Roundup: Pallister’s dubious threats

Manitoba premier Brian Pallister is looking to talk tough with the federal government, essentially daring them to increase the carbon price that he’s instituting in his province with a threat to take the federal government to court if they do. This after Pallister’s government already explored the notion of taking the government to court over the imposition of a federal carbon price backstop in the first place, and deciding that it wasn’t something they could win. For reference, Pallister’s government says they’ll implement a $25/tonne carbon tax, and leave it there rather than raise it every year (the point of which is, of course, to drive businesses and consumers to make choices that mean paying fewer of these carbon prices), and Catherine McKenna is basically saying “That’s great, but if your price doesn’t increase in 2020 like it’s supposed to, we’ll charge the difference.” While Pallister is trying to stand with other small-c conservative leaders – most of whom aren’t yet in office – I’m really not sure where he thinks he has the legal footing on this one.

Why does this matter? Well, recall the Environment Commissioner’s report last week that was done in concert with provincial auditors general, and as Paul Wells points out in this excellent piece, they could demonstrate that it wasn’t just the Harper government not doing their part (as McKenna was so quick to focus on), but rather the provinces weren’t doing their part either – especially those who were talking a good game. Nobody is taking this seriously, and the ability to hit our targets gets further away. And in the midst of Wells’ excoriation of these political leaders and their big talk on the environment, he drives home the message that we can’t believe any of them. And he’s right. Which is why we can’t believe Pallister’s rhetoric in this either, as he claims that his province’s plan is better than the federal one, so they shouldn’t have to add the increased carbon tax as part of that. Sorry, but no. The common carbon price across the country is about more than just reductions as it is about preventing carbon leakage to other jurisdictions in the country (and possibly elsewhere, depending on how well its designed), and he should know that. But just like the federal conservatives playing cute with trying to insist that McKenna should be able to tell them exactly how many megatonnes a $50/tonne carbon price will reduce, it’s not how this works. A carbon price is not a scrubber in a smokestack – it’s a market mechanism that is supposed to drive demand and innovation, and it works in jurisdictions where it is implemented properly. It’s not just about a claim that their system with a lower price will be better, which is a claim we shouldn’t believe anyway. It’s time for everyone to play hardball with politicians and these promises, and that means more than just disingenuous questions or demands, but actual accountability for what mechanisms are supposed to do and how they’re being implemented.

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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: Threatening marathon votes

Because apparently this Jaspal Atwal issue refuses to die, the Conservatives have decided to spend today’s Supply Day motion demanding that the Prime Minister instruct the National Security and Intelligence Advisory to attend the public safety committee and give the MPs there the same briefing he allegedly gave journalists (on background). Or else.

That’s right – in order to overplay their hands, they’re openly threatening to force some forty hours’ worth of votes on the Estimates as consequence for defeating this motion – because that doesn’t come across as petulant or childish. And while they couch it in the fact that they have a responsibility to hold the government to account – which they do – they’ve also been demonstrably obtuse about this whole affair. The different versions of what happen are not impossible to reconcile – they are, in fact, eminently reconcilable. The PM has defended the facts put forward by the senior officials, and have stated that they did not put him up to it. Media outlets have since dribbled out versions of “reviewing my notes” and toning down some of  their reporting of what was actually said to show that it wasn’t actually as inflammatory as initially reported as (because by the point at which it initially happened, they were focused more on wedging it into the narrative they had all decided on rather than acknowledging what was happening on the ground if it didn’t fit that frame). Nobody has acted responsibly in this – the government, the opposition, or the media. And digging in to entrench the narrative that somehow we have damaged relations with India (not true, unless you’ve conveniently forgotten the fiction about how it led to new tariffs) and that the trip was some giant disaster (forget the investments or the constructive conversations with Indian officials) is just making it all worse for everyone.

The bigger issue, however, is the fact that this committee is not the venue for this conversation to happen, and MPs are kidding themselves if they think it is. We have the National Security Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians to review this kind of intelligence data in confidence, and then issuing a report on what was said. Commons committees have been down this road before, and have actively damaged our national security and intelligence agencies because they can’t help themselves, and now they’re demanding the chance to do it yet again. There are proper ways to hold the government to account. This planned stunt and threat is not it.

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Roundup: The IRB’s crushing backlog

Some fairly big news out of the Immigration and Refugee Board, which has decided that they will forgo the legislated timetables for hearing cases, and just hear them in the order that they were received. This after they have run out of internal solutions to manage the ballooning caseload of arrivals crossing the border trying to flee the Trumpocalypse to the south of us, while being under-resourced and understaffed because this government has proven itself utterly incapable of making necessary appointments in a timely manner (Supreme Court of Canada excepted), and this is the mess we find ourselves in as a result.

Now, it needs to be reiterated that the IRB has a long history of problems in managing its backlog, and that it’s not just this current government that has been a problem, but the previous one as well, where they took a system that had an optimal number of cases churning through the system (essentially, there was no actual backlog) and threw a spanner in the works by deciding that they needed to reform the appointment process to involve an exam (which critics at the time declared was because they wanted to stuff it with their cronies). The result of this was a sudden backlog of files that they decided to try and tackle by legislating yet more changes to the system including new timelines, but if memory serves, those changes were criticised as not giving most refugee claimants time enough to get all of their documents in order or get a lawyer that they can trust to help them with their cases, particularly because many of these claimants are traumatized when they arrive and distrusting of authority; the end-result of that was going to mean yet more appeals and court challenges, because they also put in systems that tried to limit those as well. I’m not sure ever got that backlog cleared before the current government decided to reform that appointment process yet again, and here we are, broken process and a system struggling under its own weight, and awaiting yet more promised reforms that have yet to materialize. Slow clap to successive governments for continually dropping the ball on this file.

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QP: Lebouthillier has had enough of your accusations

With Justin Trudeau on his way back from China, and Andrew Scheer again absent, it was left up to Lisa Raitt to once again carry the day. Raitt led off, concerned about tax changes affecting small businesses, and demanded specifics. Dominic LeBlanc reminded her that they were cutting small business taxes, and details on income sprinkling would come before January 1st. Raitt then mocked the government for spending on advertising, to which Scott Brison got up to remind her that when she was in government, they spent a lot more on advertising, while the current government changed the rules to ensure that it wouldn’t be partisan. Raitt raised the concerns of small business owners in New Brunswick communities she visited, and LeBlanc, himself from the province, noted that the member of that riding had already made those concerns known and the government was listening. Alain Rayes was up next to offer the concern trolling on small business taxes in French, and LeBlanc assured him that they listened to concerns before they are implemented. Rayes tried again, and LeBlanc assured him the details would be known shortly. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and railed about the American decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and wanted louder condemnation from the Canadian government. Mélanie Joly assured him that they were allies of Israel and that the status of Jerusalem could only be determined in larger negotiations. Hélène Laverdière tried again in English, and got the same answer from Joly in English. Caron was back up, and referred to the Auditor General’s report on the CRA and wondered when they would be accountable to Canadians. Diane Lebouthillier listed off the measures that were being undertaken to correct the situation, and Caron tried again in English, and Lebouthillier repeated her response.

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Roundup: Feeding the fear industry

The Conservatives’ final Supply Day motion of the year, and they chose to use it to both demand that the government bring any returning ISIS fighters to Canada to justice, while simultaneously condemning them for the Omar Khadr settlement – you know, the issue that they were going to hammer the government hard on back in September which didn’t materialize.

As you can expect, the arguments were not terribly illuminating, and lacking in any particular nuance that the topic should merit, but that’s not exactly surprising. Still, some of the lines were particularly baffling in their ham-fistedness.

Amidst this, the CBC published a piece about Canada’s refusal to engage in extrajudicial killings of our own foreign fighters out of the country, asking lawyers whether Canadian law actually prevents it, which not unreasonably has been accused of creating a debate out of nothing.

And this is really the key point. Treating issues like this one in a ham-fisted manner, whether it’s with a Supply Day motion designed to fail, or a debate created out of nothingness, is playing into the fear industry that we really should be trying to avoid. This is not the kind of nuanced debate that we should be having, which hurts everyone in the long run.

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QP: Turning attention to Lebouthillier

With Justin Trudeau off in Beijing, along with several of his ministers, it appeared that Andrew Scheer decided he had better things to do, and left it up to Lisa Raitt to lead off QP instead. Raitt raised the ethical bar in Bill Morneau’s mandate letter, and with that having been failed by the fine for forgetting to declare the holding company that owned his villa, it was enough for him to resign. Dominic LeBlanc rose to respond, and dismissed the line of questioning as a weeks-long fishing expedition, and that Morneau had worked with the Ethics Commissioner. Raitt tried again, bringing in the fictional compliance requirements around Bill C-27, and LeBlanc dismissed the concerns, and pointed out that Raitt wished that the Conservatives had Morneau’s economic growth record. Raitt tried a third time, raising the share sales as though there was anything to question with them, and LeBlanc shrugged it off a third time. Alain Rayes took over in French, demanding to know about the share sales. LeBlanc reiterated his previous responses in French, and they went one more round of the same. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, concern trolling over Morneau having to meet with the Ethics Commissioner yet again over share sales, but LeBlanc reiterated that Morneau works with the Commissioner and takes her advice. After Caron tried again in English and got the same response, Alexandre Boulerice got up to decry the competence of the revenue minister regarding either the money hoped for from going after tax avoidance and disability tax credits for diabetics, but Diane Lebouthillier assured him that the restored disability advisory committee was getting to work. Boulerice tried again in French, and Lebouthillier responded that they were getting tough on tax avoidance.

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QP: A level of disgust

While Justin Trudeau was present, which is rare for a Thursday, Andrew Scheer was off in Toronto to give a speech, meaning that we wouldn’t get a repeat of some of the back-and-forth we got yesterday. Pierre Poilievre led off, and, predictably, led off with the insider trading allegations — sorry, not allegations, “just questions.” Trudeau again noted that the opposition was “in a jam” because they made allegations on Monday that they wouldn’t repeat, which pretty much proved that they were baseless. Poilievre brought in that Global News report which intimated that Morneau’s father was similarly tipped off, and Trudeau noted that the Conservatives couldn’t attack on substance, so they went for smears instead. After another round of the same, Alain Rayes took over in French, adding the demand that Morneau should be fired, and Trudeau reiterated the problem that the opposition finds themselves in. Rayes gave it another shot, but Trudeau reiterated that this was a smear campaign because they couldn’t touch the government’s fiscal record. Guy Caron was up next, for the NDP, and he demanded that the PM set the record straight on when the shares were sold. Trudeau responded with some jabs about how far that party had fallen since the previous election and how ineffective they were when it came to economic growth in the previous parliament. Caron switched to English to insist that this was all a matter of perception. Trudeau reiterated that they were so desperate as to engage in fabrications that they won’t repeat out of the House. Caron tried again, and Trudeau praised Morneau’s hard work on the economy, and Caron tried another time in both English and French, but Trudeau’s response didn’t change, and remained just as pointed.

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Roundup: Unleashing the two-year markers

With it being the two-year mark since the 2015 election, we’re going to start seeing a wave of thinkpieces and columns over the next few days (I suspect there will be a glut of weekend columns of dubious quality on the topic), but Paul Wells got things off to a good start yesterday with his piece on the matter. And he makes some pretty good points about how the complaints that this government hasn’t done anything are off the mark, because I do believe there are a number of things that we forget with our short attention spans, but there are also things that we don’t see obvious signs of, where the government has reformed a lot of the processes by which things get done – and this is a particularly big issue when it comes to trying to move the various Indigenous files forward. While it looks like there has been halting progress, people ignore that many of the problems are capacity-related, so if the government is moving to address those fundamental issues, it leads to better outcomes later than simply throwing money at problems only to make them worse in the long run – which happens all too often.

But Wells also acknowledges the bad, and just like with any government, there’s a lot of that too – the appointments process is a notable example, and Wells points to the bottleneck in the PMO, which goes along with the glut of rookie ministers (unavoidable with so few experienced MPs in caucus), and the problem with messaging. As I wrote about earlier this week, there is a real problem with the way this government shovels pabulum at everyone, but I’m not sure it’s any worse than under the previous government, when you were treated to non sequiturs rather than vague answers that resembled the topics you were asking about. And it’s this inability to have forthright communications that created much of this tax mess as well (but I will also lay some blame on bad and lazy reporting that was too quick to lean on opposition talking points as examples of accountability rather than reaching out to experts and then using that to push back against the tidal wave of misinformation that came out). And most especially the fact that this government was unwilling to actually fight back against the misinformation is why this mess of their own making has been compounded even more so.

“But it’s hard to be entirely saddened by Trudeau’s current discomfort, which if nothing else might shake his team out of the towering sanctimony that characterizes too much of its action and rhetoric,” Wells writes, and I fully agree. In fact, it’s the moments in the past couple of weeks where Trudeau and his ministers have dropped their pabulum-like talking points and been punchier and more authentic in their fighting back against their attackers that I’ve seen a spike in public responses to my own reporting of those instances. Hopefully they’re seeing that too, and it’ll prompt them to take more risks and to stop being so gods damned scripted. But this is also politics in 2017, and we’ve killed off spontaneity or the ability to debate, so I fear that my hopes for honest communications are doomed.

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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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