QP: Trade, jets and jeers

The final Tuesday QP of the year, and all of the leaders were present — even past leader Thomas Mulcair was present, for a change. After each side offered statements of congratulations for their by-election wins, Andrew Scheer led off, mimi-lectern on desk, and he read some condemnation of the PM going to China and his willingness to allow foreign takeovers without security reviews. Trudeau chose instead to offer congratulations to the by-election winners, as well as everyone who put their names forward. Scheer offered his own breathy congratulations, then accused the PM of erratic behaviour and incompetence on the trade file. Trudeau insisted that they worked hard to get deal that “work good” for Canadians, and that things like environmental and labour rights be respected. Scheer sniped that the PM comes home empty handed, and then raised another instance of someone complaining about Kent Hehr’s comments. Trudeau said that the minister took the allegations seriously and apologized. Scheer then moved onto the fighter jet question, and the decision to purchase used interim jets. Trudeau said that the reality was that the military needed new jets years ago but the previous government didn’t deliver, but his government had launched an open process with interim jets to fill capacity gaps. Scheer noted the problems with those jets identified by the Australian Auditor General, and offered Trudeau an old minivan. Trudeau reiterated that the previous government botched their processes. Guy Caron was up next, and was concern trolling about the problems with getting new officers of parliament. Trudeau noted the open, transparent process, and that he had confidence in the nominees put forward. Caron insisted that the process was not transparent, and demanded the names on the selection committees and short lists. Trudeau said that the appointment processes take time, and have put in place processes that people could trust. Nathan Cullen repeated the same question with added sanctimony in English, and Trudeau reiterated that they would continue to consult with the opposition on appointments, and then after another round of the same, and Trudeau said that if they didn’t have confidence in the nominee they should just say so.

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QP: Concern trolling about the Commissioner

After a week away, Justin Trudeau was back in the Commons after a week away, and Andrew Scheer was also back, as the final sitting days of 2017 ticked down. Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and he raised the current investigations by the Ethics Commissioner, and concern trolled that they wouldn’t be completed before her term was up. Trudeau noted that he had recused himself from any discussions around the Commissioner, but he was confident that the House Leader would do a good job. Scheer, breathily racing through his script, worried that MPs would not be consulted or have a chance to vet the new appointee, but Trudeau reiterated that he had confidence in the House Leader. Scheer moved onto the backlog of veterans awaiting disability benefits, to which Trudeau noted that while the previous government closed veterans officers, they were reopened under the current government along with new investments. Scheer insisted that this was solely the problem of the current government, to which Trudeau said that veterans had abandoned hope of getting help under the previous government while they were coming forward now that the current government was reaching out and reinvesting. Scheer tried to then wedge this into a “mean-spiritedness” onto the disability tax credits, and Trudeau assured him that they were looking at the issue carefully to ensure that Canadians were getting the benefits they deserved. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and he too returned to the issue of the backlog of veterans benefits, and Trudeau reiterated that these were applications by those who had previously given up hope. Irene Mathyssen and demanded to know if the new veterans disability plan would be released before the House rises, and Trudeau offered assurances that they were taking the issue seriously. Caron turned to demand a Netflix tax and defend the press, and Trudeau insisted that they would not raise taxes on Canadians. Pierre Nantel was up next to demand the same Netflix tax in French, and Trudeau assured him that no Quebec demanded that he raise their taxes.

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Roundup: A couple of reality checks

As we head into the final week of the Commons’ sitting for 2017, there have been a couple of recurring themes in the past few weeks that could each use some good dose of Stephanie Carvin. The first issue remains that of returning foreign fighters, and the way in which the Conservatives keep repeating in Question Period that the Liberal strategy is apparently “poetry and podcasts,” which a) nobody has seriously suggested, and b) deliberately confuses preventative deradicalization programmes with those geared toward rehabilitating those who have returned from foreign warzones who may not have been active combatants (most of whom are dead by this point).

And then there is the Prime Minister’s trip to China, where a free trade deal wasn’t secured, which Carvin is an acknowledged China sceptic about from a national security standpoint, particularly because China doesn’t like to play fair, and will use tactics that include imprisonment and de facto hostage-taking in order to try and get their way in trade disputes.

Let’s hope that the opposition has a chance to listen to some of what Carvin has to say before they ask some more…dubious questions this week.

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Roundup: Space to socialize

Amidst the growing buzz of MPs’ bad behaviour, whether it’s ejections from the House of Commons during QP, or the allegations of inappropriate comments at events as with James Bezan and Sherry Romanado, Kady O’Malley says that the presence of cameras hasn’t been a guarantor of good behaviour. And that’s fair enough. So what does she propose? Not to do away with the cameras, particularly in the Chamber itself, but rather creating the conditions by which MPs can spend more time together outside of the strictly partisan work situations.

More to the point, O’Malley suggests that MPs start sharing meal breaks, whether it’s in the cafeteria, or has been proposed earlier this session with a common space behind the Commons chamber where they can eat together rather than having the usual food services delivered to their respective lobbies on either side of the Chamber. It’s not a novel idea, given the fact that it was shared meals used to be a feature of how our parliament operated. Evening sittings happened three nights a week, and at the appointed hour, they would suspend debate, head upstairs to the Parliamentary Restaurant for a couple of hours and there was cross-pollination of socializing between the different parties. And lo and behold, when evening sittings were abolished in the name of being “family friendly,” collegiality between MPs took a hit.

The problem with simply creating a space behind the Commons for MPs to have that meal together is that it’s pretty much restricted to those who are stuck with House Duty, so the numbers at any given time would be pretty small, and I’m not sure that it’s enough to get a big the requisite sea change happening. Maybe the answer is to bring back evening sittings – it’s not like there’s a lack of legislation that could use the added time – but even there, part of what kept MPs at the parliamentary restaurant is that there was a dearth of other options in the area, which isn’t the case any longer. So while I don’t dispute that more opportunities for MPs to socialize is a good and necessary thing, I’m not sure that the conditions to make this a broader issue are really there any longer.

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Roundup: Union concoctions and opportunism

In the event that you’ve tuned out of the Bill Morneau/Bill C-27 conspiracy theory – and if you have, I don’t blame you – there was a big fuss a few days ago made of the fact that the postal employees’ union made a big deal about trying to get the Ethics Commissioner to investigate this weeks ago, and now that Nathan Cullen managed to get Mary Dawson to turn her attention to it, they’re crowing with a bit of victory, and still demanding that the bill be withdrawn. Given how ludicrous the whole story remains – remember that government bills are tabled on behalf of the cabinet as a whole, and that ministers don’t sponsor bills because they have a personal interest in them, but rather because they need to answer on behalf of their departments – I’ve largely just rolled my eyes at ongoing coverage, but it was flagged to me a couple of times yesterday that Terence Corcoran wrote a piece about how this little episode proves some of the underlying dynamics behind this ongoing campaign against Morneau and his integrity – that it’s less about any actual ethical issues than it has been about trying to get him to withdraw Bill C-27, because it’s antithetical to the interests of unions and their desires to ensure that everyone has a defined benefit pension plan (even though the economics of that demand aren’t there, and that the actuarial tables will show that they haven’t been sustainable because people stopped smoking two packs a day and are now living longer).

The problem with Corcoran’s piece is that it really only applies to the NDP’s interests. After all, the Conservatives were talking about targeted benefit pensions for years, and were making moves in that direction, which is why Morneau, in his previous life, was talking about their virtues – a cardinal sin in NDP eyes. But for the Conservatives, this is simply a matter of opportunism – they think that they can wound him, and if they have to play along with the NDP to do it, so be it they will. And thus, we are enduring day after day of attacks in QP that are showcased with mendacious framing devices and disingenuous questions, unrelated facts arranged in ways to look damning, never mind that they don’t line up with reality or with our parliamentary norms (such as this absurd demand that the Ethics Commissioner should have somehow vetted this before the bill was tabled. That’s now how our system works, and it would have been a violation of cabinet secrecy and parliamentary privilege). But even as opportunistic as this is, one has to wonder how much longer this will last.

One of the most veteran reporters sat with me in QP yesterday, and asked me this very question – how long can they hope to stretch this story? There’s little basis to it, and yet day after day, they carry on with these absurd demands for information that are already publicly disclosed, and outrage that is running on fumes. Meanwhile, actual, verifiable problems that should be addressed are going unsaid, day after day. It’s a little mystifying when you actually stop to think about it.

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QP: Decrying a fictitious pardon

While Justin Trudeau remained away at the APEC summit, and with Andrew Scheer elsewhere — despite having been present for caucus just hours before — it was up to Lisa Raitt to lead off QP, and demanded to know if Liberal fundraiser Stephen Bronfman was under CRA investigation for his inclusion in the Paradise Papers. Diane Lebouthillier simply stated that they were treating tax evasion seriously and had invested in fighting them. Raitt stated that since the PM assured reporters that he was satisfied with Bronfman’s explanation, she accused him of interfering with the investigation.  No change in Lebouthillier’s answer. Raitt then, incredulously, declared that the PM had “pardoned” Bronfman and railed about separate rules for Liberals than anyone else. Lebouthillier reminded her that she can’t comment on individual cases, but hey, the Conservatives didn’t treat this like a priority. Alain Rayes tried the same lines again in French on two separate occasions, but Lebouthillier remained unmoved, adding in some points about good economic news. Guy Caron was up next, noted his party’s call to bring Bronfman and former Senator Leo Kolber before committee and demanded to know if the Liberals would support them. Lebouthillier assured him that CRA now has the capability to check every tax return. Alexandre Boulerice repeated the question in French, got much the same reply, adding that committees are the masters of their own destiny. Boulerice selectively quoted a couple of Liberal MPs who had noted that there was no demonstrated illegality in the papers, and Lebouthillier repeated the points about investment in the CRA. Caron got back to demand the government change the law to close loopholes, but Lebouthillier reiterated the billion-dollar investment in CRA.

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QP: Numbered company vs numbered company

With it being Hallowe’en, we all braced ourselves for terrible themed references and questions. All of the leaders were present, as was Bill Morneau, so it was likely to be another repetitive day. Andrew Scheer led off in French, mini-lectern on desk, raising the comments of the former Commons law clerk about Bill Morneau’s affairs, and Justin Trudeau first noted that the rules were followed, and then reminded them that previous ministers in the former government had similar arrangements. Scheer tried again in English, and got the same response with a more pointed dig at his Scheer’s own financial arrangements. Scheer returned to French to first say that he disclosed his holdings (as did Morneau — seriously), and tried again, and this time Trudeau was far more pointed about the Conservatives attacking the integrity of the Commissioner, and listed the other officers and judges that they attacked while in office. Scheer raised Morneau’s numbered companies, and Trudeau reiterated his previous answer in English. Scheer tried to land a blow about how this was not about the Commissioner but about Morneau himself, but Trudeau decided to go all the way to reminding his opposites that they were the only party to have been found in contempt of Parliament. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and raised their demand for the Ethics Commissioner to come before committee, to which Trudeau said that he welcomed any attempt to tighten rules. Linda Duncan was up next, and demanded that the “loopholes” be tightened, for which Trudeau said that the two ministers who held assets indirectly no longer did — pointing to Morneau and Jody Wilson-Raybould. Duncan turned to the issue of methane emissions, and Trudeau pointed out that they were making progress while still growing the economy. Caron tried again in French, and got much the same answer.

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QP: Morneau’s surprise announcement

As is not unusual for a Thursday (somewhat unfortunately), neither the prime minister nor leader of the opposition were present for another day of scripted outrage and conspiracy theories. Pierre Poilievre led off, and railed about the prohibition of ministers owning stocks, and demanded to know if Bill Morneau owned stocks from other companies in his numbered corporations. Morneau regaled the Commons with his meeting with the Ethics Commissioner, and his intention to donate any profit made since he was elected. Poilievre was caught a bit flat-footed by the answer, and stumblingly wondered if he would donate the tax credit from that donation to paying off the deficit, and Morneau stood up to wax lyric about ethics and others conducting their own affairs. Poilievre returned to his demands to know what is in Morneau’s other numbered companies, but Morneau retreated to his more standard pabulum about how they were helping Canadians. Alain Rayes was up next, and spouted the Morneau Shepell/Bombardier conspiracy theory as if it were a mathematical equation. Navdeep Bains was up to list off their support of the aerospace industry. Rayes tried to list the various Morneau Shepell tentacles, to which Bains reiterated the support for aerospace. Guy Caron was up next to lead for the NDP, and he raised the Morneau Shepell/Bill C-27 conspiracy theory, to which Morneau praised their work on pension reforms and the work they’ve done to date. Caron switched to French to list previous resignations due to conflicts, and tried to wedge the C-27 conspiracy theory into it, but Morneau reiterated his commitment to going above and beyond the ethics rules. Ruth Ellen Brosseau was up next, and demanded the government tell the Senate to pass Rona Ambrose’s bill on sexual assault training for judges. While the question should have been disallowed, Jody Wilson-Raybould stated how proud she was the support the bill, but obviously would not comment on the Senate’s internal business. Scott Duvall was up next to demand changes to bankruptcy laws, but Bains wouldn’t make any promises, only promising to help Sears employees.

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QP: Responding not in anger but with pity

Wednesday, caucus day, and Justin Trudeau was present for QP, ready to take all of the questions. Whether he would actually answer them, well, remained to be seen. Andrew Scheer led of, mini-lectern on desk, and read about the reach that we call the Morneau Shepell conspiracy theory, Bombardier edition. Trudeau stated that it was false, there was not conflict of interest, and that they were supporting the aerospace sector. Scheer switched to English, asked the same thing, and Trudeau simply reiterated the support for aerospace, but didn’t denounce the accusation. Scheer tried again, and Trudeau said that the opposition was only interested in slinging mud because they couldn’t fault their economic growth. Scheer tried to pivot to the tax credit for diabetics, and Trudeau insisted that they would never be as mean as the Conservatives to cancel refugee healthcare or closing veterans offices. Scheer tried to riff on how “mean” the Liberals were to businesses or farmers, or indeed diabetics, but Trudeau hit back with his economic record that the Conservatives failed at. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and he railed about the Morneau Shepell conspiracy theory, Bill C-27 edition, to which Trudeau denounced the accusations, and reminded him of the ethics screen. Caron demanded a closing of loopholes, and Trudeau expressed his disappointment in the NDP for going for the Conservative tactics of personal attacks. Nathan Cullen was up next to sanctimoniously denounce Morneau Shepell and its various tentacles, and Trudeau responded by regaling him with tales of visiting Alberta and Quebec of the last few weeks and he heard about how everyone praised the Canada Child Benefit. Cullen stated that he was moving a motion at the Ethics Committee to call Morneau before them, to which Trudeau listed the programs they feel are making a difference for Canadians.

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QP: Deflect to the economy

In the lead-up to the fall economic update, Bill Morneau was absent, instead in the lock-ups to do the media rounds there. Justin Trudeau was present, however, and that meant he got to take the fire that has been sent Morneau’s way for the past few days, but hopefully he wouldn’t just do as Morneau did and respond with pabulum. Andrew Scheer  led off, mini-lectern on desk, and raised about the concerns around diabetics being denied the disability tax credit, alleging that it was only to pay for out of control spending (as though the rounding error of dollars it would bring in would do that). Trudeau reminded him that they wanted to ensure that all Canadians have access to the credits that they are entitled to, and that they were rehiring nurses that the previous government fired in order to better process claims from the beginning. Scheer repeated in English, got the same question, and Scheer asked if raising taxes on vulnerable diabetics was fair. Trudeau reminded him what people voted for in the last election, and that the upcoming economic statement would demonstrate their success. Scheer lamented the cancellation of their assorted tax credits, and Trudeau reminded him that the by-election results in Lac Saint-Jean demonstrated who Canadians believe on the economic. Scheer switched to English to conspicuously read a Morneau Shepell question, but Trudeau listed all of their kept promises on the economy. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and railed about the Morneau Shepell/Bill C-27 conspiracy theory. Trudeau insisted that the accusation was false and that there was no conflict, as all the rules were followed. Caron listed previous resignations as proof that Morneau was in the wrong ethically, and Trudeau said that the opposition was torquing up accusations with no basis. Alexandre Boulerice asked the same again, got the same answer, and then some blanket condemnation. Trudeau retorted with the Lac-Saint Jean results.

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