Roundup: Protected nominations and the suffocation of the grassroots

Oh, Liberals. You’ve really gone and done it again, haven’t you? All of your grand talk about respecting parliament, and now you’ve decided that you’re going to go and protect the nominations of your incumbent MPs, so long as they meet a set of criteria that, while better than nothing, is not all that onerous. Never mind that four years ago, it was all about how open nominations were about community leaders devoted to community service, but now? Now it’s about ensuring that your MPs simply have a big enough war chest and participate in a bare minimum of door knocking over the course of a year. You’d think that with this list of requirements, ensuring that there still remains an actual nomination process wouldn’t be too difficult – after all, if the excuse is that they’re so busy in Ottawa that they can’t be also running for their old jobs, then ensuring that they’re still doing the work that would be associated with a nomination process seems like a pointless self-inflicted black eye, no?

I’m not going to re-litigate this too much, but I wrote about why protected nominations are a Bad Thing in Maclean’s last year, but it really boils down to one basic concept – accountability. The biggest reason to ensure that there are open nominations is to ensure that a riding can hold their incumbent to account without needing to vote for another party to do so. Protecting nominations removes more power from the grassroots party members and enshrines it in the leader’s office, which is exactly the opposite of what should be happening. (And yes, Trudeau has centralized a hell of a lot of power, especially after pushing through the changes to the party’s constitution). And by imposing those thresholds to ensure that the nomination is protected, it creates incentive for the incumbent MP to treat that riding association like a personal re-election machine, rather than a body that holds that MP to account at the riding level.

To be clear, this isn’t just a Liberal problem. The Conservatives also set a fairly high bar to challenge incumbent nominations, some of which we’ve seen in recent weeks, but that’s been accompanied by rumblings that some of these challenges have been stickhandled out of the leader’s office, which is even more distressing for grassroots democracy. The erosion of grassroots democracy is a very real crisis in our political system, but most people don’t understand what these changes mean, more content to chide the Liberals for broken promises about open nominations than be alarmed at what the bigger picture result is. It’s a pretty serious problem, and it’s bigger than just a broken promise.

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QP: Concern about summer vacations

The day was not as hot as yesterday, but tempers were indeed starting to fray in the House of Commons with the threat of procedural shenanigans hanging in the air. Andrew Scheer led off, saying that the PM was eager to get away for summer vacation but lo, there were all kinds of new taxes. Trudeau noted that his summer vacation plans included touring the various federal parks around the country, which were all free, and oh, he lowered taxes on the middle class. Scheer then switched to French to demand a publicly accessible sex offender registry, to which Trudeau noted the existing system worked just fine. Scheer tried again in English, and got the same answer. Scheer turned to the Norsat sale in French, and Trudeau assured him that they listened to their national security agencies and allies. They went another round of the same in English, before Thomas Mulcair got up to ask the same question in English. Trudeau reiterated his response, and Mulcair insisted the answer was “demonstrably false.” Mulcair hammered away in French, but Trudeau stuck to his points about due diligence. Mulcair then demanded the government adopt the NDP’s proposed nomination process for officers of parliament, but Trudeau insisted that they already adopted a new process that got more meritorious diverse appointments. Mulcair tried again in French, but got the same response.

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Roundup: The looming retirement of the Chief Justice

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin announced yesterday that she would be retiring on December 15th, a few months in advance of her mandatory retirement date, in order to give the government enough time to find a suitable replacement. Why that date is significant is because it will be at the end of the Court’s fall sitting, letting her use the next six months that she is able to clear off the files from her desk and work on any outstanding judgments rather than depart mid-sitting and the organizational chaos that would follow.

The next steps are now an important consideration. The government will not only have to name a new Chief Justice, but a new judge from Western Canada (and likely BC given that’s where McLachlin was appointed from). And in order to keep gender balance on the court it will likely have to be a woman, and in accordance with this government’s push for diversity, it will likely be a person of colour, if not someone Indigenous (and let us not forget that said person must also be fluently bilingual, which is another self-imposed criteria that this government has made for itself). This may be easier to find in BC than it was in Atlantic Canada, mind you. And for Chief Justice? My money is on Justice Richard Wagner, whom I know many close the court have already tapped as being the successor if they had their druthers.

Of course, we’ll see if this government can get an appointment process back up and running within the six months. Experience has shown us that they seem to have difficulty with that, especially as there are still some sixty or so federally appointed judicial vacancies still remaining around the country, and a few of the Judicial Advisory Committees charged with finding candidates for said vacancies still not fully appointed either, which is a problem. Of course, they may be able to largely reconstitute the committee that oversaw the nomination of Justice Rowe, with Kim Campbell again in charge of the process, but I guess we’ll see how long that takes.

For more reaction, here’s Emmett Macfarlane on As It Happens and in the Ottawa Citizen, and Carissima Mathen on Power Play.

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QP: Carbon taxes and foreign takeovers

On a sweltering day in Ottawa, things carried on as usual in the House of Commons. Andrew Scheer led off, railing about carbon taxes killing the manufacturing sector, never mind that in his Ontario example, it was a provincial carbon price. Justin Trudeau hit back with jibes that it was good to see that most of the aconservaties believed in the Paris Accords and that carbon pricing was good for the market. Scheer groused that they would meet the targets without a carbon price, before moving onto the Norsat sale and lack of a comprehensive security screening. Trudeau reminded him that they took the advice of national security agencies. Scheer took a second kick, needling that Trudeau admired Chinese dictatorship too much to care about national security, and Trudeau lashed back that partisan jibes like that were unworthy of this place. Denis Lebel was up next, demanding a non-partisan process to appoint parliamentary watchdogs, and Trudeau noted their new appointments and rattled off some of the diversity of the new reports. Lebel tried again in English, and got the same answer. Thomas Mulcair was up next, asking if the Der Spiegel article was true that the government was backing away from climate goals at the G20. Trudeau insisted that they have been climate leaders and pointed to examples. Mulcair pressed, and Trudeau was unequivocal that he did not say what was in the article. Mulcair then turned to the issue of court cases involving First Nations children and dialled up the sanctimony to 11, and Trudeau noted the memorandum of understanding he signed with the AFN this morning about moving forward on steps. Mulcair demanded that the NDP bill on UNDRIP be adopted, but Trudeau insisted they were moving forward in consultation (never mind that said bill is almost certainly of dubious constitutionality).

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Roundup: NDP catch the Corbynite smugness

It was a bit odd, yesterday, watching NDP MP Erin Weir stand up before Question Period to offer congratulations to UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on his “success” during this week’s election, considering that Corbyn lost. Weir considered it an inspiration to their own leadership candidates, each of whom also offered variations thereof over social media. (Andrew Scheer, for the record, also tweeted encouragement to Theresa May for “strong stable leadership” – a veritable echo of Stephen Harper’s 2011 campaign slogan – only to see May’s fortunes crumble).

Of course, this NDP praise of Corbyn ignores the context in which he “won” (by which we mean lost) this week, and that was that Labour’s share of the vote and seat count went up in spite of Corbyn’s leadership and not because of it. Why? Because he’s been an absolute disaster as a party leader, and an even bigger disaster as opposition leader, and in many instances couldn’t even be bothered to do his job in trying to hold the government to account on matters of supply – an appalling dereliction of duty. And this is without getting into Corbyn’s record of being a terrorist sympathizer, someone who took money from Iran’s propaganda networks and whose activist base has a disturbing tendency to anti-Semitism.

Nevertheless, this “success” of Corbyn’s (and by “success” we mean he lost), Twitter was full of mystifying smugness from hard left-wing types, insisting that it meant that Bernie Sanders would have won the general election (never mind that he couldn’t even win the primaries). Yes, the fact that Corbyn managed to motivate the youth vote is something that will need study in the weeks to come, I’m not sure that we can discount the fact that there is a certain naïveté with the youth response to his manifesto promises that was full of holes, and there was a youth response to Sanders as well, which some have attributed to the “authenticity” of his being a political survivor. Can this translate into a mass movement? I have my doubts.

The smugness around his “win” (which, was in fact a loss) however, is a bit reminiscent of the NDP in 2011 when they “won” Official Opposition, and were similarly smug beyond all comprehension about it (so much so that they were going out of their way to break traditions and conventions around things like office spaces in the Centre Block to rub the Liberals’ noses in it). That we’re seeing more of this smugness around a loss make a return is yet another curiosity that I’m not sure I will ever understand.

This all having been said, here’s Colby Cosh talking about what lessons the UK election may have for Canada, including the desire to export brand-Corbyn globally.

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Roundup: The galling abuse of the Information Commissioner

The Information Commissioner is very unhappy about the government’s move to retroactively change the law to protect the RCMP for destroying gun registry records despite promises to her office that they wouldn’t in order to fulfil Access to Information requests. That the RCMP broke the law by destroying the information, and the government is protecting them by retroactively changing the law and putting that change in the middle of the omnibus budget bill, sets a very bad precedent, she warns, and she’s right. While the government wanted the long-gun registry data destroyed for political purposes, there was other information of value in the data that wound up being destroyed that had little to do with any future attempts at recreating a registry – something the Conservatives have long been afraid of, and are pressing for the hasty destruction of data to impede. And the way she characterises this is genuinely frightening – that they are backdating changes to the law to make something legal after a finding of wrongdoing. She uses the example of the Sponsorship Scandal – what if the Liberal government of the day retroactively changed the law so that the Auditor General was ousted from her jurisdiction after the fact. It’s unconscionable. What’s even more galling is the way that the prime minister is shrugging this off as just “fixing a loophole.” No, it’s not. It’s wilfully undermining the Commissioner and her ability to do her job, which this government has already made nearly impossible through starving her office budget and wanton disregard of their obligations under the Access to Information regime. All while they call themselves “open and transparent.” It’s grotesque, abusive, and in violation of their obligations as the government of the day. And if anything is any more upsetting about this situation, it’s that the opposition parties were too busy electioneering in QP instead of raising bloody hell about this issue – the Liberals not asking until nearly the end, and the NDP not raising it at all. Thanks for doing your jobs in holding this kind of unconscionable behaviour to account, MPs. Gold stars all around.

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QP: Concern over a slight shrinking in GDP

It being Tuesday, the leaders were all present and ready to go, because apparently it only counts two days a week now. Thomas Mulcair led off, asking about the new numbers from StatsCan that showed that GDP shrank ever so slightly last month. Stephen Harper touted his family tax cut legislation instead. Mulcair demanded a budget, but Harper demurred. Mulcair decried “all of the eggs” in the oil basket — actually not true — and continued his demand for a budget, but Harper kept insisting that they are continuing their Economic Action Plan™ and that it was working. Mulcair then moved onto this morning’s PBO report that said that families with older kids and those without kids in childcare will be getting more benefits than those with kids in childcare. Harper first insisted that the NDP wanted to raise taxes, and then insisted that all families would get an increase in after-tax benefits. Mulcair decried those families with kids in childcare being punished, but Harper repeated his answer. Justin Trudeau was up next, and he returned to the reports of negative growth in three months of the past six, and wondered when the government would come up with a plan to get the economy moving. Harper responded with a laundry list of their recent announcements, and insisted that the Liberals only wanted to raise taxes. Trudeau noted that giving a tax break to the rich wouldn’t help, but Harper insisted that forecasts still showed growth, and wanted support for their family tax break bill. Trudeau asked again in French, and Harper repeated his answer in French.

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Roundup: Minor changes on the way

First it was the Liberals offering their amendments to C-51 on Thursday, and yesterday it was the NDP. Monday we will get a laundry list from the Green Party, and now we hear that on Tuesday, the government will have amendments of their own, demonstrating that they’ve listened to at least a few of the criticisms on the bill, in particular removing the word “lawful” from demonstrations, and clarifying that CSIS won’t have arrest powers – changes that they hope will tone down the hysteria from activist groups who have been proclaiming that they would soon find themselves on terror watch-lists for dissenting against the government. Not so, the government insists – they want to keep the focus on the real terrorists. But they’re not doing anything more for oversight, and as far as they’re concerned, parliamentary oversight is a dead letter. What strikes me in all of this, however, is the way in which this is playing out like it did with amendments to the Fair Elections Act. Then, as with C-51, the government is making a few minor amendments that won’t have a very big impact on the bulk of the bill and its powers, but by at least proposing those small changes, they can turn around and look like they’ve been reasonable about listening to their critics. That way, they’ve barely put much water in their wine, but still try to come out looking like heroes, and letting politics once again triumph over good policy.

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Roundup: Doubling down on cognitive dissonance

With some of his trademarked clownish theatricality, Charlie Angus described his exasperation with We The Media for apparently getting the headlines wrong about the NDP’s promises around restoring the long-gun registry. Describing his reaction as having “banged his head on the table,” Angus tried to insist that no, they weren’t going to bring back the registry. Really! But they still plan to put in a system to track every gun, which is pretty much a registry, even if they don’t want to call it such. (The cognitive dissonance! It burns!). And while Angus and others try to double down on their senseless attempt at holding contradictory thoughts in their heads, it’s starting to look a lot like a facile attempt to please everyone – to play to their Quebec base (for whom the registry is a very big deal and tied to the École Polytechnique massacre), to keep their urban voters happy with their penchant for gun control, while trying to ensure that what few rural and northern voters that they have, who objected to the registry, aren’t similarly put out (and to ensure that they don’t have any other MPs rebel like Bruce Hyer did before they ousted him for standing up for his constituents wishes and thus going against party orthodoxy). It can’t really be done, certainly not how they’re describing, and yet here we are, pretending that their registry proposal isn’t really a registry, as though we’re idiots. It’s a nice try, but no.

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Roundup: A registry that’s not a registry

To the utter delight of the Conservatives, the NDP have pledged to reinstate the long-gun registry, with Mulcair uttering the line that duck hunters would only need assault rifles if they were hunting pterodactyls. But wait – an NDP aide later took issue with the characterisation that the NDP want to reinstate the registry itself – they just want to be able to track every gun. Which…pretty much implies a registry, whether there are criminal sanctions applied to it or not, so well done with that bit of cognitive dissonance. And if memory serves, the Liberals needed to have the criminal sanctions if they wanted to make the registry fit under federal laws, as it would otherwise have been provincial jurisdiction, so that may be an additional hurdle. (In case it bears reminding, the Liberals have eschewed reviving the registry).

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