Roundup: Clarity is not an appeal

With another court case involving First Nations children, you’d expect there to be a bunch of hue and cry, and there certainly has been, but I wonder how much of it is actually misplaced. In this case, the government is seeking clarity from the court on a couple of aspects of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision on applying Jordan’s Principle, which is not an appeal. I’ve seen all manner of people, from reporters to advocates on Twitter railing that the government is appealing the decision. Asking for clarity is not an appeal.

If you actually read the story, they have legitimate concerns about the restrictions around case conferencing and on timelines in the decision, both of which seem to be pretty fair concerns to have given that both ministers are medical doctors and have expertise in what these issues mean. And I fail to see how getting clarity is trying to find a loophole to get out of the decision – it doesn’t track with either the promises, the investments made, or the fact that the whole file is more complex than many of the advocates would let on. You can’t simply pour money into a system that doesn’t have the capacity to absorb it and distribute it effectively, and you can’t just wave a magic wand into a jurisdictional minefield like this particular decision addresses and expect that everything will always have the best outcome by sheer force of willpower, especially when there are areas that are unclear to players involved.

The fact that I’ve been a justice reporter for the past couple of years means that I’ve been exposed to a lot of the sensitivities involved in complex cases, and this certainly qualifies, despite what certain advocates and opposition MPs would have one believe. Outrage that the government is going to court isn’t necessarily warranted, and most of the time, it’s been pretty disingenuous, whether it’s on this case, or in assessing the damages in the Sixties Scoop class action, where again advocates, opposition MPs, and even reporters characterized it as an appeal when it wasn’t an appeal – it was the next stage in a process where they needed to determine damages on a case-by-case basis rather than simply mailing out cheques. Not every time the government goes to court is nefarious, and people need to calm down because there is a lot of crying wolf going on that’s helping nobody, most especially the people who these decisions are supposed to benefit.

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QP: Tired jabs and deficit questions

Nearly all the desks were filled on what was possibly the final QP of the spring. Andrew Scheer led off, concerned about the “astronomical” debt the Liberals were leaving behind (which, in absolute terms, is one of the envies of the world because it’s quite low). Justin Trudeau reminded him that they won the election on promises to invest. Scheer tried again, giving a lame “budgets don’t balance themselves” quip, and Trudeau again reminded him that they needed to invest after the previous government didn’t and hey, lower taxes for the middle class and the Canada Child Benefit. Scheer railed about all of the new taxes being levied (most of which were not new taxes but cancelled tax credits that had little efficacy), and the PM reiterated that he lowered taxes. Scheer jabbed that Trudeau had never been part of the middle class, and Trudeau hit back that boutique tax credits and lower taxes on the wealthiest didn’t help those who needed it the most. Scheer then turned to the new national security bill, saying it removed needed tools for law enforcement agencies. Trudeau noted that they were balancing community safety with rights and freedoms, and that they welcomed recommendations for amendments. Thomas Mulcair was up next, grousing that the government broke their promise on allowing Access to Information requests to ministers offices and the PMO. Trudeau simply noted that they made the biggest reforms to the bills and increased proactive disclosure. Mulcair tried again with added mocking, but Trudeau didn’t budge, and Mulcair then railed that they kicked journalists out of a party fundraiser. Trudeau reminded him that they have raised the bar on transparency and that other parties weren’t doing. Mulcair tried again in French, but Trudeau’s answer didn’t change.

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Roundup: Demanding ATIP perfection may be the enemy of the good

I find myself torn about the government announcement on new legislation to amend the Access to Information Act because on the whole, they made most of the changes that they promised to, but they failed to uphold one promise, which was to make the Act apply to the PMO and minister’s offices. And yes, We The Media let them know how displeased we were about it.

Part of the problem here is that like so many of their other election promises, it may have been a stupid one – kind of like their promise around electoral reform. Why? Because it was always going to be problematic to promise access to cabinet documents, and there’s a very good reason for that, because much of that information should remain private because it will otherwise damage the ability for there to be unfettered advice to ministers or between cabinet colleagues, and they need to have space to make these kinds of deliberations, otherwise the whole machinery of government starts to fall apart.

Like Philippe Lagassé says, the better discussion would have been to have specific proposals as to what falls under cabinet confidence. Currently the Information Commissioner has some determination around that, and with the changes in this bill, the onus will be reversed – the government will need to convince her (and if that fails, the courts) that information should remain secret, as opposed to her having to take the government to court to get that access. That’s significant.

There is a lot of good in these changes, but I fear that it will be lost amidst the grumbling that it didn’t go far enough. And let’s face it – sometimes We The Media are our own worst enemies when we use Access requests for cheap outrage stories rather than meaningful accountability, and then wonder why the government suddenly clamps down and turns to message control, and worst of all, nobody wants to talk about that problem. That may wind up making things worse for everyone in the end.

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Roundup: A swiftly-moving “stalled” bill

An odd narrative has been developing over the past few days about the budget implementation bill being “stuck” in the Senate, and that senators there are “holding it up” as the sitting days in the Commons tick down. And I’m really not sure where this impression comes from because the bill has only been there since Tuesday.

Quite literally, the bill was passed in the Commons on Monday, read in at First Reading in the Senate on Tuesday, passed Second Reading on Wednesday, and had the minister appear at committee on Thursday, and it was later that day that the motion to split the bill was voted on. (The Senate didn’t sit on Friday, for the record). If anyone can please explain how this is “holding it up” or “stuck,” I’m frightfully curious as to how exactly it works.

Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, went on The West Block yesterday and reiterated his praise for the Senate’s work and saying that he expected that this particular attempt to “alter” the budget bill is just “growing pains.” Err, except by altering, they are simply trying to split one section out so that it gets further study, so that the rest of the budgetary elements can get passed, while the section that does need further study gets it. That’s not exactly a major alteration, and they’re not looking to kill that section of it either – just ensure that it’s going to work like it’s supposed to. But then Trudeau insisted that it’s a well-established practice that the Senate always defer to the Commons on money bills.

The hell it is. Constitutionally, the Senate can’t initiate money bills, but that doesn’t mean they simply defer on all of them. Hell, the very first bill they passed in the current parliament were the Supplementary Estimates (which is a money bill), and lo, they had to send it back to the Commons because they forgot to attach a crucial financial schedule to it. Should they have deferred to that flaw? Yes, the Commons is the confidence chamber, and the chamber of “democratic legitimacy,” but Trudeau is conflating a number of different things here, and it’s a bit disappointing because he should know better.

And I will remind everyone that this current Senate, no matter how many bills it sending back with amendments, is still nowhere near as “activist” as the Senate was in the Mulroney days, where they forced him to an election over the free trade agreement and to use the constitutional emergency powers to appoint an additional eight senators in order for him to get the GST passed. The current iteration of the chamber, while they are sending more bills back with amendments, will inevitably defer. That the government is accepting many of those amendments shows that perhaps *gasp!* it was flawed legislation to begin with (not that the Harper government using its illegitimate whip over their senators to pass bills made them any better, because their court record shows they weren’t).

But if we could have fewer terribly media headlines putting forward a patently false narrative about what’s going on in the Senate right now, that would be grand.

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Roundup: Constituent consultation

In another instance of MPs breaking ranks, Conservative MP Scott Reid bucked the party by opting to vote to send the marijuana legalization bill to committee on second reading. Reid notes that he has favoured legalization since 2000, and it also didn’t escape anyone’s notice that his riding is home to a major medical marijuana factory which is also looking to scale up for the recreational market.

Of course, Reid is putting this with conditions, which is that he wants amendments to the bill at committee, which includes raising the legal age to 21 (because that will totally help kill the black market), and allowing communities to maintain their own prohibitions (again, good luck with the black market). More interestingly is the fact that Reid is promising a “constituency referendum” on whether or not he should vote for the bill at third reading.

It’s this referendum that I have questions about, but Reid points out in his statement that he has done this thrice before, so I’m not sure by what method he did (phone poll? Online voting?) and it’s more indicative of the Reform Party era where this sort of thing was promised a lot, and then rapidly fell into disuse because it’s not easy to organize, especially on a consistent basis with the volume of legislation that can pass through the Commons in any given session. Nevertheless, it’s novel and likely riddled with problems, and I’m not sure I would want to see MPs doing it on a regular basis because part of why we elect them in the way we do is for their judgment in a representative democracy. But…it’s novel.

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QP: A furious rewrite of the scripts

With the news that Madeleine Meilleur had withdrawn her name from consideration for Language Commissioner just before QP, you could almost hear the furious rewriting of question scripts. In fact, I saw pages deliver new scripts to MPs just before everything got underway. Andrew Scheer led off, raising her withdrawal, and wanted an assurance that future appointments would have cross-party support. Justin Trudeau responded with praise for his new open and transparent process. Scheer shifted topics to the risk profile of the Infrastructure Bank, and Trudeau praised the commitment to $180 billion in new Infrastructure that the Bank would leverage private sector dollars to help with. Scheer repeated the question in French, insinuating that this was about Liberal millionaire friends, and Trudeau reiterated his points on the need for the Bank. Scheer then moved to the issue of a public sex offender registry, and Trudeau insisted that they took the protection of families seriously, and it was up to police to advise the public. Scheer demanded that Trudeau reject the advice of bureaucrats to not make a registry public, but Trudeau stuck to his points. Thomas Mulcair was up next, noting the presence of a Hiroshima survivor and demanded the government join nuclear disarmament talks in New York. Trudeau said that they were taking meaningful steps which included rallying states for the support of a fissile material cut-off treaty and getting tangible results. Mulcair pressed, and Trudeau noted that the treaty Mulcair demanded we sign onto didn’t include nuclear states, so it was somewhat useless. Mulcair moved onto criminal records for simple possession while marijuana legalisation in the pipeline, and Trudeau returned to his well-worn talking points about decriminalisation not protecting children or taking profits away from the black market. Mulcair asked again, louder, and Trudeau held firm.

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QP: At last, the exchange of quips

On a rainy Tuesday in Ottawa, it was all hands on deck in the Commons, with all leaders present for a change. Andrew Scheer led off, noting the anniversary of D-Day, and turned it into a question on fighting ISIS. Trudeau noted the contributions that Canada was making to the fight. Scheer tried mocking Trudeau’s television interview responses about positive spaces in this fight, and Trudeau quipped back that Scheer must not be too busy as opposition leader if he was all caught up on his daytime TV. Scheer batted back that it was the only place he could find Trudeau over the past week, and then railed about new taxes on beer and wine. Trudeau responded that they cut taxes to the middle class. Scheer insisted that wasn’t true, and listed a number of penny ante issues like making Uber pay HST and carbon taxes (which are largely provincial), and Trudeau noted the difference in vision that his government offered. Scheer then veered into a question about the public sex offender registry, and Trudeau called Scheer out for politicising the wrong issues, and said that trying to insinuate the Liberals didn’t care about children and families was shameful. Up next was Thomas Mulcair, who brought up the Madeleine Meilleur nomination and stated that she confirmed in the Senate that she discussed the position with Gerald Butts and Katie Telford — which isn’t what she said. Trudeau reminded him of the open nomination process, and when Mulcair tried to insist that one f them were lying, Trudeau didn’t budge from his points. Mulcair then railed about Trudeau slamming the door on Quebec’s face on their request to discuss the constitution, and Trudeau said that he had other priorities. Mulcair gave it a second go, insisting this was a snub at Quebec alone, and Trudeau reminded him that he says the same thing in English and in French and had no interest in getting into a constitutional quagmire.

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QP: The Trudeau/Scheer damp squib

A new week, and Justin Trudeau was back in the Commons after a morning at Niagara Falls to do a guest spot on US television, and before his meeting with the visiting president of Chile. After a moment of silence for the victims of the London Bridge attack, Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, asking for an update and reaction to the attack. Trudeau gave condolences to the family of the Canadian woman who died in the attack, and noted that an hour before, he had spoken to Theresa May about the issue an hour before, and then offered his well wishes to Scheer as new leader of the Opposition. Scheer then turned to the Infrastructure Bank, and concerns that it would assume all risks with future projects. Trudeau didn’t really answer, but talked about the need for more infrastructure investments across the country. Scheer insisted it was all about rich friends of the PM, but Trudeau reminded him that they raised taxes on the wealthy to lower taxes on the middle class. Scheer then changed topics to ask about the politicised nomination of Madeleine Meilleur as Language Commissioner and demanded that it be cancelled. Trudeau said that it was important to get the right people for the job, regardless of their political history — a new talking point. Scheer tried again in English, and Trudeau dug in a little more this time, pointing out how politicised the previous government’s appointment process was whereas the current government had created a new process. Alexandre Boulerice led for the NDP, railing that the Infrastructure Bank would necessitate user fees, and Trudeau stuck to points about the need to invest in infrastructure. Daniel Blaikie repeated the question in English, and Trudeau noted that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities was applauding the decision to unlock more capital in that way. Blaikie then turned to the Meilleur nomination, and Trudeau repeated his points about merit-based appointments. Boulerice repeated Blaikie’s question in French, and Trudeau repeated his answer.

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QP: A failed gotcha moment

With the PM flying back from Italy, Andrew Scheer was still left waiting for his sparring match with Trudeau despite being fired up on caucus day. Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, reading the accusation that the Infrastructure Bank was to be used for buying favours of friends. Amarjeet Sohi responded with his well-worn reply that the Bank would free up capital for communities to spend it on other needs. Scheer worried that taxpayers would be left on the hook when loans couldn’t be repaid, and Sohi assured him that only projects in the public interest would go ahead and that they ensured accountability. Scheer read some more concern about risk and the government co-signing loans for the one percent. Sohi reiterated his previous points. Scheer then switched to French to lament the nomination of Madeleine Meilleur, and Mélanie Joly reiterated her usual points about Meilleur’s qualifications. For his last question, Scheer railed about Karla Homolka being found volunteering at a school, and Ralph Goodall fielded the question, noting the robustness of background checks. Thomas Mulcair was up next, railing about Meilleur and demanding a parliamentary inquiry into her appointment process, and Joly gave her standard reply. When Mulcair insisted that there were too many conflicts of interest, Joly noted that committees are independent, and reiterated previous points. Mulcair then changed topics, and demanded a free vote on adopting the Electoral Reform committee report. Karina Gould said it was surprising that the NDP wanted to adopt the report considering that they didn’t even agree with it. Mulcair then changed to the issue of KPMG, and Diane Lebouthillier noted investments in cracking down on tax evasion.

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QP: Scheer’s debut reading

The day after the Conservative leadership results, the seating plan had changed to give front-row seats to most of the failed candidates, with Rona Ambrose to sit next to Scheer for the next few weeks. As well, the PM was still in Rome, and would not be here to spar with Scheer on his first sitting day in the new job. Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and launched into a rant in French about how the previous Trudeau government hurt his generation, and asked a rhetorical question about why the government was hurting Canadians. Bill Morneau first offered congratulations to Scheer for his election, and then reminded him that the economy was on the rebound. Scheer switched to English by reading complaints about people being nickled and dimed, to which Morneau repeated his congratulations in English and the positive economic indicators. When Scheer read questions about hiked taxes, Morneau reminded him that the first thing they did was lower taxes for the middle class. Scheer then changed topics and read a question about one of the surveillance planes in Iraq being withdrawn. Harjit Sajjan noted that Canada increased their contributions, and that rebalancing forces was a constant exercise. Scheer repeated his question in French and got the same answer. Irene Mathyssen was up for the NDP, railing about the Infrastructure Bank as a source of user fees. Amarjeet Sohi assured her the Bank was there to invest in the Infrastructure deficit. Alexandre Boulerice asked again in French, and Sohi reminded him that the Bank would be accountable to Parliament. Boulerice then switched to the question of lifetime pensions for wounded veterans, to which Sajjan insisted that they still planned to implement the pension. Mathyssen asked again in English, and Sajjan repeated that further details would be released later in the year.

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