One of the many challenges of Canadian democracy is our geography – especially the fact that we have so much of it. Rural and remote regions tend to have large riding boundaries, and that causes its own share of problems, particularly when you have a number or ridings larger than countries like France, and no, that’s not an exaggeration. Ontario has been in the process of redrawing their riding boundaries after the federal government did in advance of the last election – notable because Ontario largely follows the federal riding boundaries, but in the past, they split one of the giant Northern Ontario ridings into two for practical purposes. Under this new redistribution, it looks like they want to split it into four instead. Where this becomes problematic is not only the fact that it far exceeds the usual 25 percent variance in rep-by-pop weighting that the courts usually allow, but it’s being justified in giving votes to francophone and Indigenous communities in the area.
In the National Post, Chris Selley takes on this particular proposition, and makes a very good point in that we don’t have any particular basis in this country for awarding “superballots” to traditionally underserved communities as a means of reconciliation or redress. Add to that fact, that while the commission may talk a good game about better enfranchising these Indigenous communities, they traditionally have lower turnouts not only for lack of access by elections officials, but because in some of those communities, they resist taking part because they don’t see themselves as part of Canada, but as a sovereign nation within Canadian boundaries, and participating in Canadian elections would undermine that sovereignty. I’m not sure that “superballots” would change that particular consideration for them either, which could make the commission’s excuse for naught. Would that mean that in these newly created ridings that the non-Indigenous voters who do participate have their votes count that much more? Quite possibly. And while one does understand the frustration and challenges of an immense Northern riding, there are other ways to mitigate those issues, with greater allowances for offices, staff and travel considerations that the government should be ponying up for. I’m not sure that this new proposal is going to pass the Supreme Court of Canada’s smell test.
It’s not really a surprise that the federal government is saying that Quebec’s “death with dignity” law is a violation of the Criminal Code, and will likely be challenged in court. That was kind of the point of the way the Quebec law was structured, however – to fit under the rubric of the provincial responsibility of healthcare so as to not trigger the Criminal Code, but it will likely take the Supreme Court to determine if they can justifiably do so. The Supreme Court is already set to hear a case regarding overturning the ban on physician-assisted suicide, so by the time the Quebec law hits the courts, there may already be new jurisprudence that will help to change the calculus around it. And yes, all parties are divided on the issue. Predictably, opponents of the law insist that euthanasia cannot be medical care, and want more palliative care instead. Administrative law professor Paul Daly puts this new law in the context of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on a case involving judicial discretion, and how prosecutorial may wind up filling the gap between the Quebec law and any decision to charge anyone who makes use of it.
Justin Trudeau admitted that a couple of errors were made in relation to travel claims that should have been charged to the Speaker’s Bureau he belongs to rather than his MP expenses, dating back to 2009 and 2010. He said that it was human error, repaid them by personal cheque, and said that had there been better disclosure rules – like his party has put into place – this would have been caught sooner. And then the partisan spin happened. The NDP tried to somehow wedge this into a kind of Nigel Wright scenario, which makes no sense whatsoever. There were also sanctimonious cries about how he swore he never used his MP expenses for his outside work – and it seems pretty clear that it was a mistake, where the claims were bundled incorrectly, but now we apparently can’t take his word for anything – gods help us if any of his denouncers have ever made a mistake before. Liberal partisans, meanwhile, note that the NDP are the most opaque about their own expenses, for what it’s worth. And for everyone who cries that it should be an MP’s job to speak publicly, I would ask where exactly in an MP’s job description is being a motivational speaker? It’s not. An MP’s job is to hold the government to account and to scrutinise the public accounts, though you’d be hard pressed to find an MP who actually does that these days – I can think of a mere handful. Trying to claim that their job is something else is one more reason why the state of parliament has become so abysmal.
Stephen Harper has nominated Federal Court Justice Marc Nadon as the newest member of the Supreme Court of Canada. This appointment solidifies the current gender imbalance on the bench, and there are questions as to whether it is really appropriate that Nadon, as a Federal Court justice, really should be a Quebec appointee considering that he is not currently a member of the Quebec Bar. There have been other concerns raised that while Nadon is an expert in maritime law, there is little call for such expertise on the Supreme Court, while there is a need for more expertise in administrative law. Add to that, the ad hoc committee of MPs set to quiz Nadon on his appointment was given a mere 48 hours to prepare (though most of those MPs would have been involved with the short-list selection process, so they would be familiar with his file, but there are yet more concerns that MPs who weren’t involved in that process should be the ones involved). It was also noted that Nadon was a dissenting opinion with regard to the Omar Khadr case with regards to attempts to order the government to have him repatriated, and the Supreme Court later agreed with him – for what it’s worth.
The real news item that everyone largely ignored yesterday was the release of a Senate committee report that looked into the safety of transporting hydrocarbons by rail, pipeline and tanker. (Note: It made A1 of the Globe and Mail today, but in venues like the political shows yesterday, it was ignored entirely). While it didn’t delve too deeply into the Lac-Mégantic disaster, given that those investigations are still ongoing and that it happened as the committee was wrapping up its work, it nevertheless remained a relevant point to the recommendations that they were making, especially with respect to the fact that there can be all of the regulations in the world, but if companies don’t have a safety culture in place, it’s likely all for naught. (I’ll have more on this over at Blacklocks.ca in the next couple of days.
In amidst the votes on the Estimates last night, a bombshell was dropped – Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber, lately called something of a maverick because he had become conversant and vocal about civically literate things like the roles of backbenchers, resigned from the Conservative caucus. What precipitated this was his bill on salary disclosures for public servants, which his own caucus gutted in committee. After what seemed to be a fairly brief period of consideration, Rathgeber decided that his party no longer stood for transparency and open government, and that enough was enough. The PM’s comms director tweeted shortly thereafter that Rathgeber should run in a by-election – which is a ridiculous position because a) he didn’t cross the floor, b) this was never an issue when David Emerson, Joe Commuzzi or Wajid Kahn cross the floor to the Conservatives, and c) people elect MPs, not robots to be stamped with the part logo once the votes are counted. As reactions continued to pour in, it does continue the narrative that not all is well in the Conservative party.
At long last, the budget implementation bill was tabled yesterday, and at around 125 pages, it’s far less of the omnibus bills that the government was so fond of last year. Not that it’s too unexpected, given that the budget itself was a pretty thin document, and so Flaherty’s joke is that this one is a “minibus.” It does have a number of measures including the tariff changes, the attempt to revive the National Securities Regulator, integrating CIDA into Foreign Affairs, and taking things like Winterlude and Canada Day back from the National Capital Commission.
The Minister of State for Democratic Reform is finally getting around to drafting a bill on reforming electoral laws to prevent things like fraudulent robocalls. While Elections Canada is coming with a report on said calls this week, with recommendations about how they would like to see the laws changed, Tim Uppal says that he won’t limit himself to those recommendations. So what kinds of changes is he considering? Well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Peter Kent has ordered that the soon-to-be-defunct National Round Table on Environment and the Economy to stop posting on their website, and to turn over all of their files in relation to said site over to his department. While he says this is about transferring those contents to Library and Archives, where they will remain accessible to the public, it is a bit odd that he is actively seeking to keep things like a farewell message from the Governor General from being posted on said site in its final days.
The US State Department released their draft environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL pipeline yesterday. While it’s not final approval, it certainly doesn’t see any particular environmental problems, but it now invites input, which will likely mean an intensification of the protests taking place on both sides of the border. The one point that seems to be most contentious is the assertion that without the pipeline that the oilsands will continue to expand – environmentalists seem to disagree on this point, but I have a hard time seeing their point. The development may not expand at the same rate (which is not necessarily a bad thing either), but operations will expand regardless, and market forces will find other means ensuring that the bitumen is transported to where it needs to go, be it by an alternate pipeline, or even by rail.
In the past couple of days of Senate revelations, we find that Senator Pamela Wallin has an Ontario health card and not a Saskatchewan one, which raises the question about her residency – no matter that she spent 168 days in Saskatchewan last year. Wallin also apparently repaid a substantial amount in expense claims before this whole audit business started, which is also interesting news. Senator Mike Duffy, meanwhile, could actually end up owing $90,000 plus interest on his living expense claims rather than the $42,000 that was cited over the weekend. Oops. Tim Harper looks at the sideshow that is Senator Duffy’s non-apology and smells a deal made to save his job. Senator Cowan says that repayment doesn’t answer the questions – especially not the ones about residency, which means he may not be up to protect Duffy – or Wallin and Patterson’s – seats. And those Senators who’ve been silent on their residency claims are now being called before the Senate Internal Economy committee to explain themselves. Terry Milewski goes through the entire housing claims allegations and fixes an appropriate amount of scorn on the idea that two ticky-boxes are “complex” on the forms.