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: Muddled takes on Charter rights

The bad takes on the government’s decision to stop giving summer job grants to groups that actively oppose abortions keep rolling in, with yesterday’s winner being one particularly mystifying piece that equates this to Christians being persecuted in ancient Rome. No, seriously. But probably the most overwrought objections are those which keep insisting that “there’s no Charter right to an abortion!” Err, no, there’s not. But when you try to take away that right, you trigger other Charter rights, most notably a woman’s right to life, liberty, and security of person, or the fact that discriminating against her ability to get a medical procedure does breach her Charter rights. University of Ottawa law professor Carissima Mathen walks us through some of those considerations here:

Emmett Macfarlane also took to Twitter to try to clarify some of the arguments in this particular case.

This having been said, it should be reiterated that yet again, this government has not done a particularly stellar job in communicating this particular policy decision, especially in how they are fuzzily defining what is a “core mandate” that would disqualify them. It shouldn’t be difficult – is this an organization that is devoted to picketing abortion clinics, or counselling women against abortions under the guise of being a support service? No? Then you can get your funding. I also think that some religious groups are being a bit hyperbolic in their concerns, egged on by the likes of Andrew Scheer, who has been torqueing this issue (as he is wont to do with any issue) so that what’s actually at stake bears no relation to what it’s being characterized as. But that’s politics, apparently.

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Roundup: On “luxury” flights

Over the weekend, Andrew Scheer tweeted about how the defence minister had spent last year taking “luxury flights” as part of government business – twenty of them, for 206 flying hours. The horror!

Of course, the notion that Canadian Forces Airbus jets are “luxury flights” is beyond ridiculous. These planes are so old that they still have ashtrays at the seats, and part of the fleet was retired because they couldn’t get any spare parts any longer. There is nothing “luxurious” about them. Not to mention the fact that for most of these trips, they weren’t to destinations that could be taken commercially with any particular ease, such as a few fact-finding missions to Mali along with key military brass. But hey, why should facts or context matter when you can tweet out outrageous spin in order to drum up a bunch of faux outrage?

But why is Scheer pushing this ridiculous notion? Partly, it’s the constant drone of cheap outrage that ensures that Canadians can’t have nice things (and We The Media can share a lot of blame for this particular problem). Partially, it’s because he’s made it his mission to treat the viewing audience like idiots. But mostly it’s to try and create this narrative that the Liberals are so entitled that they spend profligately on themselves (not actually true) as opposed to those who need it. And to try and enforce that narrative, they will repeat it ad nauseum until people start thinking that it’s true. I keep waiting for the “positive politics” and “change of tone” that Scheer promised to actual start to manifest itself, but nope.

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Roundup: Lagging CBSA oversight

A report commissioned by PCO advises for the creation of a new oversight body for both the CBSA and the RCMP, given the amount of overlap between the two bodies when it comes to law enforcement. Currently, CBSA has no civilian oversight, though its national security functions are just now getting some oversight under the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, and those functions would likely fall under the creation of the new intelligence commissioner created in Bill C-59 – but those don’t deal with the day-to-day interactions at the borders, or with some of their other functions, like immigration detention.

What the Canadian Press story doesn’t mention is that there is right now a Senate bill sitting on the Order Paper, which passed the Senate unanimously, to create a CBSA Inspector General. In fact, it passed in October 2016, and has been sitting there ever since, as no MP has bothered to sign up to sponsor it (which is unusual in the extreme). More unusual is the fact that Ralph Goodale had previously signed up to sponsor the version of the bill that was being debated in the previous parliament, but now that he’s public safety minister, he’s become much more gun-shy, saying that they need to do more consultation and will come out with their own bill. But almost a year-and-a-half later, it’s still sitting there, when it could be amended by the government to make whatever technical fixes they deem necessary and swiftly passed. (I last wrote about this for the Law Times a year ago).

Of course, if they wanted to go that route, the government would need to give the bill a Royal Recommendation and put in implementation language into the bill – something that it currently lacks to get around the requirement that it can’t spend money. In other words, it’s a framework but nothing more at this point. But if the government were serious about oversight for CBSA, they could do something to ensure that it happens expeditiously. But that commitment to oversight seems to be a bit more academic at this point, given that they haven’t moved on this in all this time. And that should be mentioned in these more recent stories, but haven’t been.

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QP: All sound and fury

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

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Roundup: Foreign fighters and the fear industry

As the issue of returning jihadis continues to ramp up, with some frankly irresponsible journalistic stirring of pots along the way, it’s important that we take a breath and listen to some of the experts who study this kind of thing for a living.

To that end, Ralph Goodale was on CTV’s Question Period yesterday, talking about how it’s unlikely that most of those who return could be rehabilitated (which is assuming that those who return are hard-core jihadis and are not likely women and the children they had while over in there), which is again countered by yet other experts who say that it is possible to rehabilitate them, but it requires careful effort.

But the thing that we should be most aware of is the fact that there is an industry dedicated to fear in Canada, and we should be very cautious of feeding into it – especially if it’s simply for partisan point-scoring, or even for the sake of a sensational headline. And we are seeing a lot of this partisan point-scoring right now, with the Conservatives insisting that the government is being “soft on terror” by welcoming the worst murders back with hugs and government dollars for said rehabilitation, which is completely not the case – but hey, we’re in an era right now where the truth is hardly anywhere to be seen in the opposition benches as everything needs to be wrapped in a disingenuous and mendacious frame in order to amp up the drama, for the sake of sharing it on their social media channels, damn the consequences. And there are consequences, such as the reports of people trying to confront Trudeau about those returning jihadis during that swarming at the mall in Scarborough, no doubt whipped up by the fear industry. We should have a sense of responsibility around a serious topic like this, but I’m not seeing much of one.

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Roundup: Union concoctions and opportunism

In the event that you’ve tuned out of the Bill Morneau/Bill C-27 conspiracy theory – and if you have, I don’t blame you – there was a big fuss a few days ago made of the fact that the postal employees’ union made a big deal about trying to get the Ethics Commissioner to investigate this weeks ago, and now that Nathan Cullen managed to get Mary Dawson to turn her attention to it, they’re crowing with a bit of victory, and still demanding that the bill be withdrawn. Given how ludicrous the whole story remains – remember that government bills are tabled on behalf of the cabinet as a whole, and that ministers don’t sponsor bills because they have a personal interest in them, but rather because they need to answer on behalf of their departments – I’ve largely just rolled my eyes at ongoing coverage, but it was flagged to me a couple of times yesterday that Terence Corcoran wrote a piece about how this little episode proves some of the underlying dynamics behind this ongoing campaign against Morneau and his integrity – that it’s less about any actual ethical issues than it has been about trying to get him to withdraw Bill C-27, because it’s antithetical to the interests of unions and their desires to ensure that everyone has a defined benefit pension plan (even though the economics of that demand aren’t there, and that the actuarial tables will show that they haven’t been sustainable because people stopped smoking two packs a day and are now living longer).

The problem with Corcoran’s piece is that it really only applies to the NDP’s interests. After all, the Conservatives were talking about targeted benefit pensions for years, and were making moves in that direction, which is why Morneau, in his previous life, was talking about their virtues – a cardinal sin in NDP eyes. But for the Conservatives, this is simply a matter of opportunism – they think that they can wound him, and if they have to play along with the NDP to do it, so be it they will. And thus, we are enduring day after day of attacks in QP that are showcased with mendacious framing devices and disingenuous questions, unrelated facts arranged in ways to look damning, never mind that they don’t line up with reality or with our parliamentary norms (such as this absurd demand that the Ethics Commissioner should have somehow vetted this before the bill was tabled. That’s now how our system works, and it would have been a violation of cabinet secrecy and parliamentary privilege). But even as opportunistic as this is, one has to wonder how much longer this will last.

One of the most veteran reporters sat with me in QP yesterday, and asked me this very question – how long can they hope to stretch this story? There’s little basis to it, and yet day after day, they carry on with these absurd demands for information that are already publicly disclosed, and outrage that is running on fumes. Meanwhile, actual, verifiable problems that should be addressed are going unsaid, day after day. It’s a little mystifying when you actually stop to think about it.

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Roundup: Blame Dawson or the system?

As the Bill Morneau imbroglio starts to fade behind the outrage du jour, being the Paradise Papers, Andrew Coyne decided to take another crack at the issue, this time taking a swing at Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson and her handling – or mishandling – of the whole affair from the beginning. The problem of course is that Coyne’s piece relies heavily on commentary from local civically illiterate crank and guaranteed quote machine Duff Conacher, for whom everything is evil and wrong, and why he hasn’t yet been labelled a vexatious litigant by the courts is beyond me. Regardless, it cannot be denied that yes, Dawson herself is a problem, but not the only problem.

A few days ago, Andrew Potter wrote a piece in the Globe and Mail about the whole sordid history of why we have the Commissioner position in the first place, and why it has always been a problem. And he’s right in pointing out that the point of this position has been politicized from the beginning, but as with so many of our watchdog or “Independent Officer of Parliament” positions these days, they exist as much to deflect problems onto as they do to act as the instrument by which the opposition can use as both a cudgel to launch their attacks, and a shield to hide behind if there is any counter-fire.

And to that end, we can’t simply blame Dawson herself – as much as she is and always has been part of the problem. Much of that lies on MPs themselves, who created the regime, wrote rules that don’t include ethics guidelines, and when presented with the litany of problems with the legislation, shrug and make minor tweaks without addressing the big stuff. And it happens constantly, so when imagined scandals happen, they can scream and rail that just following the rules isn’t good enough, but that the alleged transgressor must have known better and should have exceeded them. Never mind that it’s a nonsense frame to put around issues, but these are also the same rules that those MPs put into place. Saying that the rules they created for themselves aren’t good enough is galling, and one has to constantly ask why they didn’t create rules that were good enough in the first place if they knew that there were problems – and yes, they did know, because Dawson herself identified them. It’s childish politics, and just manages to make a farce out of their feigned outrage (not surprisingly).

Meanwhile, Conacher managed to get a whole piece out of the Star by complaining that the government is wrong in saying there aren’t enough qualified candidates for the Ethics and Lobbying Commissioner positions because he applied for the Lobbying Commissioner position and hasn’t been chosen. Err, that may be a reflection on you, Duff, and this exercise in your ego may be part of the reason why you’re not chosen.

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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: The stages of scandal

Kady O’Malley has a piece about the five stages of a Canadian political scandal, and wonders just where the current Bill Morneau imbroglio lies along it. While she’s probably not wrong in that it’s likely hovering near the end-point, I would like to just take a moment to point out that most of this whole affair has been fuelled by weak-sauce allegations and conflated facts, and this particular air of desperation as people keep flinging the equivalent of spaghetti against a wall in the hope that something inevitably sticks.

And there is a complete air of desperation in the latest developments in this case. Bill Morneau paying a $200 fine for failing to disclose his stake in the ownership structure of his French villa – he had disclosed the villa itself – was turned into wails that he was a law-breaker, or that the fine was somehow a sanction for a “conflict of interest” that was never a conflict. And the NDP tried to move a motion to get Bill C-27 withdrawn, because they sailed a conspiracy theory that somehow there was a conflict of interest with a bill that they opposed for ideological reasons, in order to come at a different angle of attack on it. And while is no actual conflict with the bill, it keeps being reported uncritically as though there were.

And that’s probably what gets me the most irritated about these so-called political scandals, is that many are started by poor reporting on thin facts that are designed to be sensational, with follow-ups that are bigger and bigger reaches to the point where it’s a series of mind-numbing conspiracy theories being floated, each of which get amplified in QP. For what? I’m failing to see how imaginary scandals are holding government to account. There are so many other issues that have substantive policy issues that should be debated or explored, and we keep chasing these non-stories because we think there’s blood in the water. But by all means, keep chasing this phantom menace. It’s doing our democracy wonders.

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