I have to wonder if Government Leader in the Senate – err, “Government Representative” – Senator Peter Harder is starting to get a bit nervous about the viability of his proposal to reform the Senate rules, as he has started reaching out to sympathetic voices in order to give him some attention on the pages of the newspaper. We’ve seen two such examples in recent days, with a wholly problematic column from John Ibbitson over the weekend in the Globe and Mail, and now some unwarranted praise from Harder’s old friend from their mutual days in the Mulroney government, retired senator Hugh Segal. While Ibbitson’s column was a complete head-scratcher if you know the first thing about the Senate – they don’t need to “prove their value” because they do so constantly (hell, the very first bill of this parliament they needed to send back because the Commons didn’t do their jobs properly and sent over a bill missing a crucial financial schedule, but hey, they passed it in 20 minutes with zero scrutiny). And it was full of praise for the process of Bill C-14 (assisted dying), which is Harder’s go-to example of how things “should” work, which is a problem. And Segal’s offering was pretty much a wholesale endorsement of Harder’s pleading for a “business committee” to do the job he’s apparently unable to do through simple negotiation, so that’s not a real surprise either. But as I’ve written before, the Senate has managed to get bills passed in a relatively timely manner for 150 years without a “Business committee” because its leadership knew how to negotiate with one another, and just because Harder is apparently not up to that task, doesn’t mean we should change the rules to accommodate him.
Also: If your only example of the Senate’s good work is the assisted dying bill, then you’re REALLY not paying attention.
Meanwhile, there is some definite shenanigans being played by the Conservatives in the Senate in their quest to have an inquiry into the Bombardier loan, and their crying foul when it wasn’t immediately adopted, and wouldn’t you know it, they had a press release ready to go. Conservative Senator Leo Housakos was called out about this over the weekend by Independent Senator Francis Lankin, and while Housakos continues on his quest to try and “prove” that the new appointees are all just Trudeau lackeys in all-but-name, Housakos’ motion may find its match in Senator André Pratte, who wants to expand it to examine other loans so as not to play politics over Bombardier. No doubt we’ll see some added fireworks on this as over the week as the Senate continues its debate.
It was the first ministerial Senate QP with the advent of Peter Harder’s arrival as “government representative,” so it remained to be seen how this would change things. Senator Carignan started off, asking about rail safety, and more specifically around high-risk crossings. Garneau first thanked the senators for inviting him, before responding that the risk crossing database was a tool used by the department for investigative purposes and he was meeting with the Federation of Municipalities in a couple of weeks. Carignan asked further about the database, and Garneau explained some of the risk assessment measures related to it.
The government announced yesterday that they would be halting compliance measures related to the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, and would restore the funds frozen to those 38 bands that had not reported yet. It was a move that First Nations applauded, while Conservatives and other small-c conservative types decried as making things less accountable. We also found out that the previous government was considering putting those non-compliant bands under third party management, which sounds fairly drastic. It’s not that First Nations are against being accountable – for the most part, they have indicated that they want to be, but that the previous government’s legislation was ham-fisted and in some cases unfair because it forced the reporting of revenue streams that didn’t come from taxpayers. In fact, they have long raised the notion of the creation of a First Nations Auditor General, but the Conservatives were never in favour of it. And to be sure, there are bands that do require a closer eye because in some First Nations, there are problems with nepotism and corruption, and it does need exposure. The question becomes what tools are best able to accomplish the goal that aren’t paternalistic or steeped in racist assumptions. It’s something that the current government is looking to engage with, and we’ll see where their consultations take them, but this will no doubt be part of their move to transform their relationship with Indigenous Canadians.
The pre-show for the Speech From the Throne wound up being a pretty exciting affair – first, a dust-up between PMO and journalists after PMO decided that only cameras could observe his speech to caucus but not reporters, to which most media outlets declared no reporters, no cameras, leaving only SunTV sending in a camera. Not that it mattered, as Harper’s account tweeted out the whole speech, once again bypassing the traditional media. And then, even more gallingly, the Conservative Party sent out a fundraising letter to members crying victim, that the mainstream media had hit a new low with their treatment of the party. No, seriously. As if that wasn’t enough excitement, shortly thereafter, there was a bomb threat at the Langevin Block – home of the PMO – where there was a suspicious package and someone taken into custody. A police robot was sent into the building to render the package “safe” before people were allowed back in.
Two new reports from the Auditor General show that the honour system is alive and well in both the Commons and the Senate, and it was all just a cursory look without digging into any MP or senator’s expenses. While the Senate has been making reforms to their internal processes before the current spending scandals erupted, the Commons has not, and it seems that only Justin Trudeau has been championing a more robust audit process by the AG. To hear Thomas Mulcair tell the tale, as he was all spring, the AG did a thorough and comprehensive audit and found no problems, which clearly is not the case.
So, it’s confirmed – the cabinet shuffle takes place today between 10 and 11 AM at Rideau Hall. Who will be shuffled? Who’s in, who’s out? Well, at last the wait – and the breathless speculation – will be over. It’s expected to be “substantial,” and Canadian Press sources say that Peter Kent and Stephen Fletcher are out, and the fact that Gerry Ritz cancelled a function scheduled for today could mean that he’s out as agriculture minister – though not necessarily out of cabinet. And Shelly Glover has come to town, so she’ll likely be getting a portfolio, though nobody knows just what that might be.
In a surprising turn of events, Intergovernmental Affairs minister Peter Penashue resigned his seat after it was proved that he accepted improper political donations in the last election, which included free flights, an interest-free loan, and dressed up corporate donations. And then he paid back $30,000, which was more than the amount that the CBC had calculated, and they had no idea where the money came from, since the campaign was broke, hence the need for the loan. Penashue won by only 79 votes then, and plans to contest the nomination. His former Liberal Challenger, Todd Russell, has lately been fighting the Lower Churchill project because it hasn’t properly consulted with the Innu communities in the region, and is taking the next few days to consider if he’ll run again.
In a surprising move, Marc Garneau decided to up sticks and pull out of the Liberal leadership race. The assumptive number two challenger who was providing a lot of the heft in the race did the math and figured that he wasn’t going to be able to win, so it was time to be a loyal soldier and support Justin Trudeau – never mind the number of attacks he launched at him in the past few weeks, and his comments about his lack of depth. Mind you, he probably did Trudeau a lot of good by giving him some good practice for the kinds of attacks that will be launched at him should he win the race and have to face the Commons daily. Oh, but wait, the other challengers said – a preferential ballot where all of the ridings are weighted equally may mean that a sheer numerical advantage may be blunted. Well, maybe. I’m also sure that David Bertschi, who should have sashayed away a long time ago, is overjoyed that he’s no longer in eight place, and that he’s now gaining momentum. Chantal Hébert notes that this exit may have saved Garneau from a humiliating defeat where Joyce Murray might have overtaken him as she has a kind of “ballot box” issue to run on, where Garneau didn’t really. Paul Wells looks to the coming Trudeau Years, and what will likely be two years of people complaining about what a disappointment he’s been as leader. Andrew Coyne looks at how actual party memberships seem to have evaporated under the new “supporter” category, making the party little more than a personality cult that exists more in theory than in practice. Oh, and the party brass acceded to Trudeau’s request to extend the deadline by an extra week in order to work out all of the “technical glitches” with getting all of their supporters registered to vote.
In a rather surprising announcement at the end of the day yesterday, the government has named the Parliamentary Librarian as the interim Parliamentary Budget Officer until Kevin Page’s replacement can be found. That process is internal to the Library, and Page has expressed concerns that the makeup of the committee charged with the search is being kept secret, but I do get concerned when opposition parties want input into those processes, because it ultimately erodes the accountability for those appointments. Look at the questions surrounding Arthur Porter these days, and how Vic Toews skirts accountability by pointing out that the opposition leaders were consulted on his appointment. That’s why the prerogative power of appointment should rest with the Governor in Council – because it keeps the executive as the sole resting place of accountability. Meanwhile, the job criteria for the next PBO have been posted, and they include qualities like “discreet” and “consensus seeking” – perhaps not too surprising after the battles that Page had with the previous Parliamentary Librarian over his role.
So, yesterday was…enlightening. If you call the “debate” on Senate abolition, using incorrect facts, intellectual dishonesty, and treating the constitution as a suggestion to be informed debate, that is. It boggles the mind that the NDP, who claims to champion decisions based on things like science, to turn around and use myth, folklore and figures pulled entirely out of context to back up an ideological and civically illiterate position. For example, they claim the Senate only sits an average of 56 days per year – never mind that the figure aggregates election years (of which we’ve had quite a few of late) with non-election years, and only counts days in which the Chamber itself sits. Never mind the fact that committees sit on days when the Chamber itself doesn’t, that Senate committees often sit longer than Commons committees, or the additional days of committee travel for studies that they undertake, and that the Senate sat 88 days last year – being a non-election year. But those are mere details that get in the way of a good quip. And then there were Thomas Mulcair’s interviews – while he avoided directly answering whether or not he would theoretically appoint NDP Senators were he to form a government in the future, he neglected to figure that in refusing to do so, he would be in violation of the Constitution. You see, it’s one of the duties spelled out that must be done – the GG shall appoint Senators, and that is always done on the advice of the Prime Minister. It’s not a may appoint – it’s a shall, an instruction or command. To refuse to appoint Senators is an abrogation of constitutional responsibilities, but hey, it’s not like wanton constitutional vandalism isn’t the whole backbone of the discussion in the first place. And then Mulcair skated around the question of how he would deal with regional representation if the Senate were to be abolished. He gave some vague response about discussing it with the provinces, neglecting that one of the founding principles of the Senate was to balance out the representation-by-population of the Commons so that smaller provinces wouldn’t be swamped. And if Mulcair thinks that simply tinkering with the Commons seat distribution formula to somehow protect the smaller provinces, well, he’s further overcomplicating the principle of rep-by-pop that the Chamber is founded on. But once again, let’s just let constitutional vandalism slide with some pithy slogans. It’s not like it’s important or anything.