Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is set to release his full critic list today, not only to be dubbed as a shadow cabinet, but with plans to style the critics as “shadow ministers.” Now, this is normally the kinds of British/Westminster nomenclature that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, which is why I suspect that a fanboy like Scheer is doing it, but I would raise a particular note of caution – that unless Scheer plans to actually have his “shadow minsters” act in the way that Westminster shadow ministers actually operate, then it’s going to quickly come across as a twee affectation.
So what kinds of differences would matter between a British shadow minister and a Canadian critic? For one, it’s a far more institutionalised role, where a shadow minister plays the function of someone who is able to fill the cabinet role immediately if the government were to fall, rather than the kinds of placeholders that we’ve come to expect in Canadian critic roles. Shadow ministers, in my observation, tend to be in place for a fairly long time and develop expertise in the portfolio, and they have more structured time to visit the departments and get briefings from civil servants, which doesn’t seem to be the way that Canadian critics operate (who do get some briefings, but in my estimation, are not to the same level). Of course, one of the reasons why is that cabinet construction in the UK doesn’t have to deal with the same regional considerations that Canada does, so it’s far easier to have someone who was in a shadow cabinet position slide into cabinet, whereas in Canada, the federalist calculations may not work out.
Another key difference is that UK shadow ministers are not members of select committees, whereas in Canada, critics are leads for their party on standing committees. Why this is different is because in the UK, it not only lets the shadow minister spend more time with their portfolio, but it gives the committee members more independence because they don’t have the lead on the file shepherding them. Just by numbers alone, I’m guessing that this isn’t going to happen here (another advantage to the UK’s House of Commons having 650 members instead of 338). One could also remark that the current Conservative Party in Canada hasn’t demonstrated a great deal of willingness to give committees a great deal of independence (especially seeing as they turned them into branch plants of the ministers’ offices during the Harper years), but who knows? Maybe Scheer is more serious about it. But unless he wants to reform the way his critics operate, then I’m less sold on billing them as “shadow ministers.”
It didn’t take long, but the repudiations rolled in today of the story that Duffy wanted to be named an Ontario senator instead of a PEI senator. Senior anonymous Conservatives disputed that fact, though it is fairly well known that Duffy did have concerns about his residency, which is why Marjory LeBreton’s office had that political memo drafted to justify the appointment as constitutional – note that it was a political memo and not a legal one. When it was first reported on Tuesday that Duffy wanted to be appointed as an Ontario senator, it raised red flags with me as it was contrary to years of anecdotes about Duffy’s quest to be a PEI senator, right to the fact that he would check the pulse of an aging PEI senator every time he shook his hand, or the fact that he would play up his Islander heritage for his whole career. In other words, it sounded self-serving and likely out of the Duffy camp in order to try and deflect blame onto the Prime Minister – and that’s exactly the trap that the NDP fell into, when they again made an issue out of it in scrums and in QP. Yes, Harper bears responsibility for the appointment, and yes, if he was going to appoint Duffy as a PEI senator, he should have ensured that Duffy moved back there first (and likewise with Carolyn Stewart Olsen in New Brunswick), but we all know that the December 2008 appointments were made in a panic and the usual checks were left undone. It’s not a conspiracy, the way that the NDP keep trying to portray it. It was one cascading series of bad decisions and the associated damage control. Trying to paint it as nefarious rather than utterly incompetent isn’t really helpful, and it doesn’t make it any easier to make Harper’s judgement a ballot issue. Taking the nefarious angle plays into the narrative that Duffy has been trying to build for himself when he got caught out and tried painting himself as the poor victim in all of this, and I’m not sure that the NDP are doing themselves any favours by playing Duffy’s game for him.
It’s definitely starting to look like there’s a either a rift forming in the NDP when it comes to their position on the niqab, or they’re saying one thing in English and another in French, trying to please both audiences in contradiction to the other. Alexandre Boulerice went on Quebec media to talk about the need to keep it out of the civil service, and that we need a national Bouchard-Taylor-esque commission to determine reasonable accommodation for religious minorities around the country – because that worked so well in Quebec, and apparently the rest of the country has the same insecurities around multiculturalism that we need to develop some kind of nonsense term like “interculturalism” to cover for assimilationist policies. Meanwhile, in English, MPs like Paul Dewar and Pat Martin are saying there’s no issue with the niqab and no party policy around it, and Thomas Mulcair has been dancing around the issue when asked directly, talking only about how the Federal Court judgement on the citizenship ceremony issue went to process – a ministerial decree – than the substance of the niqab issue. And if you thought that Boulerice was just freelancing that opinion, it was being tweeted out by the party’s official French Twitter Machine account, and give the degree to which communications are centralised in that party (possibly worse than the Conservative centralisation), it would seem to indicate that such a message has been officially sanctioned, and that the party looks to be trying to please different audiences in the country with contradictory messages. Meanwhile, The Canadian Press took their Baloney Meter™ to the Conservative claims around the niqab ban for citizenship ceremonies (spoiler: It’s full of baloney).