In the wake of the rather damning internal report at Elections Canada about the problems that have plagued the last election (but which no doubt have been cumulative over successive elections), the agency has agreed with its recommendations but says that it will likely take political cooperation from all sides in order to implement the needed changes – especially as it will cost more to hire more staff and get additional resources. The former Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, doesn’t see that as a problem because everyone knows that the system needs to be fixed. Elsewhere, the Conservatives are gloating while a Liberal campaign worker from the 2008 election was charged with failing to file election returns. Meanwhile, it seems that the party’s treatment of Michael Sona has created a rift in the local Conservatives in Guelph.
Despite it being only a Thursday, Elizabeth May was the only leader in the House. Harper wasn’t even present for the many self-congratulatory Members’ Statements about the second anniversary of the “strong, stable, national majority Conservative government.” In the absence of Thomas Mulcair, it was up to Libby Davies to read off a pair of questions about the improperly tracked $3.1 billion in anti-terrorism funds, to which James Moore, the designated back-up PM du jour, read off the Auditor General’s assurances that the money was not actually misspent. Davies moved onto the topic of search and rescue and threw in a mention for the need to reopen the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. Moore insisted that they were making investments and changes to the system as evidenced by this morning’s announcement. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe repeated the same in French — without a script — the twist being about the Quebec City substation (MacKay: We are making these necessary investments; Clement: The AG stated that there was no evidence of misspending). For the Liberals, Bob Rae led off — and got a round of applause from the Conservative benches for it — and asked about the “stealth campaign” of raising taxes, be they payroll or tariffs. Moore insisted that it was a ridiculous question, and lauded the many ways in which the government has lowered taxes. For his final question, Rae asked about withdrawals from the Interparliamentary Union, to which Moore replied that there was no withdrawal on the world stage.
Wednesday, caucus day, and the benches were mostly full, except for Thomas Mulcair’s seat. Well, that’s not entirely true — one of the backbenchers from the nosebleeds was filling the seat while Mulcair was on a plane to Labrador, headed there directly after the morning’s caucus meeting. That left it up to deputy leader David Christopherson to get things off to a shouty start, yelling about cuts to Elections Canada amidst the report that showed the magnitude of problems during the past election. Harper assured him that Elections Canada recommended their own cuts and their legislation to strengthen their powers was forthcoming, based on their own recent report. Nycole Turmel was up next, asking about the improperly tracked $3.1 billion identified in the Auditor General’s report. Harper reminded her that the Auditor General himself pointed out that nothing pointed to any misspending, and that Treasury Board had already accepted his recommendations. For the Liberals, Justin Trudeau was up to decry Harper’s lack of understanding of the plight of the middle class. Harper assured him of all the great programmes they had for everyday Canadians, and look at how great the country is doing compared to other OECD countries.
After yesterday’s QP excitement dropped off the news cycle because of the Boston bombings, the dynamic in the Chamber was different today, not only because Harper was off in London for tomorrow’s funeral of Baroness Thatcher, but that sense of anticipation was gone. After a couple of statements on the Boston marathon bombings, QP began with Mulcair reading a statement on the bombing and request for an update on consular assistance. James Moore, the designated back up PM du jour, gave the statement on behalf of the government and called out the “cowards” responsible. Mulcair then went onto his four questions on the Temporary Foreign Workers Programme, his tone still calm and measured, while Moore assured him that they would be investigating, and by the way, your own MPs keep asking for temporary foreign worker approvals for their ridings. Justin Trudeau was up next, and brought up the increased tariffs in the budget, which would impact the middle class. Moore reminded him that Trudeau first ran on the basis of the carbon tax known as the Green Shift. Trudeau’s performance was a little shakier today, referring to his notes on his desk more than he did yesterday, though by no means was it a Mulcair-esque reading-from-the-mini-lectern kind of performance.
The galleries were packed, including the press gallery, which was something of a rarity. Even more rare was Peter Mansbridge showing up for the festivities. Every leader was present — also a rarity for a Monday, but as Harper is travelling later in the week, he’s making up the day. And so, when things kicked off, Thomas Mulcair read off five questions about RBC and the use of temporary foreign workers, and called on Jason Kenney to apologise. Harper stood up to say that the programme was not intended to take jobs away of Canadians, and they would be investigating, but for his third supplemental, pointed out that eight NDP MPs wrote letters to the department asking for more temporary foreign worker approvals for their regions, which were regions with high unemployment. This set Mulcair off, and he got red-faced as he leaned over his mini-lectern as he yelled back at Harper. And then it was Trudeau’s turn. After a snag with translation, he asked a trio of questions about the increases in tariffs in the budget — not so much reading his questions but checking his notes on his desk occasionally. Harper, after congratulating Trudeau on his win, said that it didn’t make sense to give tax breaks to countries like China, which were no longer developing — to which Scott Andrews heckled “so you’re raising taxes on Canadians!”
As the NDP policy convention draws closer, Jim Flaherty sends out a scathing missive about the negative economic impact of their proposals. But this totally isn’t a way to distract everyone from the assault that Flaherty is under for things like the “iPod tax” debacle or anything, right? (Speaking of, the Finance department is doubling down on its insistence that there’s no tariff on MP3 players – despite the all evidence to the contrary). Economist Stephen Gordon takes issue with some of the NDP’s underlying misunderstanding of profit in the modern economy – which they are largely against in their constitutional preamble – and how profit benefits everyone, especially those who live on investment income, such as pensions. The party also looks set to release a “get to know Thomas Mulcair” video at the convention as part of the new charm offensive to head off Justin-mania that is about to sweep the nation.
Former Guelph Conservative campaign worker Michael Sona has been charged in connection to the misleading robocall affair in the last election. Sona continues to insist he is innocent – without the access or means to pull it off – but one former Elections Canada lawyer suspects that they may be hoping he’ll take a deal and provide more information in exchange for a lesser charge or to have the charges dropped.
In its annual report on plans and priorities, HRSDC notes the likelihood of another incident of loss of personal data because of the proliferation of mobile storage devices, as well as retiring employees who don’t necessarily tell their successors where they’ve left everything. (And as someone who has dealt with records management in federal departments before, let me say that upon retirement, some employees simply shove everything into a box and leave it in a basement for years – not cool).
Today in the Warawa/MPs’ freedom of speech file, the motion was blocked again by the committee, which means that Warawa has the final appeal to the House itself if he so chooses. Meanwhile, other MPs, including Nathan Cullen gave their responses to Warawa’s privilege motion, and most of them resorted to hockey metaphors – because we have no other form of elegant discourse in this country, apparently. Oh, and it was a bit rich for Cullen to decry the partisan attack SO31s when his own party is increasingly doing the very same, and he once again asks the Speaker to rule rather than taking any kind of agency as a party for their own centralising behaviour. The Globe and Mail reports that caucus heard that Harper was explicit during Wednesday’s caucus meeting that he would use any and all means necessary to keep the abortion issue off the table as he has pledged to the electorate. Chris Hall looks at how this is an example of abortion politics masquerading as a free speech issue. Four Liberal leadership candidates respond to the question of what they would do with this situation – and no, Justin Trudeau was not one of the responders. And if you’re curious, PostMedia gives a breakdown of the current state of abortion laws and access in this country.
It was Friday-on-a-Thursday in the House, as it prepared to rise for the Easter break. Attendance was lighter than usual, but not as light as a usual Friday, and most unusually, Stephen Harper was present, which I completely did not expect. Megan Leslie was leading off for the NDP, asking about the tax increases in the budget. Harper stood up to list all of the tax increases that he claimed the NDP were in support of (which may or may not reflect reality). For her final question, Leslie asked about a patronage appointment at ACOA of a former ministerial staffer, to which Harper assured her that it had been cleared by the Public Service Commission and there was no ministerial interference. Craig Scott was up next, and with his air of affected gravitas, asked about the Elections Canada report on recommendations to avoid future instances of misleading robocalls, and wondered where the promised bill was. Tim Uppal reminded him that they just got the report yesterday, and that the bill would come in due course. For the Liberals,Ralph Goodale asked about the government pulling out of the UN convention on drought, which has plenty of applications back in Canada as well as abroad. Harper responded that the UN body spent less than 20 percent of its dollars to achieve results, and surely they could spend their funds being more effective elsewhere. Goodale moved onto the robocall report, to which Harper somewhat spuriously claimed that only the Liberals were “convicted” of breaking these laws, and as the the report was only tabled yesterday, they were reviewing and and would take its findings into account. Massimo Pacetti asked the same again in French, to which Harper repeated the same again in French.
Tuesday before Budget Day, and all leaders were in the House. Thomas Mulcair started off QP by reading off questions about cracking down on tax havens, but Stephen Harper was eager to continue needling him about his trip to Washington, and how he apparently undermined the economy. For this second supplemental, Mulcair read a pair of questions about reversals in fiscal policy, not that Harper let up on his attack against Mulcair’s position on Keystone XL. For his final question, Mulcair asked about Peter Penashue’s resignation, to which Harper assured him that Penashue did the right thing and that he was the best MP from Labrador in the history of ever. Bob Rae carried on that line of questioning — off the cuff and without scripts, mind you — not that Harper’s answer was any different.