While the official apology to LGBT Canadians carried on in the House of Commons, the Senate moved onto its regularly scheduled ministerial Question Period, with special guest star Bardish Chagger in her role as minister of small business and tourism. That didn’t quite matter to the Conservative leader, Senator Smith, who led off on the ongoing issue of the process to name a new Ethics Commissioner, which Chagger is in charge of, and his concerns with news that four members of the PMO had recused themselves from the process because they were on the PM’s vacation to the Bahamas over Christmas. Chagger noted that she was supposed to be here in her role as minister of small business and tourism, but that being said, she responded that the was an open, transparent, merit-based process in place. When Smith pressed, noting that Chagger had defended the PM on his vacation while she was in charge of this process, Chagger reiterated that there was an open, transparent, merit-based process.
Senator McIntyre asked about the PBO report on the proposed tax changes, and whether she knew in advance what it said. Chagger noted that she read the report at the same time as others, and that the intent of the changes was to close loopholes on places where they are used for high-earners evading taxes but not to punish small businesses, which are the backbone of the economy.
Senator Day asked a question in relation to Chagger’s role as House Leader, and raised the omnibus motion that Chagger moved in June that in part rejected Senate amendments to the budget bill. Day demanded to know what “rights and privileges” the amendments would have violated, and why they would have been passed without debate. Chagger said that they have the utmost respect for the Senate, but didn’t really defend her motion or her actions. Day pressed on the rights and privileges, given there was no debate that spelled out what they were, but Chagger merely said that she would ensure that the Senate’s views were heard.
Senator Cormier asked about the Business Development Bank of Canada, and the needs of the arts and culture sector. Chagger said that she has been working with BDC on several initiatives, and that a whole-of-government approach was being taken, but she was pushing for more recognition of the arts sector.
Senator Lankin asked about taxes on campgrounds and the lack of sufficient answers on the matter to date. Chagger said that CRA was dealing with those cases on a case-by-case basis, and she had asked to be kept informed on the progress.
Senator Batters asked about the lack of details on retroactive tax changes to passive investments (which is not actually right — passive income changes were to be grandfather existing investments). Chagger respectfully disagreed with Batters on her characterization, noted the 73 percent tax rate referred to was not common, and then quoted the PBO report that said that 97 percent of businesses would not be affected.
Senator Greene Raine asked about a programme for tourism packages, which was had their GST rebate application later than expected and less than expected. Chagger said that she would follow up with her on the issue.
Senator Omidvar talked about entrepreneurship among immigrants, and some of the difficulty that they have with navigating the system. Chagger highlighted the accelerated growth service that caters to the needs of entrepreneurs that provides help to get through the hurdles.
Senator McPhedran asked about a fund for women entrepreneurs in the tech sector, particularly for Indigenous women. Chagger agreed that were not doing enough in that sector and they were trying to do better, and they were seeing returns on that fund, and curiously, tied it into the apology to persecuted LGBT Canadians taking place in the Commons, and the loss of potential that took place then and that she doesn’t want to keep taking place now.
Senator Oh asked about Canada-China tourism, and the ability to quickly process visa applications. Chagger said that she was happy to see the numbers from China grow, and gave some praise for the tourism industry before getting around to the visas, and noted the seven new visa centres which were opened and are “working well.”
Overall, it was a fairly mixed bag. On the one hand, Chagger could absolutely give good answers to some questions, and without the same 35-second constraints in the Commons, was able to actually give reasonable answers instead of sound-bites. This having been said, she did have a tendency to dissemble at times, but not quite as much as some of her colleagues, and generally, she would return to the question being posed. But when pressed on one of the most fundamental issues, being Senator Day’s inquiry into just what happened in June with the amendments to the budget bill (during which, I will remind you, Senator Harder compromised his own position in his leading the response from the Senate), and the somewhat alarming manner in which Chagger made her response in the Commons at the time, she remained mute. While it wasn’t too surprising, it was certainly disappointing, especially as it points to the ways in which this government continues to handle the independent Senate that they have promoted.
Sartorially speaking, style citations go out to Senator Lillian Eva Dyck for a black leather jacket with embroidery, a white blouse with a lace collar and a black skirt with a Indigenous floral pattern, as well as to Senator René Cormier for a tailored dark grey suit with a white shirt and patterned tie. Style citations go out to Senator David Richards for a baggy black jacket, taupe slacks, white shirt and black striped tie, and to Senator Pierrette Ringuette for a tan long sweater over a black, white and red patterned dress, with red tights.