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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Roundup: Yes, governing is political

Your best political read of the weekend was a Twitter essay from Philippe Lagassé, so I’ll leave you to it.

Lagassé, who was part of the fighter jet replacement options analysis task force, reminded us then as reminds us now that we need to stop behaving like we should be in a technocracy, that there are political considerations and debates that need to be had, and that ministers decide things for which there is always a political calculation. This is not a bad thing, though we may disagree with the final decision. The great thing is that we can hold those who made the decisions to account – something you can’t really do in a technocracy, so can we please stop pretending that it’s the way our system is supposed to operate?

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Roundup: AG highlights and denials

It was the Auditor General’s fall report yesterday, and as expected he gave a pretty damning indictment of the veterans mental health programme, citing that some 20 percent of veterans can wait over eight months for disability support. The government, naturally, found the one line in the report that made it sound like they were doing a good job overall and repeated it over and over again, as though that would make it true. Other gems included $15 million spent on a digital records storage system at Library and Archives, which was later scrapped with no documented rationale (the video clip is in response to my questions in the press conference), a lack of follow-up on the Nutrition North programme to ensure that the subsidies were being passed onto consumers, a lack of cooperation meaning RCMP aren’t getting data on Canadians who offend abroad, and there was a lack of adequate data to assess the auto bailouts from 2008. And then there was Julian Fantino (or likely the staffer monitoring his Twitter account, as I suspect his duotronic circuits can’t handle the feed) trying to get one over Mercedes Stephenson, who was having none of it.

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Roundup: Partisan government tweets

The government continues their questionable communications strategies, as they are now asking federal departments to tweet favourable messages about the government’s new “family tax cut” programmes using hashtags like #StrongFamilies. You know, a slogan that Harper debuted at a party event back in the summer. And these tax measures? Not actually adopted by Parliament yet, so advertising about them is premature (not that it stopped them with the Canada Job Grant, and they’re doing TV ads already on the basis of these unapproved tax measures). Despite what Tony Clement will tell you about how this is important messaging from the government to let people know about their new programmes, it all smacks of partisan advertising – just like those terrible marijuana ads that use torqued and demonstrably false claims (like 400 percent stronger marijuana). Getting public servants to start bombarding social media with these kinds of partisan messages further degrades the neutrality of the civil service, and shows the government to be treating it as their own personal ad agency, which they should not be doing.

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Roundup: Sanctions as a badge of honour

The Russian government has retaliated against sanctions imposed by Canada by instituting sanctions of their own against 13 Canadian officials, including the Clerk of the Privy Council, the deputy secretary to cabinet in the Privy Council, Speaker Scheer, Peter Van Loan, Senator Raynell Andreychuk, and MPs Dean Allison, Paul Dewar, Irwin Cotler, Ted Opitz, Chrystia Freeland and James Bezan, all of whom consider it a “badge of honour.” Notably absent were John Baird and Stephen Harper, which signals that there is still room for negotiation. Irwin Cotler wrote his response about how he was first banned from the Soviet Union in 1979, and that he was poisoned on his last trip to Moscow in 2006. Meanwhile, the G8 is essentially no more, as Russia has expelled after their invasion of Crimea. The G7 is now resurrected in its place.

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