Roundup: The perverse state of party leaders

Amid a bunch of bad puns by headline writers yesterday, seven out of ten Bloc MPs quit caucus because they can’t work with their leader, Martine Ouellet. Her demands that they push sovereignty above all else rankled too many, who felt their jobs as MPs were to represent Quebec’s interests in Ottawa boiled over, and they left to sit as a quasi-independent caucus (insisting that they still, deep down, belong to the Bloc) for the time being. It’s a move that some recall as being similar to when a number of Alliance MPs walked out of their caucus over dissatisfaction with Stockwell Day’s leadership, and they never really came back until the whole Conservative Party unification happened and Stephen Harper became leader.

This point that Coyne makes is exactly right. If things were running the way they should, someone from caucus would be the leader, and it would be the caucus selecting him or her, not the membership, and it would be the caucus who removes him or her. If Ouellet had an ounce of shame, she’d resign in the face of this revolt (as bad leaders like Alison Redford did once a mere two MLAs went public). But things are not running well. Rheal Fortin, the party’s former interim leader, went on Power Play and yet didn’t say that she should step down which is insane (though Gilles Duceppe did). Parties don’t serve leaders – leaders should serve the party. MPs shouldn’t be drones to serve a popularly elected leader, with all of the initiative of a battle droid. This perverse state of affairs is poisoning our parliamentary democracy, and it should stop. Ouellet should resign and mind her own affairs in the legislature that she already has a seat in, rather than trying to straddle both, and the Bloc should just choose a leader from their own ranks – Fortin was already doing the job, no reason he can’t go back to doing it.

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Roundup: Gaming the system a second time

So the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party’s nomination committee has allowed Patrick Brown to run for the leadership contest, despite the fact that he was kicked out of caucus (which also rescinded his nomination as a candidate in his riding), which is going to go super well for everyone involved, be it Brown claiming that he’s been vindicated from the allegations (he hasn’t), or the other candidates who are trying (and failing) to come up with new policy on the fly as they try to distance themselves from Brown’s campaign platform. But what gets me are all of the pundits saying “It’s up for the party members to decide,” which should provide nobody any comfort at all, because the reason the party is in the mess it’s in is because Brown knew how to game the system in order to win the leadership the first time. He has an effective ground game, and can mobilise enough of his “rented” members, likely in more effective distributions (given that this is a weighted, ranked ballot) than other, more urban-centric candidates can. He played the system once, and has all the means necessary to do it again. Saying that it’ll be up to the membership to decide is an invitation to further chaos. This is no longer a political party. It’s an empty vessel waiting for the right charismatic person to lead it to victory, which is a sad indictment. Also, does nobody else see it as a red flag that Brown’s on-again-off-again girlfriend is 16 years his junior and used to be his intern? Dating the intern should be a red flag, should it not? Especially when one of his accusers is a former staffer.

Meanwhile, here’s David Reevely previews the party’s civil war, while Andrew Coyne imagines Brown’s pitch to members as his running as the “unity candidate” in a party split because of him.

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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: Will American tax changes affect us?

With the excitement building over that coming US tax cut legislation (if one can call it that), we have already started seeing reaction here in Canada about how we should react, and while there has been some predictable demands that we start cutting our own corporate taxes yet again, others have called for a more pragmatic approach. In the Financial Post, Jack Mintz foretold doom for our economy in the face of these changes. With that in mind, Kevin Milligan tweeted out some thoughts:

It also hasn’t gone unnoticed that these changes will create all manner of new loopholes around personal incorporation to avoid paying income taxes – kind of like Canada has been cracking down on this past year. Imagine that.

To that end, Milligan offered a few more thoughts about the experience around implementing these kinds of changes.

Meanwhile, my Loonie Politics column looks at whether the process used by that American tax bill could happen in Canada. Short answer: no.

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Roundup: Making a martyr of herself

If there’s one thing that we’re talking about right now that’s not the interminable Standing Orders debate, it’s Senator Lynn Beyak, of the “well intentioned residential schools” remarks, which came shortly after her incomprehensible remarks about trans people while saying that good gays don’t like to cause waves. And after being removed from the Senate’s Aboriginal Peoples committee, she put out a press release that didn’t really help her cause.

Of course, the more we talk about Beyak in the media and demand that Something Must Be Done about her, the more it’s going to embolden her and her supporters. The fact that she’s starting to martyr herself on the cause of “opposing political correctness” is gaining her fans, including Maxime Bernier, whom she is supporting in the leadership. Bernier says he doesn’t agree with her statement about residential schools, but he’s all aboard her “political correctness” martyrdom. Oh, and it’s causing some of the other Conservative senators to close ranks around her, because that’s what starts to happen when someone on their team is being harassed (and before you say anything, my reading of Senator Ogilvie’s “parasites” comment was more dark humour in the face of this situation than anything, and reporters taking to the Twitter Machine to tattle and whinge makes We The Media look all the worse).

But seriously, Beyak is not an important figure. She’s marginal at best within her own party, and her comments have marginalized her position further. But the more that people continue to howl about her, or post e-petitions demanding that the government remove her (which is unconstitutional, by the way), the more she turns herself into a martyr on this faux-free speech platform that is attracting all manner of right-wing trolls, the more she will feel completely shameless about her words. We’ve shone the spotlight, but sometimes we also need to know when to let it go and let obscurity reclaim her.

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QP: Even Ontario wants NDP childcare

Caucus day in the Commons, and all of the major leaders were again in the chamber, with the Conservatives proud of the new MPs elected in Monday’s by-elections who were visiting in advance of being sworn in, while the NDP were crowing over social media about Maria Mourani joining their party (but not caucus until after the next election). Thomas Mulcair led off by noting that the Ontario legislature voted in favour of supporting the NDP’s childcare plan, and asked about the government’s previous pledges. Harper reminded him that the other night, some Ontarians voted overwhelmingly against the NDP, and that his government has made life more affordable for all families. Mulcair wondered when Harper would meet with the Ontario premier about issues like childcare, and Harper claimed that he meets with premiers regularly — except he’s been avoiding Kathleen Wynne. Mulcair claimed that 65 percent of Canadians live in jurisdictions that want more affordable childcare, and repeated his demand for childcare spaces. Harper insisted that his government has put money in the pockets of Canadians that the NDP were planning on taking back. Mulcair pressed on Harper’s previous specific commitments about the healthcare escalator, to which Harper insisted that they have increased transfers to promises to record levels. Mulcair insisted that the transfer rate change was a cut (which it really wasn’t), but Harper repeated his answers. Justin Trudeau noted that the government would vote against his bill on Access to Information citing bureaucratic increases, and wondered why they opposed the modernization of Access to Information. Harper said that they did modernize the system by bringing 70 new agencies under its aegis and that the Liberals opposed other transparency measures. Trudeau moved to the cuts to infrastructure funds, to which Harper said that the Liberals voted against funding and that they only wanted to “raise taxes to fund bureaucracy.” Trudeau moved onto a conference in Montreal that Harper skipped, and Harper insisted that the government was represented.

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Roundup: Information Commissioner crisis

Troubling news out of the Information Commissioner’s office, as Suzanne Legault says that the office is nearly broke, thanks to an increasing workload of 30 percent more complaints this year, plus budget cutbacks (and it will be even worse next year as the budget has to absorb staff salary increases). It makes one wonder about the state of court cases that the Commissioner is pursuing in the name of access to certain documents, and what it means to accepting or dealing with new complaints in a timely manner, especially if they are stretched to the breaking point as it is. Tony Clement, not surprisingly, had no comment about any of this, even though as Treasury Board president, he is the one who is supposed to ensure that there is Access to Information compliance in the civil service, which would make her far easier.

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Roundup: No breached ethical walls

Auditors from Deloitte appeared before the Senate’s internal economy committee yesterday morning, and revealed a couple of things – that yes, senior Partner Michael Runia did try calling them, but they didn’t tell him anything, thus preserving their “ethical wall.” Also, their audit operated in a closed system and that there wasn’t any way for there to be any leaks of draft copies. But when the Liberals on the committee tried to move a motion for Runia to appear to explain himself, Conservatives on the committee blocked it, saying that they didn’t have the expertise to conduct an investigation parallel to the RCMP’s. Nor has there been any call for Senator Gerstein to appear to explain himself either. The Liberals will be moving a motion in the full Senate next week to give the committee the mandate to pursue these questions, but we’ll see if there is enough support. Kady O’Malley finds three key points from that testimony, and makes the relevant connections to the Wright testimony in the RCMP ITO. Incidentally, PMO has hired three different law firms to deal with the ClusterDuff file.

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Roundup post: Citizenship guide preview unveiled

The government is updating their citizenship guide, and while people are going to criticise it, I’m going to say that it’s a good thing that they actually devote a page to the fact that we’re a constitutional monarchy, and that they talk about the fact that Elizabeth II is the Queen of Canada. Not enough people realise what living in a constitutional monarchy means, even though it’s at the very heart of our political system. It would also be nice if we could stop acting horrified every time this government points out that basic fact because guess what – we’re a constitutional monarchy, and it’s actually a pretty good system. (It’s also too bad that the reporter in this story referred to Elizabeth II as the “Queen of England” – never mind that there hasn’t been a Queen of England since 1707). As well, they’ve done a pretty good job with the paragraph on the rights of gays and lesbians in this updated guide. Of course, it’s too bad that they’ve also included other bits of politicking with their references to human trafficking, polygamy and marriage fraud – current bugaboos of the government.

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Roundup: Apparently successful pipeline lobbying

Access to Information documents have shown that the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association was pushing for the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act that went through in the fall omnibudget bill. They note, however, that the provisions strengthen the environmental protections because they’re all under one review now, rather than spread out.

Service Canada employees around the country have made random house calls to EI recipients to personally invite them to EI interviews – a move that is being called “intimidation.” I suspect this will be conflated and rolled into the false “bad guys” quote and make the rounds during QP next week.

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