QP: Portents of economic doom

 As Justin Trudeau met with Commonwealth Heads of Government in London, and Andrew Scheer spent the day in Quebec, which left Shannon Stubbs to lead off, and she read some declinist fan fiction about the collapse of the Canadian economy because the prime minister allegedly wants to phase out the oil sector. Jim Carr responded by listing some good economic news, including how Alberta is set to lead the country in growth, which the other party apparently couldn’t support. Stubbs read more doom, and Carr responded with the number of approved pipelines that were coupled with their oceans protection plan. Stubbs demanded championing of the sector, but Carr listed that the previous government didn’t get pipelines to tidewater, and that they ignored their constitutional obligations toward Indigenous Canadians. Gérard Deltell took over in French, lamenting IMF forecasts, to which Kirsty Duncan stood up to read some statistics about job growth and economic growth leading the G7. Deltell repeated the demand to champion investment in energy, to which Carr reiterated his lines about the Conservative record in French. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, accusing the government of kowtowing to Texas oil giants, to which Carr reminded him that they took the lessons of the previous government’s failures and engaged in new consultations, which they felt covered off their Section 35 obligations. Caron reiterated the question in French, and Carr reiterated that their process was different than the Harper government’s, because that one had failed. Nathan Cullen was up next, to repeat the same question in English, with some added sanctimony, and Carr’s repeated response had a bit of exasperation creeping into it, and then they went yet another round of the same.

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Senate QP: Qualtrough talks Phoenix

For this week’s ministerial Senate Question Period, the special guest star was Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough, for what was bound to be a marathon session of Phoenix pay system questions. True to form, Senator Larry Smith led off, worried about that Phoenix was affecting pensions for the federal government, as the relevant pay centre just hired 55 new staff to verify transactions. Qualtrough noted that the system was worse for than they initially anticipated, and that they were taking all efforts to verify the data. Smith asked whether they had a date as to when things would be normalised, and Qualtrough said that her goal is stabilising the system, but she’s learned not to set deadlines on this, and while the numbers are going down, it’s not as quickly as they would like.

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QP: A sweater and an overnight bag

With all leaders in the House, and all hands on deck, we were ready to see just what fireworks would transpire. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, concerned about the “inappropriate gift” that the PM received from the Aga Khan that was not disclosed. Justin Trudeau stood up to reiterate well-worn talking points about the previous Ethics Commissioner’s report and how they worked to strengthen future disclosures. When Scheer pressed, Trudeau assured him that during the holidays, family friends exchange gifts and he gave the Aga Khan a sweater, and got an overnight bag in return. Scheer changed topics, and demanded the briefing from Daniel Jean for the committee. Trudeau retorted that a briefing was offered to Scheer and he refused, and after a second round of the same, Scheer thundered that he was only offered a classified briefing so that he could stop asking questions. Trudeau gave the riposte that only a Harper Conservative would think that giving information to the media was hiding the truth. Guy Caron was up next, and he returned to the question of the “unacceptable” gift, insisting that it had to be worth over $1000 to be deemed such, and it couldn’t have been an overnight bag (Really? What if it was a Louis Vuitton bag?). Trudeau reiterated that he disclosed the gift to the Commissioner as part of the investigation. Caron was not mollified, and he railed that this was not open or transparent. Trudeau disagreed, and insisted that they were delivering on their promises. Charlie Angus got up next to deliver some sanctimony — and some swipes at the Aga Khan along the way — and Trudeau reminded him that the system is to disclose to the Commissioner. Angus went for a second round, and got the same in return. Continue reading

QP: Concern trolling about Daniel Jean

While the memo went out cancelling travel for Conservative MPs, it apparently wasn’t received by Andrew Scheer, who was not present. That left it up to Candice Bergen to lead off, railing that the government forced them to vote for 21 hours in a “cover-up.” Justin Trudeau said that Scheer was offered a classified briefing by the public servants in PCO, and he declined. Bergen insisted that they wanted the same briefing that the media received, and Trudeau reiterated his answer, and that this was really about petty politics. Bergen retorted that members of the media aren’t sworn into Privy Council, and repeated her question. Trudeau said it was puzzling as to why Scheer turned town the briefing in order to play politics. Pierre Paul-Hus stoood is to repeat the question in French, and he got the same response in French as he did in English, with Trudeau digging in that the Conservatives would rather play politics than debate gun control. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, railing that only a small number of tax evasion files were opened by CRA, to which Trudeau took up a script to reminded him that they invested a billion dollars and have a thousand ongoing audits, and forty criminal investigations underway. Caron railed that KPMG was getting away while waitress’ tips are being targeted, and Trudeau gave some bland assurances that everyone will pay their fair share of taxes. Charlie Angus was up next, railing about the “close links” between Facebook, the Liberals, and actors identified in the current scandals. Trudeau took up a script to read some assurances that they respect privacy rights, and they are committed to ensuring Canadians can trust in our institutions. Angus demanded assurances that they would not balk at these actors being called to committee, but Trudeau read some more bland assurances.

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QP: Scrapping over data mining

While Justin Trudeau was off to New Brunswick, and Andrew Scheer elsewhere, it was up to Erin O’Toole to lead off, reading a quote about the job of the opposition to ask questions, attributing it to the PM, and wondered why the government wouldn’t let Daniel Jean appear before committee. Ralph Goodale calmly responded that the crux of the motion was around the Atwal invitation, that it was rescinded. O’Toole insisted two more times that MPs had a right to hear the briefing, but Goodale defended Jean’s career and insisted there were no contradictions in the positions put forward. Pierre Paul-Hus tried again twice in French, and Goodale poked holes in the Conservative Supply Day motion in return. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and decried that only $15 million out of the $1 billion given to CRA to combat tax evasion. Lebouthillier reminded him that the investment was over five years, and it would be ramped up in order to take a strategic approach. Caron then railed that the CRA’s anti-avoidance committee met in secret, while Lebouthillier said that it was a committee of experts that meets as necessary. Peter Julian took over in French, and demanded taxation on web giants, to which Bill Morneau said that they were conducting studies to ensure that the system would work well. Julian changed to English to insist that studying the issue would mean doing nothing, but Morneau reiterated that they wanted to have a plan before acting.

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QP: Twin moral panics in play

While Justin Trudeau was off to Toronto, Andrew Scheer was present for Question Period, and he led off with the role that Christopher Wylie, the infamous “Facebook whistleblower” had worked for the Liberals, and demanded answers. Scott a Brison pointed out that the Liberal Research Bureau had already issued a statement saying that they decided not to go ahead with his services and that he had no access to voter data. Scheer lamented that Trudeau didn’t answer — being cute because Trudeau was not present — and when he continued to rail about Wylie, Brison reiterate his response, and hit back with contracts the Conservatives tendered for their own data services. Alain Rayes took over in French to ask the same thing two more times, and Brison repeated his responses (albeit in English). Scheer got back up to rail about the “peoplekind” joke and the apparently scandalous news that Service Canada is not supposed to use the honourifics of “Mr.” of “Mrs.” The horror! Jean-Yves Duclos assured him that they can still use the honourifics, but that they were working to be more inclusive of all gender identities. Guy Caron led off for the NDP, condemning the lack of action on tax evasion despite the $1 billion investment to do so. Diane Lebouthillier got up to assure him that they were looking into tax evasion and had new agreements to get necessary data, and when Caron got up to rail that CRA was slapped with a $1 million fine for abusive behaviour, Lebouthillier reiterated that the case dated back to the Conservatives. Peter Julian got up to repeat the condemnation around tax evasion in English, and Lebouthillier reminded him that they now have the data they need. Julian tried one more time, throwing every thing else in the question, and Lebouthillier retorted that the OECD has recognised Canada’s leadership in data-driven combatting against tax evasion.

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Roundup: Unserious about peacekeeping promises

News came out yesterday that Canada had lined up 19 Spanish-speaking soldiers for a UN peacekeeping mission to Colombia, only for National Defence to drag their feet until the opportunity closed. With more tales like these, and others about Canada being offered leadership positions in peacekeeping operations and then turning them down repeatedly, is causing a lot of questions to be asked about just how serious we are about the promises the government made during the last election about returning to peacekeeping operations. The Chief of Defence Staff has said that there were questions about operational security, but those claims are being questioned in light of other evidence being presented. There was a very good interview on Power & Politics with Peggy Mason, president of the Rideau Institute and the former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament, who challenged many of the points that the government and the military has made, and points to the current culture in DND, which has been out of peacekeeping game for long enough that it’s looking down on those kinds of missions. It’s worth watching if you’ve got five minutes to spare.

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Roundup: The obtuse Atwal angles

Because the Jaspel Atwal story refuses to go away, due to equal parts of inept messaging by the government and obtuseness on the parts of both the opposition and much of the media, it seems like we should dig into a few more aspects of it. If you haven’t yet, read John Ivison’s column that threads the needle on just what the senior bureaucrats were warning about with regard to the possibility of “rogue elements” in India’s government, and the invitation that MP Randeep Sarai extended to Atwal while Atwal was already in the country. If more people read this, we would have far fewer of the questions we’re hearing about how both “versions” of the incident can be true. And hey, people familiar with both Indian politics and security services are adding that this is more than plausible.

In the meantime, opposition parties are trying to use their parliamentary tools to continue to make hay of this. Ralph Goodale got hauled before the national security committee yesterday, and he was unable to give very many answers – completely understandably – and suggested that MPs use the new National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians to discuss classified issues like this. It didn’t stop the opposition from trying to call the National Security Advisor to committee, but that was blocked. But as Stephanie Carvin points out below, MPs are not great at this kind of thing, and risk doing even more damage (and We The Media aren’t helping).

In case you were wondering why the Conservatives dropped their planned Supply Day motion to try and wedge the government over support for a united India as a pretext to bash the Atwal issue some more, they faced an outcry of Sikhs in Canada and backed down (but are insisting that the motion is still on the Order Paper and can be debated on a future Supply Day).

In the meantime, India raised their tariffs on imports of pulses, and suddenly every single Canadian pundit joined the Conservatives in blaming it on Trudeau’s India trip and the Atwal accusations. Not one of them noted that India is having a bit of a domestic crisis with its farmers, and there is a global glut of pulse crops, which is depressing prices (for which India is trying to boost domestic production). But why look for facts when you can try to wedge it into a narrative you’ve already decided on? Cripes.


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QP: Who ordered a conspiracy theory?

While Justin Trudeau was back in the country following his week in India, he was not, however, present for QP today, nor was Andrew Scheer. That left Candice Bergen to lead off, asking if it was the PMO’s contention that the government of India conspired to ensure Jasper Atwal’s attendance at the PM’s visit. Ralph Goodale said that while he can’t comment on individual security arrangements, the system works well. Bergen asked if the PMO arranged the for the national security advisor to brief media about the supposed plot around Atwal, but Goodale said that the invitation never should have been given and it was rescinded. Bergen tried a third time, but Goodale did not vary his response. Pierre Paul-Hus tried again in French, adding a level of insinuation about the PM loving terrorists, but Goodale stuck to his points, and again once more on Paul-Hus’s second attempt. Guy Caron was up next, levelling new accusations about KPMG around the Isle of Man, but Diane Lebouthillier responded that she was at meetings last week around tax evasion and had set up a meeting in Canada for further steps. Caron demanded to know if any tax-fighting measures were in the budget, and Lebouthillier responded that access to data is essential in the fight against tax evasion, which they have now that they didn’t years ago. Hélène Laverdière wondered what the point of the India trip was, and Kirsty Duncan assured her that they came back with renewed ties and $1 billion in investment. Laverdière lit into the list of irritants with India that went unresolved, but Duncan’s response was the same.

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QP: Gathering angry media clips

Two competing dynamics played out in the Commons today — because Parliament is not sitting tomorrow out of courtesy for the NDP’s policy convention, it was Friday on a Thursday, only slightly better attended, but there weren’t any leaders (save Elizabeth May) present. It was also a Conservative Supply Day, where the motion demanded an apology to veterans for the alleged “insult” by the prime minister during that Edmonton town hall regarding his response to why the court action against the Equitas group was still ongoing. Candice Bergen led off, reading concerns about veterans and demanding action from the prime minister. Dominic LeBlanc got up to answer, saying that they do support veterans and have put in place a pension-for-life option as well as other investments. Bergen concern trolled that the government voted down a veterans-themed private member’s bill yesterday, and LeBlanc listed the sins of the previous government when it came to respecting veterans. Alain Rayes took over in French, quoting the prime minister’s election promise, not that LeBlanc was having any of it. Rayes tried again, and LeBlanc raised the spectre of Julian Fantino when it came to how the Conservatives had respect. Rayes listed examples of the government’s profligacy except for veterans, but LeBlanc called out his contradiction before reiterating their respect. Ruth Ellen Brosseau led off for the NDP, reading questions on the same topic in English, and LeBlanc gave a less punchy response about how much they have done to date. Brosseau switched to French to read about the documents provided to the PBO around the tax gap, and Marie-Claude Bibeau got up to insist that they would study the tax gap, unlike the previous government. Pierre-Luc Dusseault heaped some condemnation on new tax treaties, and Bibeau read points about international information exchanges to fighting tax evasion. Peter Julian got up to rail about tax havens that are funding cannabis operations, but Bibeau reiterated the points about combatting tax evasion. Continue reading