QP: No one is above the law

With the PM off in PEI to deliver a speech and then off to Newfoundland to do a bit of by-election campaigning, Andrew Scheer opted not to show up either. That meant that it was up to Lisa Raitt to lead off, raising the new headlines around Stephen Bronfman, and demanded to know what assurances the PM had received from him. In response, Diane Lebouthillier gave her usual assurances that they are investigating tax evasion and charges were upcoming. When Raitt demanded to know if Bronfman was under investigation — as though the minister could actually answer that — and Lebouthillier reminded her that the previous government, of which Raitt was a member, cut investigations. Raitt then disingenuously suggested that the PM interfered in an investigation — wholly falsely — and Lebouthillier reiterated her assurances. Gérard Deltell got up to repeat the questions in French, to which Lebouthillier reminded him that she can’t comment on any investigation under the law and that they knew that. After another round of the same, Guy Caron got up to also carry on the Bronfman questions, and Lebouthillier dutifully repeated her points about investigations. Caron repeated in English, and Lebouthillier sharply noted that no one was above the law, and nobody was interfering with any investigation. Matthew Dubé was up next to ask about SS7 vulnerabilities with Canadian mobile phones, to which Ralph Goodale said that this was a CSE responsibility, that they work with telecom companies, and if they needed more of a push, they would get it. Dubé demanded legislative updates to protect Canadians’ privacy, and Goodale assured him that a cyber-review was underway and at least three initiatives would be tabled in the coming weeks.

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QP: Fabrications and absences

While the PM was away in Scarborough to announce the government’s housing strategy — and to campaign for his candidate in the by-election there — Andrew Scheer introduced his party’s newest MP to the Chamber before things got underway, and fortunately Dane Lloyd didn’t try to struggle as he came in. Scheer led off, demanding that the PM condemn the “egregious crackdown on free speech” at Laurier University. With the PM away, Kirsty Duncan offered assurances that they want to assure freedom of speech and the protection of Charter rights. Scheer lamented that the PM just couldn’t denounce it — being cute because he knows he can’t refer to the PM being absent — and then he launched into a tired question about Bill Morneau’s asssets. Morneau got up and first wished the Speaker a Happy Birthday — and after the Chamber stood up for a quick rendition of the appropriate song, Morneau reminded the chamber that he worked with the Ethics Commissioner. Scheer then turned to worry about tax changes and the supposed “attacks” on local businesses, and Morneau gave him assurances that they had listened to Canadians. Alain Rayes got up next to make a pair of demands in French for all of Morneau’s assets, and he deflected by noting that the opposition didn’t want to recognize the good work of the government in strengthening the economy. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP and started off with mentioning the Auditor General’s concerns about CRA’s call centre, but started throwing all manner of accusations at the wall, so Diane Lebouthillier assured him that working for Canadians was highlighted in her mandate letter. Alexandre Boulerice gave much the same in French, and Lebouthillier again got up to assure him that they were going after tax havens, and they didn’t circulate misinformation, unlike the other side. Boulerice railed at the laundry list of apparent sins, and Lebouthillier reminded him that the previous government cut CRA but they were reinvesting. Caron went for one more round of the same, not that the response changed.

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Roundup: Absurd procedural objections abound

There are times when I don’t get the way that the opposition is trying to do its job – and I don’t mean the epic levels of disingenuousness and mendaciousness by which Question Period is operating these days. Rather, it’s the procedural objections to the way in which the government plans to handle Bill C-59, being the major national security bill that they’ve tabled. They’ve stated that they want the bill to head to committee before Second Reading, which is unusual, but still procedurally sound because it means that it will allow for a wider variety of amendments to be proposed and adopted, as a vote at Second Reading means that the bill is “locked” at its principles, and changes made at that point tend to be fairly technical. One would think that proactively taking this move would generally be appreciated, because it’s a recognition that it’s a tough subject that they want to get as much input on as possible, and are open to a wider degree of changes than usual. But no.

Instead, the opposition are now crying foul because they say that the government is trying to “fast track” it by doing his – not necessarily true, given that it can stay at committee for a long time, and they haven’t invoked any time allocation – that they’re trying to “evade” second reading debate (which, again, is absurd given the procedural move of allowing a greater scope of amendments), and that they’re avoiding the possibility that the Speaker could break up the bill because it’s an omnibus bill. But part of the problem with that is that omnibus bills aren’t bad per se – they’re bad when they’re used abusively to ram through a multitude of unrelated things with little debate. In this case, all of the constituent changes in the bill, which affect several other existing pieces of legislation, are all part of the same national security framework. It makes more sense to make the changes at once with a single piece of legislation rather than piecemeal bills that may create legislative traffic jams that would require coordinating amendments in order to ensure that all of the changes don’t butt up against one another. It’s hardly an abuse of omnibus legislation in this case, and they should know that.

What the government is doing is procedurally sound, and I can’t count the number of times that the NDP have demanded that bills go to committee before second reading debate on a whole host of issues (and it happened a lot under the previous regime). This government is doing that move on a major piece of legislation proactively, and they’re being accused of evasion. It’s enough to make a person scream.

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QP: Concerns over foreign fighters

The first day back from a constituency week, things were a bit delayed in getting started while new MP Richard Hébert was introduced to the Chamber — improperly, I might add, as he initially “struggled” before passing the bar, which is wrong. Only the Speaker is supposed to struggle before being taken to the chair, given the symbolism that in historical times, the Speaker had faced the wrath of the King, sometimes fatally so. This is not the case for an MP.

When QP got underway, Andrew Scheer led off, mendaciously framing a question about ISIS fighters, claiming that the government was welcoming back ISIS fighters with “reintegration services,” to which Trudeau gave some bland assurances that they were monitoring any foreign fighters returning. Scheer listed off ISIS atrocities before repeating his disingenuous framing device, and Trudeau listed services to deradicalize Canadians and noted that children who were in those situations need particular care. Scheer tried again in French, got the same answer, before changing the topic and noting that both the PM and finance minister were under investigation by the Ethics Commissioner, to which Trudeau shot back that the Conservatives were attacking the Commissioner and her integrity. Scheer then returned to the issue of the Paradise Papers and the bullshit assertion that Trudeau “pardoned” Stephen Bronfman on behalf of the CRA, and Trudeau assured him that CRA was looking into tax evasion. Guy Caron led off for the NDP, also railing about Morneau’s ethics filings, and Trudeau reminded him that they work with the Commissioner. Caron raised the fact that the postal workers union had alas raised the C-27 issue with the Commissioner months ago, as though that was of any consequences, and Trudeau reiterated his answer. Nathan Cullen got up to deliver the same again with added sanctimony, and Trudeau responded by lamenting that Cullen sat in the Chamber with him when the previous government attacked public institutions like the Ethics Commissioner and that was disappointed that the NDP would stoop so low. Cullen accused Trudeau of a cheap shot, and Trudeau made the accusation right back.

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Roundup: No maple death squads

A story that caught my eye yesterday was on the topic of foreign fighters who may return now that ISIS/Daesh has fallen. More particularly was the notion that the US, UK and France have all made it policy to try and target and kill their own home-grown fighters rather than risk them returning to their own countries. Canada, however, came out explicitly yesterday to state that we aren’t doing the same because we don’t engage in death squads. And yes, we’re taking the issue seriously, and our security forces are on alert, and so on. While it may be astonishing to hear, it’s also not unsurprising considering that this is a government that is committed to the Charter, and extrajudicial killings would seem to be a gross violation thereof.

The problem? Some of the responses.

While I have a great deal of respect for the good senator, I’m a bit troubled by the sentiments expressed because the implicit message is that governments should feel free to violate the Charter with impunity, with either extrajudicial killings, or processes that violate the Charter and our other international obligations against torture, as with the reference to Omar Khadr. And worse, the kinds of responses to that tweet are pretty disturbing in their own right.

Aside from the fact that any of these targeted killings would be outside of the rule of law, Stephanie Carvin also points out that this kind of policy would be a false certainty, particularly when it comes to verification. I would also add that it would seem to me that it keeps the focus elsewhere than on home soil, where radicalisation still happens to one extent or another, and I do think there is likely a sense that “Hey, we’ve killed them over there,” then we don’t think about how they were radicalised at home in the first place, and we don’t put in the time and resources toward solving that issue. Nevertheless, that our government follows the rule of law shouldn’t be a news story, but in this day and age, it would seem to be.

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Roundup: A modest peacekeeping package

At long last, Justin Trudeau delivered what the government had long-promised when it came to how Canada was going to fulfil its pledge around peacekeepers for the UN. Err, well, sort of. You see, while Trudeau said that the 600 troops would all roll out eventually, for the time being, we’re doing more of the work of capacity building, training, and getting more women involved, plus a new rapid-response air deployment of heavy-lift capability and weaponized helicopters that will include some 200 personnel. And no, we’re not sending troops to Mali. More significantly, perhaps, was the initiative on ending the use of child soldiers, which helps to fulfil some of the long-time work of retired general and Senator Roméo Dallaire.

At this point, the peanut gallery erupted into how the government’s mandate tracker would rate this promise as not having really been kept, but I have to wonder if that’s being unfair given the situation. We’ve heard for two years, since the initial pledge was made, that traditional peacekeeping was dead, and we needed to do something else, and lo, the government listened, consulted, and came up with a package of items – and funds – that will help with the real work of building capacity where it doesn’t exist currently. And listening to Dallaire on Power & Politics, he made the notion that it’s not really about committing another battalion of troops, because they have those – it’s about ensuring that they have the capacity to deal with the situation on the ground, and if Canada can help with that, is that not the better use of our time, money, resources, and personnel? Or do we demand 600 troops + 150 police in x-country that is just the right level of dangerous in order to check off a box and say “promise kept”? I’m not sure. We’ll see how the international community reacts, but so far the word out of the UN has been fairly positive (though it sounds like France may be a bit ticked that we’re not going to Mali). But maybe I’m wrong and we should have just sent them to Mali. I do think that we need to be a bit more nuanced in our understanding, and as with many things, people underestimate the need for capacity building at home and abroad, and it does seem to be something that this government is trying to address in one form or another. (For another take, here’s Stephen Saideman and his lukewarm feelings toward the announcement).

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Roundup: Mid-term check-in

Over in Maclean’s, John Geddes put together a deep dive into the current government’s midterm woes, and it’s well worth the read – and it’s a pretty long read too. But once you’re done (seriously, this post isn’t going anywhere), I would want to push back on some of the things that he highlights.

For starters, I think that there is something to be said for a government that is willing to walk back on bad promises, and they made a few. Most notably is electoral reform, and the fact that they could actually take the step of smothering it the cradle is actually something that they should be congratulated for. We dodged a bullet with that one, and I wish that my fellow journalists would get that through their heads. Likewise, Bardish Chagger taking back her plans to “modernise” the way that the House of Commons operates is similarly another dodged bullet – most of her plans were terrible and would make things worse, not better. Casting them as failures does a disservice to the fact that they backed down from bad promises. When it comes to Bill Morneau and his troubles, I think it also bears mentioning that the vast majority of the attacks against his tax proposals (and his own personal ethics situation) are largely unfounded, based on disingenuous framing or outright lies designed to try and wound him. The attacks have largely not been about the policies themselves (even though there were actual problems that should have been asked about more), and I think that bears some mention.

I also think that Geddes doesn’t pay enough attention to some of the backroom process changes that the government has been spearheading, particularly on the Indigenous files – many of the problems mentioned need to have capacity issues addressed before funding is increased because we have seen numerous examples of places where money was shovelled out without that capacity-building being done, and it made situations worse. Is it frustrating that some of this is going slowly? Yes. But some of the ground-up work of reforming how the whole system works, and ensuring that once more money flows that it can be spent effectively is something that we should be talking more about, because process matters. We simply don’t like to talk about it because we labour under this belief that nobody reads process stories, so we ignore them, which is why I think some of the calls about “failures” are premature or outright wrong – things are changing that we can’t immediately see. That doesn’t mean that changes aren’t happening.

Finally, there is a list of major legislation coming down the pipe, and I think it bears reminding that the focus on consultation before making some of these changes is as much about inoculating the government against criticism that was levelled against their predecessors as it was about trying to get some of this complex legislation right. Do they get it right all the time? No. There is a demonstrated record of barrelling ahead on things with good intentions and not properly thinking through the consequences *cough*Access to Information*cough* and when it blows up in their faces, they’re not really sure how to respond because they think that their good intentions count for something. I’m not sure that simply focusing on the perceived inexperience of ministers helps when it comes to trying to meaningfully discuss these issues, but here we are.

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Roundup: Blame Dawson or the system?

As the Bill Morneau imbroglio starts to fade behind the outrage du jour, being the Paradise Papers, Andrew Coyne decided to take another crack at the issue, this time taking a swing at Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson and her handling – or mishandling – of the whole affair from the beginning. The problem of course is that Coyne’s piece relies heavily on commentary from local civically illiterate crank and guaranteed quote machine Duff Conacher, for whom everything is evil and wrong, and why he hasn’t yet been labelled a vexatious litigant by the courts is beyond me. Regardless, it cannot be denied that yes, Dawson herself is a problem, but not the only problem.

A few days ago, Andrew Potter wrote a piece in the Globe and Mail about the whole sordid history of why we have the Commissioner position in the first place, and why it has always been a problem. And he’s right in pointing out that the point of this position has been politicized from the beginning, but as with so many of our watchdog or “Independent Officer of Parliament” positions these days, they exist as much to deflect problems onto as they do to act as the instrument by which the opposition can use as both a cudgel to launch their attacks, and a shield to hide behind if there is any counter-fire.

And to that end, we can’t simply blame Dawson herself – as much as she is and always has been part of the problem. Much of that lies on MPs themselves, who created the regime, wrote rules that don’t include ethics guidelines, and when presented with the litany of problems with the legislation, shrug and make minor tweaks without addressing the big stuff. And it happens constantly, so when imagined scandals happen, they can scream and rail that just following the rules isn’t good enough, but that the alleged transgressor must have known better and should have exceeded them. Never mind that it’s a nonsense frame to put around issues, but these are also the same rules that those MPs put into place. Saying that the rules they created for themselves aren’t good enough is galling, and one has to constantly ask why they didn’t create rules that were good enough in the first place if they knew that there were problems – and yes, they did know, because Dawson herself identified them. It’s childish politics, and just manages to make a farce out of their feigned outrage (not surprisingly).

Meanwhile, Conacher managed to get a whole piece out of the Star by complaining that the government is wrong in saying there aren’t enough qualified candidates for the Ethics and Lobbying Commissioner positions because he applied for the Lobbying Commissioner position and hasn’t been chosen. Err, that may be a reflection on you, Duff, and this exercise in your ego may be part of the reason why you’re not chosen.

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Roundup: Let’s not lobotomize the GG

There have been so, so many bad takes on the whole issue of Her Excellency Julie Payette’s speech to scientists last week, but there’s one published by the National Post yesterday that was so terrible, that Paul Wells’ incredulous reaction is something that matches my own. Fraser Valley University history professor Barbara Messamore writes that Julie Payette should be a scripted automaton because that’s the role that Governors General are expected to be.

No. Absolutely not.

This is the kind of thing that drives me completely insane. This constant need to keep politics as tightly scripted and lifeless as possible is part of what is killing our democracy, and it’s telling that so many people flocked to the unscripted (and unhinged) Donald Trump because of his “authenticity.” And to demand this of a vice-regal position is completely overkill. I also continue to boggle at the number of pundits who think that Payette somehow was commenting on live issues under debate. I’ve asked, and yet no one can point to where any of our mainstream parties are denying climate change, or who support creationism in our school curricula. They don’t exist in Canada, which is why the insistence that these are somehow issues under debate is baffling.

But beyond that, I find it unfathomable that we would want brilliant and accomplished individuals for the role, given the immense power at their disposal (should they choose to set off a constitutional crisis to exercise most of it), or the tough decisions that may be asked of them in any number of post-election scenarios, while we simultaneously demand that they be utterly vacuous so as not to cause problems. But while Payette may have rankled the delicate sensibilities of some, she also did not cross a partisan line which is what matters in this situation. Why we should force her to lobotomise herself for the sake of smiling and waving and mouthing beige platitudes makes no sense. If that’s what we want, then why not simply put some bilingual starlet in the role so that she can look good in photos and can smile and wave to her heart’s content? Why bother looking for someone accomplished if we’re not going to let them speak or exercise the judgment that we ask of them when it counts? If we let Payette continue to go unscripted, could she make a mistake? Maybe. She’s human. But it keeps her authentic and the reflection of her true self and intellect, and that to me is far more important than the fact that she may bruise a few feelings from time to time. We’re grown-ups. We should be able to handle the odd bump, and it’s far better than the alternative.

Meanwhile, Michael Coren defends Her Excellency’s “mocking” of religion from his own religious perspective, and he calls out the Conservatives’ attempts to make political hay out of this, which he deems akin to “prayer abuse” – something refreshing amidst days of fainting couches and clutched pearls.

 

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QP: Strange Paradise Papers storylines

With the Paradise Papers dominating the headlines, and the 150th anniversary of Parliament setting the mood on the Hill, there was going to be a mixed tone. Four previous prime ministers, two former Speakers, and a handful of retired senators were in the Galleries to watch for the anniversary and the speeches that would follow QP.

Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and he immediately launched into the revelation that Stephen Bronfman was named, then launched the weird non-sequitur about Bronfman going to the state dinner at the White Huose, but the minister of natural resources did not. Trudeau first read a statement about the mass shooting in Texas before noting that they were committed to fighting tax evasion and avoidance. Scheer made the connection between the proposed tax changes and these alleged tax avoiders, and Trudeau reiterated that they were committed to fighting tax evasion. Scheer switched to French to ask again, and Trudeau reiterated his same response. Scheer accused Bronfman of trying to influence the government in protecting offshore accounts. Trudeau said that he would let individuals answer for their own activities, before repeating that they had invested in the CRA and were on track to recoup some $25 billion. Scheer then listed all of the supposed way in which the government was touching the middle class to protect those hiding income offshore, to which Trudeau recited their list of accomplishments in helping the middle class. Guy Caron was up next, railing about Bronfman, the older KPMG investigations, and other avoidance schemes. Trudeau reminded him about the billon-dollar investment they made in the CRA, and fruits that it was yielding. Caron repeated the question, got the same response, and then Alexandre Boulerice took over for the same questions with additional bombast in French, and lo and behold, got much the same answer in French, before going one more round of the very same.

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