Roundup: Chagger doubles down – again

Oh, Bardish Chagger. So very earnest in her desire to try and change the Standing Orders to try and prevent the excesses and abuses of the Conservative era that she’s ready to be her most ham-fisted in order to get it done. In an interview with The West Block this weekend, she said that she wasn’t going to hand over a veto to the Conservatives about these reforms, which means she’s doubling down about ensuring that any rule changes happen by consensus, and so I guess we’ll see the filibuster carry on in committee, and yet more egregious privilege debates and various other procedural shenanigans by the other opposition parties in the hopes that she backs down. So far, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

If I had my druthers, I would tell Chagger to stick to two simple points – omnibus bills, and prorogation. And specifically, the proposal to restore prorogation ceremonies, and take those two suggestions to the opposition parties, and just get them to agree to those. Those are the only two suggestions that are workable and doable (and prorogation ceremonies are in fact something that I recommend restoring in The Unbroken Machine), because that’s rolling back a change that happened in order to “streamline” things a couple of decades ago, and it’s a necessary tool for transparency and accountability. And omnibus bill restrictions are an obvious change that anyone can see as being necessary after the abuses of the 41st parliament.

But as I’ve stated before, on numerous occasions, any other suggestion that Chagger makes in her discussion paper is unnecessary and will cause more harm than good, because the underlying changes that need to happen are cultural, not structural. The problem is that it’s hard to sell MPs on this, especially when they keep using the phrases “modernize” and “21st century workplace” as though the terms meant something. And she keeps using them. Over. And over. And over. And it’s driven me to the point of complete distraction. But because Chagger is doubling down, I have the sinking feeling that it’s going to be yet another week of apocalyptic language and procedural gamesmanship and nothing will get done. Because that’s the state of things right now, and no amount of rule changes will actually fix that.

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Roundup: A hopeless court case

It’s one of the most predictable performative dances in Canadian politics, which is that when you lose at politics, you try to drag it to the courts to fight your battles for you. In this, case, a UBC professor (and local Fair Vote Canada) president wants to launch a Charter challenge around electoral reform. And in order to do that, he’s talking about getting pledges of around $360,000 in order to get through the legal process.

The problem? This is an issue that has already been litigated and lost. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the appeal of the case that arose out of Quebec, which means it’s considered settled. The current electoral system is legal, it is constitutional, and while you get the odd prof here and there who tries to make an argument to the contrary, it’s settled law. And unlike some of the reversals we’ve seen the courts make over prostitution or assisted dying, there has been no great groundswell change in society that would justify the court in re-litigating the matter. In other words, he’s trying to raise money from people who are desperate to find a lifeline now that their political solution is gone that this is basically a scheme for lawyers to take their money.

This tendency to try and use the courts to overturn political decisions is a growing one, but it’s the same mentality as people who write to the Queen when they lose at politics. Have we had cases where governments have passed bad legislation and the courts have overturned it? Certainly. But political decisions are not bad legislation, and it’s not up to the courts to force governments to adopt what some people consider to be more favourable outcomes. It’s called democracy, and we have elections to hold governments to account for their political decisions. It’s also why I’m extremely leery of people calling for a cabinet manual, because it means that more groups will start trying to litigate prerogative decisions, and that’s not a good thing. It’s time these PR proponents let it go and try to fight it again at the next election. Oh, but then it might become clear that this really isn’t an issue that people care all that much about. Shame, that.

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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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QP: Programming opposite Trudeau-Trump

With Trudeau away at the White House, it was still surprisingly busy in the Commons with most of the desks filled, but not all of the leaders were present. Rona Ambrose led off with the case of Vincent Li, didn’t mention his schizophrenia, and worried about the government looking to end the bulk of mandatory minimum sentences. Jody Wilson-Raybould reminded her that the review boards determined when those found not criminally responsible were eligible for release and discharge when people were deemed not criminally responsible. Ambrose decried that Trudeau voted against Conservative legislation that would ensure that people like Li were locked up for life, but Wilson-Raybould didn’t take the bait, and spoke in generalities about the need for broader criminal justice reform. Ambrose then raised the issue of carbon taxes, claiming that they would lead to jobs flowing south, to which Scott Brison reminded her that while they have had positive job numbers, the global economy is sluggish and they were working to stimulate growth. Luc Berthold then rose for a pair of questions in French to demand that the government lower business taxes and cut carbon taxes. For his first question, François-Philippe Champagne reminded him of their focus on trade, and for his second, Brison repeated his previous response in French. Jenny Kwan led off for the NDP, demanding an end to the safe third country agreement, to which Ahmed Hussen told her that there was no evidence that the US travel ban was having an impact on the agreement. Hélène Laverdière pointed out the illegal border crossing happening, and Hussen repeated his point that the executive order had to do with resettled refugees, not claimants. Laverdière brought up the case of a Quebecker refused entry into the US, to which Dominic LeBlanc reminded her that the US has the sovereign power to decide who goes into their territory but people could bring up concerns with them. Jenny Kwan asked the same again in English, and got the same answer.

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Roundup: Brace for blanket coverage

Today is the big day, and it’ll be wall-to-wall coverage of Justin Trudeau’s big meeting with Donald Trump, and we won’t be able to talk about anything else I’m sure. So here we go. At Trudeau’s meeting with Donald Trump he will apparently be seeking assurances on pre-clearance issues, while they will also be having a working lunch where the topic will be women executives. No, really. And the tone now is apparently going to be business instead of “love-in” (though I’m not sure anybody has had a love-in with Trump).

The Conservatives are “pausing their hostility” with Trudeau in advance of the meeting, apparently showing solidarity in advance of it (though you wouldn’t have known it from QP last week). Here we have some advice from a former Canadian ambassador to Washington, while Anne Kingston wonders which version of Trudeau will be at the meeting. Marc Garneau, who chairs the Canada-US cabinet committee, says that today’s visit won’t focus on our countries’ differences. And Tristin Hopper offers some slightly tongue-in-cheek advice for the meeting.

And then there’s the historical context. Here’s a look at how previous PMs have dealt with unpopular presidents, and the lessons taken from Trump’s meetings with Theresa May and Shinzo Abe. Maclean’s has a photo reminder of meetings going back to the seventies.

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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 spectre of a Leitch Party

A rather remarkable exchange happened during Trudeau’s visit to Nunavut when he was pressed about his electoral reform promise. Trudeau responded to his questioner “Do you think Kellie Leitch should have her own party?” and laid out a realistic case where parties like that can hold enough seats to affect the balance of power in a parliament. His questioner was taken aback and “respectfully disagreed,” which isn’t surprising because the narrative we are always given when it comes to proportional representation is that it will give us nice left-wing coalition governments forever, which is certainly not the case, and we need to challenge that particular narrative more often, and to point to what’s happening in Europe right now. And to be honest, I’m glad that Trudeau is being a bit more forceful on this point about the potential rise of extreme parties and that such a system would be bad for Canada. Big tent parties have done a lot for this country, and have moderated a lot of regional tensions within them.

Of course, Trudeau bringing up Leitch in such a manner could have unintended consequences of its own.

In a not unrelated note, Michelle Rempel was at an immigration conference in Montreal, and she noted her frustrations in bashing her head against her own party as much as she was with the Liberals that she is critiquing. And she made some very salient points in here about how we can’t pretend that we’re immune to populist rhetoric in this country, because we have a history of it bubbling up (hello 1993 election) and the sentiments still exist here where you have groups of disenfranchised people looking to blame Others. And this brings us back to why changing our electoral system to give incentives to these elements to form their own parties and try to win seats that they can use to leverage power is a very real and present danger. Add to that, there are concerns from experts in the field that the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the States is bubbling up here and fuelling a rise of racism in this country because it’s being seen as more socially acceptable.

So do we change our system to incentivise these voices to better organise and try to win themselves political leverage? Or do we do we maintain institutions and practices that have been successful in dispersing these elements because they know that there is no pathway to victory by pursuing it? It seems to me that it’s a fairly simple answer.

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Roundup: Losing crucial regional perspectives

As the hollowing out of the Press Gallery continues, we lost a fairly unique voice yesterday, being Peter O’Neil, who was writing for the Vancouver Sun. While he is but yet one more journalist who has been let go in this period of bloodletting, his was a fairly unique position of being the only “regional” voice left in a major chain paper. Yes, we still have the Winnipeg Free Press and the Halifax Chronicle Herald sending journalists to the Hill rather than just buying wire copy (which they still do, mind you), but those independent papers, and that does make a difference.

Once upon a time, each local paper for the major chains sent someone to Ottawa to cover stories here from the local perspective rather than rely solely on national reporters to feed stories to them. It allowed for local concerns to be brought to MPs here, and for the MPs to better engage with their local papers from Ottawa – especially as they had someone who knew their home ridings here to keep them honest. That’s all gone now. And part of why this is a problem is that there has been a proven correlation between the loss of regional reporters in the Press Gallery and a decline voter turnout in those communities where they suffered that loss. (There are academic studies on this, but my GoogleFu is failing me on this one, but yes, this was a subject frequently discussed during my master’s programme). And now, with even fewer national reporters there to do the daily reporting plus trying to get any kind of perspective, we no longer have reporters doing the same kinds of accountability on MPs themselves rather than just of the government. Peter was the last of the regional voices from the big chains, and because Vancouver has a particular unique political culture of its own, that was an important perspective to have. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why he wound up writing the biography of former Senator Gerry St. Germain – because St. Germain knew that O’Neil knew West Coast politics, he could trust him enough to tell his story. That’s not an insignificant thing in a country with big regional differences like Canada has. And this becomes a growing problem as we lose more and more journalists and positions here in Ottawa, which we need to figure out how to reverse, one way or another, before things deteriorate to the point of no return.

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QP: Demands to denounce Trump

A less somber day in the Commons, and things were getting back to normal. Such as normal is in this place. Rona Ambrose led off, declaring that Justin Trudeau broke the Conflict of Interest Code with his vacation with the Aga Khan, and Trudeau reminded her that all questions from the Ethics Commissioner would be answered. Ambrose said that this was a distraction from him doing his job to create jobs, and Trudeau disputed this, stating that he was focused on the middle class and recited actions taken such as tax cuts. Ambrose worried about the possibility of taxing dental and health benefits, but Trudeau repeated his question. Ambrose reiterated the question on benefit plans, and Trudeau merely told her to wait for the upcoming budget. Switching to French, Ambrose then asked about changes coming to the US plunging Canada into a recession. Trudeau noted the beneficial trade relationship that we have with the States, at they would be reiterating this. Thomas Mulcair was up next, demanding that Trudeau stand up to Trump’s racism and hatred. Trudeau noted this twin challenges of ensuring Canadian jobs, and standing up for Canadian values. Mulcair wanted an unequivocal yes or no in French, but Trudeau wouldn’t give him one. Mulcair then switched to the issue of electoral reform and whether the promise was dead, but Trudeau said that they would keep working on it. Mulcair asked again in English, and Trudeau reiterated his happy talking points about working with Canadians to improve our democracy.

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Roundup: Tragedy to pull MPs together

The aftermath of the Ste-Foy mosque shooting was not atypical for when things go horribly in this country. MPs and political leaders of all stripes band together and make a show of solidarity. There are solemn speeches, and a moment of silence, and for as much as everyone decries the level of partisanship that permeates the hallowed halls of our democratic institutions, they all do put on a united front, that this is our country and we won’t allow it to succumb to violence and darkness based on the actions of a lone few.

As for the facts of the incident, what we know is that the suspect is a 27-year-old white male whose social media history has a lot of far-right connections. He was charged with six counts of first-degree murder, five counts of attempted murder, and there may yet be terrorism-related charges once the RCMP and the Quebec police forces complete their investigations. Talk of a second shooter or suspect turned out to be a witness on the scene who called 911 and was trying to help the wounded when he fled at the sight of police guns.

And then comes the aftermath. In a scrum following QP, Ralph Goodale offered assurances of police vigilance and noted that he wasn’t increasing the terror threat level from its current reading of “medium,” for what that’s worth. There is also speculation that this will be added impetus for the Commons to pass that private members’ motion on a study of Islamophobia in Canada – something some Conservatives like Kellie Leitch are opposed to, calling it “special status” for Muslims. And then there was the White House, cravenly using the incident to justify their “Muslim ban,” even though the suspect is an alleged white supremacist.

In commentary, John Ivison notes that moments like those today were when the Commons is at its best. Chantal Hébert noted that Trudeau has been silent about Trump’s “Muslim ban” while this has been going on. Deepak Obhrai, however, made the explicit link between the two. Michael Chong has also been vocal in drawing links between this incident and the rise in demagoguery, which he wants more politicians to stop engaging in. Robyn Urback looks at how the first twelve hours after the shooting were a giant exercise in confirmation bias as people struggled to fit the facts with their personal narratives.

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