Roundup: Site C reluctance and costs

The BC government announced yesterday that they were going to reluctantly go ahead with the Site C dam project, which disappointed a great many people, not the least of which was the provincial NDP government’s Green Party allies (but not, apparently, to the point of withdrawing confidence, because they still have to get their self-interested electoral reform referendum up and running, and they certainly don’t want to jeopardise that). Oh, and true to form, it’ll cost even more than originally anticipated. Because of course it will. And while I can’t speak to some of the issues with some of the First Nations in the area, some of those cost issues were explored, particularly in this analysis, I also found the arguments of Blair King, who deals with contaminated sites for a living, to be particularly instructive on the issue, both in terms of the costs of remediating the work already done on the site, as well as the fact that other alternatives are simply not going to replace what the dam can do, particularly in the issues of night use for electric vehicles and the seasonal disparity of solar generation with usage – and certainly not for the same costs.

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Roundup: A revealing confession

When I saw the initial tweet, I can’t tell you how hard my eyes rolled, precisely because this sort of shtick is David Akin’s specialty – asking non-sequitur questions at inappropriate moments to try and generate a different headline, oftentimes to manufacture outrage (and oftentimes to the detriment of other reporters who had serious questions to ask when questions were limited). And some of the reactions to said tweet were pretty great too.

But reading Trudeau’s response, it was a bit of a warning klaxon for me, because of how this has been quietly playing out over the course of the past couple of years in the ways that Trudeau and his government has been trying to “reform” the way that business happens in the House of Commons – you know, to “modernize” the way that it functions.

…As we look at electoral structures, which is one of the questions that was specifically asked, we’ve had a certain level of discussions around electoral and democratic reform in Canada that leave me looking to the mother of all parliaments. Obviously, the U.K. does a significantly better job than us in programming legislation and getting that through the House. I think there is issue to admire on that. On the other hand, we were glad to adopt the prime minister’s question period model from the U.K. I think there’s lots to draw on when you look at our democratic structures from the mother of all parliaments.

The two key takeaways there are programming legislation, and prime minister’s questions. This isn’t the first time that programming motions have come up – back in the spring, the opposition filibustered the government over a proposal to include programming motions as part of Bardish Chagger’s “discussion paper” on suggested changes to procedure, and it seems that Trudeau hasn’t given up on the notion. I know that some people like programming motions because it helps create more orderly debates, and helps to move legislation though the chamber a lot more swiftly. But that’s partially why I’m not a huge fan of it, because creates the default assumption that the Commons is there to process legislation instead of holding government to account. Granted, we’ve gotten a bit dysfunctional in our parliament because opposition parties (and the NDP in particular) have an inability to let debate collapse in a reasonable timeframe which brings up the need for time allocation, and programming motions are just that – time allocation for all stages of a debate as it gets tabled. We should be trying to get parliament back to a better state of debate rather than resorting to programming, because that will help snuff out what little life remains in our parliament – it will make the speeches that much more rote and pro forma rather than having a miniscule chance for actual debate. As for PMQs, Trudeau’s grand experiment with it here has not proven to be that illuminating, and has instead created a perverse incentive for the Conservatives to instead bombard him with the same question eleventy times than to use it productively, and even when backbenchers do ask varied questions, they get mere platitude responses rather than substantive ones. It’s not like the UK’s, and so I find Trudeau’s response to Akin far more dubious as a result.

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Roundup: A new justice named

Justice Sheilah L. Martin of the Courts of Appeal for Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, has been nominated as the next Supreme Court of Canada justice, slated to replace outgoing Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. Martin, who was born and educated in Quebec and is fluently bilingual and knowledgeable in both common law and Quebec’s civil code, and has been on the bench in the North as well as the west. She was once dean of a law school and has not only contributed to legal scholarship, but has also weighed in on some significant cases in her time on the bench, with pretty well-considered judgments. She is not, however, Indigenous, like many had been hoping. (For more on Martin, here is the link to her application questionnaire, and also follow the embedded Tonda McCharles tweet thread).

The issue of demanding bilingual judges is going to be an impediment for Indigenous candidates, for whom it creates an additional barrier, and when NDP leader Jagmeet Singh dared to suggest that perhaps they create an exception to that would-be rule for Indigenous nominees, he was forced by the rest of his party to walk back from that statement in favour of some platitudes about helping would-be Indigenous candidates with official language capacity instead. Note that NDP MP Romeo Saganash has come out against party policy to say that this demand for official-language bilingual judges hurts the cause of more Indigenous justices on the bench, but apparently that perspective is being silenced.

While some Indigenous lawyers are upset by the choice of a non-Indigenous jurist, I think we do need to recognize that the feeder pools with provincial Superior courts and the Courts of Appeal still have large diversity problems, which is why this government went about reforming the process to appoint those judges (and partially why it’s taking so long to fill those vacancies). When the trickle-down starts to happen there, it will mean a bigger pool of diverse candidates available in the future that may not be there right now. Of course, we won’t know the demographics of who applied to this round, so that does matter as well (and we won’t know for another month), so we may get more answers at that point.

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QP: All sound and fury

Caucus day, and all of the leaders were present, and just a few minutes before things got underway, Andrew Scheer went to the microphones in the Foyer to demand Bill Morneau’s resignation. So there’s that. Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and he read some condemnation about Bill Morneau’s numeracy and economic prowess. Justin Trudeau offered a correction in return — lowered taxes, economic growth, more money for the vulnerable, and so on. Scheer switched to English to repeat the accusations, wondering why Morneau was still in cabinet, while Trudeau reminded him that the point of Prime Minister’s Questions was supposed to be about backbenchers asking the PM questions. Scheer the went into the disingenuous questions about the supposed ethical lapses, including the insinuation of insider trading, and Morneau got up to say that everything has been reported in the press, and if the opposition wants to make any clear accusations, they should do so in the House, and in the Foyer. Scheer tried twice more, and Morneau reiterated his counter demand. Guy Caron was up next, repeating the same insinuations and wondering why the PM wasn’t demanding a clear answer. Trudeau said that Caron obviously wasn’t listening, as he just answered. Caron tried again in English, with an added dollop of sanctimony, and Trudeau assured him that everyone was answering questions and then praised their economic growth record. Alexandre Boulerice listed all of the supposed ethical lapses, only louder and angrier, and Trudeau invited them to make their clear allegations outside of the Chamber. Nathan Cullen said that they had repeated the questions outside, and repeated the allegations, and Trudeau mocked the response with some added jabs at how badly they lost in the last election.

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Roundup: An historic apology

As promised, Justin Trudeau delivered a long-awaited apology for those LGBT Canadians who had been persecuted and hounded out of jobs in the civil service, military and police forces as a result of government policies, and to go along with this apology will be some compensation. (The speech and video are posted here). As well, a bill was tabled that will expunge the records of anyone caught up in these processes, but as Ralph Goodale explained on Power Play, the bill requires an application as opposed to the government doing a blanket action, and won’t cover some of the other charges such as being a found-in during a bathhouse raid. That could set up for an interesting future legal challenge, for the record.

So who does this apology affect? Some examples heard yesterday include Diane Doiron, who spoke to Chatelaine about her experiences, or former sailor Simon Thwaites, who was on Power Play.

While some may dismiss the rash of apologies from the Trudeau government as “virtue signalling” or being soft, history shows that official apologies tend to come more from conservative sources than liberal ones. Aaron Wherry, meanwhile, notes that while the Conservatives did participate in yesterday’s apology, they have been making a lot of political hay of late trying to show themselves in opposition to those who would “denigrate” the history of Canada, or who constantly find fault with it rather than praising it uncritically. And yes, it is an interesting little dichotomy.

Those who say that the apology doesn’t go far enough, pointing to the ongoing blood donation ban facing gay men who have had sex in the past year (note: this is a change from the previous lifetime ban) still hasn’t been lifted as promised, the government did put in research dollars to ensure that the proper scientific evidence is there to lift it permanently. While critics say that this remains discriminatory, I remind you that previous governments had to pay dearly for the tainted blood scandals of the past, which is doubtlessly why the current government wants to ensure that all of their bases are covered and untouchable legally in the event that any future lawsuits from this change in policy ensue.

Regarding those Conservative absences during the apology:

During the apology speeches in the Commons, I and several others noted that there were a number of conspicuous Conservative absences – some 15-plus vacant desks, all clustered in the centre of their ranks, which looked pretty obvious from above (and this matters when you’ve got the galleries full of people who have come to hear the apology). I remarked on this over Twitter, and it created a firestorm, especially when I highlighted the vacant area on the seating chart. Some of these absences are legitimate – some MPs were away on committee business, and I got flack from some of them for that afterward, feeling that it was a cheap shot, and if that’s the case, then I do apologize. It wasn’t intended to be, but it was pointing out that the giant hole in their ranks was conspicuous, especially as this was not the case during QP, which immediately preceded said apology. I will also note that none of the Conservative staffers who monitor my Twitter feed (and I know that they do, because they constantly chirp at me by claiming I’m too partisan in my QP-tweeting), offered up a correction or explanation until hours later, which I would have gladly retweeted if provided one. They did not. I can only work with what I can see in front of me at the time, and if some of those MPs who were there during QP went to fill the camera shots on the front benches, that’s still a poor excuse for leaving a giant hole in the middle of their ranks that the full galleries can plainly see.

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Roundup: The coming Senate legislative crunch

While the legalized cannabis bill passed the House of Commons last night and is off to the Senate, questions about the kind of reception it will find there are sure to be buzzing about in the days to come. While the bill’s Senate sponsor wants a process akin to the medical assistance in dying bill to take place (something I find overzealous and ignores the context of what happened then), it’s unlikely to happen that way, and we may see the Conservatives in the Senate trying to dig their heels in. But it’s still early days, so we’ll see.

With this in mind, I wanted to turn to Kady O’Malley’s Process Nerd column yesterday, where she looked at how the Senate could gum up the government’s end-of-season legislative plan, as they try to push through a number of bills before the Commons rises in just under three weeks. The Senate is already seeing a growing backlog of bills on its Order Paper (a function I’m told has to do largely with the Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative” and his unwillingness to negotiate with the caucuses in there on timelines), and will likely sit up to the 22nd to try and get most of them passed. But what O’Malley described in the refusal by the Senate to engage in pre-study of the budget implementation bill as being a sign that of uncertainty, I will note that the circumstances around this demand for pre-study were unusual from a procedural standpoint. As he outlined in his speech against the pre-study motion, Senate Liberal leader Joseph Day pointed out that the point of pre-study is for the Senate to do a parallel committee process and send recommendations to the Commons before they complete their own study so that they have the chance to make amendments that the Senate proposes at that time. The problem is that this particular bill had already reached Report Stage in the Commons before the motion to pre-study was moved in the Senate by Senator Harder, meaning that the opportunity to offer amendments had already passed, and there was no actual cause for pre-study, and what Harder was looking to do was short-circuit Senate procedure for his own scheduling purposes, and well, the Liberals were having none of it. And in the end, neither were the Conservatives and several of the Independents.

And this is one of the things that I think O’Malley missed in her column – that part of the problem in the Senate right now is that the leadership (meaning Senator Harder) is not exactly doing the government any favours with his inability to manage the legislative agenda in that chamber, especially when he tries to do an end-run around the rules to suit his purposes. It will be a problem if he keeps this up, because the veterans in that chamber won’t stand for it.

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QP: Of Poilievre and pabulum

With the PM off to Toronto for the day, and Andrew Scheer at the funeral of Senator Enverga, it meant no major leaders present. That left Alain Rayes to lead off for the Official Opposition, concern trolling that some Liberal backbencher have anonymously groused to the media about Bill Morneau’s apparent ethical issues, to which Morneau stood up to deliver his well-rehearsed lines about working with the Ethics Commissioner and he has since gone above and beyond. Rayes gave a usual disingenuous list of “apparent” conflicts of interest, and Morneau gave the line about the opposition going after him because they couldn’t fault his economic performance. Rayes raised their previous Supply Day motion around demanding Morneau disclose all of his assets (never mind that he has), and wanted a free vote on it. Morneau responded with some well-worn pabulum. Candice Bergen took over in English, demanding disclosure, and Morneau reminded her that he already has. Bergen disingenuously worried about the lack of a blind trust (which the Commissioner didn’t recommend) and that he “forgot” about his Villa in France (incorrect: he disclosed the villa but forgot to disclose the ownership structure), and Morneau gently pushed back. Guy Caron led off for the NDP, concern trolling that Morneau Shepell has a number of government contracts, to which Carla Qualtrough reminded him that all procurement processes are open and transparent. Caron also raised those anonymous Liberals crying to the media, and Morneau responded with some usual pabulum. Hélène Laverdière was up next, and raised former NDP MP Craig Scott’s brief to the International Criminal Court to demand that Canada also be investigated for war crimes in Afghanistan, to which Chrystia Freeland responded that Canada respects the Court, and our Forces respected the codes of conduct. Laverdière asked again in French, and got the same answer.

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Roundup: Some actual accountability

If there’s one committee of the House of Commons that I wish I could spend more time following, it’s the Public Accounts committee. It may not be one of the sexier committees tackling the hot issues of the day, but instead, it’s the heart and soul of what parliament is about – holding the government to account. Alas, my day-to-day work means that I don’t have the time to follow it like I did in years gone by, but I try to keep an eye on them when I can.

In the wake of the latest Auditor General’s report, the committee’s vice-chairs – NDP and Liberal, as the Conservatives chair this particular committee, as one might expect for a committee dedicated to holding the government accountable – are vowing that they will hold hearings on each chapter of the latest report (rather than just selected ones) because they are concerned about his level of frustration that departments aren’t keeping their focus on how services are delivered to citizens (rather than their own internal processes), and more than that, they plan to keep calling back senior civil servants to ensure that they’re shaping up. This can only be a good thing.

Over the past few years, that committee has been more stringent in ensuring that they get progress reports from departments on implementing recommendations from AG reports, but now it looks like they’re willing to go a bit further, which is encouraging. This is the kind of work that frankly, we don’t see enough of from MPs, so I’m glad it’s not only getting done, but getting a bit of attention. That can only bode well for parliamentary democracy.

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Roundup: Artificial deadline drama

It’s one of these kinds of stories that I’m already suspicious of – the kind that presuppose that the Senate is going to delay the course of legislation. And lo, the fact that there is a story with Bill Blair out there, shaking his finger at the Senate and warning them not to delay the marijuana legislation, is one that makes me roll my eyes because 1) the Bill still hasn’t passed the Commons, and may not yet for another week; and 2) I have heard zero plans from any senators that this is something that they intend to sit on until any deadlines pass or expire. In fact, I’ve heard pretty much the opposite – that to date, there is an extreme reluctance on the part of those making up the Independent Senators Group to delaying or being perceived to be delaying government bills, and they will provide the statistics to show that they pass bills faster than the House of Commons does as a way to prove that they don’t delay bills.

Oh, but what about the national anthem bill, which Conservative senators are sitting on and deliberately delaying? Well, that’s a private member’s bill, so it is at the mercy of Senate procedure, unlike a government bill – as the marijuana legislation is – which not only takes precedence over other business in the Senate, and which Senator Peter Harder, the Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative” could invoke time allocation on, and I’m sure that he would be able to get enough votes for it to pass (grumbling of Conservative senators aside). This having been said, I think that perhaps it may be pushing it for the government to insist that a major piece of legislation like the marijuana bill be passed by the Senate within three weeks given that they took much longer on it, and given that provincial governments have a lot to say on the matter – though I’m hearing that the Senate will likely sit a full week longer than the Commons will before they rise for the Christmas break, meaning that if the Commons passes it by this Friday, it would be four weeks for the Senate to pass it before the break, which is a long time for a bill in the Senate, but not unreasonable. And if the Commons was so concerned about how long it was taking, they would have picked up their own pace on the bill beforehand. They didn’t, and didn’t invoke time allocation on it thus far, meaning that this concern of Blair’s is artificial and used to create some faux drama. People aren’t stupid – creating a problem where one doesn’t exist is just as likely to backfire than it is to try and shame the Senate into doing your bidding.

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QP: Veteran benefits before reruns

Thursday before a constituency week, and not only were the benches starting to thing out, but Elizabeth May was the only leader present, not counting “parliamentary leader” Guy Caron. Conservative Quebec lieutenant Alain Rayes led off, railing about the news that elite soldiers who are ill or injured for more than six months will have their benefits cut off. Diane Lebouthillier — surprisingly (but with neither the veterans affairs minister or his parliamentary secretary present) — answered, saying that there was a six-month grace period, and they got a pay increase and have added benefits. Rayes repeated the question, and this time Kent Hehr, the former minister, offered assurances that veterans were a priority. Rayes offered some added sanctimony for the apparent callous treatment of said troops. Hehr repeated his answer, before Candice Bergen got up to repeat the question in English, and Lebouthillier got back up to repeat her previous answer, noting that the Chief of Defence Staff had reviewed the file. Bergen got back up to try and lump this with the other faux scandals, but Lebouthillier reiterated her answer. Guy Caron got up next, leading for the NDP, demanding to know if CRA had recouped $25 billion of it had simply been identified. Lebouthillier essentially confirmed the latter, saying that they were “on the way” to recouping it. Caron railed that KPMG’s clients were not being named and shamed on the CRA website, but Lebouthillier repeated her response. Alexandre Boulerice got up next to rail about what tax avoidance was considered abusive, but Lebouthillier praised the work that CRA was doing. Boulerice ranted about tax treaties, and Lebouthillier noted that those treaties are now the CRA is able to conduct investigations and lay charges.

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