QP: Woe be Vegreville

With the PM away and Rona Ambrose already gone, the Conservatives surprisingly led with Shannon Stubbs, who railed about the plans to close the Vegreville immigration processing centre, in light of revelations of costs associated. Ralph Goodall took this one, noting the difficulty in filling current vacancies in the centre, and that the new centre in Edmonton would double its capacity. Stubbs angrily insisted that the government had lied about the costs, but Goodale insisted that the issue was capacity. Stubbs accused the government of punishing a small town with a Conservative MP in favour of moving it to a Liberal riding, but Goodale stood firm. Gérard Deltell got up next and railed about the government cutting tax credits, to which Scott Brison reminded him that their tax measures helped those who needed it the most. Deltell tried again, railing about the transit tax credit loss (seriously, it was bad policy no matter which way you slice it), and Brison listed the good economic news since the Liberals took power. Thomas Mulcair was up next, and in French, concerned trolled that Bardish Chagger wasn’t up to picking a new Ethics Commissioner. Chagger reminded him of the open and transparent process in place. Mulcair switched to English and wondered what the Liberals would think if Stephen Harper called on Paul Calandra to choose a new Commissioner, but Chagger repeated her answer. Mulcair then turned to the issue of the Official Languages Commissioner, and wondered in what role Gerald Butts communicated with Madeleine Meilleur before her appointment. Joly noted that candidates were vetted and interviewed after a rigorous process and that she spoke with other parties who agreed that she had credentials. Mulcair tried again in French, and got the same answer.

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QP: Bell Island conspiracies

With Justin Trudeau on his way to the Microsoft conference in Washington State, and Rona Ambrose bowing out, there were only two leaders present for QP today. Candice Bergen led off, railing about the PM’s Xmas vacation — again — using the reach of a story about the island’s ownership to raise doubts. Bardish Chagger gave the usual reply. Bergen used this as a hook for a question to accuse Chagger of being the wrong person to be in charge of finding a new Ethics Commissioner, and Chagger reminded her that the process is open and anyone can apply. Bergen insisted that the government was simply looking for Liberal donors, citing Madeleine Meilleur’s nomination as Official Languages Commissioner. Diane Lebouthillier took this one, praising Meilleur’s record. Gérard Deltell was up next, worrying about the Infrastructure Bank and the search for a board despite the fact that it had not been created yet. Amarjeet Sohi reminded him of the value of the Bank, and that they wanted to gave board members ready to be appointed when the Bank’s creation was authorised by Parliament. On a second go from Deltell, François-Philippe Champagne took the opportunity to tout the Invest in Canada Agency that they were also looking for appointees for. Thomas Mulcair was up next, spinning a conspiracy about the tentacles of KPMG infiltrating everywhere, and Lebouthillier got up to note all of the measures they were taking to combat tax evasion. Mulcair asked again in French, and got the same answer. Mulcair then took a swipe at Meilleur’s appointment at Languages Commissioner, and Lebouthillier repeated her lines about Meilleur’s record. Mulcair demanded that Chagger recuse herself from the selection of the Ethics Commissioner, and Chagger reminded him of the open process.

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QP: Rona Ambrose’s swan song

With the news that Rona Ambrose was stepping down now confirmed, and Justin Trudeau present for what was likely the only day this week, QP was off and running. Ambrose led off, asking about the report calling to scrap and replace the National Energy Board. Trudeau noted that they have been consulting, and reiterated that they are serious about ensuring that the economy and the environment go together. Ambrose took exception to the report recommendation that its headquarters be moved to Ottawa from Calgary, and Trudeau took a few shots at the previous government politicising the Board while he was working to restore trust in the process. Ambrose worried that Trudeau was trying to choke out the oilsands in red tape, but Trudeau insisted that a responsible approach would mean growing the economy. Ambrose switched to French to demand that the House appoint a new Ethics Commissioner without any Liberal interference. Trudeau jabbed back about political appointments the Conservatives made while touting his own merit-based process. Ambrose noted that the last question would likely be her final one as leader of the opposition, and said she would call off her attack dogs if he answered how many times he met with the Ethics Commissioner. Trudeau reminded her that she asks them not to talk about investigations and he has met with her several times over his time as an MP, and was going to pay Ambrose a compliment before he was drowned out. Thomas Mulcair was up next, raising the reach of a CBC news story about the ownership of the Aga Khan’s island. Trudeau retreated to the talking point that it was a private family vacation. Mulcair railed about the helicopter ride, but Trudeau noted that he would answer any questions the Ethics Commissioner may have. Mulcair then moved onto the story about someone from KPMG working for the Liberal Party, in the context of a committee study of the firm being voted down, and Trudeau noted that the committee is independent. Mulcair pressed, and Trudeau launched into a spiel about ethics and openness.

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Roundup: The curious PCO-PBO turf war

There is an interesting piece out from Kathryn May on iPolitics about the turf war going on between the Privy Council Office and the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and how that is playing out in the provisions of the budget implementation bill that would create an independent PBO. The PBO blames senior bureaucrats for trying to hobble its future role, and much of it seems to be down to an existential difference of opinion, between whether or not the PBO should exist to give advice to parliamentarians, or to be a watchdog of the government. PCO takes the view that the PBO was designed to offer advice and independent analysis, while the first PBO, Kevin Page, was certainly taking the latter view, which his successor has largely followed suit with. One of the other interesting notes was that the public service would rather the PBO act in more of a fashion like the Auditor General, where he goes back to departments with his figures to check for factual errors, and that it gives them a chance to respond to the report, rather than feeling like they are being constantly “ambushed.”

I am of the view that we run the risk of creating bigger problems if we continue to give the PBO too broad of a mandate, while being unaccountable and only able to be terminated for cause, meaning seven year terms by which they can self-initiate all manner of investigations with no constraints. That will be a problem, given that we already have at least one Independent Officer of Parliament who is going about making problematic declarations and giving reports of dubious quality without anyone calling him to task on it (and by this I mean the Auditor General). And I do think that PCO has a point in that the intent of the PBO was to give independent analysis, particularly of economic forecasts, and I do think that there is some merit to the criticisms that Kevin Page had become something of a showboat and was far exceeding his mandate before his term was not renewed. We have a serious problem in our parliament where we are handing too much power to these independent officers (and other appointed bodies for that matter) while MPs are doing less and less actual work – especially the work that they’re supposed to be doing.

While PCO says that the provisions in the budget bill were to try to “strike a balance” with the role of the PBO, I fear that he’s already become too popular with the media – and by extension the general public – to try and constrain his role, and the government will be forced to back down. Because We The Media are too keen to be deferential to watchdogs (like the Auditor General) and not call them out when they go wrong (like the AG did with the Senate report), I fear that the pattern will repeat itself with the PBO, as it already is with the demands from the pundit class that he be given overly broad powers with his new office. Because why let Parliament do the job it’s supposed to do when we can have Independent Officers do it for them?

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Roundup: A two-fingered fix for fundraising

After months now of interminable questions about the perfectly legal fundraising practices of the Liberals, it was let known that they will be a tabling a bill in the near future to…do something about it. Not really clamp down. Not really stop. Just add more disclosure, and ensure that events don’t happen in private homes, which many people argue is not really the point, but I think is more of the government giving two fingers to their critics and making some cosmetic changes to shut people up.

Kady O’Malley rather astutely observes that this is really setting a trap for opposition parties, particularly with the proposed provisions around party leaders and leadership candidates being subject to the same new rules, waiting for them to oppose it so that they can be accused of hypocrisy. I would add that there’s an element of payback in here for the way in which the Conservatives and NDP got together in 2006 to screw the Liberals in the middle of their leadership contest by changing the fundraising rules right in the middle of it, meaning that some of those candidates were unable to raise enough money to pay back debts that they would have had little problem doing beforehand.

Of course, it all goes back to the fact that this whole story has been overblown from the very start. These fundraisers were never really “cash for access” as they were billed – they were only termed so because the journalists at the centre of this were trying to piggyback on the kind of mess that was happening in Ontario where cabinet ministers were largely blackmailing companies that were trying to lobby them for tens of thousands of dollars in order to get a hearing, which is absolutely not what was happening in this context, nor, and this bears repeating again and again, can you buy meaningful influence for $1500. And even if you get your five minutes with the PM and want to give your pitch to him, do you honestly think that it would really sway his opinion when he’s got people who want pitch him all the time? I’m not convinced. And, as they’ve said (and as this “listening tour” has again demonstrated), they’ve shown a remarkable degree of openness to regular Canadians and are constantly consulting. It’s not like the only time you can see them is at a fundraiser. But ooh, scary Chinese businessmen! Anyway, I’ll let Howard Anglin take it from here.

Oh, and one more reminder about how overblown this has all been: Transparency International has us as one of the cleanest, least corrupt countries in the world. Given the pearl-clutching you hear from our commentariat, you wouldn’t actually know that.

Incidentally, the Conservatives are already howling at the moon about this, and the NDP’s Alexandre Boulerice says it’s not enough and he’ll table his own bill – except that’s an empty threat since he’s so far down the Order of Precedence that it will never see the light of day.

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QP: Not just the rules, but listening to Canadians

With just a couple of QP session left in the year, all of the leaders were present today, interim or otherwise. Rona Ambrose led off, worrying that the prime minster was bragging about being the target of illegal lobbying — which was not what he said, but whatever. Trudeau said that wherever he is, he talks about growth for the middle class and all of those wonderful things. Ambrose wondered when money became more than ethics. Trudeau insisted that he has the same message everywhere he goes, about taxing the one percent more to cut taxes for the middle class. Ambrose asked the same again, got the same answer, and then she worried that his true priority was fundraisers and that he’s left the impression that he can be bought. Trudeau reiterated that they raised taxes on the wealthiest to cut taxes for the middle class. Ambrose accused the Trudeau Foundation of laundering influence to the PM, and demanded that he tell them to stop accepting foreign donations. Trudeau assured her that he severed his connections shortly after he became party leader and they advance the cause of the humanities in a non-partisan manner. Thomas Mulcair was up next, also concern trolling about fundraising, and Trudeau repeated his same points about their priorities. Mulcair demanded support for the NDP bill to “give teeth” to ethics rules, but Trudeau repeated his same points. Mulcair moved onto marijuana legalisation and demanded immediate decriminalisation. Trudeau reminded him that their objectives were to keep it out of the hands of children and the profits from the hands of organised crime, and that until the law was changed, it stands. Mulcair pivoted again to the situation of Stelco workers, and Trudeau said that they were engaged in the challenge.

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QP: Outrage theatre, part eleventy

While Justin Trudeau just got off the plane from Madagascar and wasn’t in the Commons for QP, neither was his counterparts from the Official Opposition. Denis Lebel led off, worrying about the statement that Trudeau had made about Castro’s passing, and if he regretted them. Stéphane Dion rose to reply, and he mentioned that similar statements were made by other leaders, and they were trying to support the Cuban people by not focusing on old antagonism. Lebel demanded the official statement on the website be changed to use stronger language, and Dion said that they were using Canada’s relationship to better the lives of Cubans and that they desired for Cuba to be a democracy. Lebel asked again in English and got the same response. Peter Kent go up to go another round, worrying that the PM had never met with Castro’s victims, and Dion assured him that they were supporting the people of Cuba rather than the regime. Kent demanded that condolences be sent to said victims, but Dion listed the other world leaders who made similar statements. Thomas Mulcair was up next, and worried that the government was reneging on the promise to be rid of First-Past-the-Post. Maryam Monsef said that she was waiting for the report of the committee but would not move ahead unless there was the broad support of Canadians. Mulcair raised the StatsCan report on sexual assault in the military, and Harjit Sajjan reiterated that they had zero tolerance for it and still had work to do. Nathan Cullen was up next, accusing Monsef of undermining the committee’s work on TV over the weekend, and Monsef reminded him that she was there to talk about C-33. Cullen groused some more about the lack of commitment to propositional representation, but Monsef reiterated that she was waiting for the committee report.

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Roundup: Expat voting just fine as is

Democratic institutions minister Maryam Monsef is saying that she plans to table new legislation around expat voting by the end of the year, and I’m going to come right out and say that while I know it’s not really popular to say so, I’m actually not sure that a five-year time limit for expats is so bad, because of the way that our voting system operates. To be more specific, our electoral system depends on your voting in one of 338 ridings to elect a local representative. You’ve not voting for the party banner or the party leader – you’re voting for the representative, regardless of what your particular electoral calculation is when you’re in the voting booth. And as an expat who has been out of the country – and in particular that riding – for more than five years, does it really make sense for you to continue to cast a ballot in said riding if you don’t actually live there?

And this is the part where people start shouting about their right to vote, which is all well and good, but again I go back to the central premise – how can you vote for a representative in a riding if you don’t live there, and almost certainly don’t know who is actually on the ballot? And don’t tell me that it doesn’t matter, that the majority of people vote based on the party or the leader, because it actually does matter. Our system is constructed in a way that ensures maximum accountability (and that accountability is currently wounded by the rules around party leadership selection, but that’s another story for another day), and that means accountability for the MP who was selected in that riding election for that seat (and yes, each riding is a separate election), and later in the House of Commons, when the government is responsible to the whole of the Chamber to maintain confidence to continue governing. And this is where expat voting gets complicated. How can someone who doesn’t live in the riding know what is going on, and whether the MP is doing a good job or not? Sure, a few expats maintain close enough ties, but I would venture that the vast majority don’t, and that the vast majority are looking to cast a special ballot based solely on party or leader preference, but that’s not how the system works, and yes, that’s important because democracy is process. The vote has to have a proper meaning, and that meaning is for the individual MP to fill the individual seat. This is not the United States where people ostensibly cast a direct ballot for the presidency (which again is complicated by their electoral college), but that makes a special ballot for expats a simpler affair. (They also impose taxes on expats, which Canada doesn’t). What about the voter rolls, where expats would ostensibly be listed at an address where they no longer live? How does that actually work in practical terms without creating yet more headaches for Elections Canada? Unless Maryam Monsef can thread the needle to demonstrate how expats can still vote within our current system in an effective manner which means voting for a candidate in a riding, I’m having a hard time seeing how dropping the five-year rule is either beneficial, practical, or even responsible. (And yes, I’m sure that I’m a monster for thinking so).

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QP: Tax hikes and pipelines

While Justin Trudeau headed off for official visits to Cuba, Argentina and Peru, all other leaders were present for QP. Rona Ambrose led off, asking about preventing violence against women and funding to combat it. Patty Hajdu assured her that they are working on a federal gender-based violence strategy to be rolled out in 2017. Ambrose then shifted to the new American administration and railed about tax hikes in Canada. Scott Brison reminded her that they inherited a slow-growth economy and it was why they cut taxes to the middle class. Ambrose wanted the government to personally endorse the Keystone XL pipeline, and Jim Carr reminded her that the government did support it, and the approvals on the Canadian side were still valid. Ambrose switched to French to ask about the proposed Infrastructure Bank and if the Champlain Bridge would have tolls on it, and Marc Garneau praised infrastructure spending. Ambrose repeated the premise in English, demanding to know what safeguards were in place to keep the government from backstopping billionaires. Garneau again praised the government’s infrastructure investment strategy. Thomas Mulcair asked about a provision in the CPP bill that penalizes women for taking time off work to raise children, and Jean-Yves Duclos praised measures they’ve taken to help senior women in poverty. Mulcair asked again in French, got the same answer, then turned to the pipeline review process, saying that the review process members are all industry insiders. Carr reminded him about the distinguished Canadians, including Grand Chiefs, of being corporate hacks. Mulcair asked again in English, and Carr doubled down on his condemning Mulcair’s characterization of the panel.

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Roundup: An unexpected reversal

So, after the somewhat unexpected reversal of last night, I looked back to something from the past few days to help explain this bit of insanity that we’ve all witnessed. Michelle Rempel heard this from Republican officials late last week when she asked them how this all happened:

Here’s a look at what a Trump presidency is going to mean for Canada:

As the numbers tightened, we saw this going around:

Meanwhile, a reminder about the underlying attitudes:

I’m going to wait before I can have much else to say about the power of nativism, and this “drain the swamp” ethos that has taken over so much of the rhetoric in the campaign, and the part that civic ignorance feeds into the politics of resentment that in turn fuels this kind of thing. But wow.

I will say how glad I am once again to live in Canada, with a constitutional monarchy and a system of Responsible Government, with a Supreme Court that isn’t partisan, and with a neutral civil service. Because we’re probably going to be reminded about how important that is in the next few years.

Good reads:

  • Justin Trudeau will be stopping in Cuba and Argentina on the way to the APEC meeting in Peru, and everyone is recalling his father’s frienship with the Castros.
  • The government has named a five-person panel to make recommendations regarding overhauling the National Energy Board.
  • Here’s a look at the latest round of Order Paper questions, with questions on alcohol on government flights, classified documents and ministerial swag.
  • Here is your look at ministerial expense repayments for various and sundry reasons.
  • The Victims of Communism memorial is now up for a new design from five different bidders, to go with its new location. The original design is out of the running.
  • Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers is leaving the job and will be leading a review of segregation in Ontario prisons.
  • Conservative MP (and former sportscaster) Kevin Waugh thinks that female athletes are treated better than their male counterparts, and is being criticised for it.
  • The first Conservative leadership debate is tonight.
  • The premier of PEI is (rightfully) expressing some scepticism over the province’s electoral reform plebiscite results, and reformers are howling as a result.
  • My Loonie Politics column looks at whether the instances of Liberal backbenchers voting against the government are really signs of independence showing.

Odds and ends:

The Yukon Liberals won the territorial election on Monday night, and Trudeau congratulated prospective new premier Sandy Silver.

Both women candidates in the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race have dropped out citing harassment and intimidation.