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.
With all party leaders back in the House today, things got started with Thomas Mulcair reading a screed about the “corruption” in the Senate, to which Harper rejected the categorisation and noted how quickly they responded to the allegations. Mulcair moved onto the “fraud” of the Saskatchewan push-polls, earning him a warning from the Speaker about QP being for government business, not party business, but Harper responded anyway, talking about how everyone had a right to give input to the electoral boundaries process. For his final question, Mulcair asked about job creation, giving Harper a chance to tout his record. Peggy Nash was up next, asking about long-term unemployment and changes to EI, for which Jim Flaherty gave a rundown of their job creation numbers with a tone of exasperation. Bob Rae was up next for the Liberals, and taking up the theme of Bell’s Let’s Talk day about mental health, and wondered why recommendations by the Mental Health Commission. Harper reminded him that they set up the commission, and that they were looking to their recommendations going forward. For his final question, Rae asked about a parliamentary inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women, but Harper
Monday afternoon, and the Chamber was still a bit sleepy after the weekend. Only one leader was in the House today, being Thomas Mulcair, and he began things by reading off a litany of condemnations against Senators Brazeau and Duffy, and demanded the whole institution be abolished — because a) that’s helpful, and b) two or three bad apples out of 105 detracts from the good work of the rest of the Senate, including when they pick up the ball when MPs drop it, as with the sports betting and royal succession bills. James Moore, the designated back-up PM du jour, assured him that the Senate’s Internal Economy Board was investigating these senators. For his final question, Mulcair read a question about EI reforms, to which Moore assured him that the reforms were helping get people working. Peggy Nash was up next and said that it was false that there was no mechanism to extend Kevin Page’s term as PBO, pointing to his term being renewable. Tony Clement said that there was a process in place to find his replacement. (On a related note, the PBO is not the only accountability mechanism available — it just happens that accountability is the actual role of MPs). Ralph Goodale was up for the Liberals, warning of a weakening economy while everyone was worrying about other distraction issues, and wanted the budget tabled by the end of February. In response, Moore read off a number of good news talking points. Stéphane Dion was up last, and demanded that the government undo its “job-killing” EI reforms.
So, Senator Patrick Brazeau, arrested and held in police custody on suspicion of domestic violence, possibly sexual assault. Stephen Harper reacted immediately by expelling him from caucus – so far so good. But then came the immediate and not unexpected boneheaded comments from the commentariat with its ad homenim attacks and visceral hatred for the Senate, apparently based solely on the received wisdom of the ages, and not upon reality. For example, NDP MP Charlie Angus insisted that Stephen Harper remove Brazeau from the Senate entirely – err, except that he can’t do that. You see, there’s a reason why Prime Ministers can’t arbitrarily remove Senators – because it’s the job of the Senate to hold the executive in check. If a Prime Minister could remove Senators at will, then he would do so anytime they became a nuisance to him, and replace them with more compliant models. That kind of protection from arbitrary removal is actually a design feature – it allows them to speak truth to power without fearing for their jobs. And while yes, they can be removed through an internal process, it’s a pretty high bar that’s set in order to ensure that their jobs aren’t under threat when they oppose the government of the day. And yes, many Senators do take advantage of that, even when it’s inconvenient to the Prime Minister that appointed them, because that’s their job. While the received wisdom is that they are all hacks napping until their retirement, a lot of good work happens in the Senate that simply isn’t talked a lot about, mostly because there isn’t a lot of drama behind it. Add to that this concern-trolling about being “democratic” or “accountable” without actually understanding what those terms mean in their holistic contexts, and it’s when things start to spiral out of control.
It was another bitterly cold day out in Ottawa, and the Hill was buzzing with news of Senator Brazeau’s arrest and removal from caucus. Thomas Mulcair was off at an event elsewhere, which left it up to Megan Leslie to lead off by asking about the Saskatchewan push-poll, but once again fell into that basic trap of asking about party business and not government operations. Harper reminded her that while the party position was well known, the commission had its work to do. Leslie then turned to the question of Senate ethics, and Brazeau’s arrest. Harper assured her that Brazeau was removed from caucus, and that it was of a personal nature and not with regards to Senate business. Peggy Nash was up next, asking why the government wouldn’t extend Kevin Page’s term until his his successor is chosen — unless they had something to hide in the budget. Clement simply repeated that there was a process in place to find his replacement, and they were respecting that process. For the Liberals, Ralph Goodale was up asking about possible gerrymandering of the Saskatchewan boundaries, to which Harper assured him that the process was underway and included Parliamentary input, before insinuating that Goodale didn’t care about rural communities. Dominic LeBlanc was up for the final question of the round, asking about household debt, for which Shelly Glover read off some good news talking points.
In another stunning bout of knee-jerk populism, Jason Kenney has seized on the story of a Canadian dual-citizen blowing up a bus in Bulgaria, coupled it with a dubious Private Member’s Bill about stripping the citizenship of dual-citizens who engage in acts of war against the country, talked about amending it to include terrorism, and viola – ready for the media. How predictable, and how so very, very flawed. For one, it’ll never stand up to the Charter, because Canadians, no matter where they may have been born, are all equal under the law. Also, it shows contempt for process because he’s trying to hijack a PMB that probably shouldn’t have been voteable in the first place. It’s worse that Kenney wants to try and ram through unconstitutional measures into the PMB process, which would get a mere couple of hours of committee study before heading back to the Chamber for a mere two more hours of debate. Yeah, he may need to rethink this whole proposition.
Despite a fall on the ice earlier in the morning, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was in the House, perhaps a little tender, but ready to take on Harper nevertheless. He began by reading off accusations about the Conservatives’ Saskatchewan push-polling. Apparently it bears reminding that party business is not government operations, and therefore not the domain of Question Period. Harper rejected the accusations, and said that the party explained their actions and the boundary commissions were independent. For his final question, Mulcair wanted assurances that the next budget wouldn’t be another mammoth omnibus bill. Harper skirted around the answer. Peggy Nash carried on with questions about the future budget, to which Shelly Glover assured her that the 2012 budget was focused on jobs and long-term prosperity. For the Liberals, Bob Rae wanted assurances that there would be no partisan legislation to gerrymander the boundaries in Saskatchewan, to which Harper assured him that boundary commissions were independent and that he respected that. For his final question, Rae inquired after press reports that dairy was on the table in the CETA negotiations. Harper assured him that he was committed to protecting supply management, unlike a certain Liberal leadership candidate. *cough*Martha Hall Findlay*cough*