Roundup: Harder threatens hardball

A curious development happened in the Senate yesterday, where the Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative,” Senator Peter Harder, decided to threaten to play hardball for the first time. Harder moved a motion that would send the marijuana legalisation bill to three different committees by March 1st, with an aim to have them report back to the Chamber by April 19th. The threat? That if they don’t agree, he’ll resort to time allocation (which may be an empty threat if he can’t get the votes to do so). While there are questions as to why the “haste” (though I would hardly call it such), the supposition is that the government wants this passed before summer, despite the fact that there will be an eight-to-twelve-week lag between royal assent and retail sales. Now, one could point out that the Senate rose a week early before Christmas and could have done more of their second reading debate beforehand (along with the other bills on the Order Paper), and maybe they should have been more conscious of the timeline then, but that’s now past.

While I’m not opposed to one-off timeline negotiations, I do find myself concerned by some of the tone of Harder’s release, one line of which reads “Sen. Harder said he is also concerned that opponents may behave in a partisan fashion to delay review of the bill.” Why is this concerning? Because it’s part of his larger plan. After the Speaker ballsed up the procedural motions around the national anthem bill (which saw the motions go through that day rather than the three of four weeks of delays that were anticipated), the Conservatives are angry and threatening to delay legislation, and that in turn is giving Harder the ammunition he needs to push the Independent senators to agitate to change the rules to eliminate the government and opposition roles in the chamber, which is a very bad thing for parliamentary democracy. But the Conservatives can’t help themselves, and keep insisting that they’re just ensuring through examination of the bill, as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. Of course, bringing up the anthem bill is not the same thing as it was a private members’ bill and there was no real mechanism for Harder to move it forward, whereas he has tools for this bill. But, as with anything, false equivalencies to prove a point are part of the game if people don’t know any better.

And if the Conservatives don’t think that they’re signing their own warrants for the demise of opposition by continued procedural gamesmanship, then they had better wake up because the ISG is rousing itself to go on the warpath for these rule changes. Being a little more strategic in their partisanship and tactics would be advisable because the reckoning is coming.

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Roundup: Scheer unveils more reheated policy

While at the Manning Centre Networking Conference in Ottawa yesterday, Andrew Scheer unveiled another policy plank – that he was going to support a free trade deal with the United Kingdom, post-Brexit. And a short while later, put out a press release and “backgrounder” (which was a bit content-free) to say that he was going to travel to the UK next month to start talking about just this.

Scheer is behind the times on this, because Justin Trudeau announced that he and Theresa May were already having this discussion back when she visited in September, and Scheer knows this. So he’s reiterating this for a couple of reasons, beyond the fact that he’s trying to paint the picture of Trudeau being unable to adequately handle trade negotiations (never mind that his government concluded CETA that was in danger of going off the rails, and similarly extracted concessions from TPP talks, and they haven’t rolled over on NAFTA talks).

  1. Scheer is a Brexit supporter, and his trip to the UK is at a time where the UK Parliament is dealing with their Brexit legislation and not doing very well with it. One suspects that this trip is more about offering Canadian support for Brexit from his position as Leader of the Opposition, never mind that I suspect that the vast majority of Canadians would oppose Brexit (and hell, the number of Britons who regret voting for it seems to be growing daily). But Scheer does seem to want to offer that encouragement from his position.
  2. This announcement was to a crowd of small-c conservatives who feel a great deal of affection for the Anglosphere, and suspicion for other trade deals, particularly with China. It doesn’t seem to be out of the realm of possibility that this is a bit of red meat for that base.

Suffice to say, if this is a new bit of policy, this awfully thin gruel.

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Roundup: Pipeline demands versus environmental legislation

The pipeline drama between Alberta and BC continues to carry on at a dull roar, with yet more demands by the Conservatives that Trudeau return home to deal with the situation, and Jason Kenney demanding that the federal government take BC’s government to court, Trudeau reiterated from a press conference in San Francisco that yes, they will ensure that the Trans Mountain pipeline will get built, and reminded Kenney et al. that you can’t take BC to court over a press release. They’ve just stated intentions and haven’t done anything yet. Take a deep breath.

Amidst all of this, the federal government unveiled their new environmental assessment legislation yesterday, and pointed to it when answering questions on the pipeline battle. The new bill undoes much of the changes made during the previous Conservative government, but also places new streamlined processes with legislated timelines and a plan to replace the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, and the National Energy Board with the Canadian Energy Regulator. The Conservatives don’t like it because it undoes the changes they made, and the NDP don’t like it because they say it leaves too much uncertainty, but one suspects that the fact that neither other party likes it suits the Liberals just fine.

As for the pipeline battle, Jason Markusoff looks at what needs to happen for Alberta and BC to stand down from their respective positions, while John Geddes notes how little wiggle room that Trudeau has given himself.

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Roundup: Draft climate legislation revealed

The government unveiled their draft legislation for carbon pricing mechanisms, largely as the backstop for those provinces whose governments are toeing the agreed-upon line, and it includes both pricing incentives for those who can get 30 percent below the national standards, as well as the ability for the federal government to directly reimburse individuals for their carbon payments rather than just returning it all to provincial coffers and letting the provincial government figure it out.

Energy economists Andrew Leach and Trevor Tombe dig into the announcements a bit more.

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Roundup: Harper unhappy with NAFTA talks

Stephen Harper has apparently written an angry memo to his clients about the governmetn’s handling of the NAFTA negotiations, accusing them of bungling them by not evaluating American demands seriously (err, you have seen how many of their demands are literal impossibilities, right?) and of ignoring a softwood deal (which officials say was never on the table), and of aligning themselves too much with Mexico when they were the targets of America’s ire. Canadian officials are none too pleased, and consider it a gift to the Trump administration.

Alex Panetta, the Canadian Press reporter who broke the story, has more commentary below.

Paul Wells offered a few thoughts of his own on the news.

Incidentally, the PM has also vocally disagreed with former Conservative minister James Moore’s assertion that trade talks with China are hurting our talks with the Americans.

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Roundup: No conflict to investigate

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.

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Roundup: The measure of a political promise

There’s been a lot of hay made, ink spilled and electrons converted into pixels over the last 36 hours or so about the value of political promises, and how terrible it is when politicians break them. It makes people so cynical, and it’s no wonder that people hate politicians, and so on. We had Liberal MPs Nate Erskine-Smith and Adam Vaughan prostrating themselves about how sorry they are that the promise was broken, voter reform groups wailing about how terribly they’ve been betrayed, and columnists pontificated on broken promises (though do read Selley’s piece because he offers some great advice, not the least of which is telling PR advocates to tone down the crazy. Because seriously).

But in the midst of this, we had Conservative leadership candidates laying out a bunch of promises of what they would do if they a) won the leadership, and b) won the next general election, and some of those promises were hilariously terrible. For example, Maxime Bernier thinks it’s cool to freeze equalization payments so that the federal government can tell provinces how they should be managing their own fiscal houses, or Andrew Scheer saying that he would enshrine property rights by using a novel approach to amending the constitution through the back door, as though the Supreme Court of Canada would actually let that pass.

And while everyone was tearing their hair out over Trudeau’s “betrayal” and “lies,” what were these two other, equally implausible promises as Trudeau’s on electoral reform, met with? A few pundits tweeted “good luck with that” to Scheer. And that was about it. So forgive me while I try to calibrate my outrage meter on political promises here, as to which ones we should take seriously and which ones we know are bad or wholly improbable but can safely laugh off.

To be clear – I’m not looking to give Trudeau a free pass on this one, and I’ve written elsewhere that I think he needs to own up to the fact that it was a bad promise made when he was a third-place party who were blue-skying a number of things. And I think that it should give parties and candidates pause so as to caution them against being overly ambitious in what they promise (preferably, though, without draining all ambition out of politics). But come on. Let’s have a sense of proportion to what just happened here.

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Roundup: Reporting the terror threat

The government released their 2016 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada yesterday, and there are a few items of note, particularly that there are more Canadians who are suspected of travelling abroad to engage in terrorist activities, more women are joining the cause, and more of them are returning to Canada after some time abroad, all of which needs to be monitored. The biggest threat remains those lone wolves who are “inspired” by terrorist ideology rather than being directed from abroad, because quite obviously it’s much harder to detect and monitor. Apparently it’s also news that Ralph Goodale is calling ISIS “Daesh” in the report, but some terror experts will note that this is just a bit of name-calling. On a related note, RCMP are talking about their roadblocks in the fight against terrorism, which is a lot about the difficulty in turning evidence gathered from partners like CSIS into something they can admit to the courts, which is apparently harder than it seems. I’m not really sure that I’ve got a lot to add on this one, just that despite the various howls from both the Conservatives and the NDP in how the Liberals have been handling the terror file – the Conservatives insisting that the Liberals have given it up and are running away from the fight (objectively not the case), and the NDP caterwauling that C-51 needs to be repealed full stop – that the Liberals do indeed seem to be taking this seriously. While experts have been praising them on their go-slow approach rather than legislating in haste, I think it’s also notable that they are making reports like these public in order to give a realistic picture of what is going on, rather than relying on hysteria in order to try and build public support that way. We’ll no doubt see a lot more from them in the next couple of months as the new national security committee of parliamentarians is set up, and consultations on the state of our anti-terror laws transition into legislation, but this was a good reminder that things are in the works. In the meantime, here are some more thoughts from a real expert on these kinds of things, Stephanie Carvin.

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Roundup: No ideological obstruction

There’s the Senate bat-signal again. Conservative Senate leader Claude Carignan says that his caucus won’t abuse their majority in the Senate to thwart Liberal legislation that comes forward, to which I say “Um, yeah. Of course.” Because wouldn’t you know it, Senators have a job to do, and they know it. Of course, I’ve never bought into the conspiracy theory that Conservative senators would be the puppets of Harper, trying to influence things beyond the political grave, or even the theory that they would be extra dickish just because they were Harper appointees. Then again, most people seem to forget that senators of any stripe suddenly get a lot more independent when the PM who appointed them is no longer in office, and they get really, really independent once leadership races kick off. So far we’re at the first of those two, and with the Conservatives as a whole allegedly experimenting with a less command-and-control style of leadership, we may see the yoke they unduly placed over their Senate caucus lifted. Mind you, we’re still waiting for a signal to see what Trudeau will do in terms of both the Speaker of the Senate and the Leader of the Government. Without a Leader, they might as well just cancel Senate Question Period, which would be a loss because it’s quite instructive for how QP in the Commons should be run. Some senators have floated the idea of just having Senate QP be about asking questions to committee chairs (which, incidentally, they already can do), but it’s not a good idea because those committee chairs aren’t going to have a lot to say about issues of the day, they won’t have access to briefing materials, and they aren’t conduits by which the government can be held to account, which is the whole point of QP – not asking details about committee work. But seriously – can we please stop worrying about fantastical hysteria about what the Senate is going to do? 99 percent of it is based on false assumptions and ignorance of the chamber, and it’s so, so tiresome. They have jobs to do. Let them.

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Roundup: More responsibility from failure

The OPP report on the October 22nd shooting is out, and highlights a number of lapses that happened on that day, but among them all, it should probably be highlighted that a lot of the problem seems to be with the RCMP who are patrolling the exterior of the buildings on the Hill, and that they had a minute-and-a-half to do something about the shooter and didn’t. (Some of what people saw during the shooting is described here). Not that there weren’t problems inside, as some of the bullets that flew were from security personnel and not the shooter, including the one that lodged itself in to the door of the Railway Room, where the NDP were having their caucus meeting. It was also raised in the report that the RCMP were dealing with budget cuts, so it does raise the question as to whether their limited resources played a factor in what happened, be it in resourcing or equipment. It also raises a lot of questions moving forward because the government made a particularly top-down move to have the RCMP take over the oversight of all Hill security from its previous silos (remember that Commons and Senate security forces are separate because of privilege issues). If the RCMP couldn’t manage the situation outside of the buildings, how will they be any better overseeing and coordinating things inside? As well, it needs to be stressed that this new system, under RCMP management, has been imposed hastily and without enough discussion and consultation – the government put the motion under closure, and its implementation is in the omnibudget bill with not enough time for proper scrutiny, particularly as many of the questions about what it all means still haven’t been answered yet, like what the role for the Sergeant-at-Arms will be under this new regime. Speaker Scheer did acknowledge that parliamentarians are complaining, but he seems to think that everything will work out fine. How can we be sure of that if we’re rushing this through and not thinking clearly enough about it, or consulting enough with all of the stakeholders and taking this report into consideration, which hadn’t been completed when the motion was passed and the implementation put into the budget bill. Meanwhile, the fact that RCMP are now carrying submachine guns on the Hill has a lot of its denizens unsettled.

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