Roundup: Absurd procedural objections abound

There are times when I don’t get the way that the opposition is trying to do its job – and I don’t mean the epic levels of disingenuousness and mendaciousness by which Question Period is operating these days. Rather, it’s the procedural objections to the way in which the government plans to handle Bill C-59, being the major national security bill that they’ve tabled. They’ve stated that they want the bill to head to committee before Second Reading, which is unusual, but still procedurally sound because it means that it will allow for a wider variety of amendments to be proposed and adopted, as a vote at Second Reading means that the bill is “locked” at its principles, and changes made at that point tend to be fairly technical. One would think that proactively taking this move would generally be appreciated, because it’s a recognition that it’s a tough subject that they want to get as much input on as possible, and are open to a wider degree of changes than usual. But no.

Instead, the opposition are now crying foul because they say that the government is trying to “fast track” it by doing his – not necessarily true, given that it can stay at committee for a long time, and they haven’t invoked any time allocation – that they’re trying to “evade” second reading debate (which, again, is absurd given the procedural move of allowing a greater scope of amendments), and that they’re avoiding the possibility that the Speaker could break up the bill because it’s an omnibus bill. But part of the problem with that is that omnibus bills aren’t bad per se – they’re bad when they’re used abusively to ram through a multitude of unrelated things with little debate. In this case, all of the constituent changes in the bill, which affect several other existing pieces of legislation, are all part of the same national security framework. It makes more sense to make the changes at once with a single piece of legislation rather than piecemeal bills that may create legislative traffic jams that would require coordinating amendments in order to ensure that all of the changes don’t butt up against one another. It’s hardly an abuse of omnibus legislation in this case, and they should know that.

What the government is doing is procedurally sound, and I can’t count the number of times that the NDP have demanded that bills go to committee before second reading debate on a whole host of issues (and it happened a lot under the previous regime). This government is doing that move on a major piece of legislation proactively, and they’re being accused of evasion. It’s enough to make a person scream.

Continue reading

Roundup: Artificial deadline drama

It’s one of these kinds of stories that I’m already suspicious of – the kind that presuppose that the Senate is going to delay the course of legislation. And lo, the fact that there is a story with Bill Blair out there, shaking his finger at the Senate and warning them not to delay the marijuana legislation, is one that makes me roll my eyes because 1) the Bill still hasn’t passed the Commons, and may not yet for another week; and 2) I have heard zero plans from any senators that this is something that they intend to sit on until any deadlines pass or expire. In fact, I’ve heard pretty much the opposite – that to date, there is an extreme reluctance on the part of those making up the Independent Senators Group to delaying or being perceived to be delaying government bills, and they will provide the statistics to show that they pass bills faster than the House of Commons does as a way to prove that they don’t delay bills.

Oh, but what about the national anthem bill, which Conservative senators are sitting on and deliberately delaying? Well, that’s a private member’s bill, so it is at the mercy of Senate procedure, unlike a government bill – as the marijuana legislation is – which not only takes precedence over other business in the Senate, and which Senator Peter Harder, the Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative” could invoke time allocation on, and I’m sure that he would be able to get enough votes for it to pass (grumbling of Conservative senators aside). This having been said, I think that perhaps it may be pushing it for the government to insist that a major piece of legislation like the marijuana bill be passed by the Senate within three weeks given that they took much longer on it, and given that provincial governments have a lot to say on the matter – though I’m hearing that the Senate will likely sit a full week longer than the Commons will before they rise for the Christmas break, meaning that if the Commons passes it by this Friday, it would be four weeks for the Senate to pass it before the break, which is a long time for a bill in the Senate, but not unreasonable. And if the Commons was so concerned about how long it was taking, they would have picked up their own pace on the bill beforehand. They didn’t, and didn’t invoke time allocation on it thus far, meaning that this concern of Blair’s is artificial and used to create some faux drama. People aren’t stupid – creating a problem where one doesn’t exist is just as likely to backfire than it is to try and shame the Senate into doing your bidding.

Continue reading

Roundup: Release the Mandate Tracker!

The government unveiled their “mandate tracker” website yesterday, put out by the Privy Council Office, which aims to track the progress of commitments made in ministerial mandate letters, which the government (rightly) touts is the first time these kinds of things are being publicly tracked. But the grousing immediately began – that these are not campaign commitments being tracked (and really, it would be inappropriate for PCO to be tracking those), that some of the progress is subjective, and that it’s a “propaganda tool” for the government.

That’s fair criticism, and sure, it’s cute that the government calls promises they no longer intend to keep as “not being pursued” (rightly in some cases, like electoral reform – because it was a stupid promise), and yes, there is some subjectivity to some of the measures like how they’ve improved Question Period – and if anyone wants to compare how it’s being run right now as compared to the zoo that it was in the Harper era, with the jeering, hooting baboons and the reading of non-sequiturs, they can go right ahead, but it is different, and I would argue, better most of the time. (Yes, many of the government’s responses are pabulum – but given how mendacious and disingenuous most of the questions are, that’s not a surprise either).

Suffice to say, it’s a step. The Conservatives never put anything like this out for public consumption, and had a habit of retconning some of their own promises (remember the promise around wait times? And how they tried to recast it as a different promise among the five that they made and supposedly kept? Good times). And while sure, it looks like they’re grading their own homework, you don’t have to take their word for it. You the public, and We The Media can fact-check these things, and hey, there’s something in the window for us to fact-check against. Great. I’m failing to see where the downside of any of this is.

Meanwhile, here is some more informed analysis:

Continue reading

Roundup: Rejected amendments on C-4

It looks like we may have another bit of drama between the Commons and the Senate with respect to the amendments on Bill C-4, which is the government’s repeal of two private members’ bills from the previous parliament that sought to limit unionisation. While the portions of the bill related to the repeal of the one bill on financial reporting for unions went through, there were amendments to retain the portions of the former bill on ensuring that union drives are subject to a secret ballot instead of the card-check system. The government has signalled that they plan to reject those amendments, which was not unexpected.

The insistence on secret ballots for unionization was a very fraught issue, and having covered the private members’ bills in the previous parliament, I spoke to a number of labour relations experts who said that not only did this was a problematic change because it put the system out of step with much of the legislation around it, but the process for making those changes – a private members’ bill – upset a lot of the balance in the system and because it had the Conservative government’s support, it shifted the role of the government from promoting settlements and giving parties mediators or arbitrators to one of being openly against the unions. None of that goes away with the Senate’s amendment process. This isn’t by any means to say that I’m trying to shill for the unionization side of things – I’m not. But this is one of those issues where process does matter, and the previous parliament upset the usual process by which these issues are agreed to.

And if the Commons rejects the amendments and sends it back to the Senate? Will they accept the judgment of the Commons? Likely. While the Conservatives in the Senate will likely try to fight this tooth and nail – seeing it as a legacy of their time in government – I’m sure there will be some pressure (and no small amount of admonition from Senator Peter Harder) to bend to the will of the elected members. If the Senate didn’t go to war with the Commons over the assisted dying bill, I have a hard time seeing why they would over this one, particularly as there is a good chance it would not survive a Charter challenge.

ETA: I confused C-4 and C-6 with regards to the call for a free vote. Those sections have been excised.

Continue reading

Roundup: A commissioner’s overreach

Forgive me for going super parliamentary wonk for a minute, but this Colby Cosh column in the National Post has me a bit inspired. The issue (and I suggest you read the piece first) is about how interim PC leader Ric McIver was fined by the province’s ethics commissioner for asking a question in QP that could be seen to relate to his wife’s business and basically asking the government for things that could benefit said business. It was later pointed out that only the Speaker can censure a member for things they’ve said, and McIver is launching a court challenge to that effect.

As an officer of parliament, can the commissioner punished an MLA when he’s protected by parliamentary privilege? I’m not actually sure that she can because typically such a commissioner’s ambit is the behaviour of a sitting member when it comes to things like accepting gifts, or ensuring that there are no conflicts of interests in dealings, but I have yet to hear a reasonable case why speech in the Chamber would be covered under that. After all, if he’s asking questions that relate to his wife’s business, then it should be the job of the government to point that out in their responses. This is why they have research departments, after all ­– to fight fire with fire when necessary. Having the premier point out that he seems to be asking for his wife’s benefit would likely embarrass him out of pressing the matter, no? No need for an independent officer of the assembly to step in there.

But I’m also bothered by the fact that this is going to a court challenge, because that’s straying awfully close to that line around interfering in the operations of the legislative branch of government, and parliaments are self-governing. That’s kind of the point – subjecting them to the courts would basically put the Queen back in charge of things, which is not what anyone is after. I’m not sure that a judge should be figuring out the rules of the assembly when it comes to the powers of the commissioner on their behalf. If there is a grey area around what the commissioner’s powers are, it should be up to the assembly – whom the office of the commissioner is a creature of – to make that determination. Anything less is unacceptable when it comes to the supremacy of parliament, which is kind of a big deal, especially when we’re seeing the Auditor General federally trying to over assert his own power in regards to the Senate. We don’t need a bad precedent being set in Alberta that would have terribly ricochet effects elsewhere in our confederation.

Continue reading

Roundup: Let’s not efface Langevin

A group of Indigenous MPs, along with the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, are calling on the government to rename the Langevin Block – the building that houses the PMO – because it is named after one of the architects of residential schools. And while I understand and respect their feelings on the matter, I would like to add that I think this would be a mistake. Why? Because the average Canadian doesn’t know who Hector-Louis Langevin was, and what his role in residential schools was (let alone that he was a Father of Confederation), so to further efface his name is actually a disservice to the spirit of reconciliation, which they say that this is a part of. What I would suggest instead are additions to the plaque explaining the building and the name, and for signage inside the building, to remind the denizens about the consequences of actions that may be have been well-intentioned at the time. And we have no reason to think that Langevin himself was especially malevolent, but was merely a product of his time. There was all manner of racist policies by the government because that was how they understood the world to be. It’s also a question of who’s next after Langevin? Sir John A Macdonald? I think that we would all be better off to confront Langevin’s legacy and to spell it out to people that what a party does in government can echo for generations and be completely devastating. It would be a reminder for all time that deeds and misdeeds have consequences. And the PMO being confronted with that on a daily basis would seem to me to do more for reconciliation than simply effacing the name and giving it something trite like the “Reconciliation Building” (as Calgary renamed their Langevin Bridge). Let’s teach history – not bury it, which removing the name would be.

Continue reading

Roundup: Suggested cures for journalism

After six months of study and deliberation, Public Policy Forum came out with its report and recommendations on the state of media and democracy, and came up with a handful of recommendations for things like a tax credits, creative commons licensing, clear mandates for the CBC, the creation of a particular extension of The Canadian Press to cover local news like city halls and court cases in smaller communities, and most controversially, a $100 million fund to help legacy media, well, cope with the new digital environment. Many journalists pooh-poohed much of this, and turned up their noses at the notion of the fund, particularly if it were to be administered by government. Paul Wells summed everything up pretty well with this fairly brilliant column here. And Chris Selley made a few trenchant observations over the Twitter Machine.

(Note that for years, the GLBT Xtra chain – that I used to write for – subsidized their operations by running a phone dating service, and they more recently replaced that by running a hookup site).

I’m not going to pretend that I have any answers here, but I will express a bit of frustration with people who insist that if we just produce better journalism that people will want to pay for it again. Given the way that we have acclimatised people to getting it online for free (remember, newspapers used to do that as “advertising” their paper subscriptions) and this pervasive (and wrong) notion that “information wants to be free,” I think it’s more than just producing better journalism that people will want to pay for. It’s especially insulting when I see people like Paul Godfrey showing up on TV to say that when he’s one of the people who is hollowing out the very papers that he owns as he collects millions of dollars in bonuses. It’s hard to produce good journalism when you have no one to produce it, and those who are left are overloaded trying to do the work of three or four people.

The other thing that bothers me is when people say “look at how subscriptions went up in the States recently!” it’s also because they went through a batshit crazy election and are in the middle of an utter meltdown of their democratic institutions. That’s not happening here (though Trudeau’s popularity has prompted a few outlets, like the BBC, to hire a couple of journalists in Canada given the new interest here), and we are constantly dealing with the false notion that Canadian politics is boring, and that there’s no real stories here. Not to mention, we have a tenth of their population, so we’re dealing with an order of magnitude of difference when it comes to market as well.

So while I’m not sure I have any answers, “just do better” is more of a slap in the face than it is a solution to what is ailing the industry.

Continue reading

Roundup: MyDemocracy survey says…

The results of the survey got published yesterday, and it’s full of some fairly contradictory results about people generally being reasonably satisfied with our system (or at least not wildly dissatisfied), preferring constituency connections and accountability (but also co-operation, which makes accountability difficult), while also wanting more diversity of views (unless it lets in radicals and extremists). Also, no mandatory voting, online voting, or lowering the voting age. (Full report here). So yeah. And already you’ve got Nathan Cullen sore that it doesn’t say “Canadians want PR” because that’s not what it was asking. Anyway, Philippe Lagassé is best positioned to weigh in on it, so here we go:

Reading through the methodology and the reasoning behind the questions was fairly illuminating and something the detractors of the survey should probably want to actually do before they scroll ahead to where they go “Why doesn’t it say that Canadians really want proportional representation? Stupid biased survey” because we know that’s what they want to hear.

Of course, if you ask me, this should provide enough justification for them to smother this whole thing in the cradle and wash their hands of it, saying it turns out that Canadians aren’t too concerned with reform and hey, it turns out it’s way more complex than we thought so yeah, bad promise, we’ll do better next time, and then move onto some actual topics of importance than just trying to appease a few sore losers.

Continue reading

QP: Trudeau “on bended knee”

With the Prime Minister off in Argentina, neither Rona Ambrose nor Thomas Mulcair bothered to show up for QP either today, leaving Elizabeth May the only leader in the Commons – and she’d already used up her question for the week. Denis Lebel led off, lamenting the lack of create jobs and accused the government of “showing their cards” when it comes to talking about NAFTA — err, except that they haven’t actually said anything other than they are willing to come to the table. Navdeep Bains rose to reply that there are nine million American jobs tied to trade with Canada, and that they are looking out for Canada’s interests. Lebel repeated the exact same question in English, and Bains expanded on the size of the trading relationship between Canada and the US. Lebel moved onto the softwood lumber agreement, and Bains assured him that they were working hard on the deal. Candice Bergen picked up and railed about how naive the PM was for “waving the white flag” on NAFTA (again, not sure how exactly he did that), and Bains kept up his reassurances that they wanted to protect Canadian jobs under the agreement. Bergen then demanded that the government press for TPP to move ahead at the APEC summit in Peru, and Bains gave a dig about how the Conservatives negotiated TPP in secret while the Liberals were being transparent about it. Nathan Cullen led off for the NDP, accusing the government of “decision-based evidence-making” when it comes to electoral reform, and Maryam Monsef said that she was eagerly awaiting the committee report. Cullen claimed that the new survey the government was planning to roll out was to dissuade people from proportional representation, but Monsef insisted that they just wanted to hear from more people. Alexandre Boulerice asked the same again, only angrier and in French, but Monsef kept her happy talking points about being committed to the file and that she was waiting for the committee report.

Continue reading

QP: Questions about NAFTA

While Justin Trudeau was off in Cuba, and after Rona Ambrose walked in her party’s newest MP, Glen Motz, she led off Question Period by wondering why the government would be so quick to be willing to renegotiate NAFTA. Navdeep Bains responded, talking about how they were looking to protect and advance Canada’s interests. Ambrose then moved onto the Infrastructure Bank, and wondered who would be backstopping overages, and Marc Garneau got up to praise how great infrastructure spending was, but didn’t really answer the question. Ambrose then moved onto Keystone XL and lamented that the PM was “silent” and misled energy workers. Jim Carr stood up to reassure her that they still supported it and the approvals were still in place, but the company themselves had to reapply to the US. Ambrose switched to French to return to the NAFTA question, and Bains repeated his earlier answer in English. Ambrose then pivoted again to UNRWA funding, accusing the government of using those funds to put Israeli citizens at risk. Marie-Claude Bibeau said that they were ensuring that there were robust controls, but they preferred Palestinian children in schools than on the streets.  Thomas Mulcair lamented instances of surveillance of journalists and demanded a full national public inquiry. Ralph Goodale insisted there were no ongoing operations, and they welcomed input from journalists and lawyers on improving the law. Mulcair switched in French to demand concrete steps to protect freedom of the press. Goodale insisted that there was no argument, that they had appropriate safeguards and were open to input on improving the law. Mulcair then switched to the issue of softwood lumber as part of trade deals, and Bains assured him that they were looking to protect Canadian interests. Mulcair switched to English to press the issue, and Bains insisted that they were looking for Canadian jobs.

Continue reading