QP: One last go at the PM

On what promises to be the final sitting day of 2017, all of the leaders were present, and duelling Christmas poems by Mark Strahl and Rodger Cuzner, things got underway. While some of Strahl’s lines raised eyebrows (particularly the line about Scheer’s virility), Cuzner’s annual poem didn’t disappoint.

Andrew Scheer led off, railing about the “devastating” small business tax changes. Justin Trudeau reminded him that small business taxes were being lowered, and restricting income sprinkling was about ensuring that people couldn’t take advantage of loopholes. Scheer insisted that the changes spelled doom, and Trudeau responded that the opposition had become so partisan that they treated a small business tax cut as a bad thing. Scheer listed off the supposed ways in which the government has apparently attacked taxpayers, but Trudeau insisted that they were doing everything to grow the middle class, and noted how many jobs had been created. Scheer pivoted mid-retort to decry Trudeau’s “erratic behaviour” on the trade file, to which Trudeau reminded him that they weren’t going to sign any deal, but only wanted good deals for Canada. Scheer was concerned that Trudeau was endangering the NAFTA talks, to which Trudeau reminded him that capitulation was not a trade strategy. Guy Caron was up next to bay about the nomination process for the new Ethics Commissioner, and Trudeau noted that they started engaging the opposition for criteria of this process last June, and if they didn’t have confidence, they should say so. Caron insisted that their dispute was with the process not the candidate, and that they couldn’t trust a process where the committee was dominated by cabinet staff. Trudeau responded with a defence of that process, with a slightly disappointed tone. Alexandre Boulerice was up next, and he railed that the Commissioner wouldn’t promise to carry on current investigations and insinuated that the government was trying to sweep everything under the rug. Trudeau insisted that the process was merit-based, and when Nathan Cullen got up to list the alleged ethical violations of the government, Trudeau responded with disappointment that the opposition was relying solely on personal attacks.

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Roundup: A new Chief Justice

The justice minister announced yesterday morning that the prime minister would be naming Justice Richard Wagner as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, thus both respecting the tradition of alternating between a Common Law and a Civil Law judge as the Chief, as well as picking an accomplished jurist who has 15 years left on the bench, ensuring that there is a long enough period of stability on the Court. Wagner is well respected in the Quebec courts, where he hailed from, and it is noted that he doesn’t really fit into the left-right divide – something that is not only indicative of our Canadian system, but is one of those things that people point to when they note how a Liberal PM can elevate a judge chosen by his Conservative predecessor.

A trip to the Maclean’s archives finds this piece by Paul Wells on the day that Wagner was named to the Supreme Court was also the day that Justin Trudeau threw his hat into the ring for Liberal leadership, and that both men had famous fathers in political circles. Tasha Kheiriddin notes the choice of Wagner is a safe one.

It’s also worth noting that Wagner also becomes Deputy Governor General with his elevation to Chief Justice, and he can grant royal assent to bills in the event that the GG herself is ill or absent; he opens Parliament before a Speaker is elected; and he will head the committee in charge of nominating people to the Order of Canada. The practice since 1939 also used to be that the Chief Justice would close a session of Parliament instead of the Governor General following some particular manoeuvring by Mackenzie King while the GG was out of town, until the government stopped with prorogation ceremonies. (If you ask me, they should restore the ceremonies, but with the GG doing them).

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QP: Trade, jets and jeers

The final Tuesday QP of the year, and all of the leaders were present — even past leader Thomas Mulcair was present, for a change. After each side offered statements of congratulations for their by-election wins, Andrew Scheer led off, mimi-lectern on desk, and he read some condemnation of the PM going to China and his willingness to allow foreign takeovers without security reviews. Trudeau chose instead to offer congratulations to the by-election winners, as well as everyone who put their names forward. Scheer offered his own breathy congratulations, then accused the PM of erratic behaviour and incompetence on the trade file. Trudeau insisted that they worked hard to get deal that “work good” for Canadians, and that things like environmental and labour rights be respected. Scheer sniped that the PM comes home empty handed, and then raised another instance of someone complaining about Kent Hehr’s comments. Trudeau said that the minister took the allegations seriously and apologized. Scheer then moved onto the fighter jet question, and the decision to purchase used interim jets. Trudeau said that the reality was that the military needed new jets years ago but the previous government didn’t deliver, but his government had launched an open process with interim jets to fill capacity gaps. Scheer noted the problems with those jets identified by the Australian Auditor General, and offered Trudeau an old minivan. Trudeau reiterated that the previous government botched their processes. Guy Caron was up next, and was concern trolling about the problems with getting new officers of parliament. Trudeau noted the open, transparent process, and that he had confidence in the nominees put forward. Caron insisted that the process was not transparent, and demanded the names on the selection committees and short lists. Trudeau said that the appointment processes take time, and have put in place processes that people could trust. Nathan Cullen repeated the same question with added sanctimony in English, and Trudeau reiterated that they would continue to consult with the opposition on appointments, and then after another round of the same, and Trudeau said that if they didn’t have confidence in the nominee they should just say so.

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Roundup: Site C reluctance and costs

The BC government announced yesterday that they were going to reluctantly go ahead with the Site C dam project, which disappointed a great many people, not the least of which was the provincial NDP government’s Green Party allies (but not, apparently, to the point of withdrawing confidence, because they still have to get their self-interested electoral reform referendum up and running, and they certainly don’t want to jeopardise that). Oh, and true to form, it’ll cost even more than originally anticipated. Because of course it will. And while I can’t speak to some of the issues with some of the First Nations in the area, some of those cost issues were explored, particularly in this analysis, I also found the arguments of Blair King, who deals with contaminated sites for a living, to be particularly instructive on the issue, both in terms of the costs of remediating the work already done on the site, as well as the fact that other alternatives are simply not going to replace what the dam can do, particularly in the issues of night use for electric vehicles and the seasonal disparity of solar generation with usage – and certainly not for the same costs.

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QP: Concern trolling about the Commissioner

After a week away, Justin Trudeau was back in the Commons after a week away, and Andrew Scheer was also back, as the final sitting days of 2017 ticked down. Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and he raised the current investigations by the Ethics Commissioner, and concern trolled that they wouldn’t be completed before her term was up. Trudeau noted that he had recused himself from any discussions around the Commissioner, but he was confident that the House Leader would do a good job. Scheer, breathily racing through his script, worried that MPs would not be consulted or have a chance to vet the new appointee, but Trudeau reiterated that he had confidence in the House Leader. Scheer moved onto the backlog of veterans awaiting disability benefits, to which Trudeau noted that while the previous government closed veterans officers, they were reopened under the current government along with new investments. Scheer insisted that this was solely the problem of the current government, to which Trudeau said that veterans had abandoned hope of getting help under the previous government while they were coming forward now that the current government was reaching out and reinvesting. Scheer tried to then wedge this into a “mean-spiritedness” onto the disability tax credits, and Trudeau assured him that they were looking at the issue carefully to ensure that Canadians were getting the benefits they deserved. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and he too returned to the issue of the backlog of veterans benefits, and Trudeau reiterated that these were applications by those who had previously given up hope. Irene Mathyssen and demanded to know if the new veterans disability plan would be released before the House rises, and Trudeau offered assurances that they were taking the issue seriously. Caron turned to demand a Netflix tax and defend the press, and Trudeau insisted that they would not raise taxes on Canadians. Pierre Nantel was up next to demand the same Netflix tax in French, and Trudeau assured him that no Quebec demanded that he raise their taxes.

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Roundup: Space to socialize

Amidst the growing buzz of MPs’ bad behaviour, whether it’s ejections from the House of Commons during QP, or the allegations of inappropriate comments at events as with James Bezan and Sherry Romanado, Kady O’Malley says that the presence of cameras hasn’t been a guarantor of good behaviour. And that’s fair enough. So what does she propose? Not to do away with the cameras, particularly in the Chamber itself, but rather creating the conditions by which MPs can spend more time together outside of the strictly partisan work situations.

More to the point, O’Malley suggests that MPs start sharing meal breaks, whether it’s in the cafeteria, or has been proposed earlier this session with a common space behind the Commons chamber where they can eat together rather than having the usual food services delivered to their respective lobbies on either side of the Chamber. It’s not a novel idea, given the fact that it was shared meals used to be a feature of how our parliament operated. Evening sittings happened three nights a week, and at the appointed hour, they would suspend debate, head upstairs to the Parliamentary Restaurant for a couple of hours and there was cross-pollination of socializing between the different parties. And lo and behold, when evening sittings were abolished in the name of being “family friendly,” collegiality between MPs took a hit.

The problem with simply creating a space behind the Commons for MPs to have that meal together is that it’s pretty much restricted to those who are stuck with House Duty, so the numbers at any given time would be pretty small, and I’m not sure that it’s enough to get a big the requisite sea change happening. Maybe the answer is to bring back evening sittings – it’s not like there’s a lack of legislation that could use the added time – but even there, part of what kept MPs at the parliamentary restaurant is that there was a dearth of other options in the area, which isn’t the case any longer. So while I don’t dispute that more opportunities for MPs to socialize is a good and necessary thing, I’m not sure that the conditions to make this a broader issue are really there any longer.

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QP: Turning attention to Lebouthillier

With Justin Trudeau off in Beijing, along with several of his ministers, it appeared that Andrew Scheer decided he had better things to do, and left it up to Lisa Raitt to lead off QP instead. Raitt raised the ethical bar in Bill Morneau’s mandate letter, and with that having been failed by the fine for forgetting to declare the holding company that owned his villa, it was enough for him to resign. Dominic LeBlanc rose to respond, and dismissed the line of questioning as a weeks-long fishing expedition, and that Morneau had worked with the Ethics Commissioner. Raitt tried again, bringing in the fictional compliance requirements around Bill C-27, and LeBlanc dismissed the concerns, and pointed out that Raitt wished that the Conservatives had Morneau’s economic growth record. Raitt tried a third time, raising the share sales as though there was anything to question with them, and LeBlanc shrugged it off a third time. Alain Rayes took over in French, demanding to know about the share sales. LeBlanc reiterated his previous responses in French, and they went one more round of the same. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, concern trolling over Morneau having to meet with the Ethics Commissioner yet again over share sales, but LeBlanc reiterated that Morneau works with the Commissioner and takes her advice. After Caron tried again in English and got the same response, Alexandre Boulerice got up to decry the competence of the revenue minister regarding either the money hoped for from going after tax avoidance and disability tax credits for diabetics, but Diane Lebouthillier assured him that the restored disability advisory committee was getting to work. Boulerice tried again in French, and Lebouthillier responded that they were getting tough on tax avoidance.

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Roundup: The abuse of “appearance”

Breaking! Ethics Commissioner wants to talk to Bill Morneau about that share sale! To which I immediately yawn and say, “Yeah, and?” Because we are beyond the point where any of these stories are actually advancing the story in a substantive manner, and we’re well past innuendo, and are now onto a full-on pile-on in the attempts to make something, anything, stick.

This attempt to try and create some issue around insider trading has been nothing short of ludicrous because none of the facts bear the slightest scrutiny, nor does any of their internal logic hold-up in the face of the other allegations. If he was really interested in “insider trading” (which isn’t actually possible from his position), why wouldn’t he wait to sell those shares until he tabled Bill C-27 and Morneau Shepell’s share prices spiked (temporarily)? But really, none of it makes adds up, and Andrew Coyne constructed a pretty good takedown of the allegation here. And Mary Dawson saying she’ll give Morneau a call sounds pretty pro forma here, given that this is in response to yet another of Nathan Cullen’s demands that she look into his dealings in the vague hope of her finding something, anything, that Cullen can use to any tactical advantage. But as both the opposition and some of the more mediocre journalists in the Gallery continue to carry on this campaign, it has the very definite potential to backfire – especially as Morneau is taking the gloves off now that his father is being dragged into the fray. As Terrence Corcoran points out, the Conservatives are the ones who are now acting unethically, not Morneau (and I’m sure you could add a couple of aforementioned journalists to this list, because their reporting on this has been anything but responsible).

But when this short thread from Howard Anglin was pointed out last night, it became clear to me where the real problem lies.

The problem here is not Bill Morneau – it’s Justin Trudeau, and the high-minded language he put into the mandate letters about being seen to be conduct the affairs without the appearance of conflict. What that turned out to be was an invitation for abuse. Because of the word “appearance,” all that anyone – opposition MP or mediocre journalist trying to make a big score – has to do is line up unrelated or conflated facts in a completely disingenuous manner and say “See! It looks like a conflict! This goes against the mandate letter!” Never mind that none of the allegations, whether it’s the cash-for-access (which wasn’t really cash for access) caterwauling months ago, or this Morneau nonsense now, bear up under the slightest bit of scrutiny – they are simply counting on it being the appearance of a conflict, and crying foul. We’re no longer dealing with issues of substance, but rather, the manufacture of optics in deliberately dishonest ways, because Justin Trudeau gave them an open invitation to. This is the state of our democratic discourse at the end of 2017. We should be embarrassed.

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QP: A level of disgust

While Justin Trudeau was present, which is rare for a Thursday, Andrew Scheer was off in Toronto to give a speech, meaning that we wouldn’t get a repeat of some of the back-and-forth we got yesterday. Pierre Poilievre led off, and, predictably, led off with the insider trading allegations — sorry, not allegations, “just questions.” Trudeau again noted that the opposition was “in a jam” because they made allegations on Monday that they wouldn’t repeat, which pretty much proved that they were baseless. Poilievre brought in that Global News report which intimated that Morneau’s father was similarly tipped off, and Trudeau noted that the Conservatives couldn’t attack on substance, so they went for smears instead. After another round of the same, Alain Rayes took over in French, adding the demand that Morneau should be fired, and Trudeau reiterated the problem that the opposition finds themselves in. Rayes gave it another shot, but Trudeau reiterated that this was a smear campaign because they couldn’t touch the government’s fiscal record. Guy Caron was up next, for the NDP, and he demanded that the PM set the record straight on when the shares were sold. Trudeau responded with some jabs about how far that party had fallen since the previous election and how ineffective they were when it came to economic growth in the previous parliament. Caron switched to English to insist that this was all a matter of perception. Trudeau reiterated that they were so desperate as to engage in fabrications that they won’t repeat out of the House. Caron tried again, and Trudeau praised Morneau’s hard work on the economy, and Caron tried another time in both English and French, but Trudeau’s response didn’t change, and remained just as pointed.

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Senate QP: Chagger skirts some issues

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.