For all of the ink spilled and concerns trolled in Question Period, the Morneau-Shepell conspiracy theory is turning into a big fat zero for the Conservatives. Why? It seems that for all of the “appearance of conflict of interest” that they’re trying to drum up and selective laying out of facts in true conspiracy theory style (with the added cowardice of hiding behind the so-called “experts” who laid them out in committee testimony), the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner herself is shrugging it off.
“There does not appear to be reasonable grounds at this time for the Commissioner to launch an examination under the Conflict of Interest Act or an inquiry under the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons,” said the Commissioner’s spokesperson, and added that they won’t bother investigating investigate “if there is no specific information to suggest that a provision of the Act or the Code may have been contravened.”
And guess who isn’t putting up any specific information that would suggest an actual conflict of interest? The Conservatives. They’re still “gathering information,” which is cute, because why bother filing anything formally when you can make all manner of accusations and cast as much aspersion as possible under the protection of the privilege of the House of Commons, that will be reported uncritically? After all, this is “just politics,” and you can worry about the “appearance” of conflicts all you want on flimsy to no evidence, while facing no consequences whatsoever. It’s tiresome, but it’s the kind of sad drama that we seem to be subsisting on rather than substantive debate on the issues and the actual concerns that appeared around those tax proposals. Such is the sad state of affairs these days.
Pushback on the proposed income tax changes increased in intensity, with the Canadian Medical Association launching broadsides at the policy under the rubric that it’s “sexist” and will drive doctors out of the country, while Conservatives have taken these arguments to social media, Lisa Raitt policing news aggregators and Kellie Leitch penning fundraising letters. Jane Philpott, addressing a CMA conference, assured them that they were operating under misinformation and that the goal of the changes was tax fairness – that those with spouses earning significantly less money or having adult children shouldn’t unfairly benefit from the existing system than those who don’t.
I did try to get some answers as to how this policy was “sexist,” because I’m not entirely convinced that these changes prevent people from using money in the corporation to finance parental leaves, never mind the fact that the previous government made a Very Big Deal about changing the EI system to allow self-employed people to contribute in order to finance maternity leaves – something that received very little uptake. And most of the stories that Raitt pointed to were anecdotal that didn’t point to where these policy changes were a problem – one example was a Facebook post where a dentist insisted that these current policies were what allowed her to keep up with male counterparts, which is an argument that makes no sense at all. They don’t prevent incorporation. They don’t prevent deductions of expenses or reinvestment in the business – it’s about not letting people use income sprinkling or splitting for the sole purposes of reducing their taxes. Not that it’s stopped the narratives that this hurts doctors or struggling small businesses.
Amazing trickle-down spin. This measure won't affect *anyone* earning $45k/yr, small biz owner or not
And this is a salient point – in Ontario, the provincial government encouraged this kind of incorporation rather than increase what they’re paying doctors, so you can see why they’re upset that these tools are being taken away from them. Nevertheless, it also largely proves that their arguments are fairly disingenuous, especially when they insist that “it’s not about the money.” But with none of their other arguments actually panning out, it seems to be that’s exactly what it is, and it’s fine if they come out and just say it. But to put on this song and dance about how the changes are “sexist” and that it somehow disproves Trudeau’s feminism, and ignoring the stated purpose of the changes with regards to tax fairness, makes the excuses start to ring fairly hollow.
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin announced yesterday that she would be retiring on December 15th, a few months in advance of her mandatory retirement date, in order to give the government enough time to find a suitable replacement. Why that date is significant is because it will be at the end of the Court’s fall sitting, letting her use the next six months that she is able to clear off the files from her desk and work on any outstanding judgments rather than depart mid-sitting and the organizational chaos that would follow.
The next steps are now an important consideration. The government will not only have to name a new Chief Justice, but a new judge from Western Canada (and likely BC given that’s where McLachlin was appointed from). And in order to keep gender balance on the court it will likely have to be a woman, and in accordance with this government’s push for diversity, it will likely be a person of colour, if not someone Indigenous (and let us not forget that said person must also be fluently bilingual, which is another self-imposed criteria that this government has made for itself). This may be easier to find in BC than it was in Atlantic Canada, mind you. And for Chief Justice? My money is on Justice Richard Wagner, whom I know many close the court have already tapped as being the successor if they had their druthers.
The conventions are less clear on this than some think. One option is to appoint most senior judge. That would be Abella. But…
Of course, we’ll see if this government can get an appointment process back up and running within the six months. Experience has shown us that they seem to have difficulty with that, especially as there are still some sixty or so federally appointed judicial vacancies still remaining around the country, and a few of the Judicial Advisory Committees charged with finding candidates for said vacancies still not fully appointed either, which is a problem. Of course, they may be able to largely reconstitute the committee that oversaw the nomination of Justice Rowe, with Kim Campbell again in charge of the process, but I guess we’ll see how long that takes.
I had a sit-down conversation with Senator Elaine McCoy a few days ago to talk about how things are progressing with the third quasi-caucus in the Senate, the new “Independent Working Group,” or “work in progress,” as McCoy calls it. She was elected the “Facilitator” of the group, acting as a kind of caucus leader and whip on what is promised to be a rotational basis, but merely for administrative purposes – not the other partisan roles of the leader or whip, which is convenient since the Working Group is made up of both former Liberal and Conservative senators, along with McCoy, who always sat as a Progressive Conservative outside of Conservative caucus, and without enough members to qualify for party status, the dwindling Progressive Conservative senators were independents for all intents and purposes.
“It’s coming along very well,” said McCoy of the Working Group. “We are designing it as we go. We couldn’t call it a caucus because several of us said that we are definitely not asking a political leader to recognise us, and we’re not gathering together for political purposes if you think of that in the sense of political party purposes. Our rules don’t leave us anywhere to go in calling ourselves a ‘caucus,’ so we’re hoping that that definition will change, and there are some of us who would be happy to call ourselves a caucus.”
Six senators have taken the first steps to forming their own quasi-caucus with the Upper Chamber, as a means of trying to better sort out how to deal with life as independent senators. The list includes former Conservatives, Liberals and Independent Progressive Conservative Elaine McCoy, and they are calling themselves a “working group” as opposed to a caucus or party. Their aim is to get “third party” status that will allow them to better control their own destiny. Currently, party whips in the Senate control not only committee assignment duties, but also office allocations, parking spaces, trips for inter-parliamentary delegations, and all of those other administrative details that independents currently don’t have access to. Rather than turn over those kinds of details to Senate administration, they are looking to come up with a means to start controlling it themselves, which is important because it protects their privilege as Senators, which is important in how they govern themselves and are responsible for their own affairs. This is a very important consideration, and as the Chamber continues its process of forced evolution and change with the advent of decreasing partisanship and a greater number of independents on the way, because it has the potential to find a way through some of those process hurdles that are currently tripping them up. We’ll see how many other independent senators join this working group – after all, official party status in the Senate requires five members, which they have for the moment but at least one of their number is soon to hit the mandatory retirement age, and it would be incumbent upon them to keep their membership numbers up in order to carry on carrying on with their own affairs. This will hopefully help have systems in place for when the new senators start arriving, some of whom may opt to stay independent (others of course free to join a caucus if they wish), and allow these senators to assign one of their own as a kind of “whip” to deal with the administrative duties, and hopefully get more resources for their offices when it comes to things like research dollars. Overall, though, it will hopefully give them some organisational clout so that they are better able to answer stand up to the current oligarchy of the party structure in the Senate. Elsewhere, Senator Patterson has tabled a bill to amend the constitution and remove the property requirements for Senate eligibility (which I previous wrote about their relative harmlessness).
The NDP released their “costed” fiscal plan yesterday, which was not in fact the full costing that they had promised, but rather a broad-strokes framework, full of vague line item names like “Helping Families Get Ahead” and “Help Where It’s Needed Most” rather than actually talking about their childcare plan, and their promises around the healthcare escalator. (That escalator, incidentally, has confused a lot of reporters in the room). It’s kind of ironic that after a week spent baiting the Liberals on releasing their costed platform, the NDP didn’t actually deliver theirs. Suffice to say, the analysis to date seems to be that the NDP platform relies on the Budget 2015 numbers – numbers which are no longer relevant as the price of oil has crashed even further, and GDP growth is nowhere near what was projected and likely won’t be anytime soon, which blows a hole of several billion dollars into the assumptions. It also relies on the same austerity that the Conservative budget is built upon, despite what the NDP insists. The Conservatives and Liberals immediately panned the document, but that’s not a surprise. Being as I’m not an economist, I’ll leave the comments for those who are, and they have plenty to say (with some background on how to read these kinds of documents from Kevin Milligan here):
2) I’m going to start with saying some nice things, but stick around to the end for the climax. It will be worth it!
The Commons Board of Internal Economy has ruled, and the NDP have been determined to owe some $1.17 million for those improper mailings, $36,000 of which is owed to the House of Commons, the rest they need to work out with Canada Post for the abuse of their Franking privileges. The NDP, of course, are spitting mad, calling it the work of a hyper-partisan kangaroo court, and declaring that they will seek judicial review of this decision in the Federal Court. This is also before there is any decision made about their “satellite offices,” which could mean that they will wind up owing even more money, and I’m sure there will be even more threats of lawsuits and judicial review, none of which serves anyone’s purposes, though the NDP’s status as paragons of virtue is certainly being tainted by all of this. If nothing else, they are now sounding very much like another party that got in trouble for being cute with the rules – unless you have forgotten about the whole “In & Out” affair.
The news had the NDP crowing, but it’s a lot of sound and fury signifying almost nothing. Over in Saskatchewan, Brad Wall’s government decided to repeal their senate “nominee election” legislation, and pass a motion to declare that they are calling for Senate abolition. Which is all well and good, but that legislation was of dubious constitutionality since the Senate is federal jurisdiction, the selection of Senators explicitly spelled out in the constitution as a Governor-in-Council appointment, not to mention that Wall refused to actually hold these “elections” because Ottawa wouldn’t pay for them. And then there’s the fact that abolition would require the unanimous consent of the provinces to achieve. So Brad Wall set out a marker, for what it’s worth – but it’s hardly going to get any ball rolling, especially before the Supreme Court hears the reference case.
Oh, Pamela Wallin. Hours before Stephen Harper went on stage in Calgary to make his big address to the party faithful came news that the RCMP have indeed been investigating Wallin for fraud and breach of trust, and that Senate administration have had concerns about her spending since 2009 – the very year she was appointed. They allege that her Toronto condo is her primary residence, which she uses for functions outside of her Senate duties, and that she has been filing fraudulent expenses. We also found out that the audits for those four senators cost just a little more than they all repaid, of which Wallin’s audit was the lion’s share. But remember, we’re supposed to look at this price tag in the broader context of public accountability and trust. And if anyone thinks that the Auditor General could have done it essentially for free, they need to be reminded that the AG doesn’t do forensic auditing.
More signs of independent thought emerge within the Conservative caucus, as Jason Kenney has proclaimed that he’s still going to defend Nigel Wright’s character while Harper has taken the route of demonizing him in the wake of the whole ClusterDuff affair. Later in the day, James Rajotte joined that chorus. That Kenney, a minister, has a message deviating from Harper’s, is the third minister now who has had a different message from the boss, which John Geddes points out, is a blow for the notion of cabinet solidarity, which is a pretty fundamental notion in Responsible Government as the executive needs to speak with one voice. I’m not sure what it all means yet, but it’s certainly interesting – especially on the eve of a party convention where unity in the face of adversity will no doubt be the message that they are trying to put forward.