QP: Woe be Vegreville

With the PM away and Rona Ambrose already gone, the Conservatives surprisingly led with Shannon Stubbs, who railed about the plans to close the Vegreville immigration processing centre, in light of revelations of costs associated. Ralph Goodall took this one, noting the difficulty in filling current vacancies in the centre, and that the new centre in Edmonton would double its capacity. Stubbs angrily insisted that the government had lied about the costs, but Goodale insisted that the issue was capacity. Stubbs accused the government of punishing a small town with a Conservative MP in favour of moving it to a Liberal riding, but Goodale stood firm. Gérard Deltell got up next and railed about the government cutting tax credits, to which Scott Brison reminded him that their tax measures helped those who needed it the most. Deltell tried again, railing about the transit tax credit loss (seriously, it was bad policy no matter which way you slice it), and Brison listed the good economic news since the Liberals took power. Thomas Mulcair was up next, and in French, concerned trolled that Bardish Chagger wasn’t up to picking a new Ethics Commissioner. Chagger reminded him of the open and transparent process in place. Mulcair switched to English and wondered what the Liberals would think if Stephen Harper called on Paul Calandra to choose a new Commissioner, but Chagger repeated her answer. Mulcair then turned to the issue of the Official Languages Commissioner, and wondered in what role Gerald Butts communicated with Madeleine Meilleur before her appointment. Joly noted that candidates were vetted and interviewed after a rigorous process and that she spoke with other parties who agreed that she had credentials. Mulcair tried again in French, and got the same answer.

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QP: Bell Island conspiracies

With Justin Trudeau on his way to the Microsoft conference in Washington State, and Rona Ambrose bowing out, there were only two leaders present for QP today. Candice Bergen led off, railing about the PM’s Xmas vacation — again — using the reach of a story about the island’s ownership to raise doubts. Bardish Chagger gave the usual reply. Bergen used this as a hook for a question to accuse Chagger of being the wrong person to be in charge of finding a new Ethics Commissioner, and Chagger reminded her that the process is open and anyone can apply. Bergen insisted that the government was simply looking for Liberal donors, citing Madeleine Meilleur’s nomination as Official Languages Commissioner. Diane Lebouthillier took this one, praising Meilleur’s record. Gérard Deltell was up next, worrying about the Infrastructure Bank and the search for a board despite the fact that it had not been created yet. Amarjeet Sohi reminded him of the value of the Bank, and that they wanted to gave board members ready to be appointed when the Bank’s creation was authorised by Parliament. On a second go from Deltell, François-Philippe Champagne took the opportunity to tout the Invest in Canada Agency that they were also looking for appointees for. Thomas Mulcair was up next, spinning a conspiracy about the tentacles of KPMG infiltrating everywhere, and Lebouthillier got up to note all of the measures they were taking to combat tax evasion. Mulcair asked again in French, and got the same answer. Mulcair then took a swipe at Meilleur’s appointment at Languages Commissioner, and Lebouthillier repeated her lines about Meilleur’s record. Mulcair demanded that Chagger recuse herself from the selection of the Ethics Commissioner, and Chagger reminded him of the open process.

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Roundup: Not a council of elders

As his retirement date fast approaches, outgoing Liberal Senator James Cowan is once again warning against Peter Harder’s plans to disband partisan caucuses in the Senate, fearing that trying to make it “council of elders” or advisory body will make it less effective as a body. He’s right, of course, but I would refine that a little more in saying that it would make the Senate less effective in holding the government to account, which is one of its key features, and in fact, one of the features that defines a Westminster-style parliament.

There are other ways in which effectiveness might be blunted in that any kinds of legislation, inquiries or studies that Senators might otherwise champion could be more easily diffused and go nowhere given that there would be little in the way or organizational capacity to have like-minded senators help move it forward. Having 101 loose fish is a poor way to run an effective body, and yet that is what some people think that an “independent” chamber means, rather than focusing on one that is less partisan and that far more easily works across party lines to get the work done that is being asked of them. And it totally wouldn’t have to do with a Government Leader – err, “government representative” would would rather have a body of independent senators that he can manipulate and manoeuvre as he and his political masters wish. Perish the thought.

This having all been said, we’ll miss Senator Cowan greatly. He’s been a credit to the institution and provided a great deal of leadership during a difficult few years for his caucus.

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Roundup: Private islands and tall poppies

Another day, another excuse found for the Twitter-verse to light their hair on fire over something Justin Trudeau did. In this case, it was the fact that it was disclosed that he spent his holidays in the Bahamas at the private island of the Aga Khan, citing that he is a long-time personal family friend and yes, he repaid the costs of flying the Challenger to Nassau. And boom, they were off. The fact that successive governments have funded initiatives from the Aga Khan Foundation is suddenly “proof” that this is some kind of conflict of interest, and of course at least one Conservative leadership candidate is citing this as some kind of proof of broken rules and violated ethics, other Conservatives going one step further to crying that this is some kind of slap in the face to all of those out of work Albertans.

Are you serious?

While you have some columnists like Chris Selley going “See! See! This is why we need to know where the PM goes on holiday!” I’m still not seeing where the actual conflict of interest is here. The Aga Khan does not get money from the government – his Foundation does, and that’s not the same thing. Assuming he were to lobby Trudeau while he was there, what would the result be? Some more money for a maternal and child health programme? Some more school books for Syrian refugee children? Wait, let me clutch my pearls over that. The only thing that did pique my curiosity in the slightest was that this was not run by the Ethics Commissioner, as seems to be the thing to do these days, but again, not actually seeing where there’s a real conflict here.

Part of what I suspect is at work here, particularly around comments like Rempel’s, is the reflexive pettiness that Canadian journalism stokes around any kind of conscious display of wealth or privilege by our political class. Yes, Trudeau has a foot in the world of the global jet set, owing in part to his upbringing and father’s international celebrity (which he has since adopted), and it’s been a long time since we’ve had a PM like that. The last guy was so hell-bent on curating this image of being a boring minivan-driving hockey dad (despite the fact that he never drove a minivan, always worked a job that was either in politics or political advocacy and as far as I can tell, his kids never actually played hockey), and was part of a political crew who thought that doing more than serving Ritz crackers and ginger ale for a diplomatic reception was some kind of affront, that it’s seeped into our political discourse to ill effect. Couple that with this ethos in the journalism community that has tried to preserve this somewhat faux blue-collar anti-elitist aesthetic that they jump to participating in this kind of tearing down, pretty much proving the rule of tall poppy syndrome that exists in this country, and add in a dose of the lazy drive to push cheap outrage stories, and we get more of this tiresome concern trolling. Once again, the details of this story are fairly academic, but I’m not seeing either the smoke or the fire. Except for where they’ve set their own hair ablaze yet again, of course.

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Roundup: Chagger on fundraising

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger talked to the Huffington Post, and the headline had all of my media colleagues grasping for their pearls as she declared that the House of Commons was not the place to discuss Liberal fundraisers. And if I’m going to go full pedant on this, she’s right – to an extent. On its face, fundraising is party business and really nothing to do with the administrative responsibility of the government. Why this current round of eye-rolling nonsense around so-called “cash for access” fundraising (which isn’t actually cash for access in the sense that we got used to talking about with Ontario) is because the opposition is trying to link those fundraisers with conflicts of interest from the government, all based on insinuation with no actual proof of quid pro quo. But because there is this tenuous connection, the questions are being allowed, and they get to make all manner of accusations that would otherwise be considered libellous before the cameras under the protection of parliamentary privilege. Indeed, when Ambrose accused the government of acting illegally with those fundraisers, Chagger invited her to step outside of the Chamber to repeat those accusations. Ambrose wouldn’t, for the record.

Where this might resonate are with memories of the previous parliament, with endless questions about the ClusterDuff affair, and the operations of the Senate, and those various and sundry questions that came up time and again, and which were rarely actually about things that were the administrative responsibility of the government. And every now and again, Speaker Andrew Scheer would say so. But contrary to the opinions of some, this wasn’t something that Scheer made up out of thin air.

In fact, Scheer was too lenient for many of these questions, and there are sometimes that I think that Regan is even more so. Most of the NDP questions asked during the height of the ClusterDuff affair were blatantly out of order, asked for the sake of grandstanding. That the questions with the current fundraising contretemps have made this tenuous link to government operations and decisions is the only thing that makes them marginally relevant to QP. That said, the hope that this will somehow tarnish the government or grind down their ethical sheen generally depends on there being actual rules broken or actual impropriety, which there hasn’t been. Meanwhile, a bunch of issues that the opposition should be holding the government to account for are languishing because they need to put up six MPs a day on this. But hey, at least they’re providing clips to the media as opposed to doing their jobs, right?

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QP: Accusations of illegality

Despite the fact that he was in town, Justin Trudeau decided to go to Shopify for Hour of Code instead of attend QP. Rona Ambrose led off, worrying about lost jobs, the Trumpocalypse of halved taxes to impact our economic competitiveness. Navdeep Bains responded, reciting some praise by companies who are investing in this country. Ambrose worried about plans to tax health and dental benefits, to which Scott Brison listed the ways in which they have made the system more progressive and the introduction of new child benefits. In French, Ambrose worried about what other taxes would be raised, and Brison answered partly in French about lowering taxes before switching to English to talk about the need for a strong middle class to have a strong economy. Ambrose then turned to a pair of questions on fundraising, calling them illegal. Bardish Chagger reminded her that the rules were strict and followed, and invited Ambrose to repeat any accusations of illegality outside of the House. Thomas Mulcair was up next, accusing Dominic LeBlanc of lying about business not being discussed at one of these fundraisers, and Chagger repeated the usual points about the rules. Mulcair asked again in French, got the same answer, and then demanded decriminalisation of marijuana in advance of legalisation. Jody Wilson-Raybould reminded him they were in the midst of a comprehensive review in advance of legislation coming in the spring. Mulcair asked again in English in a more snide tone, and Wilson-Raybould reiterated that the point of legalisation was to keep it out of the hands of children and profits from the hands of criminals.

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QP: Monsef gets her elbows up

After a busy morning swallowed whole by the electoral reform committee report, it would be understandable for there to be some exasperation among all MPs. Rona Ambrose was the only major leader present, and she led off QP by demanding that the recommendation for a referendum be respected. Maryam Monsef said that she has received the report and would be reviewing it, and noted that there was no consensus and that it showed it was a huge challenge. Ambrose repeated the question in French, and this time Monsef praised the need for a values-based conversation. Ambrose hammered on the referendum issue, overplaying the strength of the referendum recommendation, and Monsef said that the committee didn’t give them an answer on the question they asked them. Ambrose claimed that it was because the PM didn’t think that people were smart enough, and Monsef said that the only recommendation of the committee was to have a referendum on the Gallagher Index. Ambrose switched to World AIDS Day for her final question and the need for stable funding. Carolyn Bennett responded that they recognised the need for stable funds, and the extended transitional funding to groups while they worked to reform the funding system. Alexandre Boulerice demanded a proportional voting system, and Monsef said that the answer of “choose your own adventure” was not an answer. When Boulerice cast aspersions on the planned national online consultation, Monsef retorted that he didn’t know the questions on it, so he was prejudging it. Nathan Cullen took over and returned to demands for proportionality, and Monsef returned to the Gallagher Index burn. Cullen groused further, and Monsef touted the new online digital engagement tool.


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Roundup: Taking out the caucus ballgag

One of the cheapest attacks in Question Period on any given day is the rhetorical device where an opposition member laments that no member of the government benches from any given province will stand up to defend their province from whichever government programme they’re feeling aggrieved about. It’s one of those questions that seems largely directed to the backbenches, as if they were actually permitted to respond to questions (they can’t), but the questioner will always claim that it’s directed to members of cabinet from that province. And sometimes members of cabinet from that province will respond – witness Ralph Goodale taking Conservatives from Saskatchewan to school over carbon pricing denunciations, and yesterday, it was the NDP trying to needle Liberal MPs from BC over the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline despite the fact that there was some vocal disagreement from Liberal MPs. And of course, in true partisan fashion, NDP MPs started tweeting out nonsense like this:

But what’s throwing them for a loop is the fact that Trudeau is letting these MPs go public with their disappointment. There were no gag orders, they put out statements on their websites and Facebook pages, and they didn’t shy away from the press during caucus ins and outs yesterday, and even went on the political shows to express said disappointment. And it bears repeating that this is actually a shocking development because the PM is allowing members of his own party to have some public dissent rather than demand absolute lockstep agreement in public or so-so-solidarity on all things. *cough*NDP*cough* We haven’t seen this in Canadian politics in a long while. Usually when disagreements over regional issues get bad, we see things like Bill Casey leaving the Conservatives in protest (and eventually, a couple of election cycles later, crossing to the Liberals and getting re-elected under that banner). Rather, Trudeau is openly acknowledging the dissent and making moves to placate them in public and not behind the caucus room door. While one may criticise him for a great many things in the way that he has managed his caucus since becoming leader (including a great deal of centralization of power), I will give him points for the way this is being handled. I sincerely doubt that if this were happening under any other party that they would broker for any public dissent on the file.

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QP: The Goldilocks of pipelines

In the wake of yesterday’s big pipeline announcement, it remained to be seen if that would finally knock the fundraising questions off of the agenda. Rona Ambrose led off, lamenting that saying no to the Northern Gateway robbed hope and opportunity from 31 Aboriginal communities who had an equity stake in the project. Justin Trudeau noted that his government did what the previous one could not, and they would protect the environment while still growing the economy. Ambrose went or another round of the same, and Trudeau shot back that they we flailing about for something to talk about. Ambrose worried that Trudeau didn’t have a plan to deal with the Trumpocalyse (not her word) particularly with their tax plans, and Trudeau reminded her that they would engage constructively while working to diversify Canada’s trade markets. Ambrose then wondered when Trudeau would head to BC to get pipeline opponents onside, and Trudeau insisted that he was going about things the right way. Ambrose pivoted to CBC’s proposal to go ad-free for a bigger subsidy, and Trudeau replied that her party didn’t understand cultural industries and their importance. Thomas Mulcair was up next, and raised the issue of 59 First Nations opposed Kinder Morgan. Trudeau said that there were groups on all sides and that the balanced the various interests to make a decision. Mulcair switched to French to lament that the decision was done with Stephen Harper’s process, and Trudeau reminded him of their work with the provinces, particularly with new climate plans. Mulcair moved onto the appeal of a Manitoba case involving First Nations survivors, and Trudeau mouthed some platitudes about working together to move ahead in the relationship. Mulcair’s final question was on electoral reform, demanding that Trudeau keep his election promise, and Trudeau replied that he awaited the committee report and the consultations with Canadians.

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Roundup: Two yays and a nay

The government announced its decisions on three pipelines yesterday – no to Northern Gateway (and a tanker ban on the north coast of BC was also reaffirmed), but yes to Kinder Morgan expansion and Line 3 to the United States. There are a lot of people not happy on either side – the Conservatives are upset that Northern Gateway also didn’t get approved, saying this was just a political decision, and the NDP and Greens (and the mayor of Vancouver) unhappy about the Kinder Morgan announcement, Elizabeth May going so far as to say that she’s willing to go to jail for protesting it.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone, as Trudeau has pretty much telegraphed these plans for weeks, if not months. And as for the critics, well, Robyn Urback makes the point that I do believe that Trudeau was going for:

In fact, Trudeau said as much yesterday in QP when he noted that they were sitting between a party demanding blanket approvals on everything, and another party opposed to approving anything, so that was where he preferred to be. He’s spending some political capital on this decision, including with some of his own caucus members who are not fans of the Kinder Morgan expansion, but he has some to spare, so we’ll see whether he’s picked up any support in the west, or lost any on the west coast when this all blows over.

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