Question Period was late today, due to Malala Yousafzai’s address to parliament, and was the only item on the Order Paper for the day. Meanwhile, not all leaders bothered to show up either. Rona Ambrose led off, mini-lectern on desk, lamenting new taxes and the plan to increase user fees in the budget bill. Justin Trudeau insisted that they were proud of their choices and the ways they are helping the middle class. Ambrose spun the question as taxing time-off, and Trudeau responded by praising their decision to offer free passes to national parks this year. Ambrose spun it about camping — as those fees are going up — but Trudeau reiterated his response. Ambrose then asked whether the government planned to pass her bill on sexual assault training for judges, and Trudeau noted his support for survivors, but he also respects Parliament and the work of committees, and he looked forward to those discussions. Ambrose pressed, and Trudeau noted that it was important that they appointed more women to the bench, which they were doing. Alexandre Boulerice led off for the Liberals, railing about the omnibus nature of the budget implementation bill. Trudeau insisted that it was not an abuse of omnibus legislation, all items were included in the budget. Nathan Cullen repeated the question in English, got much the same response, then Cullen railed about the provisions around the PBO. Trudeau noted that it would make him a full Officer of Parliament with greater independence. Boulerice repeated it in French, and got much the same answer.
Rona Ambrose just called a camping trip "relaxing" and "fun." Fact check: Untrue. #QP
With the PM back from France, and business in the chamber was already hijacked by procedural shenanigans. Rona Ambrose led off, worrying that the PM had misled the House by saying that he had no choice by to take the private helicopter during his vacation to the Aga Khan’s island, to which Justin Trudeau deflected with his standard response that it was a personal vacation and he was happy to answer questions from the Ethics Commissioner. When Ambrose pressed, Trudeau added that he followed the RCMP’s advice regarding travel, but added nothing more, even on a third question, demanding clarification on the RCMP addition to the answer. Ambrose moved onto the question of Syria, demanding that sanctions be restored to Russia in a first step to remove Bashar Assad. Trudeau insisted that they were working broadly with the international community. When Ambrose pressed, Trudeau reminded her that the foreign minister was meeting with G7 counterparts on this very issue. Nathan Cullen and Karine Trudel returned to the helicopter issue, and Trudeau reiterated his same answer, in both official languages. Trudel then turned to the issue of court delays, and Trudeau responded with the same talking points that the justice minister gave yesterday, about working with a new process. Alistair MacGregor then demanded immediate marijuana decriminalization, and Trudeau reminded him that decriminalization does nothing to prevent it from getting into the hands of kids, or keeping profits out of the hands of the black market.
It even just looks better to be standing and speaking without reading. It looks like you have an actual question.
I have to wonder if Government Leader in the Senate – err, “Government Representative” – Senator Peter Harder is starting to get a bit nervous about the viability of his proposal to reform the Senate rules, as he has started reaching out to sympathetic voices in order to give him some attention on the pages of the newspaper. We’ve seen two such examples in recent days, with a wholly problematic column from John Ibbitson over the weekend in the Globe and Mail, and now some unwarranted praise from Harder’s old friend from their mutual days in the Mulroney government, retired senator Hugh Segal. While Ibbitson’s column was a complete head-scratcher if you know the first thing about the Senate – they don’t need to “prove their value” because they do so constantly (hell, the very first bill of this parliament they needed to send back because the Commons didn’t do their jobs properly and sent over a bill missing a crucial financial schedule, but hey, they passed it in 20 minutes with zero scrutiny). And it was full of praise for the process of Bill C-14 (assisted dying), which is Harder’s go-to example of how things “should” work, which is a problem. And Segal’s offering was pretty much a wholesale endorsement of Harder’s pleading for a “business committee” to do the job he’s apparently unable to do through simple negotiation, so that’s not a real surprise either. But as I’ve written before, the Senate has managed to get bills passed in a relatively timely manner for 150 years without a “Business committee” because its leadership knew how to negotiate with one another, and just because Harder is apparently not up to that task, doesn’t mean we should change the rules to accommodate him.
Also: If your only example of the Senate’s good work is the assisted dying bill, then you’re REALLY not paying attention.
Meanwhile, there is some definite shenanigans being played by the Conservatives in the Senate in their quest to have an inquiry into the Bombardier loan, and their crying foul when it wasn’t immediately adopted, and wouldn’t you know it, they had a press release ready to go. Conservative Senator Leo Housakos was called out about this over the weekend by Independent Senator Francis Lankin, and while Housakos continues on his quest to try and “prove” that the new appointees are all just Trudeau lackeys in all-but-name, Housakos’ motion may find its match in Senator André Pratte, who wants to expand it to examine other loans so as not to play politics over Bombardier. No doubt we’ll see some added fireworks on this as over the week as the Senate continues its debate.
Oh, Bardish Chagger. So very earnest in her desire to try and change the Standing Orders to try and prevent the excesses and abuses of the Conservative era that she’s ready to be her most ham-fisted in order to get it done. In an interview with The West Block this weekend, she said that she wasn’t going to hand over a veto to the Conservatives about these reforms, which means she’s doubling down about ensuring that any rule changes happen by consensus, and so I guess we’ll see the filibuster carry on in committee, and yet more egregious privilege debates and various other procedural shenanigans by the other opposition parties in the hopes that she backs down. So far, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.
If I had my druthers, I would tell Chagger to stick to two simple points – omnibus bills, and prorogation. And specifically, the proposal to restore prorogation ceremonies, and take those two suggestions to the opposition parties, and just get them to agree to those. Those are the only two suggestions that are workable and doable (and prorogation ceremonies are in fact something that I recommend restoring in The Unbroken Machine), because that’s rolling back a change that happened in order to “streamline” things a couple of decades ago, and it’s a necessary tool for transparency and accountability. And omnibus bill restrictions are an obvious change that anyone can see as being necessary after the abuses of the 41st parliament.
But as I’ve stated before, on numerous occasions, any other suggestion that Chagger makes in her discussion paper is unnecessary and will cause more harm than good, because the underlying changes that need to happen are cultural, not structural. The problem is that it’s hard to sell MPs on this, especially when they keep using the phrases “modernize” and “21st century workplace” as though the terms meant something. And she keeps using them. Over. And over. And over. And it’s driven me to the point of complete distraction. But because Chagger is doubling down, I have the sinking feeling that it’s going to be yet another week of apocalyptic language and procedural gamesmanship and nothing will get done. Because that’s the state of things right now, and no amount of rule changes will actually fix that.
With Justin Trudeau off to New York, none of the other leaders decided to show up for QP today, so way to go for their insistence that all MPs should show up five days a week. Pierre Poilievre led off, demanding that the loan conditions to Bombardier to be reopened to ban the money from bonuses, to which Jean-Yves Duclos assured him that they were trying to grow the economy with key investments to the aerospace industry. Poilievre railed about the company’s family share structure, but Duclos’ answer didn’t change. Poilievre then moved onto the cancellation of tax credits, to which François-Philippe Champagne opted to answer, reminding him about their tax cuts. Gérard Deltell got up next to demand a balanced budget in the other official language, and Champagne reiterated his previous response. Deltell then worried that there was nothing in the budget for agriculture, and after a moment of confusion when Duclos stood up first, Lawrence MacAulay stood up to praise all kinds of measures in the budget. Sheila Malcolmson led off for the NDP, demanding childcare and pay equity legislation immediately. Maryam Monsef proclaimed that the budget was the most feminist budget in history, and listed off a number of commitments. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet repeated the question in French, and Monsef listed off yet more budget commitments. Boutin-Sweet pivoted over to the changes to the Standing Orders, and Bardish Chagger deployed her “modernization” talking points, with some added self-congratulation about yesterday’s proto-PMQs. Murray Rankin demanded a special committee on modernization, and Chagger insisted she wanted to hear their views, but would not agree to a committee.
For caucus day, the benches were largely filled, and the PM was indeed present before heading off for London, Ontario. Rona Ambrose led off, asking about a response to the chemical weapon attack in Syria. Justin Trudeau, with a more uncharacteristic script in front of him, read a statement of condemnation and promises of humanitarian assistance and noted Chrystia Freeland’s presence at a conference where the issue is being discussed. Ambrose asked about the reports that our allies didn’t object to pulling our CF-18s out of Iraq, and Trudeau, this time without script, talked about discussions with allies and finding better ways to help, which they found. Ambrose asked again, wondering if the PM was simply misinformed, but Trudeau stood firm that their new mission was well received. Ambrose moved onto the issue of Bombardier and a muddled question on tax hikes, and Trudeau reverted to some fairly standard talking points about middle class tax cuts and hiking them on the one percent. For her final question, Ambrose accused the PM of handing bonuses to Bombardier while not funding families with autism, but Trudeau was not easily baited, and spoke about how much they support families with autism. From the NDP, Murray Rankin and Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet led off by bellyaching about changes to the Standing Orders, and Trudeau spoke sweepingly about looking to do better and looking for cooperation with other parties. Boutin-Sweet and Alistair MacGregor then turned to demands to criminalize marijuana, to which Trudeau reminded them that decriminalization doesn’t protect children nor does it stop criminals from profiting.
After delays from a number of votes in the Commons, Senate QP finally got underway, with special guest star Kent Hehr, minister of veterans affairs. Senator Larry Smith, the new Conservative leader, led off for his first time. Instead of asking the minister, however, he turned his questions to the Government Leader — err, “representative,” Senator Harder, for his remarks to CBC last week about “two classes of senators.” Harder assured him that it was not his intent to insinuate that all senators were not equal. He did not apologize, and Smith pressed the issue, and Harder talked about collaboration across the chamber but there was a different appointment process, and then gave a half-hearted apology for those who were offended by his words. Senator Plett got up to carry on the jabs at Harder, who kept insisting that he was trying to work collaboratively.
A “secret memo” has been floating around from a couple of different news organizations, which purports to claim that a $300/tonne carbon price would be required to reach our emissions reduction targets, and of course, opponents of carbon pricing are lighting their hair on fire and saying “See! The Liberals are trying to destroy the energy industry!” And so on. Except that’s not what it says. It says that if no other measures were taken, that’s what the carbon price would be, but those are the only measures we’re taking. We’re doing a bunch of things with regulations and other programmes, not to mention that carbon prices can be the incentive by which industries will innovate and look for ways to reduce their emissions as it becomes a price incentive. You know, a free market mechanism instead of the heavy hand of government regulation. Regardless, the National Postversion of the story has a bunch of perspective sauce, much of it courtesy of Andrew Leach, and I’ll leave you with some of his added Twitter commentary on the matter, much of it directed to Jason Kenney and Brian Jean in Alberta who are using this as “proof” that carbon pricing is ineffective and/or some nefarious scheme.
As a lame anti-M-103 protest was taking place on the steps of the Centre Block, and procedural warfare happening in committee, MPs filed into the Commons for the grand inquest of the nation, pre-budget edition. Rona Ambrose led off, lamenting that the PM was looking to engage in a once-a-week only QP. Trudeau insisted that he was happy to be here, and took a dig at the previous government by saying his front bench was strong and he was demonstrating government by cabinet. Ambrose pressed, laying into Trudeau’s admiration for Chinese dictatorship and his fascination with Fidel Castro, but Trudeau noted that it was just a discussion paper that included a U.K.-style PMQ idea. On a third go-around, Trudeau shifted his response to the great things his government was doing for the middle class. Ambrose moved onto the size of the deficit, and Trudeau was able to retreat to his well-worn points about their middle-class tax cut. Ambrose lamented the possibility of cancelled tax breaks, and Trudeau responded with praise for his tax cuts and the Canada Child Benefit. Thomas Mulcair was up next, demanding lower taxes for small businesses, and Trudeau gave his usual points about helping the middle class. Mulcair railed about privatization, and Trudeau noted that he campaigned on investing in infrastructure while Mulcair committed only to balancing the books. Mulcair demanded that the loophole for stock option taxes be loophole, and Trudeau retreated behind his points about lowering taxes for the middle class. For his final question, Mulcair asked why charges were abandoned in a gangsterism trial, but Trudeau only offered generalities about confidence in the justice system.
There were a couple of competing tweet storms that went out yesterday – one from Alex Usher, who seems to think that maybe backbench MPs should consider their jobs to be part-time and take on a second job, and Emmett Macfarlane, who (correctly) thinks that idea is a bunch of bunkum.
2/ Some folks suggest we should increase MPs pay to attract better ppl into politics. Wont happen (and probably shouldn't)
I’m going to assume that much of Usher’s position comes from ignorance, because let’s face it – most people, including most MPs, don’t know what an MP’s job description is supposed to be. (Hint: It’s holding the government to account). But because most MPs don’t know that’s their main job, many of them spend their days burning their time and energy doing things like writing up and promoting a dozen private members’ bills that will never see the light of day, or crusading for causes that are as much about getting their own face in the news than they are about helping those in need (or maybe I’m just cynical). The point, however, is that if Usher thinks MPs are bored and in need of something to do, I would suggest that those MPs should actually be doing their jobs, and if they’re actually doing it right, then they shouldn’t be bored. They especially shouldn’t be bored if they’re doing their jobs correctly and not just reading scripts into the record prepared by the leader’s office (and to be fair, there are a few MPs who don’t, even though they’ll still rely on prepared speeches). If we carry on with this path of making MPs obsolete by turning them into drones then sure, I can see Usher’s point, but the answer is not to let them take on outside work. The answer is for them to actually learn their own jobs and do them. Parliament would be vastly improved if that were actually the case.