Roundup: Scheer’s British adventure

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is off to London to talk about a possible future free trade deal with a post-Brexit UK if he were to become prime minister. Which is odd, because the current government has already said back in September that they will lay the groundwork for this very kind of free trade deal once the path to do so is clear, and it won’t be clear until after Brexit happens because the UK literally can’t negotiate until then. (They also may not be able to afterward by the sheer fact that they don’t actually have any negotiators in their civil service, as they’ve all been working for the EU parliament since the 1970s). It’s an open question as to just how appropriate it is for Scheer to go over there to talk trade – even the hypothetical possibility thereof – given both his position and that of the UK government at present.

A couple of  other observations:

  1. Scheer’s people are trying to sell this as “relationship building,” right after they derided a trip by Trudeau doing the very same kind of work in India as a trip without substance and being dubbed a “family vacation” with a few meetings tacked on. (Oh, look – yet more disingenuous and mendacious framing. How novel).
  2. Said people are also trying to bill this as taking advantage of “generational change” as the UK gains “independence,” and as a new market for Canada to enter into in the age of a protectionist United States. Err, except the UK market is pretty small, and in no way could actually replace what the US market is for us.
  3. The Canadian Press story makes no mention that Scheer was a Brexit supporter at the time of the referendum, and it’s likely not a stretch of the imagination to see Scheer going there to try and lend succour to Brexiters in the midst of very live political debates, to assure them that they have Canadian allies should he become prime minister in a few years (and indeed, the fact that Scheer has used phrases like “independence” in relation to Brexit is telling). And again, the appropriateness of this becomes an open question.

Continue reading

Roundup: Beyak’s website battle

Unaffiliated Senator Lynn Beyak is preparing to go to war over her website on Monday. A motion had been moved in the Senate by Independent Senator Kim Pate to have Beyak’s website removed from Senate servers because of the letters that she posted on there, some of which have been deemed racist. Beyak is going to argue that if the motion passes, her privileges will be violated as it will impede her ability to do her job because she can’t inform her constituents about her work or to “address the concerns and opinions of all Canadians.”

For starters, I think Pate’s attempt to remove Beyak’s site is a bit of a stretch, given that Beyak isn’t posting anything that rises to the level of criminal hate speech (despite what her critics may say). The Senate places a great deal of value on free speech, most especially for its members, so it will be very difficult for them to make the case that Beyak should be denied it because she holds some objectionable views. Gods know that there have been plenty of abhorrent views expressed by other senators in the past about other minorities (thinking in particular about one senator’s views about the LGBT community), and she was not censured by the Chamber in any way. While there are different players in the Senate currently and this is the “era of reconciliation,” I still think that there is an uphill battle to take down Beyak’s site.

The other thing is that it would take very little effort for Beyak to port her website onto a different server, and just have a link from her Senate bio page, as many other senators have done, where there is simply a disclaimer next to it saying that it’s not an official Senate site. In other words, Pate’s measures are pretty much symbolic only, which may be fine on the surface, but won’t actually addess the real issues with Beyak’s views, or her promotion of views that are objectionable. Is this a battle worth having? I guess we’ll see.

Continue reading

Roundup: Getting a second opinion on the dominant narrative

It was a day full of Canadian pundits pontificating about Indian politics around Justin Trudeau’s trip, whether it’s around his use of traditional garb, the “snubs” by Indian politicians, and then the issue with Jaspal Atwal being invited to that reception. While MP Randeep Sarai has taken responsibility for Atwal’s invitation, the dominant narrative was that someone in PMO had to have known who he was, or that they somehow overrode the kinds of screening that the RCMP or CSIS would have put in place for an event like this. That, of course, got blown out of the water when media actually talked to security sources who said that they had no capacity to vet the 700 or so people invited to this event, so there went that theory. And yes, the Atwal thing is bad, and according to an Indo-American journalist that I spoke to about this, that probably set back Indo-Canadian relations by years, so well done MP Sarai. “Senior government officials” are also now pushing the theory that “rogue elements” in India’s government facilitated this, possibly to embarrass Canada for being “soft” on Sikh separatist extremists, so we’ll see if that compounds any damage.

First of all, if you did not do so yesterday, please take the time to read Kevin Carmichael’s look at the trip, and in particular how pack journalism narratives have formed, but he makes very relevant points about the political dynamics and the regional politics of India that the Canadian media is completely ignoring. My Indo-American friend made a few other observations about the coverage that we’re seeing, which is that he’s not actually being treated poorly over there, and it’s more that certain politicians and business leaders don’t want to be associated with members of the Indian Cabinet, which is controversial in large swaths of Indian society. As for the focus on Trudeau’s wardrobe, most of it is coming from the intellectual, international elite of India, who resent outsiders exoticising India, but the fact that Trudeau is allegedly wearing Indo-Canadian designers will garner plenty of positive reaction. She also added that the inside joke is that Indians outside of India have terrible taste, and are over the top and garish, but it’s also related to their own class stratification. Even tweets coming from verified accounts means that they’re coming from the social elite of India, and that journalism and public intellectualism in India, especially in Delhi, is oriented to socialites. So what Trudeau is doing will play incredibly well with many aspects of the stratified society. As for the Atwal issue, there will likely be competing narratives in India between the bureaucratic incompetence that allowed him into the country in the first place, tempered with “gloating over how a first-world country screwed up.” Regardless, I’m glad I reached out to get a different perspective on how this trip is playing out, because I’m not confident in the image being put forward by the Canadian punditocracy.

Meanwhile, back in the Canadian media sphere, Éric Grenier notes that the trip is likely a defensive action to bolster Liberal support in Indo-Canadian-heavy ridings, especially to counter Jagmeet Singh’s arrival on the political scene. Murad Hemmadi notes that the international press seems to have gotten over its crush on Trudeau, while Paul Wells gives a not wholly underserved whacking at the Liberal government over their handling of this trip (though I do note that many of Wells’ points would handily fall into the groupthink that may not actually reflect what will play on the ground in India).

Continue reading

Roundup: Privilege case at the SCC

There is an interesting case being heard at the Supreme Court of Canada today, which goes to the heart of how laws are made in this country. An Alberta First Nation, the Mikisew Cree, applied to the Federal Court for judicial review of the 2012 Conservative budget implementation bill after its changes to environmental legislation didn’t consult them, per Section 35 of the Constitution. The problem? You can’t have the courts interfere with the legislative process. That goes to the heart of parliamentary privilege and the separation of powers.

The Federal Court allowed a partial application, citing that they should have been given an opportunity to make submissions, but this was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal, which (correctly, in my view) cited that the Federal Court Act had no jurisdiction over the legislative process, and that it offended parliamentary privilege and the separation of powers, and there was an additional issue that this omnibus bill was of general application and did not apply specifically to this First Nation. The Supreme Court of Canada now gets to hear the issue and decide whether or not this should be the case in the face of the constitutional duty to consult.

While I’m sympathetic to the need to consult on these issues, particularly on issues that will affect their lands and ability to have engage with the processes that are created out of the regulator bodies that are engaged by the legislation once it is enacted, I do have a problem with the demands that any outside group be included in the drafting process. And while the current government has made a great deal of effort doing consultations before they draft bills (and there is no shortage of grousing as to how it slows down the process), there are usually plenty of opportunities to intervene once the bill is tabled and reaches committee hearings in both the Commons and the Senate. This is how parliament is supposed to work. Trying to short-circuit this has an effect on things like cabinet secrecy, and more likely, could grind the legislative process to a halt if you were dealing with a group that wanted to be obstinate. But also, it bears reiterating that parliamentary privilege and the separation of powers are not things to be trifled with, because it undermines the ability of parliament to do its work. While I’m confident that the Supreme Court will do the right thing, I do worry that this case has made it this far and could be victim of novel thinking that could do lasting harm to our institutions.

Continue reading

Roundup: Unifying the prohibitions across departments

The federal government has issued new guidelines for foreign intelligence likely obtained through torture, so that it now covers the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Security Establishment, and Global Affairs Canada. This means that they are prohibited from using such information, except if it’s going to save lives either from an imminent terrorist attack or protecting Canadian troops on an overseas mission. This appears to harmonize direction handed down earlier to the RCMP, CSIS, and CBSA, so that all national security agencies (which are now under the same parliamentary oversight regime and will soon be under an independent arm’s length national security oversight regime) will have the same rules and restrictions. For some, it’s reassuring that the government is taking the issue seriously, but for others, the caveat isn’t good enough, and they need to issue a full prohibition, no caveats, no exceptions, full stop. Stephanie Carvin has more reaction to the announcement here:

Continue reading

Roundup: Harper unhappy with NAFTA talks

Stephen Harper has apparently written an angry memo to his clients about the governmetn’s handling of the NAFTA negotiations, accusing them of bungling them by not evaluating American demands seriously (err, you have seen how many of their demands are literal impossibilities, right?) and of ignoring a softwood deal (which officials say was never on the table), and of aligning themselves too much with Mexico when they were the targets of America’s ire. Canadian officials are none too pleased, and consider it a gift to the Trump administration.

Alex Panetta, the Canadian Press reporter who broke the story, has more commentary below.

Paul Wells offered a few thoughts of his own on the news.

Incidentally, the PM has also vocally disagreed with former Conservative minister James Moore’s assertion that trade talks with China are hurting our talks with the Americans.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Roundup: Economic update choices

The fall economic update was released yesterday, and while the rapid pace of economic growth has meant more revenues and a smaller deficit, it also means that the government isn’t going to put too much more effort into getting back to balance anytime soon, keeping the focus on reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio instead (which is going down faster). Instead, finance minister Bill Morneau insisted that they would be “doubling down” on investing in the middle class, mostly by indexing the Canada Child Benefit to inflation earlier than planned, as well as enhancing the Working Income Tax Benefit (and I will note that this part of his speech seemed to be one where Morneau acknowledged that singletons existed and needed a hand up too). There was some additional programme spending in there as well (for more, the National Post outlines eight things in the update).

While the economy is growing at an enviable pace, it could put the government and the Bank of Canada in a bind as the need to start withdrawing stimulus measures comes to the forefront, and deciding whether fiscal or monetary policy should make the first move. There is also a marked shift between last year’s update and this year’s in that the focus is moving away from longer-term goals to short-term ones (and that could be political reality setting in). Critics accuse the government of using the update to try and change the channel on the recent headlines around Bill Morneau’s assets and disclosures, while Andrew Coyne gives his signature scathing look at the choices of the deficits, and around the rapid growth in government spending.

Continue reading

Roundup: The fount of Canadian honours

A particular thread that I forgot to talk about last week was about the new GG, and one of the important things that the office does, which is to be the conduit by which the country’s honours system works. It’s a pretty important function of the office which has been encroached upon my MPs and in particular the Prime Minister in recent years, and yes, that is a problem.

The Queen is the fount of honours in Canada, but politicians have been trying to get in on the game. Stephen Harper created a “teaching award,” and Trudeau has been talking about creating some kind of medal on his own as well, while there have been partisan spats about the Thérèse Casgraine award, or the John Diefenbaker award, and whichever party in power “forgetting” to award it, and on it goes. But part of leaving those kinds of decisions up to Rideau Hall is that it keeps the awards from taking on a partisan taint. With the Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence, there was a lot of difficulty getting nominees under Harper because many people didn’t want to be associated with him, which is a fair point – the award should be politics-neutral, but associating it with the head of government as opposed to the Queen means not only that there’s a whiff of partisanship, but that the PM would use the awards as a bit of reflected glory. That’s generally something we try to avoid in our system, which is also why we ensure that it’s not the prime minister’s face on postage stamps or first in line in our embassies, but rather the Queen. It’s why the civil service swears their oaths to the Crown and not the government of the day as well – because we keep them above the partisanship of the day, and it keeps them from developing cults of personality (as much as is possible, but the age of celebrity politics is certainly challenging this notion). Suffice to say, we should be aware that the duties of honours rests with the Crown and with the GG for a reason, and we should frown on more attempts by politicians to horn in on them.

Continue reading

Roundup: A Northern SCC justice?

The government announced yesterday that they have begun the process for searching for the next Supreme Court of Canada justice, which it should be noted is almost record-breaking in how fast they got this particular process started, as normally it takes them six months to a year to get a process even started, by which time the vacancy has happened and terms need to be extended (which isn’t possible in this case). And while this is notable in and of itself, there was something else notable – that they are explicitly looking for a justice from either the West or the North.

Why this is important is because it seems to demonstrate that they learned their lesson from the previous SCC appointment process, when they toyed with finding a justice who was not from Atlantic Canada despite it being a traditionally Atlantic Canadian seat that was vacant, and there was some pretty big uproar which they tried to pooh-pooh with talking points about how some of those federalist notions were perhaps a bit archaic and they were trying to find a bilingual justice (which was difficult for that region, even more so if they were trying to find someone Indigenous or a person of colour). That will be less of a problem in the West, but the fact that they also mentioned the North is a bit curious.

As it stands, some territorial cases, particularly at the appeal level, are heard in courts in provinces like BC or sometimes Ontario, because there simply aren’t enough judges and infrastructure in place to do the job up North. And while it’s not necessary that one be a judge to get a Supreme Court nomination (they must be a member of the bar, but can come from private practice or even a law school), it is a bit peculiar that they have expanded their search in such a way. It is the first time that such a consideration has been made, which is no doubt part of this government’s constant attempts to pat themselves on the back, and their language about the “custom of regional representation” still sounds a bit like they’re making it out to be less of an important deal than it is, which is a problem because the principles of federalism are a pretty big deal given how this country works. I would say that it also raises the possibility of raising hackles in the West because it could open them up to accusations that they’re depriving the West of representation on the Court (the West typically has two seats, one of which is currently held by Justice Brown from Alberta, so no, Alberta has no room to raise a fuss), but one could imagine that BC would very well make an issue of it if they felt like it. Granted, if they do find someone from the North, it could provide some greater perspective on the Court – or it could simply be yet another reason for back-patting. We’ll find out in a few months’ time when the decision is made. (And for the record, the plan is to name the new Chief Justice after the vacancy is filled).

Continue reading