The time came once again for Senate QP, and this week the special guest star was Jean-Yves Duclos, minister for families, children and social development. Senator Larry Smith led off, asking about CMHC providing the government with a special dividend while raising insurance fees for young families trying to buy their first home. After the Speaker gave Duclos the option not to respond as it wasn’t really within his ministry’s responsibility, Duclos said that he would let the finance minister know and try to get him an answer.
Senator Maltais asked a double-header around the potential job losses at the Davie Shipyard, and also wondered about that Quebec City bridge in a dispute with CN. Duclos noted that these really weren’t questions for him, but that his counterparts were engaged in discussions on both files.
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.
As the Conservatives head to Halifax for their caucus retreat, the Kellie Leitch/Canadian Values question is threatening to expose some of the caucus rifts – particularly as Leitch feels a bit put out that Rona Ambrose decided to distance herself and the party from Leitch’s proposal, and Leitch has been musing openly about filing a formal complaint with the party that Ambrose has essentially involved herself in the leadership campaign in this way. There are a couple of things that I would note from all of this – one is that we place way too much emphasis on caucus solidarity on all things in this country, and blow any disagreement between party members out of all sense of proportion, usually with some variation of “Is [insert party leader here] losing control of their caucus?!” It’s hyperbolic and it’s nonsense, and it enforces the perceived need for everyone to always be in lock-step, which is terrible for democracy. The other thing I would note is that this is that Ambrose was scrambling to prevent damaging the Conservative brand, and Leitch’s inability to grasp nuance is apparently also a sign that she isn’t able to grasp the magnitude of this floodgate that she’s opened. The fact that she keeps insisting that this isn’t what it clearly is – directed toward certain Muslim communities (remember kids, a dog-whistle is a coded message, while this one is right out there in the open) – while saying that it’s about trying to find a “unified Canadian identity” and not about identity politics (no seriously, she said this – you can check the video), continues to highlight that she is completely and utterly tone deaf. Ambrose is being left to pick up the pieces of Leitch crashing around like the proverbial bull in the china shop, because Leitch is too tone deaf to see what she’s doing to the party brand. So sure, there are rifts in the caucus being formed as a result. While we shouldn’t try to pretend that parties need to be uniform in all things, Leitch should also realise that some rifts are bad for the brand you’re trying to build and probably shouldn’t be papered over.
And while we’re on the subject of Leitch, John McCallum calls her anti-Canadian values screening proposal “Orwellian.”