Roundup: Fallout from the Stanley decision

The verdict in the Gerald Stanley trial came down late Friday night, and the Saskatchewan farmer was found not guilty in the shooting death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie for the same kinds of actions that a white person would not have been shot at for. That the jury did not contemplate a manslaughter conviction instead of second-degree murder is the more puzzling aspect of the verdict, and why there is such a cry about racism in the justice system – especially since the defence counsel was able to successfully challenge any of the potential Indigenous jurors and wind up with an all-white jury, which is when the family knew that the fix was in, and that this was not doing any favours to the cause of reconciliation, nor for faith in the justice system for people who aren’t white.

The PM and justice minister tweeted that more needs to be done when it comes to ensuring that there is justice for Indigenous people in this country, leaving some Conservative observers a little aghast that they got involved. That said, the wording was carefully chosen in order to not criticise the jury itself, or promise that there would be an appeal or some kind of attempt to overturn the verdict. That’s probably a good thing overall, while it acknowledges that there is a problem and that the government is aware of it, and it’s worth nothing that the government is talking about this situation where there is a good chance that they wouldn’t have just a couple of years ago. Meanwhile, this hasn’t stopped the Conservatives from accusing the government of “political interference” with the courts (never mind how many times they criticised court decisions, especially by the Supreme Court of Canada, while they were in power). But what can be done? Well, there is already an ongoing review of the criminal justice system that this government has undertaken (but is very, very slow about rolling out any concrete measures about), so we can be sure that this will be part of it. But better resourcing the justice system is something that they need to confront, which means hiring more Crown attorneys, and giving them more time and resources to tackle cases is going to be part of the solution as well (and we can all think of a number of high profile cases in recent years that the Crowns have utterly ballsed up). And indeed, in this case, there were apparently questions going in as to whether the Crown attorney in this case was capable of handling a trial like this. But this is also a provincial issue as well. Ontario is working on a strategy about getting more Indigenous representation on juries, but its report is already more than a year overdue. The Boushie family has arrived in Ottawa to meet with ministers, so one suspects we may hear more later in the day.

And there has been no dearth of commentary around this case already. Lawyer David Butt talks about the need to limit the peremptory challenges that allowed Stanley’s defence lawyer to create an all-white jury. Defence Lawyer Allan Rouben suggests that maybe it’s time to loosen the rules that forbid jurors from discussing what happens during deliberations. Tammy Robert reminds us that no, you can’t shoot someone to protect your property in Canada. Robert Jago says that the trial and verdict show that the attitude remains that Indigenous people are simply animals that Canadians are taught to fear.

Continue reading

Roundup: Romanticizing a political “success” story

It’s not a secret that Globe and Mail editorials have a tendency to be terrible, but one yesterday was particularly misinformed to the point of being criminally negligent. The subject? That politics needs more Ruth Ellen Brosseaus. The thrust of the piece is that politics doesn’t need more lawyers or titans of industry, but plucky individuals with a common touch. What they completely ignore is how much support the party gave Brosseau to turn her from the assistant manager of a campus bar who spent part of the campaign in Vegas (who never actually went to her riding during the campaign) into the eventual NDP House Leader that she is today.

To wit, after the 2011 election, the party sequestered Brosseau, put her through intense French immersion to get her proficiency in French back up to an acceptable level for the francophone riding that she was accidentally elected into during the Orange Wave, and then carefully kept her away from the media except for select clips to show how great her French was. Her early interventions in the Commons were brutal – I recall one particularly memorable nonsense question in QP about how, as a busy single mother, she didn’t have time to worry about all of the Conservatives scandals. Riveting stuff. She was given a deputy portfolio that kept her very constituency bound, and again, she was largely kept away from the media spotlight for four years, and when she was in the media, it was for personality pieces and not policy. During the last election, the party put her forward to every outlet conceivable to showcase her personality and endear her to voters, and she did win again. And good for her.

But what the Globe piece misses entirely is that plucky everywoman Brosseau was given a hell of a lot more support than any other candidate or MP gets, because they wanted to rehabilitate her image, and to demonstrate that they didn’t make a mistake in putting her name on the ballot in the manner that they did. And sure, maybe we need plenty of everyperson candidates, but we also do need lawyers and corporate types who have policy experience as well, because part of the danger of just nominating your everyperson candidate is that it puts them in the position to be the puppets of party apparatchiks run out of the leader’s office. We already have too much central control in politics, and there is a real danger that candidates who are unprepared for political life will become fodder for those machinations, which will do no favour to our political system. So sorry, Globe editorial board – maybe you need to do a little more homework before you file a piece like this.

Continue reading

QP: Bardish Chagger, ad nauseam

While the prime minister was off to Winnipeg, the desks in the Chamber were full, MPs ready for another scintillating round of accountability. Or talking points at the very least. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and today decided to use the moving expenses of senior PMO staff as his cudgel to demand the PM repay his expenses for that infamous vacation. Bardish Chagger reminded him that the PM accepted the report, took responsibility, and made changes going forward. Scheer switched to English to try again, getting breathy in his punctuation, and Chagger reiterated her response. Scheer insisted that an apology is no good without an attempt to make amends — apparently financially — but got the same response. Lisa Raitt was up next to assert that there were no recommendations in the report, just facts and an assertion of guilt, before she too demanded repayment. Chagger reiterated her points, including stating that he accepted recommendations. Raitt tried a second time more forcefully, and Chagger spelled out that the recommendations came from the former Commissioner at committee. Ruth Ellen Brosseau led for the NDP, demanding to know what the government was doing to get more women elected. Karina Gould said that they were doing more recruit more women, and wanted to ensure that they could thrive once elected. Brosseau tried again in French, got the same answer, and Karine Trudel and Shiela Malcolmson demanded pay equity legislation in both French and English. Scott Brison said they were working with the public sector unions and other unions on the topic, and that they remained committed to a proactive pay equity system.

Continue reading

Roundup: The cause, not the cure

The particular turmoil of the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership is difficult to turn away from, particularly given that right now it’s grappling with a fairly fundamental point about what is ailing our Westminster parliamentary system, which is the way in which we choose our leaders. Andrew Coyne lays it out really well in his latest column, which notes that another leadership contest won’t solve the party’s problems precisely because it’s the cause of those problems. And Chris Selley notes that with the inclusion of Doug Ford in this new race, that system of leadership selection is just as likely to result in a civil war within the party as it will do for anything else. (On a side note, Selley’s piece notes how Ford is attracting the evangelical endorsements in such an eerily Trump-like way).

Another point that Coyne gets to is this particular fetishization of the membership figures that Brown was able to attract to the party, but it ignores the fact that most of those who are signing up memberships have little connection to the party itself, and are little more than tools to be used by the leadership winner who sold them those memberships. And the point that I would add is that these memberships don’t actually strengthen the party because they’re being used to justify central control by the leadership rather than being a vehicle by which the riding associations are interlocutors between the grassroots and the caucus. These “rented” memberships are meaningless and do little to enhance the party, the way the chatter would otherwise suggest. If anything, they weaken the meaning of what the grassroots is supposed to represent. That’s why we need to get back to the proper working of a Westminster system, and restore caucus selection, so that we can reinvigorate the meaning of the grassroots.

Continue reading

Roundup: Protected nominations and the suffocation of the grassroots

Oh, Liberals. You’ve really gone and done it again, haven’t you? All of your grand talk about respecting parliament, and now you’ve decided that you’re going to go and protect the nominations of your incumbent MPs, so long as they meet a set of criteria that, while better than nothing, is not all that onerous. Never mind that four years ago, it was all about how open nominations were about community leaders devoted to community service, but now? Now it’s about ensuring that your MPs simply have a big enough war chest and participate in a bare minimum of door knocking over the course of a year. You’d think that with this list of requirements, ensuring that there still remains an actual nomination process wouldn’t be too difficult – after all, if the excuse is that they’re so busy in Ottawa that they can’t be also running for their old jobs, then ensuring that they’re still doing the work that would be associated with a nomination process seems like a pointless self-inflicted black eye, no?

I’m not going to re-litigate this too much, but I wrote about why protected nominations are a Bad Thing in Maclean’s last year, but it really boils down to one basic concept – accountability. The biggest reason to ensure that there are open nominations is to ensure that a riding can hold their incumbent to account without needing to vote for another party to do so. Protecting nominations removes more power from the grassroots party members and enshrines it in the leader’s office, which is exactly the opposite of what should be happening. (And yes, Trudeau has centralized a hell of a lot of power, especially after pushing through the changes to the party’s constitution). And by imposing those thresholds to ensure that the nomination is protected, it creates incentive for the incumbent MP to treat that riding association like a personal re-election machine, rather than a body that holds that MP to account at the riding level.

To be clear, this isn’t just a Liberal problem. The Conservatives also set a fairly high bar to challenge incumbent nominations, some of which we’ve seen in recent weeks, but that’s been accompanied by rumblings that some of these challenges have been stickhandled out of the leader’s office, which is even more distressing for grassroots democracy. The erosion of grassroots democracy is a very real crisis in our political system, but most people don’t understand what these changes mean, more content to chide the Liberals for broken promises about open nominations than be alarmed at what the bigger picture result is. It’s a pretty serious problem, and it’s bigger than just a broken promise.

Continue reading

Roundup: Improperly claiming a state function

News came out of the PMO first thing yesterday morning that the PM was planning a “state visit” to India, with stops in Agra, Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, and New Delhi in mid-February. And congratulations if the terminology there made you look askance.

Apparently nobody but Paul Wells clocked them on this fact, and it’s not really surprising, but it’s tremendously disappointing. Why? Because Trudeau and his PMO should know better, especially after we lived through the first few years of the Harper era where he was deliberately blurring the lines between his functions as head of government and the ceremonial trappings of head of state, as Harper got inappropriate salutes from honour guards on Canada Day, or he put himself on the parade podium during Remembrance Day ceremonies (at least, until members of the Royal Family showed up on those events and put him in his place, protocol-wise). You would think that, in the interests of not following Harper’s example, that they would want to actually use proper protocol. But apparently not.

This shouldn’t be that hard, but I’m torn as to whether we chalk this up to simple incompetence, or whether this is part of the trend that has been grumbled about where Trudeau seems more interested in the ceremonial trappings and the appearance that he would rather be Governor General than prime minister. I’m generally a fan of the theory that one shouldn’t attribute to malice what simple incompetence will explain, but come on. That said, the amount of protocol slippage in recent years is reaching epidemic proportions, with state funerals being granted to those who did not merit them, and the fact that this government hasn’t replaced the Canadian Secretary to the Queen following his retirement, meaning that our point of contact with Buckingham Palace is in the hands of bureaucrats in the department of Canadian Heritage of dubious motives and ability (and everything I’ve heard is that they tend to be small-r republicans, hostile to our constitutional monarchy). This is a disturbing trend, and we should call it out before it gets worse.

Continue reading

Roundup: Turning down the committee

It was pretty much as expected. The Commons ethics committee met yesterday and the opposition MPs assembled pleaded with the Liberal majority on the committee to think of the children – err, I mean, think about the meaning of holding the government to account when it came to the demand to call for the PM to appear to answer questions about the Ethics Commissioner’s findings regarding his vacation to the Aga Khan’s island. I will grant that the Liberals could have insisted that they go in camera for this, but didn’t. Rather, they simply said that, having read the report, and taking into account that the PM had apologised, answered questions in the media, and would be answering questions in QP on this topic, that it was enough. And so the motion was defeated 6-3, which surprised no one.

From the arguments presented, there is a little more that we could dig into. For example, Nathan Cullen said he wanted the PM’s suggestions on how to improve the rules – but if he cared about those, he would have taken the many suggestions that Mary Dawson has been making over the past decade and implemented those, but he, nor his party, nor any parliamentarian, has been keen to do that. And his worrying that the PM is ultimately accountable to parliament is true, but that ultimately means that if Cullen is so concerned, he can move a motion of non-confidence in the PM on the NDP’s next Supply Day and try to convince the Liberal ranks of the merits of his argument. As for the Conservatives, they seemed far more interested in seeing some grovelling the PM, and demanding that he repay the full cost of the trip (which would include the Challenger and security costs), never mind that during the Harper era, his “reimbursement” for his own private trips was supposed to be at economy fares, but nobody could find fares as low as the ones he was repaying (and there were several incidents of party stalwarts getting subsidized airfare improperly). And that whole incident nearly six years ago when they wanted Harper to appear to answer questions on the ClusterDuff Affair? Well, that was then and this is now, and Trudeau promised to be more open and transparent. (Err, remember when Stephen Harper rode into office on the white horse of accountability and transparency? Yeah, me neither).

And while opposition staffers chirp at my on the Twitter Machine about how it’s the role of MPs to hold the government to account – true – and that a committee setting is less theatrical than QP – not true – I will reiterate that the point of this exercise is not actually about accountability, but rather about gathering media clips under the protection of parliamentary privilege. If you think there would be sober questions asked, and that this would be a serious exercise in accountability, then you’re sorely mistaken. It remains a political calculus, and Trudeau has determined that it’s not worth it to spend an hour having the most torqued accusations hurled at him in the hopes that something sticks, and hoping for that “gold” clip that they can share around social media. If we’re going to lament the lack of accountability, then everyone needs to take a share of responsibility there – not just the PM.

Continue reading

Roundup: The authentic Andrew Scheer

It’s year-end interview time, and Andrew Scheer gave a couple yesterday that gave me a bit of pause. First was his interview in the National Post, where off the bat, he lays out this gem: “I am younger, I am modern and I have a different take on Conservative principles than my predecessors.” But does he lay out what that different take is? Nope. Scheer says that he can offer “authenticity” like a Bernie Sanders or Ron Paul, which is…curious. He’s spent the week talking about how middle class he is, unlike Justin Trudeau. This immediately elicited some reminders from Twitter – that the only job he held outside of politics was working at his friend’s insurance company for six months, that he got elected at 25 and has a $3 million pension by age 38; his political career includes being Speaker and Leader of the Opposition, each of which comes with an official residence and a driver. So he’s authentically middle class. Later, Scheer talked about how he’s spent the past six months “setting down markers” about the Conservative approach. Markers like putting everything in a disingenuous or outright mendacious frame and treating people like idiots? Okay, then.

Meanwhile, over on CTV’s Power Play (starts at 8:15), Scheer went on about how Conservatives do better when they present a positive approach (which I totally see with the aforementioned disingenuous and mendacious manner in which they go about their role), and then added this: “We are actually more caring than Liberals because we actually care about results, and they just like to send signals and show their good intentions and they don’t care about what actually benefits people.”

That’s…interesting. Because immediately preceding that was Scheer was outright virtue signalling about free speech on university campuses (which, I will add, is an issue that the alt-right has weaponized, and Scheer is playing directly into it). And if you look at the Conservative record over the past decade, it’s replete with sending signals that didn’t actually benefit people, whether it was tough-on-crime legislation that was either unconstitutional or created backlogs in the court system (as mandatory minimum sentences did), or gutting environmental laws (which only ended up in litigation and didn’t get any further projects approved), or their actions in making cuts to show that they had a paper surplus (which led to the massive gong show that is Shared Services Canada and the Phoenix pay system fiasco, not to mention the loss of capacity in a number of other departments). All of it was the very signalling that they criticize the Liberals for. So you’ll forgive me if I find Scheer’s particular assertions to be a bit unconvincing.

Continue reading

Roundup: Will American tax changes affect us?

With the excitement building over that coming US tax cut legislation (if one can call it that), we have already started seeing reaction here in Canada about how we should react, and while there has been some predictable demands that we start cutting our own corporate taxes yet again, others have called for a more pragmatic approach. In the Financial Post, Jack Mintz foretold doom for our economy in the face of these changes. With that in mind, Kevin Milligan tweeted out some thoughts:

It also hasn’t gone unnoticed that these changes will create all manner of new loopholes around personal incorporation to avoid paying income taxes – kind of like Canada has been cracking down on this past year. Imagine that.

To that end, Milligan offered a few more thoughts about the experience around implementing these kinds of changes.

Meanwhile, my Loonie Politics column looks at whether the process used by that American tax bill could happen in Canada. Short answer: no.

Continue reading

Roundup: A revealing confession

When I saw the initial tweet, I can’t tell you how hard my eyes rolled, precisely because this sort of shtick is David Akin’s specialty – asking non-sequitur questions at inappropriate moments to try and generate a different headline, oftentimes to manufacture outrage (and oftentimes to the detriment of other reporters who had serious questions to ask when questions were limited). And some of the reactions to said tweet were pretty great too.

But reading Trudeau’s response, it was a bit of a warning klaxon for me, because of how this has been quietly playing out over the course of the past couple of years in the ways that Trudeau and his government has been trying to “reform” the way that business happens in the House of Commons – you know, to “modernize” the way that it functions.

…As we look at electoral structures, which is one of the questions that was specifically asked, we’ve had a certain level of discussions around electoral and democratic reform in Canada that leave me looking to the mother of all parliaments. Obviously, the U.K. does a significantly better job than us in programming legislation and getting that through the House. I think there is issue to admire on that. On the other hand, we were glad to adopt the prime minister’s question period model from the U.K. I think there’s lots to draw on when you look at our democratic structures from the mother of all parliaments.

The two key takeaways there are programming legislation, and prime minister’s questions. This isn’t the first time that programming motions have come up – back in the spring, the opposition filibustered the government over a proposal to include programming motions as part of Bardish Chagger’s “discussion paper” on suggested changes to procedure, and it seems that Trudeau hasn’t given up on the notion. I know that some people like programming motions because it helps create more orderly debates, and helps to move legislation though the chamber a lot more swiftly. But that’s partially why I’m not a huge fan of it, because creates the default assumption that the Commons is there to process legislation instead of holding government to account. Granted, we’ve gotten a bit dysfunctional in our parliament because opposition parties (and the NDP in particular) have an inability to let debate collapse in a reasonable timeframe which brings up the need for time allocation, and programming motions are just that – time allocation for all stages of a debate as it gets tabled. We should be trying to get parliament back to a better state of debate rather than resorting to programming, because that will help snuff out what little life remains in our parliament – it will make the speeches that much more rote and pro forma rather than having a miniscule chance for actual debate. As for PMQs, Trudeau’s grand experiment with it here has not proven to be that illuminating, and has instead created a perverse incentive for the Conservatives to instead bombard him with the same question eleventy times than to use it productively, and even when backbenchers do ask varied questions, they get mere platitude responses rather than substantive ones. It’s not like the UK’s, and so I find Trudeau’s response to Akin far more dubious as a result.

Continue reading