Roundup: An involuntary nomination

The outcome at the Status of Women committee was not unexpected, had as much sulking and grousing as was to be expected. In a public and not secret vote, the Liberals and NDP members of the committee rejected the Conservatives’ choice of Rachael Harder to chair the committee, and when the Liberals nominated Karen Vecchio in her place, Vecchio tried to back out but was overruled, and those same Liberal and Conservative members voted her in.

And then the bellyaching began. A sour press release was issued about how this was somehow about “bullying and intimidation” of some poor young woman (which is a ridiculous characterisation), but that they would accept the democratic will of the committee. And the pundit class took to Twitter to decry how bizarre it was that a woman was being forced to take the chair of a committee that she didn’t want. I’m not exactly sympathetic to these cries, because this is what happens when you try to pull a stunt for the sake of being a provocateur, as Scheer is trying to do, but you don’t have the votes to back it up. Oh, and then they tried to wedge this into the frame of it being a distraction from the tax proposals, when it shouldn’t need to be said that this was a distraction of the Conservatives’ own making, owing to their particular tactical ineptitude.

Meanwhile, Liberals took to tweeting about how this would have made Harder Andrew Scheer’s “spokesperson” on the committee, which is bizarre and wrong – the chair is the committee’s spokesperson. It’s baffling that they would try to spin it in this fashion. Then again, one shouldn’t be surpised given how badly this whole affair has been for people describing how things work in Parliament. And it shouldn’t surprise me, and yet here we are, that not one journalist writing about this story, nor any pundit commenting on it, remarked about the fact that it makes no sense to put your critic forward as committee chair. None. The chair’s role is to be neutral, to run the meeting, arbitrate rules disputes and to ensure that witnesses and questioners stay within their timelines. They’re not supposed to vote unless it’s to break a tie, which shouldn’t happen very often given the numbers at play. Why would you want your critic – your point person in holding the government and in particular that associated minister, to account – to be hobbled in this way on committee, is baffling. It’s utterly incomprehensible if you follow the basics of how parliament is supposed to work. And yet nobody saw fit to call Scheer out on this fact. These details matter.

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Roundup: Presenting Her Excellency

Yesterday was the big day, and Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Julie Payette was installed as the Canada’s 29th Governor General in a ceremony that involved more than a few nods to the Indigenous people, and a lot of music – numbers and artists that surprised many.

As for Payette herself, her installation speech was twenty minutes “from the heart” no script, no notes, and in a dynamic storytelling style about her personal journey, and what she hopes to accomplish in her time as the Vice Regal representative in Canada, drawn from her perspective of seeing a borderless planet from orbit. It also gave a hint about what she may see as her priorities as GG, which will involve promoting STEM (especially for girls), and about helping people unlock their potential by having the right support systems behind them. Personally, I would say that this speech was far beyond anything we’ve seen from the post in more than the past seven years of Payette’s predecessor, and that I believe will serve us well.

Meanwhile, the National Post looked into just what a Governor General does all day, in true Tristin Hopper style.

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Roundup: All abuzz about Netflix

It’s probably not a big surprise that the story for which the most ink (physical or digital, take your pick) was spilled yesterday were the culture policy changes that Mélanie Joly announced, punctuated by the grand announcement that Netflix had committed to spending half a billion dollars over five years on Canadian productions. But in there was also news that there would be no big bailout for the news media in this country, and there would be some funding boosts for the Canada Media Fund, the Canada Music Fund and the Canada Book Fund, and a creative export strategy, along with previously announced reforms of the Copyright Board.

Suffice to say, there’s a fair amount of grumbling from traditional broadcasters that Neflix is essentially getting away with murder, not bound by the same CanCon obligations of traditional broadcasters, nor are other Internet giants like Google and Facebook being asked to contribute to the same content creation funds that traditional media are. And there is some pretty legitimate concerns about this announced Netflix deal because it’s pretty opaque – Netflix will continue to be able to operate as a black box when it comes to their subscriber data, and while Sean Casey went on Power & Politics to insist that the $500 million was new money (given that Netflix had previously told Parliament that they were already spending “hundreds of millions of dollars” in Canada), it really doesn’t seem like that’s anything new given that previous statement. Netflix also says that the money isn’t coming from the recent rate-hike in Canada, but that’s not washing with a number of people. The Financial Post has a fairly comprehensive look at the announcement here, including the fact that the announcement seems to leave a lot of the heavy lifting into the future, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise.

I do think it should be incumbent upon us to remember that Netflix has not been a net benefit to the cultural sector in Canada. The late Denis McGrath used to refer to them as a “parasite” on the Canadian broadcast sector because they put no money into the production of shows that they streamed, encouraging the cord-cutting that starved the very platforms who produced those shows that they later streamed of funding. It’s a complex problem, and a handful of Netflix originals aren’t going to be the panacea for the Canadian film and television industry. If anything, it may hasten the decline.

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Roundup: A catalogue of ineptitude

Over in the weekend Ottawa Citizen, our good friend Kady O’Malley has a comprehensive breakdown of everything that went wrong with the electoral reform committee, and it’s pretty stunning once it’s all laid out before you. It starts with the Liberals’ relenting to allow the makeup of the committee to be more *cough* “proportional” than the traditional make-up of a parliamentary committee (which was not actually proportional, but merely gamed by the NDP to give the appearance of proportionality, and the Liberals relented for what I’m guessing was good faith). From there, it moves to the Liberals putting all newbies on the committee (with the exception of the chair) who didn’t have a clue what they were doing, and their lack of experience, combined with the fact that they no longer had a majority (despite having a parliamentary majority) meant that the opposition party gamed the witness selection in such a way that it meant they were able to self-select witnesses to get the outcome they wanted – namely 88 percent of witnesses preferring proportional systems, and furthermore, because they had motivated followings for their public consultations, it allowed them to self-select their famed 87 percent in favour of proportional systems and a further 90 percent in favour of a referendum. And almost nary was there a voice for ranked ballots. (Also a nitpick: ranked ballots have little to do with the proportionality that people keep trying to force the system into, nor are they about gaming the system in favour of centrist parties like the Liberals. Rather, ranked ballots are designed to eliminate strategic voting, ensure that there is a “clear winner” with a simple majority once you redistribute votes, and to make campaigning “nicer” because you are also looking for second-place votes. Experience from Australia shows that it has not favoured centrist governments).

In other words, this whole exercise was flawed from the start, in large part because the Liberal government was so inept at handling it. In fact, this cannot be understated, and they are continuing to be completely inept at handling the fallout of the broken process that they allowed themselves to be bullied into (lest they face charges of trying to game the system – thus allowing the other parties to game it for them), and rather than either admitting that this went off the rails (because it did) and that it was a stupid promise to have made in the first place (because it was) and trying to either be honest about cutting their losses, they’re dragging it out in order to find a more legitimate way to either punt this into the future, or declare that no consensus can be found (which there won’t be) and trying to kill it that way. But in the meantime, the daily howls out outrage of the opposition because of the way that they have completely bungled not only the committee response (and let’s face it – the report’s recommendations were hot garbage) and the further rollout of their MyDemocracy survey without adequately explaining it has meant that this continues to turn into an outrageous farce. I’m not necessarily going to lay this all at the feet of the minister, or call for her resignation, but this is one particular file where the government has been so clueless and amateurish that the need to pull out of the tailspin that they find themselves in, take their lumps, and then smother this in the crib. Enough is enough.

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Roundup: Desmond’s deserving recognition

The news was announced yesterday that Bill Morneau had chosen Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond to grace the new $10 banknote, which is being hailed pretty much universally as an excellent choice, and certainly the one that I had been hoping for when the shortlist was announced. As soon as it was announced, though, we got inundated with a flood of headlines declaring Desmond to be “Canada’s Rosa Parks,” which starts to grate because Desmond’s stand against segregation began nine years before Parks’ did, but she has largely been an unknown in Canadian history. I hadn’t even really heard of her until the History Minute last year (and side note, not only was it a compelling story, but I was pleased to see that Battlestar Galactica’s Kandyce McClure played her), and it was a reminder that yes, we too had segregation in Canada, albeit a subtler one because it wasn’t entrenched in legislation. That Canadians identify Parks before Desmond is part of our problem with our own history, both in that we have a tendency to whitewash much of it, but also that we are so inundated with Americana that our own achievements get lost in it (such as when Upper Canada was the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to end slavery). Of course, part of why Desmond’s case has been obscured in history has to do with the fact that her case was ostensibly one related to tax evasion (for the one cent theatre tax she did not pay to sit in the lower seats despite requesting to pay the higher priced ticket) and her lawyer didn’t push the racial discrimination angle in court. Hopefully, this inclusion will help to rectify this wrong, to restore Desmond’s rightful place in the history books and in the popular consciousness about civil rights in Canada.

Chatelaine has seven facts about Desmond. Former Nova Scotia lieutenant governor Maryann Francis talks about when she was able to give a Free Pardon posthumously for Desmond and the meaning of it for her. Maclean’s digs into its archives to look at Desmond and the issues of racism in Nova Scotia going back decades.

Meanwhile, there have been a few comments about how our wartime prime ministers, Sir Robert Borden and William Lyon Mackenzie King will no longer be gracing banknotes, while Sir John A Macdonald and Sir Wilfred Laurier are moving from the $5 and $10 banknotes to the $50 and $100, with accusations that this means that we’re somehow “effacing history.” The thing is, Borden and King are in plenty of other places in our history books, while a person like Desmond is not. I think we have room enough to learn about the contributions of more than just the great white men of history and making it more inclusive. That’s hardly effacing history – it’s opening it up.

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Roundup: Beware blinkered history

There is always a danger in trying to look for lessons from history when you do so selectively. This is the case with a column by William Watson in today’s Ottawa Citizen. Watson – an economics professor at McGill and not a parliamentary observer, it should be noted – dug through the 1917 Hansard to look over the debates on bringing in income tax (remember, this was the “temporary” wartime measure that was introduced and then eventually became a permanent thing), and discovered that lo, the debate was so much more serious then and nothing like things are today, ergo Parliament was better in 1917 than it is today.

And then I bashed my head against my desk for a while.

This is what happens when you take a look at a narrow slice of history without actually looking at the broader context or picture. It’s easy to take a single debate and declare a golden age because hey, the government of the day was giving complex answers to complex questions, but that’s not to say that there weren’t antics that took place. Remember that this was not far removed from the days when MPs would light firecrackers and play musical instruments to disrupt the other side during debate. Hell, I was speaking to a reporter who was in the Gallery during WWII, and she said that there was far less professionalism in those days, and MPs who got bored would often break into song during debate. This was also the era before TV, before the proceedings were recorded in audio or video and able to be checked, so we don’t know what the transcriptionists missed. It was also an era where I’m sure that time limits for questions and answers were looser than they are now, and where MPs weren’t playing up for the cameras. Does that make it better? Maybe, maybe not. Parliament was also composed entirely of white men, mostly of a professional background – does that make things any better? You tell me. Parliament had very different responsibilities in those days as well, and government was much, much smaller. Patronage ruled the day, and government was more involved in direct hires of the civil service rather than it being arm’s length. Is this something we want to go back to? Watson kind of shrugs this important distinction off because they had more meaningful exchanges about income tax.

Declaring simply that Parliament was composed of “intelligent, informed adults” in 1917, and the implication that it is not so today, is a grossly blinkered view of history and of civics. I will be the first to tell you that the state of debate today is pretty abysmal when it mostly consists of people reading statements into the record, talking past one another, but that doesn’t mean that MPs aren’t intelligent or informed. Frankly, it seems like Watson is longing for the days of the old boys’ club if you read some of his nostalgic commentary. I’m not sure that’s proof that things were better then, and it certainly should be a caution about taking a blinkered view of history.

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Roundup: A hedge on refugees?

It looks like the new Liberal government may be walking back a little on their first election promise, around the 25,000 Syrian refugees. Initially the promise was 25,000 government-assisted refugees with additional privately sponsored refugees on top of that figure. Yesterday, it sounded like the 25,000 will be a combination of the two based on comments by the minister, but Trudeau seemed to contradict that in his press conference while the minister’s spokesperson was hedging somewhere around the fact that there may be some privately sponsored among the 25,000 this year with more to come in 2016, but I’m not sure that the privately sponsored numbers will be that significant in the short timeframe that it would be too much of a difference for that 25,000 target. Meanwhile, it sounds like plans are being developed to fly a thousand Syrian refugees per day out of Aman, Jordan, while temporary lodgings are currently being worked out. No doubt we’ll hear more details in the coming days.

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Roundup: Trudeau apologises! Let’s obsess some more about it!

Our long national nightmare is over – or is it? Justin Trudeau apologised for his comments about Alberta, saying he meant Conservatives when he said Albertans. Well, then. And so we continue to obsess over it all. Trudeau’s camp tested the sincerity of the apology by immediately putting out a fundraising letter to help them counter the Conservative attack machine. Martin Patriquin dissects the pandering in fantastic style. Andrew Coyne examines the comments and apology alongside those made by David McGuinty, and concludes that in their proper context, McGuitny’s were downright admirable for calling out parochialism, whereas Trudeau’s makes one question the breadth of vision required to govern a country such as ours.

The Premiers concluded their meeting and are talking about collaborating on energy issues, skills training, trade, and infrastructure. Also, Redford and Clark didn’t get into a catfight, and Marois apparently acquitted herself well for her first time out, in case anyone was wondering.

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Roundup: Trudeau pile-on while committee vote-athon continues

Justin Trudeau said something a bit impolitic in an interview two years ago about how Quebeckers were tired of Albertan prime ministers and how having more Quebeckers in positions of power would be better for the country – all in the context of pandering to a Quebec audience while fighting for his seat against separatists, which is not wholly unexpected. But SunTV “revealed” it yesterday, and suddenly everyone lost their minds. Because we had nothing better to talk about, apparently. Also lost in the pile-on was the old Reform ad campaign about “no more prime ministers from Quebec, “ but hey, that’s all in the past, right? And it’s not like politicians in this country could ever be accused of regionalism, ever. Anyway, Trudeau refused to apologise, and simply declared it to have been taken out of context, for what it’s worth.

Over in the Commons finance committee, voting continues apace on the 3000+ amendments that Scott Brison introduced, and because the Conservatives and NDP on the committee voted to change their own rules, so that the amendments would be kept in the committee rather than going to the House once time elapsed, the voting continues in committee. Kady O’Malley has been liveblogging the proceedings diligently.

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QP: Not meeting with the premiers

The day was not off to a promising start as more statements condemning David McGuinty and the Liberals continued to make the rounds during the QP warm-up, because hey, there’s a by-election four days away, and there’s nothing like cheap political hay to be made. Thomas Mulcair started off by reading a pair of questions on why Harper wasn’t attending the First Ministers’ meeting in Halifax to talk about the economy, to which Harper assured him that he meets with the premiers regularly, and he’s focused on the economy. For his last question, Mulcair asked about the court case against the Parliamentary Budget Officer, but Harper didn’t answer about that, only offered to “correct” Mulcair’s preamble aside about how job numbers weren’t really that great, and so on. Libby Davies was up next asking about child poverty rates, to which Diane Finley assured her that they were less than half of what they were under the Liberals because of the government’s good work. Bob Rae returned to the question of Harper not speaking to the premiers, and Harper said that he not only met with premiers regularly, but members of the business community and ordinary Canadians too!

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