Roundup: Promising a new framework

The big news yesterday was Justin Trudeau delivering a major policy speech in the House of Commons about creating a new legal framework for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada that aims to fully implement the treaties that have not been properly enacted, and that will build toward self-governance by creating the capacity within individual First Nations and other Indigenous communities that will enable them to take up that governance space at their own pace. Trudeau insisted that this would not require constitutional change but would rather put some meat on the bones of Section 35 of the Constitution, and the existing treaties. And yes, criminal justice reform including how juries are selected was also part of the promise (and I’ve heard that we might see new legislation around that in March). Trudeau said that this announcement comes with a new round of consultations, but the aim was to have legislation tabled by the fall, with the framework fully implemented before the next election.

Reaction from Indigenous leaders is cautious so far, because there aren’t a lot of details – and there probably won’t be many until something gets tabled later in the year. The flipside of that, of course, is that there’s room and space for these leaders to give their input during the consultative process that is to come, seeing as Trudeau is promising to work together to develop this framework. There are other questions when it comes to lands and resources, which I’m not sure if this framework itself will cover or if the framework will guide how those issues are to be solved going forward, and that’s also likely going to depend on the cooperation of the provincial governments, but there does seem to be some momentum. That will also depend on Parliament moving this forward, and while the NDP seem to be onboard, the Conservative response to Trudeau’s speech warned about being too ambitious, which should probably be some kind of a warning signal. But it’s early days, and we’ll see how the next few months unfold.

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Roundup: Harder threatens hardball

A curious development happened in the Senate yesterday, where the Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative,” Senator Peter Harder, decided to threaten to play hardball for the first time. Harder moved a motion that would send the marijuana legalisation bill to three different committees by March 1st, with an aim to have them report back to the Chamber by April 19th. The threat? That if they don’t agree, he’ll resort to time allocation (which may be an empty threat if he can’t get the votes to do so). While there are questions as to why the “haste” (though I would hardly call it such), the supposition is that the government wants this passed before summer, despite the fact that there will be an eight-to-twelve-week lag between royal assent and retail sales. Now, one could point out that the Senate rose a week early before Christmas and could have done more of their second reading debate beforehand (along with the other bills on the Order Paper), and maybe they should have been more conscious of the timeline then, but that’s now past.

While I’m not opposed to one-off timeline negotiations, I do find myself concerned by some of the tone of Harder’s release, one line of which reads “Sen. Harder said he is also concerned that opponents may behave in a partisan fashion to delay review of the bill.” Why is this concerning? Because it’s part of his larger plan. After the Speaker ballsed up the procedural motions around the national anthem bill (which saw the motions go through that day rather than the three of four weeks of delays that were anticipated), the Conservatives are angry and threatening to delay legislation, and that in turn is giving Harder the ammunition he needs to push the Independent senators to agitate to change the rules to eliminate the government and opposition roles in the chamber, which is a very bad thing for parliamentary democracy. But the Conservatives can’t help themselves, and keep insisting that they’re just ensuring through examination of the bill, as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. Of course, bringing up the anthem bill is not the same thing as it was a private members’ bill and there was no real mechanism for Harder to move it forward, whereas he has tools for this bill. But, as with anything, false equivalencies to prove a point are part of the game if people don’t know any better.

And if the Conservatives don’t think that they’re signing their own warrants for the demise of opposition by continued procedural gamesmanship, then they had better wake up because the ISG is rousing itself to go on the warpath for these rule changes. Being a little more strategic in their partisanship and tactics would be advisable because the reckoning is coming.

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Roundup: Jury selection in the crosshairs

The fallout from the Gerald Stanley trial continued in Ottawa yesterday, where the family of Colten Boushie met with ministers Carolyn Bennett and Jane Philpott about their frustrations with the justice system, and in particular the focus seemed to be on jury selection, and in particular the use of peremptory challenges in order to screen out any potential juror that looks Indigenous. In Question Period, justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said that this was under consideration as part of their broader criminal justice review, but this is a project that seems to be travelling at a glacial pace (as so many things do in this government), and we have no idea when any report or formal recommendations by the government will actually be released in advance of legislative fixes. Boushie’s family are due to meet with Wilson-Raybould, Ralph Goodale and the prime minister at some point today, but I’m not holding my breath for any timelines on action on these issues. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the premier of Saskatchewan says that he’s open to discussions about more Indigenous representation on juries, but it doesn’t sound very concrete.

The attention that the Stanley verdict has given to the problems around Indigenous representation on juries have reminded us that this is a long-standing problem that has been on the radar for many years, such as with the report by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci written for Ontario about the issue, complete with a number of recommendations. (That report spawned the Debwewin Committee, whose report is more than a year-and-a-half overdue by this point). The National Post last week had a look at the issues of stacked juries and biased media in cases like Stanley’s, and noted that there is a current study underway by an Ontario Superior Court justice looking into representation on juries with an eye to training judges in the future. Meanwhile, Senator Murray Sinclair says he will advocate for concrete changes such as limiting peremptory challenges, and provincial jury selection processes.

In terms of commentary, Colby Cosh tries to take a more dispassionate look at the jury system and wonders what we risk if we try to overturn it because we don’t like one decision out of hundreds. In a piece from 2016 that was reposted in light of recent events, Jonathan Kay wrote about his experience in a jury pool where, in a case involving a domestic homicide, the defence used their peremptory challenges to assemble an all-male, mostly visible minority jury.

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Roundup: Fallout from the Stanley decision

The verdict in the Gerald Stanley trial came down late Friday night, and the Saskatchewan farmer was found not guilty in the shooting death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie for the same kinds of actions that a white person would not have been shot at for. That the jury did not contemplate a manslaughter conviction instead of second-degree murder is the more puzzling aspect of the verdict, and why there is such a cry about racism in the justice system – especially since the defence counsel was able to successfully challenge any of the potential Indigenous jurors and wind up with an all-white jury, which is when the family knew that the fix was in, and that this was not doing any favours to the cause of reconciliation, nor for faith in the justice system for people who aren’t white.

The PM and justice minister tweeted that more needs to be done when it comes to ensuring that there is justice for Indigenous people in this country, leaving some Conservative observers a little aghast that they got involved. That said, the wording was carefully chosen in order to not criticise the jury itself, or promise that there would be an appeal or some kind of attempt to overturn the verdict. That’s probably a good thing overall, while it acknowledges that there is a problem and that the government is aware of it, and it’s worth nothing that the government is talking about this situation where there is a good chance that they wouldn’t have just a couple of years ago. Meanwhile, this hasn’t stopped the Conservatives from accusing the government of “political interference” with the courts (never mind how many times they criticised court decisions, especially by the Supreme Court of Canada, while they were in power). But what can be done? Well, there is already an ongoing review of the criminal justice system that this government has undertaken (but is very, very slow about rolling out any concrete measures about), so we can be sure that this will be part of it. But better resourcing the justice system is something that they need to confront, which means hiring more Crown attorneys, and giving them more time and resources to tackle cases is going to be part of the solution as well (and we can all think of a number of high profile cases in recent years that the Crowns have utterly ballsed up). And indeed, in this case, there were apparently questions going in as to whether the Crown attorney in this case was capable of handling a trial like this. But this is also a provincial issue as well. Ontario is working on a strategy about getting more Indigenous representation on juries, but its report is already more than a year overdue. The Boushie family has arrived in Ottawa to meet with ministers, so one suspects we may hear more later in the day.

And there has been no dearth of commentary around this case already. Lawyer David Butt talks about the need to limit the peremptory challenges that allowed Stanley’s defence lawyer to create an all-white jury. Defence Lawyer Allan Rouben suggests that maybe it’s time to loosen the rules that forbid jurors from discussing what happens during deliberations. Tammy Robert reminds us that no, you can’t shoot someone to protect your property in Canada. Robert Jago says that the trial and verdict show that the attitude remains that Indigenous people are simply animals that Canadians are taught to fear.

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Roundup: Scheer unveils more reheated policy

While at the Manning Centre Networking Conference in Ottawa yesterday, Andrew Scheer unveiled another policy plank – that he was going to support a free trade deal with the United Kingdom, post-Brexit. And a short while later, put out a press release and “backgrounder” (which was a bit content-free) to say that he was going to travel to the UK next month to start talking about just this.

Scheer is behind the times on this, because Justin Trudeau announced that he and Theresa May were already having this discussion back when she visited in September, and Scheer knows this. So he’s reiterating this for a couple of reasons, beyond the fact that he’s trying to paint the picture of Trudeau being unable to adequately handle trade negotiations (never mind that his government concluded CETA that was in danger of going off the rails, and similarly extracted concessions from TPP talks, and they haven’t rolled over on NAFTA talks).

  1. Scheer is a Brexit supporter, and his trip to the UK is at a time where the UK Parliament is dealing with their Brexit legislation and not doing very well with it. One suspects that this trip is more about offering Canadian support for Brexit from his position as Leader of the Opposition, never mind that I suspect that the vast majority of Canadians would oppose Brexit (and hell, the number of Britons who regret voting for it seems to be growing daily). But Scheer does seem to want to offer that encouragement from his position.
  2. This announcement was to a crowd of small-c conservatives who feel a great deal of affection for the Anglosphere, and suspicion for other trade deals, particularly with China. It doesn’t seem to be out of the realm of possibility that this is a bit of red meat for that base.

Suffice to say, if this is a new bit of policy, this awfully thin gruel.

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Roundup: Pipeline demands versus environmental legislation

The pipeline drama between Alberta and BC continues to carry on at a dull roar, with yet more demands by the Conservatives that Trudeau return home to deal with the situation, and Jason Kenney demanding that the federal government take BC’s government to court, Trudeau reiterated from a press conference in San Francisco that yes, they will ensure that the Trans Mountain pipeline will get built, and reminded Kenney et al. that you can’t take BC to court over a press release. They’ve just stated intentions and haven’t done anything yet. Take a deep breath.

Amidst all of this, the federal government unveiled their new environmental assessment legislation yesterday, and pointed to it when answering questions on the pipeline battle. The new bill undoes much of the changes made during the previous Conservative government, but also places new streamlined processes with legislated timelines and a plan to replace the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, and the National Energy Board with the Canadian Energy Regulator. The Conservatives don’t like it because it undoes the changes they made, and the NDP don’t like it because they say it leaves too much uncertainty, but one suspects that the fact that neither other party likes it suits the Liberals just fine.

As for the pipeline battle, Jason Markusoff looks at what needs to happen for Alberta and BC to stand down from their respective positions, while John Geddes notes how little wiggle room that Trudeau has given himself.

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Roundup: Demanding Trudeau take a stand…on a press release

We’re barely a couple of days into the “trade war” between BC and Alberta, and already the rhetoric has cranked the ridiculousness up to eleven. While Trudeau has tried to calm nerves and insist that he and his officials are speaking to the premiers involved and their officials, you have Andrew Scheer going before the microphones to demand that the PM cancel his trip to the United States to deal with this escalating crisis (err, thus far a press release has been issued by BC – that’s it), and Jagmeet Singh is lamenting that Trudeau isn’t showing enough leadership. One remains curious about what kind of “leadership” Trudeau should be showing on this, given that he has declared that the pipeline will get built because it’s in the national interest (and even went so far as to deploy anonymous senior government sources to assure the media that yes, they won’t allow any province to impinge on federal jurisdiction). And you know that if Trudeau did actually cancel his US trip that the Conservatives would pillory him for not taking NAFTA renegotiations seriously enough. It was also pointed out yesterday that when Christy Clark tried to impose conditions on pipelines, the previous government pretty much let her go ahead with it with very few complaints, so their insistence that Trudeau escalate this to what one presumes to be the use of federal disallowance powers is curious in the extreme.

Meanwhile, the pundits are weighing in. Chantal Hébert notes that Trudeau lacks any kind of constitutional mechanism to force a timeout between the premiers. Andrew Leach reminds us that the only reason Alberta got the approval for the pipelines was because they did the hard work of getting a credible environmental regime in place beforehand. Jen Gerson argues that Trudeau’s job is to avoid these kinds of interprovincial disputes, and that Notley’s real goal with the wine blockade is to pressure Trudeau. Colby Cosh says that the wine blockade was a predictable turn of events given Notley’s flirting with craft beer protectionism already.

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QP: Litigating actual litigation

While the PM flew off to Chicago to begin his US tour, the rest of the benches in the House of Commons were full and ready for another scintillating day of bad litigation drama. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, but with the PM away, today he led off on the news story of a government fighting a sexual harassment lawsuit from a Canadian Forces member, but wedged in an Omar Khadr reference at the end, because of course he did. Harjit Sajjan said that they were committed to a harassment-free environment in the Forces, but couldn’t speak to the specifics of the case — despite the fact that earlier this morning, the PM stated that he would have the case looked into. Scheer tried again, but got the same response. Scheer amped up his dramatics for the third attempt, and tried to draw in the justice minister, but Sajjan got back up to reiterate his points, including pointing out how many people they have discharged for sexual misconduct. Lisa Raitt got up next, and repeated the question with full-on anger, but Sajjan reiterated the commitment to Operation Honour, and they went again for another round. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, demanding taxation for digital giants, and Mélanie Joly said that they wanted to ensure that there wasn’t a piecemeal approach to digital platforms over the long term. Caron tried again in English, noting that Trudeau would be meeting with Amazon on his trip. Ruth Ellen Brosseau was up next to read her condemnation of the government’s actions with that lawsuit, and Sajjan repeated his points. Brosseau read the question again in French, and got the same reply. Continue reading

Roundup: Begun, this wine trade war has

The dispute between the NDP governments of Alberta and BC picked up intensity as Alberta decided to ban future purchases of BC wine within the province – without the consultation of groups like Restaurants Canada – and everyone is demanding that Justin Trudeau step in and do something. Anything. Never mind that Trudeau did just days ago tell audiences in Edmonton and Nanaimo that the pipeline was approved and that it was going to get built, and that it was part of the deal that came with stronger environmental laws.

https://twitter.com/andrew_leach/status/961114051865726978

There are a couple of problems in all of this. For one, there’s nothing for Trudeau to actually do at this point – BC hasn’t done anything yet besides put out a press release, and they actually can’t do anything. There’s nothing they’re actually doing at this point for Trudeau to step in and stop. It’s all just rhetoric at this point. And ultimately, this is all politicking, because Rachel Notley needs an enemy to fight against to show Jason Kenney’s would-be voters that she’s doing the job, and John Horgan is holding onto power only with the support of the three Green MLAs in his province, and he needs to keep them happy, so he’s making noises to do so. Add to that the federal Conservatives are amping up the rhetoric to try and “prove” that Trudeau isn’t really on the side of the industry, or that he’s secretly hoping that these delays will make Kinder Morgan think twice about the project like what supposedly happened with Energy East (never mind that what happened with Energy East had more to do with Keystone XL being put back on the table and being the better option for TransCanada to pursue), everyone is trying to score points. So, until there’s something that Trudeau can do, maybe everyone should hold their gods damned horses and not make the situation worse.

Incidentally, Jagmeet Singh has been dodging questions on this very issue, trying to play his own politics while other levels of NDP government battle it out. So there’s that.

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Roundup: Romanticizing a political “success” story

It’s not a secret that Globe and Mail editorials have a tendency to be terrible, but one yesterday was particularly misinformed to the point of being criminally negligent. The subject? That politics needs more Ruth Ellen Brosseaus. The thrust of the piece is that politics doesn’t need more lawyers or titans of industry, but plucky individuals with a common touch. What they completely ignore is how much support the party gave Brosseau to turn her from the assistant manager of a campus bar who spent part of the campaign in Vegas (who never actually went to her riding during the campaign) into the eventual NDP House Leader that she is today.

To wit, after the 2011 election, the party sequestered Brosseau, put her through intense French immersion to get her proficiency in French back up to an acceptable level for the francophone riding that she was accidentally elected into during the Orange Wave, and then carefully kept her away from the media except for select clips to show how great her French was. Her early interventions in the Commons were brutal – I recall one particularly memorable nonsense question in QP about how, as a busy single mother, she didn’t have time to worry about all of the Conservatives scandals. Riveting stuff. She was given a deputy portfolio that kept her very constituency bound, and again, she was largely kept away from the media spotlight for four years, and when she was in the media, it was for personality pieces and not policy. During the last election, the party put her forward to every outlet conceivable to showcase her personality and endear her to voters, and she did win again. And good for her.

But what the Globe piece misses entirely is that plucky everywoman Brosseau was given a hell of a lot more support than any other candidate or MP gets, because they wanted to rehabilitate her image, and to demonstrate that they didn’t make a mistake in putting her name on the ballot in the manner that they did. And sure, maybe we need plenty of everyperson candidates, but we also do need lawyers and corporate types who have policy experience as well, because part of the danger of just nominating your everyperson candidate is that it puts them in the position to be the puppets of party apparatchiks run out of the leader’s office. We already have too much central control in politics, and there is a real danger that candidates who are unprepared for political life will become fodder for those machinations, which will do no favour to our political system. So sorry, Globe editorial board – maybe you need to do a little more homework before you file a piece like this.

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