With a tiny bit of time and distance from the ridiculous events of this week, attention is turning back to the procedural shenanigans that got us to the frayed tempers in the first place. While the Liberals promised an era of fewer procedural tactics when being sworn in, in reality it was a petty dumb promise to make because let’s face it – sometimes it’s tough for a government to get their agenda through a House of Commons that doesn’t like some of their plans, and the opposition isn’t going to go along with them. It’s not their job to, and our system is built to be adversarial in order to keep the government accountable. On the other hand, there is so much hyperbole being applied to what Motion 6 was, and what the Liberals attempted to do with it, that we need to apply a little bit of perspective sauce. For starters, while Peter Julian rants and rails about how “draconian” the motion was, those in the know on the Hill know that he is very difficult to work with as a House Leader. In fact, the word “impossible” has been thrown around if you ask the right people. And sometimes that means using a heavier hand to work around. Rona Ambrose complained that Motion 6 took away “every ability” for the opposition to hold the government to account, but I’m not sure that dilatory motions are actual accountability. They’re protests, certainly, but that’s not necessarily accountability, so points for hyperbole there. And yes, this is a problem of the Liberals’ own making, promising infinite debate on an infinite number of bills, until they ran into a bunch of deadlines that made infinite debate a problem. And we need to remember that time allocation can be a perfectly appropriate tool when used appropriately. Did the Conservatives over-use it? Yes, because Peter Van Loan was an inept House manager, and the NDP refused to let any debate collapse, which made it a regular tool. And every debate does not need to go on forever. There is no genuine reason that there needed to be 84 speakers at second reading for the assisted dying bill. None. Particularly when virtually every one of those interventions was reading a script that said 1) This is a deeply personal issue; 2) What about palliative care?; and 3) Conscience rights, conscience rights, conscience rights. That does not need to be repeated 84 times at the stage of debate where you deciding on the merits of the bill. It’s noble that the Liberals were as accommodating as they were, but in this case, the opposition demands that everyone be heard – and not during extended hours – is actually unreasonable. Likewise, when LeBlanc started the time allocation motions, it was to head off NDP procedural trickery around Bill C-10, which they are perfectly justified in doing. And now that the government has backed off from Motion 6 (which I maintain was likely the nuclear option they were presenting to try and force the opposition parties back to the negotiation table for timetables around bills, and I doubt their tales that they were cooperative given the personalities involved), we’re going to see an increased hue and cry any time a future time allocation motion is brought forward. The Liberals, by combination of a dumb promise of infinite debate combined with their tactical ham-fistedness, have hampered their own future attempts to get bills passed in a timely manner. This will make things even more difficult going forward, as more planks of their ambitious agenda get unveiled.
With less than three sitting weeks left, the government has announced that they will introduce yet another bill, this time to give the Minister of Transport enhanced powers when it comes to ordering vehicle recalls. The bill won’t be tabled until later in the week, and there’s no timeline for its passage, but Lisa Raitt is confident she’ll get all-party support for the bill to expedite it. Of course, it’s not guaranteed, and in the light of the recent Takata airbag recall, it does start to smack a little bit of desperation, that the government is doing one last push to show that they’re on top of things, even though they knew this deadline was coming, and this recall issue has been going on for weeks now. As well, they have nearly twenty more bills that they want to pass before the Commons rises, and as it stands, it looks like some of their showcase bills, like the “life means life” parole bill, aren’t going to make it, and Peter MacKay is admitting as much. This speaks to a couple of different issues – one is that there are doubtlessly bills that they’re going to allow to die so that they can campaign on them, both as unfinished business and under the falsehood that the opposition held them up (which really, they can’t do given that this government has the time allocation hammer and aren’t afraid to use it) so they need another majority in order to get these kinds of measures through. Of course, it also showcases that this government – and Peter Van Loan as House Leader – has been spectacularly terrible when it comes to the basic management of getting bills through (not that it’s all Van Loan’s fault – the NDP haven’t exactly played ball when it comes to any routine House management either, and it has been said several times that Peter Julian has managed to make Van Loan look downright reasonable). Suffice to say, good luck to Raitt, because she’s probably going to need it if she wants to get this bill through.
The NDP are set to crack open that bottle of distraction sauce as the Board of Internal Economy sits today to discuss the issue of “satellite offices.” The distraction – that they want the meeting open to the public (so that they can showboat and obstruct, like they did when Thomas Mulcair went before the Procedure and House Affairs Committee while calling it “transparency”) and when their wish is denied, they can rail to the media about how terrible the state of affairs is, and how it’s all a conviction by a “kangaroo court” that’s all just partisans being mean to them because they’re just so awesome, and all of that. The goal, of course, is to try and lose the substance of the story around their satellite offices amidst all of the other noise that they’re generating around it. Because that’s how you maturely handle a misspending issue in Canadian politics.
Out of the blue, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced his resignation from cabinet yesterday, but not his seat (just yet). This after Flaherty promised that he was going to run again, while simultaneously dropping hints that he was ready to wind down his political career. And it looks like Joe Oliver will be tapped to replace him as Finance minister, but no word on who would then take over the Natural Resources file. Here are some facts about Flaherty and his career, and a look back at his best ties, which were pretty much all green, which was kind of his shtick. Here’s Paul Wells’ profile of Flaherty from a couple of months ago.
As expected, Stephen Harper has denounced the “referendum” in Crimea, and said that it would lead to further isolation for Vladimir Putin. Said vote, which was done on ten days notice, with no voters list, and with the only options of seceding from Ukraine or seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia, is said to have a result of 95 percent in favour of joining Russia, but given that it’s illegitimate and dubious at best when conducted under what amounts to military occupation, it’s only real use will be for Putin to legitimise his occupation of the region. (Incidentally, Justin Trudeau tweeted that the government did the right thing to condemn the vote; Thomas Mulcair tweeted a photo of himself pouring beers for St. Patrick’s Day).
A number of Quebec senators are also shying away from getting involved in the provincial election there, though some are saying that they will play whatever roles they can along the sidelines. The mayors of a number of smaller towns in the rest of Canada are alarmed that their local newspapers are owned by QMI, which in turn is owned by Pierre-Karl Péladeau, especially considering just how concentrated his ownership of that media is. Michael Den Tandt notes that Pauline Marois has been articulating Jacques Parizeau’s vision, where it was “money and the ethnic vote” that lost them the last referendum, and that Marois is sidelining those ethnic minorities with her values charter and trying to bring money on her side with Péladeau. Economist Stephen Gordon writes about the desirability of a monetary union with an independent Quebec, and how Quebec’s debt load would make it a risky proposition for them. Marois tried to insist that it would be “borderless” and would welcome Canadian tourists. No worries, see!
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?
By day two of examining the Fair Elections Act, more of the flaws have become apparent – limiting the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to speak publicly, leaving the job of promoting elections to parties – who tend to only target likely voters and would be in danger of entrenching disenfranchisement, the end of the “vouching” system likely to disenfranchise more marginalised voters, and no real oversight of parties themselves during elections. Even more concerning – even to former CEO Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who has been otherwise in favour of the bill – is the provision that exempts the party from counting fundraising expenses for anyone who has donated over $20 to the party over the past year. In other words, it’s a backdoor loophole to keep an increasingly costly practice from counting against spending limits. Oh, and after a whole two hours of debate, the government moved time allocation. Because we apparently can’t have too much democracy. Canadian Dissensus finds even more problems with moving the Commissioner of Elections over to the Director of Public Prosecution’s desk. Kady O’Malley writes how the provisions on limiting bequests will likely disadvantage the NDP the most.
It has finally happened – charges laid against errant senators. In this case, one count each of fraud and breach of trust against retired senator Mac Harb and suspended senator Patrick Brazeau. (The RCMP said that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Harb with mortgage fraud, for what it’s worth). Both will appear in court at a later date, and each professes their innocence. And yes, the RCMP are continuing their investigations into the dealings of Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin, so we may yet hear about future charges being laid.
It was a busy news day, with the Fair Elections Act tabled and charges laid against both Senator Patrick Brazeau and former senator Mac Harb. It was a question of which would happen first — denunciations of the bill, or attempting to make a Mac Harb question sound like government business. When QP got underway, Thomas Mulcair first demanded the resignation of Julian Fantino, not that Stephen Harper was going to bite on that one. When he insisted that the veterans service centres be restored, Harper insisted that they had increased services, not cuts. Mulcair moved onto the issue of CSE’s monitoring of airport WiFi and asked who authorised it, Harper assured him that CSE acted within the law. Justin Trudeau was up next, and brought up the elections bill and called it an attack on Elections Canada. Harper insisted that this was simply about ensuring proper independence of the Commissioner of Elections. When Trudeau brought up Elections Canada’s request to have the powers to compel testimony, Harper retreated to the same talking points.