Roundup: Mid-term check-in

Over in Maclean’s, John Geddes put together a deep dive into the current government’s midterm woes, and it’s well worth the read – and it’s a pretty long read too. But once you’re done (seriously, this post isn’t going anywhere), I would want to push back on some of the things that he highlights.

For starters, I think that there is something to be said for a government that is willing to walk back on bad promises, and they made a few. Most notably is electoral reform, and the fact that they could actually take the step of smothering it the cradle is actually something that they should be congratulated for. We dodged a bullet with that one, and I wish that my fellow journalists would get that through their heads. Likewise, Bardish Chagger taking back her plans to “modernise” the way that the House of Commons operates is similarly another dodged bullet – most of her plans were terrible and would make things worse, not better. Casting them as failures does a disservice to the fact that they backed down from bad promises. When it comes to Bill Morneau and his troubles, I think it also bears mentioning that the vast majority of the attacks against his tax proposals (and his own personal ethics situation) are largely unfounded, based on disingenuous framing or outright lies designed to try and wound him. The attacks have largely not been about the policies themselves (even though there were actual problems that should have been asked about more), and I think that bears some mention.

I also think that Geddes doesn’t pay enough attention to some of the backroom process changes that the government has been spearheading, particularly on the Indigenous files – many of the problems mentioned need to have capacity issues addressed before funding is increased because we have seen numerous examples of places where money was shovelled out without that capacity-building being done, and it made situations worse. Is it frustrating that some of this is going slowly? Yes. But some of the ground-up work of reforming how the whole system works, and ensuring that once more money flows that it can be spent effectively is something that we should be talking more about, because process matters. We simply don’t like to talk about it because we labour under this belief that nobody reads process stories, so we ignore them, which is why I think some of the calls about “failures” are premature or outright wrong – things are changing that we can’t immediately see. That doesn’t mean that changes aren’t happening.

Finally, there is a list of major legislation coming down the pipe, and I think it bears reminding that the focus on consultation before making some of these changes is as much about inoculating the government against criticism that was levelled against their predecessors as it was about trying to get some of this complex legislation right. Do they get it right all the time? No. There is a demonstrated record of barrelling ahead on things with good intentions and not properly thinking through the consequences *cough*Access to Information*cough* and when it blows up in their faces, they’re not really sure how to respond because they think that their good intentions count for something. I’m not sure that simply focusing on the perceived inexperience of ministers helps when it comes to trying to meaningfully discuss these issues, but here we are.

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Roundup: Forcing internal reform

With the Senate back in session, the uncertainties of how it will operate in this new environment are starting to make themselves be seen. With each passing day, the lack of Senate Question Period becomes a little more awkward, and until new government legislation starts coming down the pipe, much of their debates right now are about just how they plan to organize themselves. Part of these are the debates about breached privileges – not only the continuation of the investigation of the prima facia breach from the previous parliament about the leak of the AG report, but also Senator Housakos’ complaint that the lack of a government representative doesn’t allow senators to properly do their jobs, and a new complaint today about how the rights of independent senators are being breached in the way that committees are currently organising themselves. In this case it was Senator Wallace, who recently left the Conservative caucus of his own volition, essentially complaining that he couldn’t get a committee assignment that he’d asked for (and the only one that was offered to him he turned down). And it’s already been raised in this parliament that the way committee assignments are determined are a problem for independent senators, and it’s a debate that needs to be had – particularly if there is to be a new batch of independent senators on the way in (though I don’t expect them all to remain independent, nor should they, really). And until some real work starts to land on the Senate’s docket, these kinds of organizational debates are going to dominate for the weeks to come, which may start to reshape how the organisation functions as a whole. If Trudeau did one thing in his non-constitutional Senate reform promise, it was to force the chamber to reform itself from within. One just hopes that the end result hasn’t broken it for the sake of better optics.

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Roundup: Appointment board terms

The Order in Council relating to the new Senate appointment board was made public yesterday, and some of the details were tweeted out (as below, with commentary). Of note for me when you read the terms was that this interim process for the first five appointments will be done by engaging with civil society groups of various distinctions. The permanent process going forward will be the one that invites people to nominate others (or themselves) as vacancies come open.

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Roundup: Taking the fall for Duffy

It’s a curious case of loyalty in action. Mike Duffy’s former assistant is trying to take the blame for his claiming per diems when the Senate wasn’t sitting because apparently expense claims are hard! Oh, except the claims don’t all fall within the time that she worked within his office, and she is a veteran of several other offices, and should have known what was okay to claim and what wasn’t. And she would almost certainly have been the person who booked the travel, so she should have known where he was at when the claims were made. More importantly, Duffy signed off on all of it, and he is ultimately responsible. It’s a valiant effort, but one that is wholly undeserved. Here’s a list of what he was trying to claim, and the new spending rules adopted by the Chamber, and the question has been asked why Senate finance officials didn’t cross-check his claims with the audit once it was done, while Conservatives in the Senate tried to rush to call it case closed. Marjorie LeBreton calls the abuse of expenses a “betrayal” of the Senate, and she’s right.

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Roundup: Untangling the clusterduff

It’s hard to know where to start with the constant revelations on the Senator Mike Duffy file yesterday, because they were coming pretty fast and furious, but the biggest news was that he “voluntarily” left caucus because he had become a distraction. One adds the quotation marks around “voluntary” because word is that the other members of the Conservative Senate caucus were signing a petition to have him ousted, so the writing may have been on the wall. He still wants back in, once everything is sorted and he is somehow vindicated, but considering how he and his lawyers refused to cooperate with the Deloitte auditors, and the fact that he was allegedly making that deal with Nigel Wright in order to make his expenses outrage go away, well, the desire to see his name cleared doesn’t seem to have been top of mind the past few months.

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