Roundup: Those “sexist” tax changes

Pushback on the proposed income tax changes increased in intensity, with the Canadian Medical Association launching broadsides at the policy under the rubric that it’s “sexist” and will drive doctors out of the country, while Conservatives have taken these arguments to social media, Lisa Raitt policing news aggregators and Kellie Leitch penning fundraising letters. Jane Philpott, addressing a CMA conference, assured them that they were operating under misinformation and that the goal of the changes was tax fairness – that those with spouses earning significantly less money or having adult children shouldn’t unfairly benefit from the existing system than those who don’t.

I did try to get some answers as to how this policy was “sexist,” because I’m not entirely convinced that these changes prevent people from using money in the corporation to finance parental leaves, never mind the fact that the previous government made a Very Big Deal about changing the EI system to allow self-employed people to contribute in order to finance maternity leaves – something that received very little uptake. And most of the stories that Raitt pointed to were anecdotal that didn’t point to where these policy changes were a problem – one example was a Facebook post where a dentist insisted that these current policies were what allowed her to keep up with male counterparts, which is an argument that makes no sense at all. They don’t prevent incorporation. They don’t prevent deductions of expenses or reinvestment in the business – it’s about not letting people use income sprinkling or splitting for the sole purposes of reducing their taxes. Not that it’s stopped the narratives that this hurts doctors or struggling small businesses.

And this is a salient point – in Ontario, the provincial government encouraged this kind of incorporation rather than increase what they’re paying doctors, so you can see why they’re upset that these tools are being taken away from them. Nevertheless, it also largely proves that their arguments are fairly disingenuous, especially when they insist that “it’s not about the money.” But with none of their other arguments actually panning out, it seems to be that’s exactly what it is, and it’s fine if they come out and just say it. But to put on this song and dance about how the changes are “sexist” and that it somehow disproves Trudeau’s feminism, and ignoring the stated purpose of the changes with regards to tax fairness, makes the excuses start to ring fairly hollow.

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Roundup: End of round one

The first round of NAFTA talks has ended without any firm conclusions in one way or another, which is to be expected. It is also noted that they were free from any public drama, but it’s still early days, so we’ll see how long that lasts, especically considering that we’re dealing with an Uncertainty Engine for a president in the United States. While the US is signalling that Buy America is a non-negotiable in NAFTA talks, the PMO has assembled a crack unit to deal with the fallout of a US walkout on talks, seeing as Trump already played his walkout card months ago so it gave them time to prepare.

Meanwhile, trouble with NAFTA talks could mean an economic slowdown, as there have already been some signs of slowdown in the manufacturing sector, and expectations that GDP growth could start to slow for the remainder of the year. That having been said, there’s also talk that if the Trump administration tries to simply tear up NAFTA, there are recourses that Congress has at its disposal that would essentially work to keep the existing agreement up and running by backdoor means, but it’s messy and complicated (and you can see Alex Panetta talking about that starting at 10:51 on this Sunday Scrum segment).

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Roundup: Disappointment and disengagement

Yesterday being the UN International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, The Walrus had Robert Jago write a polemic about the sense of betrayal that some Canadian Indigenous people are feeling about the current Liberal government, which promised much but appears to have delivered little. While one could easily argue that much of the litany of complaints are cherry-picking examples and casting some of them in an uncharitable light – many of the promised changes haven’t happened yet because they are complex and systemic, which coupled with a slow-moving bureaucracy that resists change by its very nature, and that means that things take time, not to mention that consultations per Section 35 of the Constitution add time to the process, especially when the government is committing to rebuild many of them from the ground-up. While it’s all well and good to complain that they haven’t poured more money into the system, there are just as many valid reasons for pointing out that pouring money into a broken system is just as likely to exacerbate problems than it will to have any meaningful impact, and we have seen numerous instances of just that – adding money where there is no capacity to effectively spend it has added to burdens being faced by some of these communities.

This, however, wasn’t what bothered me about Jago’s piece, but rather, his recounting of his dipping his toe into the political process and then walking away from it. Buoyed by the soaring Trudeau rhetoric, Jago took out a party membership, tried to get involved, found the party too remote and unresponsive and quickly walked away from the convention he was supposed to attend. What irks me about this is that while I do understand that the disappointment-based disengagement is a Thing, and there is a whole Samara Canada study on the topic, is that this kind of narrative is self-justifying, and Jago goes on a tangent about resistance by refusing participation. Why I find it a problem is that change is difficult, and it generally requires a lot more organisation and agitation within the system than he seems to have offered.

The civics lessons that we’re not taught in this country should include the lesson that if you want to make change, you need to be involved in the process, which means taking out party memberships and organise, organise, organise. Because we’re not taught this, it’s allowed central party leadership, in every party, to amass a great deal of power that leaches power away from the grassroots, and a grassroots that doesn’t know any better doesn’t jealously guard that power. It’s why the Liberals voted overwhelmingly for a new party constitution that absolutely kneecapped the rights of the grassroots in that same convention that Jago refused to attend – because they no longer know their rights, and a slick leader managed to convince them to turn over that power to “modernise” things. And that’s why the party needs active and organised grassroots members to push back and reclaim that power. Walking away at the first sign of resistance just allows the central leadership to hold onto that ill-gotten power. It’s going to take time and a hell of a lot of organisation on the part of grassroots members if we want to start rebalancing the power in this country, but if everyone walks away at the first bit of disappointment, then the party leaders have already won.

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Roundup: The downside of leaks

The thing that had everyone’s tongue wagging yesterday was the release of those Trump Transcripts™ detailing calls to Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and the inevitable Canada angle in which Trump says that there’s no problem with Canada, that they don’t even think about us. Some friend and neighbour.

All joking aside, this piece by Andrew MacDougall explaining how readouts of calls with foreign leaders work is crucial reading to understanding why it’s important for diplomacy that world leaders be allowed to have open and frank conversations without these kinds of details leaking out. While yes, these Trump leaks are more about the damage to his domestic agenda, they’re not revealing much about him that we don’t know already, but it remains an issue that it sets a very bad precedent, and that could have bigger and worse repercussions down the road, not only for the ability of politicians to speak freely to one another, but also for the likelihood of there being note takers in the room with Trump in the future, and neither is a good thing.

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Roundup: The “nice countries only” option

In the wake of news that Saudi Arabia has, rather unsurprisingly, used Canadian-built LAVs against its own civilians, former Liberal cabinet minister Irwin Cotler is calling on the government to end arms sales to that country. Part of the problem here is that it means a lot of lost jobs in economically vulnerable areas of the country (where these jobs are really the only thing that is keeping that region from being devastated), and the fact that there seems to be this notion that we can only sell arms to nice countries. That notion came up in last night’s NDP leadership debate in Victoria, where the three participants all gave variations of “we should only sell to nice countries,” which is unrealistic. Stephanie Carvin made this point over Twitter a couple of days ago, and it deserves a second look.

And that last point is the most salient – nobody wants to make hard choices, especially when it means lost jobs and economically devastating a region that each party covets (and make no mistake – all parties supported these jobs during the election, which makes it hard for them to be suddenly concerned about these sales to Saudi Arabia now, when they were all rooting for them when votes were on the line).

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Roundup: Debating useless rule changes

Yesterday was “debate the House rules” day in the Commons, and lo, there was some talk about eliminating Friday sittings again, which the opposition parties tend to be against, but fear the government will try to ram through anyway. And yes, we all know that Fridays are not like any other day, particularly because MPs need to get back to their ridings, but there are still debate hours that happen, and eliminating them means either making up for them elsewhere, or losing them altogether, after we’ve lost plenty of debate hours in the past number of years, all to be more “family friendly” with spring breaks and so on. Kady O’Malley followed the debate (I would have more if I didn’t have other deadlines to file), and some of the best and worst are below.

Eliminating whip/House leader-provided speaking lists absolutely needs to happen. It removes agency from MPs and is part of what has debased QP into this scripted farce and turned debate on legislation into nothing of the sort. If you take away the lists – and then ban the scripts – it will help to make the debate free-flowing once again rather than just exercises in reading speeches into the void.

Oh, the irony. The bitter, bitter irony.

I am dubious, as we would have people tabling all manner of nonsense to “prove” whatever they were saying in QP, almost all of it irrelevant. (Also, look up the story about the tabled hamburger from the Alberta legislature that they ended up preserving).

No. We do not need to privilege private members’ business any more than we already do. Most of it is out of hand, with useless and costly Criminal Code piecemeal amendments, more national strategies than you can shake a proverbial stick at, and even more bills to declare national days for every issue under the sun. The proliferation of PMBs is already out of hand, we don’t need to make it that much worse.

So…turning the summer break from three months to four? No. But do feel free to sit more days in January regardless.

Not unless we start insisting that supply days start being about actually debating supply once again.

Because Parliament is just a debating chamber for hobbyhorses? Because there isn’t actual work that needs to get done?

Not unless parties start agreeing that second reading debates be severely curtailed, and that debate on government bills can collapse relatively quickly. But seriously, committee work already happens while debates are going on in the Chamber so I don’t see the point of this. At all.

Amen.

Seriously. I can’t believe that this actually needs to be pointed out.

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Roundup: Begin Royal Tour 2016!

The Royal Tour has begun, which means we’re already being inundated with a bunch of ridiculous stories about “is it worth the price,” or treating the Canadian Royal Family as foreign curiosities when the Canadian Crown is a separate and distinct legal entity from the British Crown (well, unless you happen to follow the logic of the previous government, whose changes to the Royal Succession Act without going the constitutional amendment route put us on par with Tuvalu in terms of making our relationship with the Crown a subordinate one, but we’ll see if that survives the court challenges). Suffice to say, yes it’s entirely worth it because it’s a very small amount of money, and their touring for a week costs us less than it does for Obama to visit for an afternoon, they draw a lot of attention to a number of worthwhile causes that the Governor General never could, and hey, we’re a constitutional monarchy so it pays for us to act like one from time to time. And to all of those pundits who insist that it’s time that we “grow up” as a nation and “leave the Queen’s basement,” how’s that republic to the south of us doing when it comes to selecting a head of state? Yeah, I thought so.

Meanwhile, here are some photos from the arrival, along with a look at the symbolism of what Kate was wearing. The tour promises to focus on social issues like the environment, young families, and mental health issues. Sunday, they met with young mothers in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side battling addiction issues, before visiting the re-opened Coast Guard base at Kitsilano (which isn’t a dig at the previous government that closed the base at all). Later this week, they’ll visit the town of Bella Bella, which has managed to basically solve its suicide crisis.

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Roundup: Going around the rules

So there were shenanigans in the Senate yesterday, the result of a confluence of a number of factors. Some of them are longer term – the terrible manner in which Harper has made his appointments has left a large cadre of Conservative senators who feel beholden to him and his largely imaginary whip. There are exceptions to the rule, but there are a lot of Senators right now who still feel they need to follow the PM’s rule because he appointed them, and that’s simply not the case. It was just a sensibility encouraged by the Senate leadership on the Conservative side who had far too many newbie senators in place at once. Then there’s the problem of the bill itself. The PMO has ruled they want to see this go through – never mind that it would create a giant bureaucracy at CRA, and that it could have “staggering” compliance costs for mutual funds and other organisations beyond the unions it’s targeting. It’s also a constitutional overreach because labour relations are a provincial jurisdiction, but the government wants this through because they see unions as a big threat to them. It never should have been a private members’ bill, but that was how they introduced it, and got it past the worst of the scrutiny on the Commons side because of automatic time limits. The Senate recognised it as unconstitutional and a threat to labour relations in this country, and even a number of Conservative senators opposed it. Led by Hugh Segal, they voted to amend the bill to near uselessness and sent it back to the Commons – but then prorogation happened, and the amendments were undone when the bill reset (thanks to Senate rules). In the interim, Hugh Segal retired, and Marjory LeBreton stepped down as government leader, almost certainly because of the caucus revolt over the bill. The Conservative senators sat on the bill for months before the PMO decided it wanted them to try and pass the bill. The Liberals, as is their right, filibustered. And they have the provinces on their side – seven provinces representing more than 80 percent of the population are opposed to the bill, and the Senate has a regional representation role. Things came to a head yesterday when the Conservatives tried to break the filibuster by trying to time allocate the bill – something they can’t do under Senate rules, and when the Speaker said no, the Conservatives challenged the ruling – something they can actually do under Senate rules. Kady O’Malley explains some of it here, and I responded with a Twitter essay.

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Roundup: So long for the summer, MPs!

Ladies and gentlemen, the House has risen for the summer. Let us rejoice! The Senate, however, continues to sit, likely for another week or two, as they clear the remaining bills off their plates before the recess and likely summer prorogation. (And yes, I’ll be recapping Senate QP for the duration).

Marking the last day was the escalation of the transparency game, where the NDP finally unveiled their own transparency plan, which basically proposes to dismantle the Board of Internal Economy and replace it with an independent oversight body. The proposal was agreed to go to study by committee before the House rose. While the goal here is to end the practice of MPs policing MPs, there is a danger in that by absolving themselves of their responsibilities, they are on the road to a kind of technocratic system that has little accountability. It should also give one pause – if Parliament is indeed the highest court in the land (and it is), what does it say that those who make up its occupants cannot be counted on to hold themselves to account. It would seem to me that simply demanding a greater standard of transparency would have gone a long way to solving the issues inherent with MPs policing themselves than a wholesale overturning of the system.

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QP: Starting off the new parliamentary year

The first QP of 2013, and all leaders were in the House — even Bloc leader Daniel Paillé in the diplomatic gallery. Thomas Mulcair started off by wishing everyone a productive session before he read off a pro-forma question about the mission to Mali. Harper offered him assurances that there would be no combat mission and that he would consult the House before any future deployments. Next up, Mulcair read off a pair of questions about the First Nations, and why progress on their issues was so slow. Harper assured him that they were moving ahead with the issues, and that processes were in place and they would continue to work with those partners who were willing (this being the key phrase the government has been employing of late). Romeo Saganash was up next, and gave the vague threat that they didn’t need the government because he has a Private Member’s Bill on implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — err, except that he’s number 167 on the Order of Precedence, and it’s the job of the opposition to oppose, and not to govern. It’s called the Westminster system, which he may need to read up on. John Duncan offered up a bland list of achievements by way of response. Bob Rae then got up for the Liberals, and pressed about the signing of the Declaration, and that the government has been insufficient in its consultations with First Nations. Harper disputed this, stating that the government has met all of its legal obligations and their duty to consult. For his final question, Rae asked about the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, to which Harper reminded him that his government created the office to be non-partisan and credible.

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