Senate QP: Brison talks out the clock

Senate Question Period resumed this week, after a hiatus of several weeks, and the special guest star this week is Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board and temporary minister of democratic institutions. Senator Larry Smith led off, and he worried about marijuana regulations not being pre-published in the Canada Gazette. Brison said that Treasury Board’s work from a regulatory perspective was to work with Health Canada to ensure that the framework was in place by the time that the legislation comes into force. He assured them that there would be no corners cut, before launching into the worn talking points about the point of the legislation. Smith tried to puzzle out the timelines around regulations being published, and he wanted the rationale being made public in terms of why the regulations were not pre-published. Brison reiterated that they were trying to ensure that the regulatory framework was in place prior to the law effect. Continue reading

Roundup: The big Mali announcement

The formal announcement was made yesterday – six helicopters (two medical evac, four armed escorts) and approximately 250 personnel are headed to Mali as part of UN peace operations, and while this initial deployment covers off for German and Dutch forces that are pulling out, time there will be spent evaluating other ways that Canada can help build capacity in the country, which will involve training troops from other countries. While there have been some 162 peacekeeper deaths so far in Mali, all but four of those are from less advanced militaries than Canada’s, and the four Western countries’ deaths were related to a helicopter accident and not hostile actions. Chrystia Freeland did a great interview that helps lay out more of the details as to why Mali and why it’s taken so long.

Opposition reaction has been swift, and a bit curious. The Conservatives are demanding a debate and a vote on the deployment (reminder: a vote is wholly inappropriate because it launders the accountability that the government should be held to regarding the mission), while the NDP keep pointing out that this will not fulfil all of the government’s peacekeeping promises (not that they have claimed that it would), while demanding more details. Former senator Roméo Dallaire says that this is a good deployment, and reiterates that Canadians training troop-contributing nations and mentoring those forces will help to modernize peacekeeping.

In terms of hot takes, John Ivison sticks to the point that this is a political move by the government designed to help them get their UN Security Council seat as opposed to having anything to do with national security – err, except that peacekeeping isn’t supposed to be about national security. That’s kind of the point.

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Roundup: Giving the PBO confidential data

In his report to parliament about the latest federal budget this past week, the Parliamentary Budget Officer made note that some of the information that they requested was given to them on a confidential basis – in order for them to check the maths, but not report on it public (at least for the time being). It’s a bit of an oddity that the PBO says it puts them in an awkward position, and it also raises questions about the government’s commitment to transparency.

Recently, the Department of National Defence gave the same kind of confidential information to the PBO regarding its 20-year expenditure plan, which one suspects may have to do with either sensitivities in the procurement process (remember that they have been insisting on particular secrecy declarations for those involved in the process), or not wanting to tip their hands on how they’re planning on rolling out their procurement just yet. Maybe. The government says that the budget information that was confidential was because it related to departments or Crown corporations whose information had not been approved by Treasury Board or vetted for release, which makes a certain amount of sense, and does give rise to concerns that the real stumbling block is the bureaucracy and not the government. Backing up this supposition has been complaints that Treasury Board president Scott Brison has made around his difficulty in getting departments onside when it comes to the process of reforming the Estimates, so that they reflect the budget rather than the previous fall economic update and subsequently relying on Supplementary Estimates in order to “correct” the spending plans to reflect said budget (and part of that problem has been ever-later budget releases that come after the statutory Estimates tabling dates). And our civil service, for all of the plaudits it gets internationally, is sclerotic and resistant to change, often exacerbating the “culture of secrecy” around any kind of transparency (though one also has to factor in a certain amount of incompetence around that secrecy – sometimes they’re not being secret for the sake of secrecy, but because they’re simply unable to find needed information).

There have been complaints from the pundit class that the Liberals have subverted the PBO in this manner of giving confidential information, but I’m not sure that I’m ready to go there. They could have simply stonewalled, forcing an escalation of tactics, but they didn’t. They wound up caving and giving the PBO way too much authority and way, way too broad of a mandate when they reformed his office and turned him into an Independent Officer of Parliament, and I will reiterate that they did turn over the information. The question is does this start a pattern, or is this a kind of temporary status while they continue to push the departments into making this kind of data available in a timelier manner, much like the Estimates? I’m not willing to make a final pronouncement just yet, but I am going to consider this notice, and will keep an eye on how this progresses (particularly because I do think Estimates reform is vitally important to Parliament, and if we have the same kinds of problems, then it’s a sign that there’s a systemic issue that needs to be dealt with).

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Roundup: Notley’s unconstitutional threats

In Alberta, Rachel Notley’s NDP government had a Throne Speech yesterday that promised all manner of action to try to pressure BC’s NDP government when it comes to the Trans Mountain pipeline problem. Notley, however, decided to take some of Jason Kenney’s bluster and make it her own, promising the ability to block oil shipments to BC that they need for their domestic use. The problem? The Trans Mountain pipeline is regulated by the National Energy Board, meaning it’s federal jurisdiction, and that neither province can do anything to block it or affect what it carries. She’s also echoing the comments that the federal government needs to lean harder on BC, never mind that the NEB has quasi-judicial authority on the issue, and the fact that all BC has done to date is announce a study, or that the federal government has repeated “This pipeline will get built.” It’s a bunch of chest-thumping and borrowed demagoguery that ignores the historical context of what Peter Lougheed threatened in the 1980s, and is rank hypocrisy in that they’re threatening unconstitutional action to combat BC’s threatened unconstitutional action. It’s time for everyone to grow up.

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Roundup: Unserious about peacekeeping promises

News came out yesterday that Canada had lined up 19 Spanish-speaking soldiers for a UN peacekeeping mission to Colombia, only for National Defence to drag their feet until the opportunity closed. With more tales like these, and others about Canada being offered leadership positions in peacekeeping operations and then turning them down repeatedly, is causing a lot of questions to be asked about just how serious we are about the promises the government made during the last election about returning to peacekeeping operations. The Chief of Defence Staff has said that there were questions about operational security, but those claims are being questioned in light of other evidence being presented. There was a very good interview on Power & Politics with Peggy Mason, president of the Rideau Institute and the former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament, who challenged many of the points that the government and the military has made, and points to the current culture in DND, which has been out of peacekeeping game for long enough that it’s looking down on those kinds of missions. It’s worth watching if you’ve got five minutes to spare.

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Roundup: Scheer’s British adventure

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is off to London to talk about a possible future free trade deal with a post-Brexit UK if he were to become prime minister. Which is odd, because the current government has already said back in September that they will lay the groundwork for this very kind of free trade deal once the path to do so is clear, and it won’t be clear until after Brexit happens because the UK literally can’t negotiate until then. (They also may not be able to afterward by the sheer fact that they don’t actually have any negotiators in their civil service, as they’ve all been working for the EU parliament since the 1970s). It’s an open question as to just how appropriate it is for Scheer to go over there to talk trade – even the hypothetical possibility thereof – given both his position and that of the UK government at present.

A couple of  other observations:

  1. Scheer’s people are trying to sell this as “relationship building,” right after they derided a trip by Trudeau doing the very same kind of work in India as a trip without substance and being dubbed a “family vacation” with a few meetings tacked on. (Oh, look – yet more disingenuous and mendacious framing. How novel).
  2. Said people are also trying to bill this as taking advantage of “generational change” as the UK gains “independence,” and as a new market for Canada to enter into in the age of a protectionist United States. Err, except the UK market is pretty small, and in no way could actually replace what the US market is for us.
  3. The Canadian Press story makes no mention that Scheer was a Brexit supporter at the time of the referendum, and it’s likely not a stretch of the imagination to see Scheer going there to try and lend succour to Brexiters in the midst of very live political debates, to assure them that they have Canadian allies should he become prime minister in a few years (and indeed, the fact that Scheer has used phrases like “independence” in relation to Brexit is telling). And again, the appropriateness of this becomes an open question.

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Roundup: Brown out…again

After all of that drama, Patrick Brown is out of the leadership race…again. But the speculation around it took over the news cycle for the day. Not that there wasn’t some other news on that front – it was confirmed that the province’s integrity commissioner was investigating Brown for allegedly failing to disclose all of his income sources, and further stories came out about his attempts to bigfoot two particular nomination races, at least one of which is currently being investigated by police.

But in the end, Brown did withdraw, penning a four-page letter citing his reasons.

In the aftermath of it all, Jen Gerson examines Brown’s weakness of character and lack of ability to maintain the confidence of his caucus, which doomed him in the end. And along the way, she also came to the conclusion that Andrew Coyne and I are right about the fact that the way we choose our leaders is broken, and it’s time to get back to caucus selection. David Reevely, meanwhile, recaps all of the various revelations about Brown over the past weeks, and notes the things he’s not disputing that are just as alarming as the things he is.

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Roundup: Gaming the system a second time

So the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party’s nomination committee has allowed Patrick Brown to run for the leadership contest, despite the fact that he was kicked out of caucus (which also rescinded his nomination as a candidate in his riding), which is going to go super well for everyone involved, be it Brown claiming that he’s been vindicated from the allegations (he hasn’t), or the other candidates who are trying (and failing) to come up with new policy on the fly as they try to distance themselves from Brown’s campaign platform. But what gets me are all of the pundits saying “It’s up for the party members to decide,” which should provide nobody any comfort at all, because the reason the party is in the mess it’s in is because Brown knew how to game the system in order to win the leadership the first time. He has an effective ground game, and can mobilise enough of his “rented” members, likely in more effective distributions (given that this is a weighted, ranked ballot) than other, more urban-centric candidates can. He played the system once, and has all the means necessary to do it again. Saying that it’ll be up to the membership to decide is an invitation to further chaos. This is no longer a political party. It’s an empty vessel waiting for the right charismatic person to lead it to victory, which is a sad indictment. Also, does nobody else see it as a red flag that Brown’s on-again-off-again girlfriend is 16 years his junior and used to be his intern? Dating the intern should be a red flag, should it not? Especially when one of his accusers is a former staffer.

Meanwhile, here’s David Reevely previews the party’s civil war, while Andrew Coyne imagines Brown’s pitch to members as his running as the “unity candidate” in a party split because of him.

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Roundup: A firmer timeline for cannabis

The Senate came to a negotiated decision around the marijuana legalization bill timeline yesterday, and there is a bit of good news, and a bit of bad news if you’re waiting for its passage. On the one hand, the new timeline has the benefit of an end date – that it aims for third reading vote by June 7th, but that also moves a vote on second reading until March 22nd, and from then on, it will go to five different committees instead of just three. It does, however, mean that the government’s timeline of July is now out of the water, because even if it passes in June (because there is the possibility of amendments, but there should be enough time to deal with those), there will still be an eight-to-twelve week lag time between royal assent and when the stores can open their doors given production and distribution timelines, and the likes. So, it likely means no legal weed over the summer, if you’re so inclined.

A couple of additional notes: I keep hearing this concern trolling that keeping the legal age below 25 is terrible because youth shouldn’t smoke it because of brain development and so on. The problem with setting the legal age too high is that it remains the forbidden fruit for those youth, which encourages use, but it also ignores the reams of data that we have on what happens when drinking ages are set too high, especially in states where it’s 21 instead of 18 or 19. What happens if you have young adults who binge drink to the point of alcohol poisoning because there is no way to build a culture of moderation – not to mention, it will continue to be an active driver for the black market if young adults can still get it that way. At least by setting it to the provincial drinking age, you have a better chance of reaching them through education programs (which will hopefully be better than the current “don’t do drugs” scare tactics that governments repeatedly try and fail at) than simple prohibition. In other words, I hope that senators (and in particular Conservative ones) don’t make this a hill to die on.
The other note is that in the lead up to this negotiated timetable, Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative” Senator Peter Harder took the CBC to proclaim his concerns with the pace of the bill, and lamenting that it had been in the Senate since November – err, except it was really only there for a couple of weeks before the Christmas break, during which time the Senate was busy dealing with a glut of other bills from the Commons, and that they rose a week before they planned to, and this is only the third week back after the break, during which it has received several second reading speeches. He was utterly disingenuous about how much time it had been in the Senate to date, and I suspect that this is all part of his play to continue casting the partisan gamesmanship (or threats thereof) by the Conservatives in order to push through his reforms to the chamber that would delegitimise structured opposition, which is a very big deal, and one that Senators shouldn’t let him sneak by them by playing up concerns over this particular bill’s progress.

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QP: Gathering angry media clips

Two competing dynamics played out in the Commons today — because Parliament is not sitting tomorrow out of courtesy for the NDP’s policy convention, it was Friday on a Thursday, only slightly better attended, but there weren’t any leaders (save Elizabeth May) present. It was also a Conservative Supply Day, where the motion demanded an apology to veterans for the alleged “insult” by the prime minister during that Edmonton town hall regarding his response to why the court action against the Equitas group was still ongoing. Candice Bergen led off, reading concerns about veterans and demanding action from the prime minister. Dominic LeBlanc got up to answer, saying that they do support veterans and have put in place a pension-for-life option as well as other investments. Bergen concern trolled that the government voted down a veterans-themed private member’s bill yesterday, and LeBlanc listed the sins of the previous government when it came to respecting veterans. Alain Rayes took over in French, quoting the prime minister’s election promise, not that LeBlanc was having any of it. Rayes tried again, and LeBlanc raised the spectre of Julian Fantino when it came to how the Conservatives had respect. Rayes listed examples of the government’s profligacy except for veterans, but LeBlanc called out his contradiction before reiterating their respect. Ruth Ellen Brosseau led off for the NDP, reading questions on the same topic in English, and LeBlanc gave a less punchy response about how much they have done to date. Brosseau switched to French to read about the documents provided to the PBO around the tax gap, and Marie-Claude Bibeau got up to insist that they would study the tax gap, unlike the previous government. Pierre-Luc Dusseault heaped some condemnation on new tax treaties, and Bibeau read points about international information exchanges to fighting tax evasion. Peter Julian got up to rail about tax havens that are funding cannabis operations, but Bibeau reiterated the points about combatting tax evasion. Continue reading