Roundup: A return to “bold” policy

The federal NDP had their biannual policy convention over the weekend, and Jagmeet Singh’s leadership was “reaffirmed” when some 90 percent of delegates voted not to have a leadership review. So they’ll keep giving him a chance despite his intransigence in not running for a seat, apparently. And while they got a new party executive, and talked about how they need to do better when it comes to dealing with the harassment allegations in their own ranks that went ignored (particularly around Peter Stoffer), they also decided it was time to return to “bold” policy ideas after a fairly timid electoral platform the last time around. Not so bold, mind you, as to embrace the Leap Manifesto, which went unspoken during the convention despite rumours that it would rear its head once again, but rather, they went for things like universal pharmacare, dental care, and free tuition – you know, things that are the ambit of the provinces. Oh, and re-opening the constitution, as though that’s not going to be any small hurdle. (The free tuition debate, meanwhile, took over Economist Twitter over the weekend because the NDP’s adherents have a hard time understanding how a universal programme actually disproportionately benefits the wealthy rather than applying targeted benefits that would benefit those who are less well-off).

Chantal Hébert, meanwhile, finds the same core message of the NDP unchanged despite the changing slogans. There is some disagreement about that.

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Roundup: A firmer timeline for cannabis

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

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

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Roundup: Scheer unveils more reheated policy

While at the Manning Centre Networking Conference in Ottawa yesterday, Andrew Scheer unveiled another policy plank – that he was going to support a free trade deal with the United Kingdom, post-Brexit. And a short while later, put out a press release and “backgrounder” (which was a bit content-free) to say that he was going to travel to the UK next month to start talking about just this.

Scheer is behind the times on this, because Justin Trudeau announced that he and Theresa May were already having this discussion back when she visited in September, and Scheer knows this. So he’s reiterating this for a couple of reasons, beyond the fact that he’s trying to paint the picture of Trudeau being unable to adequately handle trade negotiations (never mind that his government concluded CETA that was in danger of going off the rails, and similarly extracted concessions from TPP talks, and they haven’t rolled over on NAFTA talks).

  1. Scheer is a Brexit supporter, and his trip to the UK is at a time where the UK Parliament is dealing with their Brexit legislation and not doing very well with it. One suspects that this trip is more about offering Canadian support for Brexit from his position as Leader of the Opposition, never mind that I suspect that the vast majority of Canadians would oppose Brexit (and hell, the number of Britons who regret voting for it seems to be growing daily). But Scheer does seem to want to offer that encouragement from his position.
  2. This announcement was to a crowd of small-c conservatives who feel a great deal of affection for the Anglosphere, and suspicion for other trade deals, particularly with China. It doesn’t seem to be out of the realm of possibility that this is a bit of red meat for that base.

Suffice to say, if this is a new bit of policy, this awfully thin gruel.

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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.

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Roundup: On leaders, interim or “parliamentary”

In the wake of the Patrick Brown resignation, the Ontario PC caucus gathered behind closed doors to name Vic Fedeli as their “parliamentary leader,” a term that irks me to no end. Fedeli came out and called himself “party leader” rather than “interim” or “parliamentary,” clearly signalling that he wanted this to be permanent going into the election, but within hours, the party insisted that they would indeed hold a full leadership contest to be concluded by March 31st, where the party membership would vote on a leader (and yes, Fedeli will be running while still acting as the interim/“parliamentary” leader).

The adoption of the term “parliamentary leader” is recent, and as far as I know was only first used by the NDP to give a name to what Guy Caron is doing as Jagmeet Singh’s proxy inside the Commons while Singh refuses to get his own seat, and generally avoids being in Ottawa as much as possible. Caron is left to be the de facto leader, even going so far as to make key decisions around staffing in the leader’s office in Ottawa, which would seem to make him de jure leader as well and Singh to be some kind of figurehead, wandering the land. But why it’s offensive as a concept is because it attempts to normalize this notion that the leader isn’t in the parliamentary caucus – something that is an affront to our Westminster system. The Ontario PC party using this term both affirms the use of this term, and opens up the notion of a similar arrangement where a new leader could be chosen by the membership while not having a seat, further taking us down this road to debasing our system.

Mike Moffatt, meanwhile, has the right idea – all leaders should be considered “interim,” because they should be able to be removed at a moment’s notice by the caucus (given that the caucus should select the leader, and that the leader should live in fear of the caucus). What happens instead with electing leaders by the membership is that they feel they have a sense of “democratic legitimacy,” which they feel insulates them from accountability, and they wield their imagined authority over the caucus, meaning that it’s the caucus who has to fear the leader instead of the other way around – especially if the rules persist that the leader signs their nomination papers. That’s not the way our system was designed to function, and it’s caused great damage to our system, and it gets worse as time goes on, with each iteration trying to turn it more and more into a quasi-presidential primary. The way the Ontario PC party has had to deal with this Patrick Brown situation within the context of their bastardized rules (and fetishizing the 200,000 members signed up in their last leadership contest, the bulk of them by Brown and his team) is utterly debasing to Westminster parliaments. More than anything, the events of the past week should be an object lesson in why we should restore caucus selection, should anyone be listening.

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Roundup: Hehr out of cabinet

In the hours that the drama around Patrick Brown was playing out, another accusation was levelled over Twitter, this time around Liberal cabinet minister Kent Hehr, which seems mostly to involve lewd suggestions he made to female staffers in private during his time as an MLA in Alberta. When news of that reached Davos, Justin Trudeau said he would follow-up and have an answer before they left the country. And just before the plane took off, we had our answer – Hehr had tendered his resignation from cabinet, and during his “leave of absence,” Kirsty Duncan would take over his responsibilities while an investigation was carried out. Hehr remains in caucus, no doubt pending the results of that investigation. Maclean’s spoke with Hehr’s accuser here.

Politically, it’s fraught for Trudeau given that both of his Calgary MPs – both of them veterans of the Alberta Liberal Party – have been taken down by allegations of sexual misconduct. And in a related story, the investigation promised into Kang’s actions has not contacted one of his accusers, however many months later, and that goes for both federal and provincial investigations.

Speaking of Brown, here’s a detailed look at how Wednesday night played out, and some further conversations with his accusers. One of Brown’s (former) deputy leaders called the incident a “hiccup,” and later had to apologize for it.

Meanwhile, Supriya Dwivedi talks about politics’ #metoo moment, and the fact that the Bro Code is breaking down, while Aaron Wherry talks about how #metoo has arrived on Parliament Hill. Chris Selley looks at the path ahead for the Ontario PC party in Brown’s demise, and it’s a messy path given the rules in the party’s constitution, with just four months to go before the election.

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Roundup: Baillie and Brown gone

While provincial politics are not my bailiwick, we had a couple of very big developments in two different provinces yesterday. The first was that Jamie Baillie, leader of the PC party in Nova Scotia, was forced out over sexual harassment allegations that came out after an independent investigation, resigning his seat immediately. And in Ontario, graphic sexual harassment allegations were made against PC leader Patrick Brown dating back to his days as an federal MP, and Brown called an emergency press conference to deny the allegations, but was quickly met with a string of staff resignations, plus calls from his own caucus to resign (while federal leader Andrew Scheer slightly underbussed him, without actually coming out to actually say so). Around 1:30 AM, Brown offered his resignation as leader (but not as MPP).

Part of what interests me in this is less the day of reckoning for sexual misconduct, but yes, that is happening, and perhaps now those smirking Conservatives who insist that the Liberals are the party of sexual harassers, owing to the fact that they’ve ousted theirs rather than swept it under the rug, will see that this is very much not the case. Rather, it’s the mechanisms in each party around what happened. With Nova Scotia, the party ousted the leader (who, admittedly, had already announced his intention to resign but planned to stay on until a successor was chosen; he is now out completely). In Ontario, their provincial party constitution doesn’t give them that option. And this really boils down to the way in which we have moved to a system of “democratic” elected leadership contests rather than caucus selection, where leaders can be deposed and replaced in a single vote, and have that accountability mechanism be right there, at all times.

This will, no doubt, renew calls for “formal mechanisms” in parties to depose leaders, and calls for more Michael Chong-esque “Reform Act” laws that will simply protect leaders by putting a high bar to depose them, rather than the current system, where shame and public pressure can force a resignation in a hurry once one or two caucus members go public. (In this, Paul Wells notes that politics is the “art of the possible”). None of this disguises the fact that the root cause remains the broken system of selection. We need to return to caucus selection if we want leaders who are afraid of their caucus, and not the other way around. Because we could see more of these kinds of incidents in the months to come, and the alternative is to have an endless series of interminable, expensive leadership contests where accountability remains out of reach.

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Roundup: Establishing a wedge narrative

It really was a little bit embarrassing – or would be, if he had even a millilitre of shame. Pierre Poilievre rushed everyone to a microphone yesterday morning to announce the “next part” of the Trudeau Tax™ that he’s trying to push as a talking point – that Justin Trudeau said that he would impose a new mandatory “payroll tax” for pensions like is happening in Ontario, with a dollar figure attached and everything. Which, of course, is a complete fabrication as Trudeau said no such thing. I know, because I was there sitting in front of him when he talked about CPP enhancement in his Wednesday press conference. And throughout Members’ Statements and Question Period, as many Conservatives as possible tried to make this very same claim – Harper going so far as to call it a “$1000 pay cut” – even repeating it in response to NDP questions. Way to make them feel relevant! Much in the way that Trudeau’s supposed “gaffe” about fairness was a legitimate point of philosophical difference that is being turned into an attack line, this hint at a policy discussion yet-to-come, which would need to be discussed with the provinces in any eventuality, is being morphed into something sinister and being associated with specific dollar figures where no pronouncement has been made – not that facts have ever mattered to the Conservative attack machine. (Witness “budgets balance themselves” which actually followed the phrase “when the economy grows,” which is true and the Conservatives have said so themselves on numerous occasions). So while we again have an area of legitimate philosophical difference – whether Canadians are saving enough, whether a mandatory plan is the best vehicle to fund retirements – it’s being turned into this dumbed-down populist talking point that obliterates nuance or the truth about what was actually said. But apparently veracity doesn’t matter because election. Or something. (But if you want to discuss nuance and policy, Jennifer Robson is glad we’re talking CPP expansion again.)

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Roundup: Committing to change – for real!

A rare bit of public damage control was on display yesterday as CBC obtained a copy of the orders that the Chief of Defence Staff put out two months ago, which told the nascent task force being assembled to deal with the forthcoming report by former Justice Marie Deschamps on sexual assault and harassment in the Forces, to basically set aside some of the coming recommendations. At this point in the timeline, General Lawson would have seen a draft copy of Deschamps’ report, and he would have had a good idea what was in it for recommendations. Within hours of the CBC report going public, Lawson put out a lengthy press release stating that the Forces would act on all ten recommendations, including the creation of an independent centre for reporting assault or harassment. A few minutes later in Question Period, Jason Kenney also said that all ten recommendations would be acted upon as well. It does make one wonder when any change in these orders occurred, and why Lawson changed his mind – though one can imagine that either the final wording of Deschamps’ report, and how it was received by both the government and the general public, may have forced a realisation that there was a real appetite for cultural change out in the wider public, and that the old way of dealing with issues internally, particularly with its culture of misogyny, weren’t going to cut it any longer. Meanwhile, it should also be pointed out that the Canadian Forces appointed a female commander, Brigadier General Lise Bourgon, to head our forces in Iraq, and more women in high-profile commanding roles can only help in driving home the message that it’s not a macho boys’ club any longer.

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Roundup: Speaker Housakos’ telling silence

It was with some interest that I listened to the first major interview with new Senate Speaker Leo Housakos over the weekend, and in it, there was the requisite amount of tough talk with regards to the recent spending allegations that some senators face. To wit, Speaker Housakos spoke of recognising their problems internally, bringing in the Auditor General on their own, the willingness to name any names that the AG does in his report, and as far as the three suspended senators are concerned, those suspensions are likely to continue into the next parliament until their legal situations have been resolved one way or another. Where Housakos did not talk tough, but instead shied away from answering, was regarding questions of the complicity of some senators in changing the internal audit to protect Mike Duffy. Housakos mumbled about it being before the courts, but as the Speaker and the new head of the Internal Economy committee, he had an opportunity to make a statement about past practices that will no longer be tolerated, or the staking a claim about Senate independence and severing the ties to the PMO, or anything like that. He didn’t, and it’s not too surprising to me because Housakos is known as someone who is close to the PMO, in with a tight cabal that surrounds the current Government Leader in the Senate, Claude Carignan. In other words, Housakos is no Pierre-Claude Nolin, who had some fairly high-minded ideals about the Senate and its independence, particularly after the Supreme Court’s reference decision. The fact that Housakos did not make any claims for institutional independence is telling, and reminds us that he bears watching so as to ensure that he personally does not become implicated in more of the PMO machinations into the Upper Chamber and its workings. The Senate needs an independent Speaker, and I’m not sure that Housakos is it. Meanwhileback in the Commons, the government refuses to answer questions on residency requirements for appointing senators.

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