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: The orgy of unforced errors

Word has gone out to Liberal MPs that there will be a mandatory caucus meeting first thing on Monday morning – a rarity given that mostly they wait until Wednesdays (especially as it makes it harder for those MPs who are from remote ridings to get there). The only thing that we know so far is that both Bill Morneau and the PM will be there, and the speculation is that it will outline the changes to their proposed tax changes based on consultations, but one can also assume that this is going to be about the ongoing self-harm that the government has been inflicting on itself over the various tax stories.

And what self-harm it’s been. On Friday, it was revealed that Bill Morneau forgot to declare that he also has interest in a company that owns a villa in France, and you can bet that the Conservatives took to this like a pack of dogs to fresh meat. This after the way that they refused to punch back against the gross distortions being promulgated about the proposed changes to the rules around Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations (CPCCs), or the refusal to provide real clarification around the CRA “folio” on certain employee discounts, preferring in each case to mouth the pabulum about fairness for the middle class. (Cute fact: the CRA “folio” has been up for months, was briefly discussed in the Commons finance committee last month, but only turned into a major crisis after a piece in the Globe and Mail. Because that’s now the Opposition Research Bureau, and it’s where the Conservatives take their daily outrage marching orders from, too lazy or incompetent to do their own research anymore).

And then there’s the added outrage over the fact that the government spent $221,000 on the cover of this year’s federal budget. Oh, how terrible and outrageous, and look at how plain the cover of Paul Martin’s budgets were, and then the Conservative chorus chimes in and makes these snide remarks about comparing the spending priorities between the two governments – completely ignoring the fact that they chose instead to spend even more thousands of dollars staging photo ops off of Parliament Hill to make announcements or give speeches where the Liberals will do it in the House of Commons, where they should be. Lindsay Tedds, mind you, offered up a sort of defence for why the Liberals may have chosen to go with this particular route on a budget design, which those in the throes of a paroxysm of cheap outrage, remain blinkered about.

So I guess we’ll see what emerges from that caucus meeting. Will they emerge with some better means of communicating their plans that won’t just involve more pat phrases about the middle class, and would maybe let them engage in some actual, authentic conversations that will push back against some of the nonsense being thrown around? Or will Trudeau lay down the law on his restless backbench and double down on the talking points that blandly say nothing at all, while they continue to let the Conservatives set the narrative using their own particular brand of spin, misdirection, and distortion? I guess we’ll have to see.

Meanwhile, here’s Colby Cosh raining down hellfire on that $210,000 budget cover, Chantal Hébert on the fire that Bill Morneau is taking, Andrew MacDougall on the Liberal’s inability to communicate their changes, and Paul Wells sees the continued litany of unforced errors as putting the government in danger of alienating the middle class that it so vocally venerates.

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QP: Energy East and Barbados

After the Energy East cancellation announcement this morning, you just knew that this would be the fodder for increasingly hysterical denunciations during QP today. Justin Trudeau was present, but Andrew Scheer was not, so it remained to be seen how this would play out.

Lisa Raitt led off instead, mini-lectern on desk, blaming the government for killing Energy East with their ideology. Justin Trudeau responded that it was a business decision, that the project was proposed when oil was $90/barrel and it’s now half that, but that his government had already approved three other pipelines. Raitt accused the government of playing to the interests of countries like Saudi Arabia, and Trudeau shrugged off that suggestion. Raitt then accused him of taking Atlantic Canada for granted with this cancellation. Trudeau countered that they had an Atlantic growth strategy and that it was the previous government that ignored them. Gérard Deltell then took over the condemnation of the loss of Energy East in French, and Trudeau reiterated that conditions have changed, also in French. Deltell then said that Trudeau was responsible for conditions changing, as though Trudeau controls the world price of oil, and Trudeau instead responded about the ways that they have been doing what the market has been asking for, including carbon pricing. Guy Caron was up next, pointing to the recent PBO report on fiscal sustainability, and demanded that healthcare be adequately funded for the provinces. Trudeau touted the investments that they made in mental health and home care. In English, Caron demanded a national strategy for seniors, to which Trudeau listed all of the measures that they have taken. Caron then changed topics to the Phoenix pay system, demanding a refund for it. Trudeau noted that they were working with the public service and the unions to fix the situation, and then there was another round of the same in French.

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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: The looming retirement of the Chief Justice

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin announced yesterday that she would be retiring on December 15th, a few months in advance of her mandatory retirement date, in order to give the government enough time to find a suitable replacement. Why that date is significant is because it will be at the end of the Court’s fall sitting, letting her use the next six months that she is able to clear off the files from her desk and work on any outstanding judgments rather than depart mid-sitting and the organizational chaos that would follow.

The next steps are now an important consideration. The government will not only have to name a new Chief Justice, but a new judge from Western Canada (and likely BC given that’s where McLachlin was appointed from). And in order to keep gender balance on the court it will likely have to be a woman, and in accordance with this government’s push for diversity, it will likely be a person of colour, if not someone Indigenous (and let us not forget that said person must also be fluently bilingual, which is another self-imposed criteria that this government has made for itself). This may be easier to find in BC than it was in Atlantic Canada, mind you. And for Chief Justice? My money is on Justice Richard Wagner, whom I know many close the court have already tapped as being the successor if they had their druthers.

Of course, we’ll see if this government can get an appointment process back up and running within the six months. Experience has shown us that they seem to have difficulty with that, especially as there are still some sixty or so federally appointed judicial vacancies still remaining around the country, and a few of the Judicial Advisory Committees charged with finding candidates for said vacancies still not fully appointed either, which is a problem. Of course, they may be able to largely reconstitute the committee that oversaw the nomination of Justice Rowe, with Kim Campbell again in charge of the process, but I guess we’ll see how long that takes.

For more reaction, here’s Emmett Macfarlane on As It Happens and in the Ottawa Citizen, and Carissima Mathen on Power Play.

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Roundup: Senator Greene’s grievous error

The strange fascination with Senator Stephen Greene’s ouster from caucus has consumed far too much time and attention, and yet things keep cropping up that demand a response. Today it was his op-ed in the National Post describing what happened, and then he dropped this little gem at the end of his piece.

No. Greene is completely and utterly wrong.

The Senate may not be the confidence Chamber – that is rightfully the House of Commons – but that doesn’t mean that the Senate doesn’t play an accountability role because the whole point of Parliament is to hold the government to account. The Senate is part of Parliament. This is elementary civics for a Westminster democracy.

The way in which the Senate exercises its accountability role is different from the Commons, but it exists nevertheless. It’s not a copy of the Commons’ processes either, nor can it be redundant because composition matters. Sober second thought is actually a form of accountability that relies on checking government legislation from a less partisan lens that is removed from the grasping for votes that afflicts most MPs, for whom populist considerations can blind them to bad policy – something the Senate can call out by virtue of the fact that they’re not seeking re-election.

That institutional independence – not seeking re-election, tenured so that they can’t be easily removed by the government of the day, given job security until age 75 so that they’re not compromising themselves in seeking post-Senate employment – it all adds up to the ability to hold the government to account in a way that the House of Commons simply cannot do. That’s why the Senate has the unlimited veto power that it does – because sometimes a government with a majority will pass blatantly unconstitutional legislation because it’s politically popular to do so, but as we all know, populism is not democracy, and the Senate safeguards that principle. That is an accountability function.

That Greene is unable to make that distinction is a problem, and it’s especially a problem because he’s been leading the charge with the modernisation push in the Upper Chamber, and his is a vision that is looking to see partisan caucuses diminishing. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, the ability to have a coherent opposition in the Senate is a key Westminster feature and a guarantor off accountability, which simply cannot be done effectively if the Chamber is a collection of 105 loose fish. That the Senate is more vigorously examining and amending legislation now is not a bad thing, but we are probably at the peak of what we can or should be expecting in terms of activism without senators engaging in overreach. But to think that this isn’t accountability is simply ignorant.

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QP: Happy clappy budget points

With most of the benches filled, MPs were settling in after a constituency week, but Rona Ambrose was absent for some unknown reason. Denis Lebel led off, immediately railing about deficit and family tax credits being imperilled in the budget. Justin Trudeau responded with his well-worn talking points about lowering taxes for the middle class while raising them on the one percent. Lebel switched to English, noted the American promises to lower smaller business taxes, and demanded that Trudeau follow suit. Trudeau noted that they were working to grow the middle class, and gave the same points about tax cuts. Lebel worried about airports being privatized, for which Trudeau told him to wait for Wednesday’s budget. Candice Bergen was up next, worried that the government was ramming bills through and worried that they wanted to bully through changes to QP so that he only has to show up one day per week. Trudeau avoided answering, and praised their programme to date. Bergen moved onto plans to change the Commons calendar to four days per week, but Trudeau noted that they were happy to open a discussion on making Fridays a full day instead of half days “like the Conservatives seem to want,” which was a clever bit of evasion. Thomas Mulcair was up next, railing that the government didn’t have a mandate to privatize airports. Trudeau explained that the Infrastructure Bank was a way of leveraging global investment, but more details would have to wait for Wednesday’s budget. Mulcair asked again in French, and Trudeau retreated to talking points about growing the middle class. Mulcair moved onto funding First Nations child welfare funding, and Trudeau gave his usual lines about the historic investments to start the long work of reconciliation. Mulcair then demanded that stock options tax loopholes be closed, but Trudeau again returned to his middle class talking points.

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Roundup: Recall legislation nonsense

Over at Loonie Politics, fellow columnist Jonathan Scott wonders if recall legislation might not be a good thing for ethical violations, and cites the examples of Senators Don Meredith, Lynn Beyak, and a York Region school trustee who used a racial slur against a Black parent. While I’m suspicious about recall legislation to begin with, two of the examples are completely inappropriate, while the third was an example of someone who resigned a few days later, making the need for such legislation unnecessary in the first place.

Recall legislation for senators is a bit boggling, first of all, because they weren’t elected to the position, and they have institutional independence so that they can speak truth to power and have the ability to stop a government with a majority precisely so that they can hit the brakes on runaway populism if need be. Recall legislation would be fed by that similar populist sentiment, which is a problem. I’m also baffled, frankly, how anyone could conceivably consider Meredith and Beyak in the same sentence. Meredith abused his position to sexually lure a minor, while Beyak said some stupid and odious things under the rubric of religious sentiment (i.e. at least some residential school survivors stayed Christians, so that apparently justifies everything). The two are not comparable, nor is Beyak’s example any kind of an ethical violation, nor am I convinced that it’s an offence worthy of resignation because at least there’s the possibility that she can learn more about why what she said was so wrong-headed. Sure, people are upset with it, while others are performing outrage over social media because that’s what we do these days, but trying to channel that sentiment into recall legislation raises all kinds of alarm bells because even if you had a fairly high bar or findings from an ethics officer to trigger these kinds of recall elections (and the suggested 2500 signatures of constituents is too low of an added bar), temporary performed outrage demanding action this instant would be constantly triggering these kinds of fights. If you think there are too many distractions in politics to the issues of the day, this would make it all the worse.

As for Meredith, while he is too shameless to resign of his own accord, the rest of the Senate is not likely to let this issue slide for too long. The only question is really how effectively they can implement a system of due process by which Meredith can plead his case before them and respect the rules of natural justice before they hold a vote to vacate his seat based on the findings of the Senate Ethics Officer. Demanding recall legislation after a story is only a couple of days old is the height of foolishness. The Senate doesn’t sit for another two weeks, which is time that frankly they’ll need to get their ducks in a row so that they don’t come back half-cocked and try and ham-fist the process like they did with Duffy/Wallin/Brazeau back in the day. Meredith will get his due, and we won’t need the threat of ridiculous legislation to try and keep politicians in line.

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Roundup: Determining next steps with Meredith

The Senator Meredith situation heated up fairly predictably yesterday, with the calls from all sides that he do the honourable thing and resign. While he quite quickly stepped away from the Independent Senators Group, he it wasn’t until much later in the day that he said that wasn’t going to resign. This of course, shouldn’t surprise anyone, given how utterly shameless he has been about this whole matter since it first appeared in the news.

While I understand the position of the ISG that they included him in their ranks because they considered him innocent until proven guilty (and you can see the full interview with Senator McCoy here), I would have to say that the Senate knew that this train was coming down the tracks, and I have to wonder why they haven’t really been preparing for this eventuality, which I haven’t seen, unless of course either the Senate Ethics Committee or the Senate Rules Committee have been quietly having discussions that I’m not privy to. Regardless, instead of people like Senator Peter Harder calling media to the Foyer to perform some outrage and sending public letters in the hopes of somehow shaming the shameless, they should be coming up with a plan and a process to do something about side-lining and eventually removing him. The key, however, is that this is going to need to be better than the haphazard and somewhat abusive process that was used with senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau with their own suspensions at the height of that bout of madness. The lack of due process there stuck in the craws of many senators and was largely the work of Conservative senators using their majority to bully through a means of trying to avoid Stephen Harper any further embarrassment. If they now want to see Meredith removed from his post and his seat declared vacant, they have to be utterly meticulous about this. Suspension will no doubt be the first step upon their return, and they are best advised to at least give him some kind of opportunity to at least speak to his defence before they suspend him and move onto next steps. Declaring his seat vacant would be unprecedented without a criminal conviction, but not impossible, if they do it right. That, however, is the real trick, and one that that will be difficult to manage, and even more so if senators are simply going about this as performative outrage where they need to be seen to do justice to appease a hungry press rather than ensuring that the laws of natural justice are upheld in the process.

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QP: Vague tax replies to disingenuous questions

While Justin Trudeau jetted off to Europe, other leaders were present for caucus day and most of the desks were full for QP. Rona Ambrose led off, worrying about the PM raising taxes while the Americans plan to lower them — a dubious premise at best. Bill Morneau responded by reminding her of tax cuts they made and the Canada Child Benefit to help families. Ambrose wanted an example of a fiscal policy changed with the dawn of the Trumpocalypse, and Morneau responded by talking about meetings they’ve had with American counterparts. Ambrose gave some vague concern about the deficit, to which Morneau noted the importance of making investments in the economy and the number of jobs created since. Ambrose decried the movement of the immigration case processing centre in Vegreville as an “attack on rural Canada,” to which Ahmed Hussen reiterated assurances that the relocation would allow for the creation of new jobs in the province. Ambrose noted that it would impact the entire town, but Hussen repeated his points. Thomas Mulcair was up next, decrying that the Liberals didn’t bring up Trump’s “hateful” policies on their trip and that they were doing nothing about things like people being turned away at the border, and Ralph Goodale stood up to assure the House that Mulcair was wrong, and that they were collecting data that could be used to deal with Homeland Security regarding these individual instances being reported at the border. When Mulcair asked again in French, Goodale retorted that repeating a falsehood didn’t make it true. Mulcair went back to English to raise that Muslim student turned away at the border but veered into ethics issues, and Chagger reminded him that the PM would answer all questions posed by the Ethics Commissioner. Mulcair wondered what their response would have been if Harper had been so accused, but Chagger didn’t change her answer.

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