QP: Talking to elites

While Justin Trudeau was in London, meeting with Her Majesty the Queen and prime minister Theresa May, Andrew Scheer was in fact present today, in the wake of the salacious news that Maxime Bernier had pulled his book that was critical of his leader. Scheer, mini-lectern on desk, led off by reading some concern about investor confidence in the energy sector, and he claimed that the previous government got Northern Gateway “built.” Jim Carr stood up and stated that it was news to him that Northern Gateway got built, and didn’t in fact get its permits revoked by the Federal Court of Appeal. Scheer then got up rue that Trudeau was in Europe with elites, talking down on the energy sector, and Carr reminded him that just days ago he was here talking up the sector and the Trans Mountain expansion. Scheer insisted that Trudeau told his European audience that he was disappointed that he couldn’t phase out the oil sector tomorrow, but Carr rebutted with his line about how incredulous it was that Scheer took to the microphones on Sunday to decry Trudeau’s announcement after the meeting with the two premiers before Trudeau even made it. Alain Rayes got up to decry Trudeau’s lack of leadership in French, to which Marc Garneau stood up to lay out the support the government had given. Rayes wondered how much of taxpayers’ money would be spent on the project, but Garneau merely reiterated that they considered the project to be in the national interest. Guy Caron was up for the NDP, noted that the Health Committee’s study on universal pharmacare would be tabled later, and demanded action on it. Ginette Petitpas Taylor thanked the committee for their work, and she would consider its finding. Caron demanded immediate action in French, and Petitpas Taylor noted the commitments in the budget toward national (but not universal) pharmacare. Charlie Angus was up next, and demanded to know if the government felt their Section 35 obligations were met with Kinder Morgan, and Carr reminded him of the Supreme Court decision around Northern Gateway around consultations, so they went and consulted further for Trans Mountain. Angus pressed, terming it a “Liberal pipeline,” and Carr reiterated his line about the fact that there may not be unanimity, but there are many Indigenous communities who are in support.

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QP: Not the debunking they were looking for

MPs were almost all wearing jerseys to pay tribute to the Humboldt Broncos on a day where the city was wrecked by an ice storm, while Justin Trudeau was on a official visit in Paris. After a moment of silence for the Broncos, Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk and read some hyperbolic doom about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Jim Carr first offered condolences to the people of Humboldt, and then said that the PM has given instructions and that the pipeline would be built. Scheer then listed some cherry-picked “evidence” about how the government has apparently shaken investor confidence in energy projects, to which Carr listed the approved projects. Scheer then switched topics to demand the government repeat the “debunked conspiracy theory” around the Atwal Affair™, and Ralph Goodale first gave his own tribute to the Humboldt Broncos. Scheer repeated the question, demanding that the government apologise to the Indian government, to which Goodale reminded him that the PM previously said he supported what Jean had to say. When Scheer tried to insist that there was a discrepancy — playing cute that he was the one who created that particular narrative and not the PM — to which Goodale reminded him again that he has not yet taken up the briefing that had been offered to him, and that he was remaining deliberately ignorant of the facts in the case. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, raising Trans Mountain and jurisdictional issues, and Marc Garneau stood up to insist that they had federal jurisdiction as asserted by the Supreme Court of Canada. Caron switched to English to demand a Supreme Court reference on the question, and Carr reminded him that the BC government did approve it, they did not use the same approval process as the Harper government, and that they did unprecedented consultations with Indigenous communities. Charlie Angus then got up to rail that the Indigenous consultations were colonial, and Carr noted that the project was divisive, even within political parties. Angus gave it another go around, and Carr reminded him that they did undertake unprecedented consultations, and that 44 Indigenous communities do have benefit sharing agreements, and also raised the Indigenous-led monitoring committee.

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QP: Inventing a conflict from whole cloth

With the Easter long weekend upon us, it was Friday-on-a-Thursday in the House of Commons, and Question Period was no exception — only slightly better attended than a regular Thursday. Candice Bergen led off with a disingenuous framing of the Raj Grewal non-story, and Bardish Chagger noted that everything was cleared with the Ethics Commissioner, and that Grewal’s guest at the event registered through the Canada-India Business Council. Bergen demanded to know who in the PMO authorised the invitation, and Chagger reiterated her response. Alain Rayes was up next, and demanded the prime minister to sign off on a human trafficking bill from the previous parliament, to which Marco Mendicino noted that there was a newer, better bill on the Order Paper (but didn’t mention that it has sat there for months). On a second go-around, Mendicino retorted with a reminder that the previous government cut police and national security agencies. Ruth Ellen Brosseau led off for the NDP, and raised the fact that Stephen Bronfman and a government board appointee were at a Liberal fundraiser last night, to which Andy Fillmore reminded him that they have made fundraisers more transparent. Charlie Angus carried on with the same topic in a more churlish tone, got the same answer, and on a second go-around, François-Philippe Champagne praised the appointment to their Invest Canada agency. Brosseau got back up to list allegations of harassment at Air Canada, to which Roger Cuzner reminded them that Bill C-65 will cover all federally regulated industries.

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Roundup: Too omnibus or not too omnibus?

The opposition is crying foul over the government’s 556-page budget implementation bill and moaning that it breaks the promise about omnibus bills. It’s not an unfair point, but one that requires a bit of nuance. For one, the government never promised that they would never table an omnibus bill – only that their omnibus bills would not be abusive, and yes, there is a difference. Omnibus bills can be useful tools, particularly if it’s regarding matters that would have a number of coordinated amendments to the same existing statute. That way, you don’t have six different bill all amending the same piece of legislation (like the Criminal Code, for example, or the Income Tax Act, if it’s a budget bill), possibly causing pile-ups of amendments to some of the same sections of the bill. The overriding criteria for it not to be abusive, however, is that it should all touch on the same subject matter. The abusive bills of the previous government didn’t do that, and they stuffed everything into it, including a number of unrelated measures (like environmental legislation) into budget bills in order to get them passed expeditiously – a technique they started during the minority years, so that they could huff and puff about confidence measures and not sending Canadians to the polls too soon; they simply carried on the technique once they had a majority.

Does this current budget implementation bill reach that level of being abusive? Not that I can see. Glancing through the bill, the only section that raises a possible eyebrow is the section within that creates the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act – the carbon tax legislation. Should it be separated? Well, it does have to do with fiscal measures as it deals with the federal carbon price backstop (which yes, is a carbon tax for those provinces who refuse to implement one), as opposed to, say, environmental assessments. And the government has pointed out that they have circulated draft legislation prior to this, so it’s not coming out of the blue or as a complete surprise stuffed into the bill along with a number of other surprises. But, if the opposition wants to challenge it, the Speaker has the power to split the bill if they can make their case convincingly enough. The other issue is that the government hasn’t pre-declared a timetable for when they want this to be passed, but it will likely mean some marathon committee time. Let’s just hope that the opposition doesn’t demand days and days of useless Second Reading “debate” first, which would eat into the committee time, because that’s where a bill like this should spend its time.

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QP: A greatest hits of disingenuous complaints

On caucus day, with the benches close to full, we had all leaders present for Question Period, and yes, Justin Trudeau ready for his proto-PMQs. Andrew Scheer led off as usual, mini-lectern on desk, and Andrew Scheer raised the non-story of MP Raj Grewal’s extracurricular business whose associate attended the now infamous reception in India. Trudeau replied that they signed a billion dollars in trade deals in India, and when Scheer raised another MP’s dealings on that trip, Trudeau took up a script to read yet more praise about the relationship between Canada and India. Scheer then returned to the demands for Daniel Jean to appear at committee and the concerns that media reported they were told details that they couldn’t print. Trudeau reminded him that a full classified briefing was offered, and Scheer has turned it down because he wants to play politics. Scheer tried again, and Trudeau reached further into the days of Stephen Harper of muzzling scientists and ignoring truths that clashed with their messaging. Scheer then moved over to the issue of gifts plural given and received between Trudeau and the Aga Khan, and Trudeau noted that this was all dealt with via the Ethics Commissioner and that Scheer was simply engaging in personal attacks. Guy Caron was up next, demanding taxes on Netflix, to which Trudeau reminded him that Netflix wouldn’t pay those taxes — ordinary Canadians would. Caron then raised the size of the budget implementation bill, and Trudeau listed all of the good things in it. Shiela Malcolmson called said bill a betrayal, and Trudeau read off more gender measures from the budget. Peter Julian then went for another round of the same, and got a similar response.

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Roundup: A justified time allocation

Amidst the Conservatives’ planned filibusters and procedural gamesmanship as part of their campaign to demand that the National Security Advisor be hauled before committee to answer questions on the Atwal Affair™, Government House Leader Bardish Chagger is starting to play hard ball in return. When the Conservatives tried to filibuster in order to delay debate on the gun control bill after already delaying the debate by means of their vote-a-thon (for which they continue to blame the Liberals for their own self-inflicted discomfort, like a kid who keeps hitting himself in the hopes that it will persuade his parents to give him something they’ve denied him), Chagger invoked time allocation in order to get the bill moving to committee. And – scandalously! – she gave them a whole extra day of second reading debate. The horror!

Err, except no, that’s actually totally a fair amount of second reading debate for any bill, no matter what it is. Why? Because the point of second reading is to debate the broad merits of a bill. Do we agree with its overall aims, yes or no. It’s not about debating its intricacies, which is what committee study is for, and it’s more than legitimate for the government to want to move it to committee so that it can get proper study. That’s the way things should work, in a properly functioning Westminster parliament. But in Canada? No, we’ve developed this ridiculous culture where the parties insist on interminable days-long second reading debate, and by “debate,” we mean read twenty-minute-long prepared speeches into the record while nobody pays attention. It’s not debate, and it’s part of what we really need to address when it comes to fixing the broken culture inside the House of Commons. So it’s not actually a scandal that time allocation was imposed on this bill, and I would add that it’s not such a bad thing that Chagger is learning to play hard ball.

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QP: Scrapping over data mining

While Justin Trudeau was off to New Brunswick, and Andrew Scheer elsewhere, it was up to Erin O’Toole to lead off, reading a quote about the job of the opposition to ask questions, attributing it to the PM, and wondered why the government wouldn’t let Daniel Jean appear before committee. Ralph Goodale calmly responded that the crux of the motion was around the Atwal invitation, that it was rescinded. O’Toole insisted two more times that MPs had a right to hear the briefing, but Goodale defended Jean’s career and insisted there were no contradictions in the positions put forward. Pierre Paul-Hus tried again twice in French, and Goodale poked holes in the Conservative Supply Day motion in return. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and decried that only $15 million out of the $1 billion given to CRA to combat tax evasion. Lebouthillier reminded him that the investment was over five years, and it would be ramped up in order to take a strategic approach. Caron then railed that the CRA’s anti-avoidance committee met in secret, while Lebouthillier said that it was a committee of experts that meets as necessary. Peter Julian took over in French, and demanded taxation on web giants, to which Bill Morneau said that they were conducting studies to ensure that the system would work well. Julian changed to English to insist that studying the issue would mean doing nothing, but Morneau reiterated that they wanted to have a plan before acting.

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QP: Twin moral panics in play

While Justin Trudeau was off to Toronto, Andrew Scheer was present for Question Period, and he led off with the role that Christopher Wylie, the infamous “Facebook whistleblower” had worked for the Liberals, and demanded answers. Scott a Brison pointed out that the Liberal Research Bureau had already issued a statement saying that they decided not to go ahead with his services and that he had no access to voter data. Scheer lamented that Trudeau didn’t answer — being cute because Trudeau was not present — and when he continued to rail about Wylie, Brison reiterate his response, and hit back with contracts the Conservatives tendered for their own data services. Alain Rayes took over in French to ask the same thing two more times, and Brison repeated his responses (albeit in English). Scheer got back up to rail about the “peoplekind” joke and the apparently scandalous news that Service Canada is not supposed to use the honourifics of “Mr.” of “Mrs.” The horror! Jean-Yves Duclos assured him that they can still use the honourifics, but that they were working to be more inclusive of all gender identities. Guy Caron led off for the NDP, condemning the lack of action on tax evasion despite the $1 billion investment to do so. Diane Lebouthillier got up to assure him that they were looking into tax evasion and had new agreements to get necessary data, and when Caron got up to rail that CRA was slapped with a $1 million fine for abusive behaviour, Lebouthillier reiterated that the case dated back to the Conservatives. Peter Julian got up to repeat the condemnation around tax evasion in English, and Lebouthillier reminded him that they now have the data they need. Julian tried one more time, throwing every thing else in the question, and Lebouthillier retorted that the OECD has recognised Canada’s leadership in data-driven combatting against tax evasion.

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Roundup: Chickpea politics

One never thought that pulses – and chickpeas in particular – would be the cause of a supposed major political crisis in this country, and yet here we are. The problem is that the supposed problem is almost entirely fictional. News that India raised their tariffs on chickpea imports to some sixty percent was treated by the Conservatives as a direct response to the Jaspel Atwal incident and the supposition by certain senior officials in Canada that some rogue Indian factions arranged for him to be there in order to embarrass Trudeau as a way of demonstrating that the Canadian government is soft on Khalistani extremists. Except that’s not it at all – India raised their tariffs on all of their imports, and Canada barely exports any of those particular chickpeas to India. Australia is taking a bigger hit that Canada is on these tariffs, so if that’s somehow Trudeau’s fault, I’m open to hearing it.

Of course, there is a broader discussion that is being completely ignored with by most of the Canadian media, who are joining the Conservatives in trying to wedge this news into the pre-determined narrative. Indeed, Canadian Press wire copy went out that uncritically repeated that the Conservatives linked the tariff hike to the India visit without any actual fact-checking, or checking the situation on the ground in India. That situation being that there is a worldwide glut of pulse crops that has depressed prices, and the Indian government, in advance of an election, is trying to shore up their support by bringing in these tariffs to protect farmers. At the same time, there is a rash of suicides by Indian farmers in the country, which is no doubt causing India’s government some distress. “But Trudeau said he’d raise the tariff problem and he failed,” cry the critics. Sure, he raised it with Modi, but their discussions were apparently more about an ongoing fumigation issue than tariffs. And while the tariff issue may have come up, I’m not sure that Trudeau has the magical ability to solve the expansion of supply over demand or to fix India’s domestic agricultural issues, but tell me again how this is all about the Canadian pundits’ perceptions of that India trip.

Speaking of Atwal, MP Randeep Sarai spoke to his local newspaper to say that he didn’t know who Atwal was when his name was forwarded to him along with several others who were in the country and asked for an invitation – but he still takes responsibility for it, and volunteered to resign as the party’s Pacific caucus chair. He also says that he doesn’t know who Atwal is because he was a child at the time that Atwal committed his crimes, and his staffers are all younger than he is, which is a reflection of the generational change happening in Canadian politics.

On a related note, Supriya Dwivedi calls out the Canadian media’s amnesia when it comes to the history of Indian relations with Canada, especially as it relates to Sikh separatists, and for their complete lack of awareness of some of the Hindu nationalist politics being practiced in India by Modi’s government.

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QP: Trying to start a different conspiracy theory

Thursday post-budget, and most of the leaders were away, off to sell their own version of what it contained. That led Lisa Raitt to lead off, asking about the tariffs on steel and aluminium that President Trump levied earlier today. François-Philippe Champagne said that they were sorting out the situation and any tariffs were unacceptable. Raitt moved onto the Jaspel Atwal issue and the spectre of a diplomatic rift with India, to which Kirsty Duncan stood up and recited the well-worn talking points about the invitation being rescinded and defending the integrity of public servants. Raitt worried that Canada was becoming a laughing stock, and Duncan recited about their respect for the work of public servants and national security agencies. Alain Rayes took over in French, and Duncan repeated the former talking points. Rayes demanded an explanation, but Duncan re-read the praise for the public service. Ruth Ellen Brosseau led for the NDP, concern trolling around the details around the pharmacare announcement. Bill Morneau said they were looking for expert advice to figure out how best to get pharmaceutical drugs to Canadians who need them. Brosseau switched to French to raise the concerns by groups that Morneau was somehow in a conflict of interest around those discussions because his former company administers benefit plans, but Morneau reiterated his previous response in French. Peter Julian took over to ask the very same thing, and this time Morneau got in a zinger about the NDP and Pierre Poilievre’s lack of expertise on this policy. Julian railed about Morneau Shepell, and this time Ginette Petitpas Taylor praised the work done on the file to date and that this would carry it forward.

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