Roundup: BC causes Western alienation?

As a former Albertan, I often find myself unmoved by tales of “Western alienation” because they are so often based on lies that Albertans like to tell themselves – that they put the oil underground themselves, or that the National Energy Programme caused the global recession and crash in oil prices, or that their inability to properly run a provincial budget that doesn’t rely on resource revenues to paper over the problems with it is somehow the fault of others. And when I see people like Rona Ambrose concern trolling about how “Western alienation” is real and dangerous, I find myself even more unsympathetic because she and her former colleagues tend to go out of their way to foment these feelings in order to score temporary points against the government of the day. And then there’s this kind of nonsense that gets thrown in – that somehow BC is part of the cause of “Western alienation,” as though BC wasn’t also in the west.

It’s fine if Alberta wants to have its own particular regional character. That’s part of what makes Canada so great – that we have regional characters that are distinct and yet make up part of the whole of the country. And hey, we don’t always get along, because we do have different issues and priorities in a country as vast as ours. But I also find it a bit, well, rich, that a province that is as rich as Alberta’s – and it is the richest province my pretty much any measure – thinks that they’re hard done by as a result. But while they enjoy roads that are frequently paved, or infrastructure that isn’t crumbling around them, and whine that they’re so hard done by, my patience runs thin because they don’t seem to realise that not every province has it as good as theirs. And to top it off, their politicians tell even more lies about how equalization works in order to further drive these feelings of “alienation” for their own benefit. It’s shameless and we should be better than this, but who cares about trying to cause discord for the sake a few votes? It’s not like any of this “alienation” that they foment is dangerous, right? Oh, wait…

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Roundup: Paradise Papers problems

Big explosive revelations yesterday as the Paradise Papers were released – a major document dump on more offshore tax havens and those who use it. Canadian connections include the head of fundraising for the Liberal Party, Stephen Bronfman, whose family trust holds assets there, the family of a former senator, while three former prime ministers – Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin have tangential connections to accounts there, as does the Queen. And while headlines may describe Bronfman as a “close advisor,” the party is disputing that label.

The bigger concern seems to be that Bronfman’s long-time law firm lobbied successive governments against going after more offshore tax havens. (Funnily enough, it was the Conservatives who cut funding for CRA to do this kind of investigative work, while the Liberals reinvested in it). The question for the CRA in all of these revelations is whether these funds were managed in Canada – which would break the rules – or whether they were managed from their offshore locations. CRA, incidentally, says it won’t hesitate to investigate these new revelations, which is consistent with the messages we’ve been hearing from them since they got more money for this kind of work.

As for the Queen’s indirect involvement in this, investments made by her Duchy of Lancaster holdings have an indirect stake in a rent-to-own company accused of exploiting the poor by way of these offshore funds.

And now the political reaction. While the NDP will piously shout a chorus of “we told you that you should be going after offshore tax havens!” the Conservatives have already put out press releases describing this as having to do with cozy friends of the Liberals and that this is somehow hypocritical of their fighting for the middle class – never mind that I didn’t think that Mulroney was a Liberal, or the fact that most of these connections are fairly tangential and that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing. But hey, this is about “Liberal aristocracy” and not the “little guy” that they now profess to fight for. (Remember the days when the Conservatives were the party of Bay Street? Me neither).

And Question Period today? I can pretty much guarantee you that after Andrew Scheer makes his dig about Trudeau not standing up for people of faith after the Governor General’s speech the other night (and four days later, the pundits still haven’t gotten up off of their fainting couches from it), it will be endless rounds of questions about these “Liberal insiders” hiding money offshore, tying Bill Morneau to this by way of the Morneau Sheppel/Barbados conspiracy theory, and Diane Lebouthillier will be up constantly to say that this government is going after tax evaders where the previous government cut funding, and that “the net is closing.”

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Roundup: One is less than five

As the whole Bill Morneau issue continues to run on outrage fumes, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s office has been unhelpful in the least when it comes to trying to put this issue to bed. Two days ago her office said that “fewer than five” ministers held assets indirectly, and when this came up in QP on Wednesday, Trudeau confirmed what certain journalists had noted from the public disclosures – that it was Morneau and Jody Wilson-Raybould, who had since divested those shares. End of story. But no, then Dawson’s office responded to reports in the Globe and Mail that they were somehow “at odds” with the PM over just how many ministers were in such a situation (The Globe? Sensationalize something? Unbelievable!), and that one – Monreau – qualified as “less than five.” And that set the Twitter Machine ablaze, and turned QP in the gong show that it was of demanding to know which five ministers it was, despite the fact that this had already been answered on numerous occasions.

Yes, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics legislation is a mess that MPs refuse on a continual basis to do anything about when the issues are pointed out. Yes, Mary Dawson herself has largely been seen as unhelpful because she has had a tendency to read her mandate so narrowly that issues brought before her are deemed out of her purview. But as I’ve stated before, it’s rapidly turning into a job that nobody else wants, and given the very narrow criteria for a new one, it’s no wonder that the government is having a hard time filling the post, and we may be stuck with Dawson forever as a result.

 

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Roundup: Cozy think tank takedowns

Over on Maclean’s yesterday was a longread “exposé” of Canada 2020 as an arm of the federal Liberal party which is exerting all manner of influence, and how potentially inappropriate that may be. But after reading the piece, I found it less a convincing exploration of the think tank than it was simply a recitation of names with “links” to the Liberals, followed by Duff Conacher’s railing about how awful it all is.

Pro tip: If your story relies on Duff Conacher’s analysis of government misdeeds, then it’s probably not worth reading. Conacher is a noted crank who has a history of distorting issues and losing court battles, and who has a number of particularly harmful ideological agendas that involve the destruction of the Canadian Crown, the Westminster system, making all prerogatives justiciable, and one supposes the installation of a Parliamentary Thought Police with himself at the head. (Note: I have had to quote Conacher for stories in the past, but have limited those interactions to narrow questions of ethics legislation rather than the breadth of topics that other rely on his analysis for, just as Anne Kingston does here). In other words, it’s the laziest possible journalist trick in Canada if you want to write a story that makes any government look bad, and you won’t get any meaningful analysis of the issue.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t questions that can be raised about Canada 2020’s cozy relationship with the Liberal Party – but I would say that it’s in all likelihood no more nefarious than the kinds of ideological alignment between something like the Fraser Institute and the Conservative Party, and it’s no more incestuous than the Broadbent Institute is with the NDP (to the point where Broadbent’s PressProgress “news” service is simply a branch of the party’s opposition research bureau).

Part of the problem is that political parties in Canada have looked south with this particular kind of envy about the think tank networks in Washington as something that should be emulated, without necessarily realizing that the American think tank network is intrinsically linked to the fact that their civil service is far more partisan than Canada’s, and that the usual cycle is for parties who aren’t in power to send their senior staffers to bide their time in said think tanks, and when they return to power, they fill their upper civil service ranks from those think tanks, while those who’ve lost power fill their own think tank ranks, and on it goes. That’s not how things work in Canada, and the need for said think tanks is not the same. There has also been talk from some partisans about how they need these think tanks to help them develop policies, as thought that wasn’t the job of the parties’ grassroots membership. So I do think we need to rethink the whole “think tank” system in Canada writ-large and what parties are expecting of them – especially when it comes to policy development – but I’m not sure that this story is doing that job.

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Roundup: Signs Morneau is listening

For all of the bellyaching from those who consider the government’s tax proposals to be a done deal that may not even get enabling legislation but would instead be rammed through by way of a Ways and Means Motion, it looks like those fears are for naught. In a tele-town hall yesterday, Bill Morneau admitted that there are problem areas that need to be addressed, and they plan to take what they’ve heard in the consultations and try to fix the implementing legislation, especially when it comes to things like how it affects the sale of family farms. Economist Lindsay Tedds was listening in, and she provided a play-by-play with some instant analysis here:

https://twitter.com/LindsayTedds/status/913090762035699712

Meanwhile, Chantal Hébert wonders if Morneau can’t pull out a win that will let both sides claim victory, even if Morneau himself emerges wounded from the process. This being said, Hébert makes the point about the lack of applause from the Liberal benches, which Bob Fife made on The West Block on the weekend, and it bugs me that pundits are still trying to read into this because the Liberals stopped clapping in January 2016, except for rare verbal zingers. It’s not indicative of anything other than an attempt to restore a bit of dignity to the exercise of QP, and making a deal out of it to fit a narrative is bad form.

The Senate’s National Finance committee will examine the proposals as well, and the debate getting there contained some of the usual cheek of some particular senators.

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Roundup: Picking the overseers

The composition of the forthcoming National Security Committee of Parliamentarians has been brewing under the surface for a while now, given that the legislation has taken a long time to get through Parliament, but it looks like more consternation is on the way. The NDP have complained to the National Post’s John Ivison that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asked for four names from their caucus for consideration on the committee, and that the PM would pick one, as is his right under the Act. The reason, according to the PMO, is to try and build a committee reflective of Canada – so essentially that it’s not all straight, white men looking at national security issues from that particular lens – and that would be a very easy thing to do. And the NDP’s one and only pick for their party’s representative on the committee, Murray Rankin, is just that – a straight, white man who happens to be eminently qualified for the role. And so Mulcair is, as he so often does, pitching a fit about it.

I’m a bit torn on the outrage here because as much as this is being spun as Trudeau having contempt for Parliament and being a Harper-esque figure in that regard, this is exactly how he drafted the legislation and how it passed, so unlike many of the tactics that Harper employed, he was upfront about his plans how he planned to achieve them. Now, granted, many of Trudeau’s plans and promises have been utterly boneheaded (see: electoral reform, “modernizing” the House of Commons, his “benign neglect” of the Senate, etcetera, etcetera), but he generally hasn’t tried to stealthily undermine the institutions or actively firebomb them. So there’s that. Also, this is how our system of government tends to work – a prime minister who enjoys the confidence of Parliament makes the appointment, and is judged on the quality of them both by Parliament and the electorate. And I get why he would want to ensure a diverse committee makeup, and not want to necessarily have to rely on his own party members to make up the more diverse members of the committee, but rather share that load between all of the parties. Nevertheless, there is something unseemly about not letting opposition parties choose their own representatives (though I hardly imagine that the members he chooses would be any friendlier to him and his agenda than one that the opposition party leader would choose). On the other hand, selection powers can be abused, and things done for ostensibly good reasons (like diversity) can have all kinds of unintended consequences. But in the meantime, this will start to look like yet another self-inflicted wound for Trudeau.

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Roundup: Unveiling the critics

Andrew Scheer unveiled his list of critics – err, “shadow cabinet” yesterday, and all of the attention is on how leadership rivals fared. All eyes were of course on Maxime Bernier, who didn’t get the finance portfolio that he was publicly lobbying for – which was rather impolitic of him to have done so it needs to be said. Instead Bernier got the industry portfolio, which is still a major economic portfolio and one where he will get to rail about corporate welfare to his heart’s content. And the finance role that he so coveted? That went to Pierre Poilievre, which is something that Liberal partisans everywhere were salivating over, seeing as Poilievre is not exactly someone with poise and tact, and will be in the media a lot (though I will note that he’s better than he used to be).

And those other leadership rivals (who are still in the caucus)? Well, Erin O’Toole got Foreign Affairs, Steven Blaney gets veterans affairs, Michael Chong gets infrastructure, and Tony Clement (for his short-lived leadership ambitions) gets public services and procurement. (Lisa Raitt, meanwhile, already got the coveted deputy leader position, you will recall). But Kellie Leitch, Brad Trost and Deepak Obhrai were all left off the list – all while insisting that they’re happy with things, and that there are no hard feelings, etcetera, etcetera.

But all of this makes me wonder once again why so many of these no hope leadership candidates bothered to stay in the race to the bitter end, as if it was going to mean good standing in the party going forward. I’m not seeing a lot of “good standing” coming out of this, despite the way that it’s being parsed as healing divisions in the party, especially as the more extreme voices of Leitch and Trost being kept on the outside. Leitch, and to a certain extent Trost, humiliated themselves by running terrible campaigns that got them lots of attention but little else, and they are further marginalized by being kept away from the front bench going forward. This justifies those campaigns in what way? It’s why I find the whole exercise of the leadership campaign even more mystifying (beyond the fact that the way in which we conduct them is part of what is wrong with the way our system has been bastardized). The return for no hope campaigns is so limited that I’m can’t see the rationale, but maybe that’s just me.

Meanwhile, Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne each parse what the picks mean about the kind of face that Scheer is trying to put on the party, and the ways in which he is trying to make a mark in the post-Harper era.

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Roundup: Exit O’Leary

So the big news, in case you missed it, was that Kevin O’Leary dropped out of the Conservative leadership race hours before the final debate, and endorsed Maxime Bernier (never mind that Berier just weeks ago referred to him as a “loser”). And that they came to a late-night agreement, but O’Leary’s team still sent out fundraising pleas the next morning, hours before the announcement. Oh, and the ballots have already been mailed out with O’Leary’s name on them (and any votes he gets will just fall off and second choices will be counted instead, given that this is a ranked ballot). O’Leary cites winnability, and the fact that he can’t win Quebec (just like everyone has been saying the whole time), so that’s why he’s going to Bernier (who, incidentally, may also not be able to win more than his particular corner of Quebec given his ideological hostility to much of what they seem to hold dear).

https://twitter.com/robert_hiltz/status/857287321372291073

In the wake of the departure, here is some reaction from O’Leary’s campaign manager, Michael Chong, CBC’s poll analyst Éric Grenier, and Paul Wells delivers a signature thumping that you really need to read.

As for that debate, or “debate” as it should more properly be known (as with any of them held in this leadership contest), it was a weird mix of pointed attacks on perceived rivals, along with sucking up to others to try and win second-place support on those ranked ballots, because they very well know that it could be their path to victory. Some of the pointed attacks were expected – toward Kellie Leitch for fostering the image that the party is intolerant to the immigrants in suburban ridings that they rely on for electoral victory, and toward perceived front-runner Maxime Bernier. The one that was most surprising – and galling, to be frank – was Erin O’Toole going after Andrew Scheer because he became Speaker in 2011 and was apparently too busy “hosting functions at Kingsmere” than being “in the trenches” with the rest of the party (never mind that O’Toole wasn’t even an MP yet at the time).

The one thing that did irritate me the most, however, was the continued fetishism of private sector experience as somehow being a qualifier for political leadership, never mind that there is zero crossover between the two. With O’Leary now gone from the race, you had this mad scramble to try and claim this particular tin crown, and it was pretty sad. Rick Peterson was loudest – having never stood for office before – while Andrew Saxton, O’Toole and Bernier all tried to pile onto claiming their own experience. Government and business do not operate the same way. You cannot run a government like a business because there is no “bottom line.” Trying to claim some kind of credit for “making payroll” is meaningless noise in politics. The sooner you realise this, the sooner you can have a proper debate about issues.

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Roundup: The quest for a less arbitrary majority

The electoral reform committee met for the first time yesterday and got all of its housekeeping details out of the way – “electing” Francis Scarpaleggia as the chair (though it was unopposed) and naming Scott Reid and Nathan Cullen as the deputies, allocating clerks and resources, and starting to figure out when the meetings will begin, hearing from the outgoing Chief Electoral Officer to start with. But with all of this going on, it bears reminding what we are doing with this whole “reform” endeavour in the first place, much of which has to do with the complaints that parties that don’t get a majority of the votes wield a majority of the power. Joseph Heath writes a great piece debunking this kind of thinking that everyone should read, because it is a reminder that trying to find a “true majority” becomes a futile quest – there is enough arbitrariness in any system that there can never be an actual majority, but it is simply more naked under First-Past-the-Post. Changing the system just moves the goalposts in different ways – indeed, proportional systems just removes the possibilities of majority government with the horse-trading of coalitions, which brings yet more arbitrariness into the system. So good luck, committee members, with your stated goals for the system you wish to choose when they are built upon foundations of sand.

Meanwhile, as our friends in the media write yet more stories about what the committee will be looking at, can I please offer the reminder about doing some actual research when it comes to systems like ranked ballots. Consistently our media colleagues have repeated the grossly distorted line that ranked ballots somehow “increase the disparities of first-past-the-post.” We’ve seen this over and over again, especially as the NDP and their Broadbent Institute brethren have picked it up as a talking point. No.

This supposed fact comes from a single analysis done by CBC’s Eric Grenier using a single poll done around the time of the election regarding second choices. That’s it. It doesn’t detail how the system actually works and what it is designed to do, which is to eliminate tactical voting, and yet we’ve never heard that description used once. Oh, wait – I used it in a sidebar I researched for the Ottawa Citizen. But that’s it. It would be nice if other journalists writing about this file could actually go and do a bit of research on their own rather than repeating the talking points provided to them by partisans, because we might get a better understanding of what is actually up for debate.

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Roundup: The exoneration of Mike Duffy

It was rather a stunning result, where Senator Mike Duffy was acquitted of all 31 charges against him for fraud, breach of trust and bribery. The judge ruled that he found Duffy to be a credible witness, and said largely ruled that Duffy followed what few rules there were in place at the time, a fact that many would contest – there were rules that Duffy indeed skirted, but not to the degree of criminality, according to the judge. In fact, it goes against the very ruling of former Justice Ian Binnie in his arbitration report, who noted that there were rules and there was also common sense in determining the eligibility of expenses, and while he didn’t rule on criminality, it does contradict some of the judge’s reasoning in the Duffy verdict. That the judge singled out the PMO for scathing words is of very little comfort, particularly because of his belief that they somehow overrode Duffy’s free will in “forcing” him to accept that $90,000 cheque. Duffy is now free to return to work in the Senate, but he may not find it a very welcoming place, given his direct culpability to the hits on the institution’s credibility. That, and there will be eyes on his spending at all times, particularly by those senators who knew that there were rules in place – despite what Bayne and eventually the judge felt – and those rules have only become more stringent since. More from Köhler, Harper and Reevely, while Reevely had a few other thoughts over Twitter that also bear repeating.

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