Roundup: On “luxury” flights

Over the weekend, Andrew Scheer tweeted about how the defence minister had spent last year taking “luxury flights” as part of government business – twenty of them, for 206 flying hours. The horror!

Of course, the notion that Canadian Forces Airbus jets are “luxury flights” is beyond ridiculous. These planes are so old that they still have ashtrays at the seats, and part of the fleet was retired because they couldn’t get any spare parts any longer. There is nothing “luxurious” about them. Not to mention the fact that for most of these trips, they weren’t to destinations that could be taken commercially with any particular ease, such as a few fact-finding missions to Mali along with key military brass. But hey, why should facts or context matter when you can tweet out outrageous spin in order to drum up a bunch of faux outrage?

But why is Scheer pushing this ridiculous notion? Partly, it’s the constant drone of cheap outrage that ensures that Canadians can’t have nice things (and We The Media can share a lot of blame for this particular problem). Partially, it’s because he’s made it his mission to treat the viewing audience like idiots. But mostly it’s to try and create this narrative that the Liberals are so entitled that they spend profligately on themselves (not actually true) as opposed to those who need it. And to try and enforce that narrative, they will repeat it ad nauseum until people start thinking that it’s true. I keep waiting for the “positive politics” and “change of tone” that Scheer promised to actual start to manifest itself, but nope.

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QP: Rage over $2000 worth of cardboard

With the weather finally taking a turn for the better, and the floodwaters across the river receding, things in the House of Commons carried on in the usual fashion. Rona Ambrose led off, wondering why the Infrastructure Investment Bank was necessary. Trudeau pointed out how they had consulted widely on the Bank, and that it was going to be helpful for growth. Ambrose called it a vanity project to help Bay Street and Wall Street friends, and made a dig about Broadway tickets along the way, and Trudeau reiterated the points about the need for infrastructure projects like the Bank would help provide. Ambrose brought up potential conflicts with the Bank, and Trudeau rebuffed by slagging off the previous government’s underfunding of infrastructure. Ambrose took another dig at the Broadway tickets, and Trudeau expounded on how great and important the play “Come From Away” is. For her final question, Ambrose asked about the government ordering cardboard cutouts of the PM — and made a bunch of lame puns along the way — and Trudeau said that individual missions abroad make their own decisions. Thomas Mulcair was up next, worried that the government hadn’t spelled out how private investors in the Infrastructure Bank would profit from their infrastructure. Trudeau talked about the great things that the Bank could invest in, but didn’t specify that there would be tolls on everything. Mulcair wondered how the Liberals would have reacted if the Conservatives promoted the idea, and Trudeau insisted that they consulted widely on the Bank, not just hedge funds. Mulcair changed topics and worried about tech stories that it was Jared Kushner who reached out to Trudeau to convince President Trump not to rip up NAFTA. Trudeau reassured him that they were working to strengthen trade and relations with the Americans. Mulcair went onto suggest that Trudeau was taking orders from Kushner, and Trudeau insisted that he was doing everything he could to resolve issues like softwood.

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QP: Bitching about Broadway

While it was attempting to snow outside in Ottawa, and while the business of the day in the Chamber was an unconstitutional Supply Day motion, it was a pretty grim day in the capital. When Question Period came about, Rona Ambrose led off, mentioning the flooding in Quebec and elsewhere, and asked for an update on the assistance that the government was providing. Justin Trudeau noted that their thoughts are with those affected, and that to date, 1,650 troops have been deployed to assist. Ambrose then returned to the issue of Harjit Sajjan and the lack of explanation for his embellishment. Trudeau noted that he has full confidence in Sajjan, and that he was proud of Sajjan’s work, then got a dig in about Conservative under-funding that was a challenge for him. Ambrose ladled on some fairly smarmy sanctimony about how she was sure the Minister would never embellish while he was in uniform, and Trudeau brushed this concern off. Ambrose switched topics — finally — and brought up the Infrastructure Bank and the connection to companies like Blackrock. Trudeau noted previous underinvestment in infrastructure, and that they were going to lead to good jobs with their plans. Ambrose railed that there were obvious conflicts of interests with the Infrastructure Bank, but Trudeau stuck to his good news talking points. Thomas Mulcair was up next, giving a slow-talking, serious-sounding question about calling an inquiry into Afghan detainees. Trudeau noted that six separate inquiries had been conducted and the NDP ducked out on one of them. Mulcair switched to French to ask again, and got much the same answer. Mulcair switched to the flooding, and Trudeau noted that he went to sites to help fill sandbags. Mulcair demanded federal support, and Trudeau noted that they already had it.

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Roundup: The hole that the Forces find themselves in

While I noted that this was certainly used as an attempt to change the channel during QP yesterday, I wanted to spend a couple of more minutes talking about the big defence policy teaser that Harjit Sajjan gave yesterday, which basically made the perennial statement that the previous government didn’t do a very good job, which is why we’re in such a terrible mess. All governments say this, and future governments will too. And while Conservatives in my reply column get indignant, and while Rona Ambrose emailed her own fact-check, it too contains a lot of rose-coloured history.

Ambrose mentions things like the Leopard 2 tanks (the decision to purchase which were questioned considering it’s obsolete Cold War era technology bought for a counter-insurgency war), the Cyclone helicopters (which were problem-plagued and didn’t even have shielded electronics, which were easily knocked out by the radar on our frigates), the new Arctic Offshore patrol ships (known affectionately as “slushbreakers” because they can’t even cut through the ice in a gin and tonic and yet they’re supposed to be used for Arctic operations), and then there are the supply ships which they cancelled, leaving us with no supply capacity in our navy. So yeah, they did so much with their investment in the military.

Much of the reaction to Sajjan’s speech was that yes, we’re in a hole, but the government hasn’t committed to reinvesting either. Partly they have, with the earmarked dollars that will follow once there is a plan in place. That plan will be part of the actual rollout of the Defence Policy, and the prime minister acknowledged in QP yesterday that investment in the military would follow the policy, and yes, the policy is important to have in place first because it’s hard to plan to spend if you don’t know why you’re spending or what the plan is for our Forces to be doing. So it makes sense to wait for a plan before there are dollars to follow it. It should also be noted that this government is not following the more recent trend of putting all of its plans in the budget, so we may yet so more dollars flowing (but it remains to see how many dollars, considering the fiscal situation).

All of this being said, we will still need to acknowledge that funding likely won’t be enough to completely get things back on the right track, and that complaints about underfunding will continue into future. This new funding likely won’t even get us close to our 2 percent of GDP NATO target (not that such a target counts for a lot). Suffice to say, I’m not sure that any party should be patting themselves on the back.

For some more reaction here’s Dave Perry on Power Play, and Stephen Saideman offers his thoughts on the teaser here.

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Roundup: Not the cures for what ails the Commons

The latest round of Barish Chagger versus the opposition House Leaders started up yet again yesterday, and while my thoughts will be out in my next Loonie Politics column (up later today), I figured I’d take the opportunity to respond to Andrew Coyne’s musings about this latest round.

To wit, of his seven proposed reforms, Coyne only gets about three of them right – re-empowering the Speaker with regard to doing things like splitting out omnibus bills, restoring the various party caucuses’ ability to choose their leaders rather than the party memberships, and to ban scripts from the House of Commons (while ripping out the desks and implementing benches instead, Westminster-style), and letting the cameras get wide shots and reactions while they’re at it – something I too would agree with.

But then Coyne starts veering off into problematic territory. Turning over control of prorogation to the House of Commons is a Very Bad Idea because it fundamentally undermines the point of prorogation, which is that it allows the government to control its own agenda. It’s not up to the Commons to decide when the government needs to come up with a new list of priorities, and giving them the power to determine when they can hit the reset button throws that relationship out of balance – not to mention the lack of logic in requiring a supermajority to prorogue when they can declare non-confidence with a simple majority. Likewise, limiting the use of confidence undermines the whole bloody system and is utterly boneheaded.

Halving the size of cabinet? While the current Ministry has far less fat than previous ones, I think this has more to do with Coyne’s personal bugaboos about Cabinet construction in Canada than it does the problem with not having enough backbenchers in this country that diminished hope for a cabinet post allows for greater independence. Insisting that ministers answer questions put to them rather than fobbing them off to a junior? It’s less of an issue now than it used to be, but while we could theoretically empower the Speaker to insist, I worry that this becomes open to abuse (not to mention the fact that their refusal to answer is fodder for We The Media in holding them to account).

Of course, Coyne caps it off with his biggest eye-roller of all – that proportional representation will be the cure for all of our parliamentary ills. It won’t be of course, and will simply create a host of new problems (the extent of which depends greatly on just how the proportional system is constructed), but we’ve had experience with minority parliaments before. It didn’t make MPs more cooperative – it simply entrenched positions even harder, which a state of permanent minority or coalition government is all the more likely to do. So while Coyne is on the right path on a few ideas, his problematic or outright dangerous ideas outweigh the good.

Kady O’Malley, meanwhile, goes through a point-by-point deconstruction of the complaints that Michelle Rempel made over Twitter on Sunday night with regard to what she felt the imposition of a weekly Prime Ministers Questions would do, particularly around the media cycle, and while I’m no real fan of imposing a PMQ here (precisely because the rest of our debating culture is so bastardized that it would just make these problems even worse), O’Malley makes some particularly good points about why the opposition shouldn’t be overplaying their hands on this one.

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Roundup: Exit O’Leary

So the big news, in case you missed it, was that Kevin O’Leary dropped out of the Conservative leadership race hours before the final debate, and endorsed Maxime Bernier (never mind that Berier just weeks ago referred to him as a “loser”). And that they came to a late-night agreement, but O’Leary’s team still sent out fundraising pleas the next morning, hours before the announcement. Oh, and the ballots have already been mailed out with O’Leary’s name on them (and any votes he gets will just fall off and second choices will be counted instead, given that this is a ranked ballot). O’Leary cites winnability, and the fact that he can’t win Quebec (just like everyone has been saying the whole time), so that’s why he’s going to Bernier (who, incidentally, may also not be able to win more than his particular corner of Quebec given his ideological hostility to much of what they seem to hold dear).

https://twitter.com/robert_hiltz/status/857287321372291073

In the wake of the departure, here is some reaction from O’Leary’s campaign manager, Michael Chong, CBC’s poll analyst Éric Grenier, and Paul Wells delivers a signature thumping that you really need to read.

As for that debate, or “debate” as it should more properly be known (as with any of them held in this leadership contest), it was a weird mix of pointed attacks on perceived rivals, along with sucking up to others to try and win second-place support on those ranked ballots, because they very well know that it could be their path to victory. Some of the pointed attacks were expected – toward Kellie Leitch for fostering the image that the party is intolerant to the immigrants in suburban ridings that they rely on for electoral victory, and toward perceived front-runner Maxime Bernier. The one that was most surprising – and galling, to be frank – was Erin O’Toole going after Andrew Scheer because he became Speaker in 2011 and was apparently too busy “hosting functions at Kingsmere” than being “in the trenches” with the rest of the party (never mind that O’Toole wasn’t even an MP yet at the time).

The one thing that did irritate me the most, however, was the continued fetishism of private sector experience as somehow being a qualifier for political leadership, never mind that there is zero crossover between the two. With O’Leary now gone from the race, you had this mad scramble to try and claim this particular tin crown, and it was pretty sad. Rick Peterson was loudest – having never stood for office before – while Andrew Saxton, O’Toole and Bernier all tried to pile onto claiming their own experience. Government and business do not operate the same way. You cannot run a government like a business because there is no “bottom line.” Trying to claim some kind of credit for “making payroll” is meaningless noise in politics. The sooner you realise this, the sooner you can have a proper debate about issues.

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Roundup: Earnest Scott Simms

As is becoming a daily occurrence, we have yet another voice weighing in on the Standing Orders debate, and this time, it’s the mover of the motion that’s causing so much Sturm und Drang in the House of Commons (and the Procedure and House Affairs committee) right now – Scott Simms. Simms, I believe quite earnestly, insists that we need to give reform a chance, and he lists all of the wonderful things he hopes to happen out of Bardish Chagger’s discussion paper, and I believe he’s earnest because he has recently co-edited a book on parliamentary reform with noted notoriously wrong-headed would-be reformers Michael Chong and Kennedy Stewart.

Of course, nothing in these proposals will fix what ails parliament, and will only create more problems than it solves. We’ve established this time and again, and I’ve written a book to this effect, but the problems are not structural. MPs, however, don’t necessarily see that because they’re trapped in a sick and dysfunctional parliamentary culture and looking around for fixes, they see some levers that look easy to pull, never mind that those levers will make things worse. Digging into the underlying cultural problems are harder to see and do, and that’s why MPs have been assiduously avoiding them, but we shouldn’t let them get away with it. Granted, it would be far more helpful if more members of the media could see that fact as well and not get lured by the shiny reform ideas that keep getting floated around, followed by the drama of the outrage, which is all too easy to get sucked into. Because who doesn’t love drama?

So with all due respect to Simms, no, the time for being open-minded about these reform ideas has passed. We’ve lurched from one bad reform idea to another for the past half century (century if you want to count the granddaddy of all disastrous reforms, which the Liberals promulgated in 1919 when they changed the leadership selection process) and things haven’t gotten any better. It’s time to take that hard look at where things are situated, and means slapping MPs’ hands away from those shiny, easy-looking levers. It’s time to have a meaningful re-engagement with the system, and nothing in these discussion paper ideas does that. In fact, it does the opposite.

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Roundup: Top-down incentives

To the excitement of certain federal MPs, the New Brunswick government has decided that in order to encourage more women to run for the provincial legislature (currently there are a pathetic eight out of 49 MLAs), they are going to offer richer per-vote subsidies for parties for women candidates over male ones. While there is a school of thought that insists that this is a great way to get parties to put more women on the ballot, I remain unconvinced.

Part of the problem is that this is trying to impose a top-down solution, which defeats part of the purpose of how our system is supposed to work. Candidates are supposed to come from the ground-up, and candidates should be chosen by the local grassroots, which means giving them tools to help recruit more women (and other minorities). That means removing barriers on the ground, whether it’s being persistent in asking them to run (there is research that shows that you need to ask women an average of five times before they’ll say yes – a strategy the federal Liberals successfully adopted before the last election), or arranging childcare, or ensuring that your local fundraising networks aren’t excluding them because many women candidates don’t have access to the same kinds of networks. It means organizing on the ground, not simply naming or nominating women candidates from on high and expecting people to vote for them.

I will grant you that the New Brunswick Liberals think they’re being clever by tying the increased per-vote subsidy to women as a tactic that would incentive parties to run them in ridings where they’ll get more votes rather than in no-hope ridings (because it’s true that simply offering financial incentives or penalties based on the percentage of women running often results in women carrying those no-hope ridings), but it still smacks of a top-down solution that will result in accusations of tokenism – that they’re only running women so that the party gets more money rather than because she’s the best person for the job. Top-down impositions based on perverse incentives can’t and shouldn’t be the answer. The answer should be proper grassroots engagement and understanding the barriers women face so that they can be removed at the ground level. If we can do that, combined with getting a greater number of straight white male incumbents to step aside to give more space to women and minority candidates to take their places, we’ll find a better and more sustainable engagement with the system.

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QP: Howling denunciations

With the budget lock-up going on down the street, procedural warfare taking place at committee, and news from the attacks on Westminster filtering through, there was a lot to distract from QP. Rona Ambrose led off, asking about the Westminster attack, and Trudeau offered both condemnation for the attacker, and condolences for the victims. Ambrose then moved onto the topic of immigration policy and those who follow the rules. Trudeau said that they are ensuring that all Canadian laws are being followed and police and border agencies have the resources they need. Ambrose then moved onto the proposed changes to the Standing Orders, and Trudeau said that they were pleased to put forward a broad discussion paper, with a number of platitudes. Ambrose pressed on changes to Question Period, and Trudeau insisted he was pleased to answer questions but he was open to improvements. Ambrose wondered how Trudeau would respond if Stephen Harper proposed showing up in QP just once a week — never mind that once a week was Harper’s average. Trudeau hit back that Harper would never put forward a paper or have a discussion about it. Mulcair was up next and asked the same thing, and Trudeau instead admonished the opposition for their heckling with all of the school children in the gallery. Mulcair went another round, and got much the same admonishment. Mulcair then turned to a question about what should happen if a minister should break the Conflict of Interest Act, and Trudeau said that they follow the rules. Mulcair accused Trudeau of taking illegal gifts and breaking the law, and railed about how little Trudeau repaid for his vacation. Trudeau noted that they put a policy into place for reimbursement, and that the RCMP makes determinations about his safety.

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Roundup: How to dissect a handshake

So, the Justin Trudeau-Donald Trump meeting happened, and we got our expected blanket coverage, starting with the handshakes. And how they were endlessly dissected, and made memeable.

Trudeau and Trump then had a “working luncheon” with female business leaders, Trudeau having ostensibly recruited Trump’s daughter Ivanka to the cause. Around that time, Trudeau gave Trump a gift of a photo of his father having met Trump in 1981, while Trump said that he admired the elder Trudeau, though how well he actually knew Pierre Trudeau is somewhat in dispute. (and it’s exactly the kind of photo that would appeal to Trump’s vanity).

Later, during the press conference, there were two takeaways – that Trudeau wasn’t going to lecture Trump on how to run his own affairs, and that Trump felt they were only going to “tweak” NAFTA as far as Canada is concerned. Also, no talks of walls, and hints that maybe we’ll be exempt from “Buy American” provisions, while any talk of the climate change file was done in coded language.  Trudeau later met with the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader before heading home, reminding each of the importance of trade with Canada in case they got swept up in any talk of border taxes or the like. Oh, and we’re being told that Sarah Palin won’t be named ambassador to Canada, so you can exhale now.

In commentary, we have Chantal Hébert considers it a first date that went well, while John Ivision asserts that flattery got Trudeau everything he needed out of Trump. Carl Meyer wonders how different things are in the Trumpocalypse from our own Harper years, pointing to the number of parallels. Paul Wells demonstrates how Trudeau used the photo of his father and the meeting with Ivanka to play into Trump’s particular instincts in order to gain the “insider” status that he needs to effectively deal with him.

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