up the bill because it’s an omnibus bill. But part of the problem with that is that omnibus bills aren’t bad per se – they’re bad when they’re used abusively to ram through a multitude of unrelated things with little debate. In this case, all of the constituent changes in the bill, which affect several other existing pieces of legislation, are all part of the same national security framework. It makes more sense to make the changes at once with a single piece of legislation rather than piecemeal bills that may create legislative traffic jams that would require coordinating amendments in order to ensure that all of the changes don’t butt up against one another. It’s hardly an abuse of omnibus legislation in this case, and they should know that.

What the government is doing is procedurally sound, and I can’t count the number of times that the NDP have demanded that bills go to committee before second reading debate on a whole host of issues (and it happened a lot under the previous regime). This government is doing that move on a major piece of legislation proactively, and they’re being accused of evasion. It’s enough to make a person scream.

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Roundup: Is there meaning to staff changes?

The Hill Times had an interesting piece out yesterday about staffing changes into and out of the PMO, and what it says about the culture of central control in the Trudeau-led government. While some of the commentary from former Conservative staffers about the marked similarities could be seen as trouble-making (and indeed, I’m not sure that we are quite at the level of central control that was exerted under the Harper years), I do think there is a kernel of truth in there which may simply be a reflection of politics in the 21st century, which is heavy on message discipline in order to deal with the pressures of a media apparatus that was not as strident as it was during the days of cabinet government of yore. Add to that, the increasingly horizontal power structures mean that the mere act of governing is not the same as it was during those days, so the ways in which the practice of government has evolved should be a consideration.

Nevertheless, the movement of this staff is quite likely indicative of more than just the usual cross-pollination that takes place over the course of a government, and the concerns about rookie ministers needing more hand-holding are probably not unfounded, and there have definitely been some stories of certain ministers having chronic staffing problems that can’t be dismissed out of hand. Nor can former staffers’ concerns about movement being based on connections over ability be shrugged off either, though one has to wonder if it was ever always thus, and it just manifests itself in slightly different ways today than in the past. In all, while I disbelieve the notion that the Trudeau PMO is just the Harper PMO redux, I will agree that there are probably a few more similarities than either would like to admit to openly.

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Roundup: Another CRA overreach?

It came up in QP at the end of the week, and then on a rare Sunday afternoon press conference, where the Conservatives are accusing the government of going after the disability tax credit, particularly when it comes to diabetics. I’m not sure that this is “the government” per se, and not CRA wielding its authority, especially when you add in the recent furore over the folio on employee discounts, where they were looking to enforce some Tax Court decisions, but not necessarily communicating the specifics in the best way possible. Now, the CRA says that nothing has changed with this particular tax credit, and that they’re in fact trying to make it easier by re-hiring nurses that had previously been fired in order to process these claims, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see if there is a decent response from the government on this (as opposed to some more pabulum around tax fairness for the middle class and so on), but one would trust that they would want to get on top of their messaging for a change, rather than letting the Conservatives keep up with this drip-drip-drip narrative. That said, I’m not sure that “this is another tax grab to pay for Trudeau’s out-of-control spending” is the best message, since most of what these measures collect are mere rounding errors. That said, this might also be CRA flexing its muscles now that it has more resource to do this kind of work, when they were merely treading water beforehand.

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Roundup: The good news rollouts

The Liberals’ planned rollout of all kinds of “good news” announcements for Small Business Week – reductions in the small business tax rate by 2019, and changes to their planned amendments to Canadian-Controlled Private Corporation (CCPC) rules to crack down on those who use them to avoid paying taxes – were very nearly overshadowed by a Globe and Mail article that cried out that Bill Morneau hadn’t put his shares into a blind trust after all. As it turns out, this was largely a non-story – Morneau followed the advice of the Ethics Commissioner, who felt that because of his particular share structure that he wouldn’t need a blind trust but an ethics screen instead – though there are some added complications around it (see Glen McGregor’s tweets). This after the “revelation” about Morneau’s French villa – not that he had forgotten to disclose it, because he had already – just that he didn’t disclose the particular ownership structure, which is a French corporate structure not uncommon with the ownership of non-commercial real estate, known as a Société Civile Immobilière. Again, a non-story that the opposition (and certain media outlets) pounced upon, trying to make a bigger deal out of them than was merited.

And then there was the Prime Minister’s tax cut announcement at that Stouffville restaurant, and the somewhat bizarre behaviour by Trudeau in the Q&A period after where he tried to answer questions directed at Morneau (no doubt trying to keep control of the message and not let it get railroaded by the non-stories about his villa and shares, but it came off as smarmy). And back in Ottawa, his backbench critics seemed mollified by the morning’s announcements, so we’ll see if that holds in the days ahead. (Not to be outdone by all of the Liberal press shenanigans, Andrew Scheer walked out on a press conference when asked about his former campaign manager’s association with Rebel Media.)

Meanwhile, neither Chantal Hébert nor Andrew Coyne are impressed with the theatrics of this government’s attempt to change the channel on the pummelling they’ve received.

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Roundup: Shadow ministers vs critics

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is set to release his full critic list today, not only to be dubbed as a shadow cabinet, but with plans to style the critics as “shadow ministers.” Now, this is normally the kinds of British/Westminster nomenclature that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, which is why I suspect that a fanboy like Scheer is doing it, but I would raise a particular note of caution – that unless Scheer plans to actually have his “shadow minsters” act in the way that Westminster shadow ministers actually operate, then it’s going to quickly come across as a twee affectation.

So what kinds of differences would matter between a British shadow minister and a Canadian critic? For one, it’s a far more institutionalised role, where a shadow minister plays the function of someone who is able to fill the cabinet role immediately if the government were to fall, rather than the kinds of placeholders that we’ve come to expect in Canadian critic roles. Shadow ministers, in my observation, tend to be in place for a fairly long time and develop expertise in the portfolio, and they have more structured time to visit the departments and get briefings from civil servants, which doesn’t seem to be the way that Canadian critics operate (who do get some briefings, but in my estimation, are not to the same level). Of course, one of the reasons why is that cabinet construction in the UK doesn’t have to deal with the same regional considerations that Canada does, so it’s far easier to have someone who was in a shadow cabinet position slide into cabinet, whereas in Canada, the federalist calculations may not work out.

Another key difference is that UK shadow ministers are not members of select committees, whereas in Canada, critics are leads for their party on standing committees. Why this is different is because in the UK, it not only lets the shadow minister spend more time with their portfolio, but it gives the committee members more independence because they don’t have the lead on the file shepherding them. Just by numbers alone, I’m guessing that this isn’t going to happen here (another advantage to the UK’s House of Commons having 650 members instead of 338). One could also remark that the current Conservative Party in Canada hasn’t demonstrated a great deal of willingness to give committees a great deal of independence (especially seeing as they turned them into branch plants of the ministers’ offices during the Harper years), but who knows? Maybe Scheer is more serious about it. But unless he wants to reform the way his critics operate, then I’m less sold on billing them as “shadow ministers.”

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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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QP: At last, the exchange of quips

On a rainy Tuesday in Ottawa, it was all hands on deck in the Commons, with all leaders present for a change. Andrew Scheer led off, noting the anniversary of D-Day, and turned it into a question on fighting ISIS. Trudeau noted the contributions that Canada was making to the fight. Scheer tried mocking Trudeau’s television interview responses about positive spaces in this fight, and Trudeau quipped back that Scheer must not be too busy as opposition leader if he was all caught up on his daytime TV. Scheer batted back that it was the only place he could find Trudeau over the past week, and then railed about new taxes on beer and wine. Trudeau responded that they cut taxes to the middle class. Scheer insisted that wasn’t true, and listed a number of penny ante issues like making Uber pay HST and carbon taxes (which are largely provincial), and Trudeau noted the difference in vision that his government offered. Scheer then veered into a question about the public sex offender registry, and Trudeau called Scheer out for politicising the wrong issues, and said that trying to insinuate the Liberals didn’t care about children and families was shameful. Up next was Thomas Mulcair, who brought up the Madeleine Meilleur nomination and stated that she confirmed in the Senate that she discussed the position with Gerald Butts and Katie Telford — which isn’t what she said. Trudeau reminded him of the open nomination process, and when Mulcair tried to insist that one f them were lying, Trudeau didn’t budge from his points. Mulcair then railed about Trudeau slamming the door on Quebec’s face on their request to discuss the constitution, and Trudeau said that he had other priorities. Mulcair gave it a second go, insisting this was a snub at Quebec alone, and Trudeau reminded him that he says the same thing in English and in French and had no interest in getting into a constitutional quagmire.

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