An election has been called in Quebec, but in Ottawa, Thomas Mulcair has declared that as there is no provincial NDP, he will remain “neutral.” And yes, he did just last weekend insist that he was going to be “Captain Canada” and fight for national unity. To that end, he says that he’ll support the federalist side (recall that he was once a provincial Liberal), but he doesn’t want people to vote only on that issue, especially because there are some Quebec Liberals who are in favour of private healthcare and so on. But wait – he also said that Marois would try to force a referendum if she wins a majority. So, he doesn’t want federalism to be the only factor, but it’s a major factor because she’ll launch a referendum that nobody wants. No doubt this has nothing to do with keeping the soft nationalists in the party fold. The Liberals, meanwhile, are on the attack saying that Mulcair can’t be neutral while the issue of separatism is on the table, while the Conservatives (who aren’t a big presence in the province) are holding back but saying that they would prefer Quebeckers choose the federalist option. Aren’t Quebec politics fun?
As the minutes counted down before Question Period, Thomas Mulcair, without his usual mini-lectern on his desk, glared across the aisle, while Stephen Harper casually flipped through a briefing binder, and the Members’ Statements were going on around them. At the appointed hour, the Speaker called for Oral Questions, and the rumble began. Mulcair asked if the prime minister regretted any of his own actions in the ClusterDuff affair. Harper got up and said that he expected people to follow the rules, and if mistakes are made then they would have consequences. Mulcair asked if Harper was telling the truth on June 5th when he said that nobody else knew of the deal between Wright and Duffy. Harper said that Wright took full responsibility, and that he accepted that. Mulcair tried again, but got some economic boosterism in reply. Mulcair pushed, asking if anyone had even asked whether they knew the payment was wrong. Harper tried to veer the topic back to the economy, and when Mulcair, somewhat rhetorically asked if Canadians could trust Harper to tell the truth, but Harper tried to further insinuate that the NDP were against CETA, and that their position kept changing. For the Liberals, Justin Trudeau got up and threw a curve-ball, congratulating Harper and everyone who worked hard to get the EU trade agreement, and asked when the full text would be available. Harper accepted the plaudits, and said more details would be forthcoming. Trudeau segued to the fact that leaders took responsibility for when things when wrong as well as when things went right, and that he was responsible for the various appointments at the centre of the ClusterDuff affair. Harper responded that he was clear about people paying the price when rules aren’t followed.
It’s time for the Speech From the Throne! Finally! Amidst all of the largely futile speculation – and the speculation about whether all of the consumer-focused hints are distracting us from something else – we also have learned that the government plans to give honorary citizenship to Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, which I’m guessing is an attempt at a consolation prize for the Nobel Peace Prize that she didn’t win. The Conservatives have put together an animated trailer for the Speech From the Throne, narrated by Shelly Glover, and done up in nothing but Conservative blue. Go targeted messaging, go! While the economy will no doubt be the prime focus, so many of the issues at play – such as pipelines and trade agreements – are actually out of the government’s hands. John Geddes points to the limitations of the consumer-driven focus that we are anticipating, while Michael Den Tandt points to the risks of such a move. Brent Rathgeber gives his wish list here. Kady O’Malley reminds us of the vigorous opposition that Pierre Poilievre had to an airline bill of rights the last time the NDP proposed it – oh, how things have changed. And yes, in case you were wondering, Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau are all invited to attend as sitting Senators – and that the motion to suspend Brazeau needs to be moved again because it’s a new session.
The Conservative Party is apoplectic with outrage after Elections Canada didn’t put punitive sanctions against those 2006 Liberal leadership candidates who still haven’t repaid their debts. The problem, Elections Canada says, is that the rules aren’t actually enforceable. And guess whose fault that is? The Conservatives, along with the NDP, who were in such a rush to punish the Liberals in 2006 that they passed a really flawed series of changes that made a dog’s breakfast of leadership campaign finance rules. About the most they did was make the ability to fundraise so restrictive that these former candidates with outstanding debts can’t raise that money. So really, well done all around.
As it happens, charities like World Vision and Engineers Without Borders have been using their funds to send MPs on trips to regions that they’re assisting. Rather than, you know, spending those thousands of dollars on their projects to help the poor and needy in developing countries. This isn’t to say that the MPs are being improper, or that they’re using the trips as some kind of vacation because let’s face it – nobody could argue that case at all. But it does remind us that there are reasons why we should give MPs travel budgets so that they can do trips like this in the service of their duties, rather than forcing charities to pay for it, or for them to take trips from foreign or corporate interests. Of course, any travel that does happen gets people like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in a big twist because OMG taxpayers’ hard earned dollars are supporting MPs on foreign travel isn’t that just horrible and awful! Erm, except that if we expect them to learn about their files and the policies they’re legislating on – and that can mean more than just the MPs on the foreign affairs committee – then we should also realise that we should be able to pay for it too.
Party leader for less than a week, and Justin Trudeau decides to get up to a little bit of (well-intentioned) mischief. When the Conservatives decided that Monday was going to be a Liberal opposition day, Trudeau and company decided to put it to good use – to debate a motion that would see the Standing Orders changed to that Members’ Statements would be put into a strict alphabetical rotation in order to guarantee that every single MP would get their turn to deliver one (note: this would not include ministers, as they get their own allotted time for statements after QP daily), and that the whip’s office couldn’t deny them that spot if they disagreed with the content of their statement. For the Liberals, it’s no big deal because it’s pretty much what they do already in their own caucus, but more importantly, if they can get the ten Conservative backbenchers who have now added their voices to Mark Warawa’s privilege motion about being muzzled with regards to those statements to add just a couple more MPs to their numbers, well, it could embarrass the government. Not that the government couldn’t conceivably whip such a vote – it is an opposition day motion and not private members’ business, after all – but it would make them look even more foolish in light of the privilege motion, and would increase the pressure that it faces from its own backbench. (Note: Yes, I will add my customary finger-wag that this is not an opposition day motion that demonstrates why the government should be denied supply, which is the point of opposition days in the supply cycle. And the Liberals, with their cudgel of the tariff increases, could very easily do a proper opposition day motion, but they didn’t).
And so, it is done. Justin Trudeau has won the Liberal leadership, and lo, the party is reborn. Or something like that. To be fair, the fact that he won with some 80 percent of the vote share on the first count is quite remarkable, and Trudeau made a very important – and forceful – point during his speech that the era of the “hyphenated” Liberal – be they Chrétien-Liberals, Martin-Liberals, Turner-Liberals, or what have you – ends here and now. And considering that his leadership team was of a new generation that eschewed those former battles, it does send a strong signal that it’s the case, and perhaps the party will stop fighting with itself for a change. Perhaps. Meanwhile, the Conservatives wasted no time at all in putting out a congratulatory statement with a little dig about his experience in it. I write about what his election by means of the “supporter” category means from a civic literacy and accountability perspective. Leslie MacKinnon looks at how Trudeau became leader from what was an unlikely start. Michael Den Tandt wonders if Trudeau’s popularity may be his undoing, with the dangers of peaking early and not engaging the party’s veterans and loyal core support. John Ivison looks at the belief that Trudeau can single-handedly resurrect the party. John Geddes takes note of three key themes from the speech, and what they may portend for the future of the party.
Congratulations, Liberals and “supporters” — you’ve just elected the most unaccountable leader in Canadian political history! Give yourselves a round of applause!
But wait, you might say. Didn’t the party throw open the doors to let in all kinds of new ideas and to allow the broadest level of participation in Canadian history? Well, maybe, but when you think about it, not really. Remember, this was a leadership convention and not a policy convention, despite what some of the contenders seemed to believe. And according to the party’s new rules, only paid-up members and not the new “supporters” get to vote on policy, or the “new ideas” that the party hopes to attract, so really, throwing open the doors so to speak didn’t really produce new ideas. What it did do was populate the party’s database, so that they can hope to turn those 300,000 new “supporters” into potential donors and maybe members. Maybe.
So, it’s the NDP’s policy convention. So far, there’s been discord with the party’s socialist caucus, who has been agitating against changing the party’s constitutional preamble, and others who want them to forgo hearing from US Democrat speakers in favour of keeping the focus on their policy discussions, of which they only managed to pass six of the 102 on the docket yesterday. John Ivison writes more about that crack in the party unity, and how Mulcair has taken to quoting Joseph Stiglitz (who addressed the convention yesterday, and spoke about inequality – in America). Chantal Hébert writes about the leap of faith it will take for some party members to follow Mulcair’s path to what they hope will be electoral victory.
Saturday was the final Liberal leadership event, the big “showcase” faux convention, which was, well, a bit blah. (My take on it here). Aaron Wherry captures Trudeau’s speech. Tim Harper notes that while Trudeau clearly carried the day, the real work lies ahead of him. John Geddes looks forward to Trudeau’s first QP as leader. Michael Den Tandt says that Trudeau’s biggest obstacle is going to be the party elites who want to control policy top-down rather than from the ground up like Trudeau is proposing. Andrew Coyne sees Trudeau as the best of an uninspiring lot, though he does think Martha Hall Findlay would be the candidate to actually shake up the party. The Toronto Star editorial board endorses Trudeau for leader.