QP: Concerned about Mali

While Justin Trudeau was present after two weeks away, Andrew Scheer was not, spending the day in Winnipeg instead. Lisa Raitt led off in his stead, mini-lectern on desk, and she raised the announcement of a peacekeeping mission to Mali, and the risks that it would entail given the rate of casualties there. Trudeau led off with some words about engaging in peacekeeping and that they were responding to a direct request from the U.N., and would work with the opposition on how to hold a debate on the mission — but didn’t really answer about risks. Raitt wondered about whether our troops there would be able to engage in direct combat. Trudeau took up a script, and recited about how personnel would have appropriate equipment and training, but they couldn’t eliminate the risk. Raitt demanded information on what the risk was, and how many soldiers were projected to be lost. Trudeau insisted that they would remain open and responsible rather than wrap themselves in the flag and use Special Forces troops for photo ops, as the previous government did. Pierre Paul-Hus took over in French, accusing the PM of being unconcerned for troop safety. Trudeau took up a script to remind him that they were alive to the risks and would ensure that troops had equipment and training that were necessary. Paul-Hus demanded the operational guidelines, but Trudeau reiterated the plan to hold a debate in the near future. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, also asking about the Mali announcement, and Trudeau read off some more details about helicopters and medical assistance. Caron switched to English to concern troll about how this promise fell short of the promises. Trudeau noted it was odd how the Conservatives thought we were doing too much with the military and the NDP not enough, before he went off the cuff about the upcoming debate. Tracey Ramsey was up next, demanding the government stand up to US tariff threats. Trudeau noted that he was pleased to meet workers in those industries last week, and to hear their concerns. Ramsey raised Trump’s made-up facts, and Trudeau reiterated how much he enjoyed hearing from workers in those industries.

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QP: Who ordered a conspiracy theory?

While Justin Trudeau was back in the country following his week in India, he was not, however, present for QP today, nor was Andrew Scheer. That left Candice Bergen to lead off, asking if it was the PMO’s contention that the government of India conspired to ensure Jasper Atwal’s attendance at the PM’s visit. Ralph Goodale said that while he can’t comment on individual security arrangements, the system works well. Bergen asked if the PMO arranged the for the national security advisor to brief media about the supposed plot around Atwal, but Goodale said that the invitation never should have been given and it was rescinded. Bergen tried a third time, but Goodale did not vary his response. Pierre Paul-Hus tried again in French, adding a level of insinuation about the PM loving terrorists, but Goodale stuck to his points, and again once more on Paul-Hus’s second attempt. Guy Caron was up next, levelling new accusations about KPMG around the Isle of Man, but Diane Lebouthillier responded that she was at meetings last week around tax evasion and had set up a meeting in Canada for further steps. Caron demanded to know if any tax-fighting measures were in the budget, and Lebouthillier responded that access to data is essential in the fight against tax evasion, which they have now that they didn’t years ago. Hélène Laverdière wondered what the point of the India trip was, and Kirsty Duncan assured her that they came back with renewed ties and $1 billion in investment. Laverdière lit into the list of irritants with India that went unresolved, but Duncan’s response was the same.

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Roundup: Beyak’s website battle

Unaffiliated Senator Lynn Beyak is preparing to go to war over her website on Monday. A motion had been moved in the Senate by Independent Senator Kim Pate to have Beyak’s website removed from Senate servers because of the letters that she posted on there, some of which have been deemed racist. Beyak is going to argue that if the motion passes, her privileges will be violated as it will impede her ability to do her job because she can’t inform her constituents about her work or to “address the concerns and opinions of all Canadians.”

For starters, I think Pate’s attempt to remove Beyak’s site is a bit of a stretch, given that Beyak isn’t posting anything that rises to the level of criminal hate speech (despite what her critics may say). The Senate places a great deal of value on free speech, most especially for its members, so it will be very difficult for them to make the case that Beyak should be denied it because she holds some objectionable views. Gods know that there have been plenty of abhorrent views expressed by other senators in the past about other minorities (thinking in particular about one senator’s views about the LGBT community), and she was not censured by the Chamber in any way. While there are different players in the Senate currently and this is the “era of reconciliation,” I still think that there is an uphill battle to take down Beyak’s site.

The other thing is that it would take very little effort for Beyak to port her website onto a different server, and just have a link from her Senate bio page, as many other senators have done, where there is simply a disclaimer next to it saying that it’s not an official Senate site. In other words, Pate’s measures are pretty much symbolic only, which may be fine on the surface, but won’t actually addess the real issues with Beyak’s views, or her promotion of views that are objectionable. Is this a battle worth having? I guess we’ll see.

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QP: Demands for disassociations

While Justin Trudeau was present today, post-trip to Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, Andrew Scheer was not. This left Peter Kent to lead off, railing about the “peoplekind” remark and the fact that Trudeau’s principle secretary, Gerald Butts, called out people who crictised it as Nazis. (He didn’t really, but made reference to specific alt-right characters doing the criticizing). Trudeau noted that he didn’t hear a question in that statement, and sat back down. Kent got up to rail about real Nazis and demanded that the PM disassociate himself from Butts, but Trudeau stood up to talk about how they recognise the horrors of the holocaust and that they took that history seriously. Alain Rayes got up next, and railed about the lack of action on the Trans Mountain pipeline, and Trudeau noted that he had committed that the pipeline would get built. Shannon Stubbs returned to the “Nazi” issue, and while Trudeau first dissembled about town halls, on a supplemental, he told the opposition that they shouldn’t let Rebel Media quite their  questions for them, and suggested that they are the ones who should disassociate themselves. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, concerned about anonymised data requested by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and Trudeau noted that they have concluded an agreement with the PBO to get them the information that they need. After a round of the same in French, Charlie Angus got up to demand action on cases like the death of Colten Boushie, Trudeau noted that their hearts went out to the family, and while they couldn’t comment on the specific case, they were working to address the inequities in the system. Angus demanded more action on Indigenous justice, and Trudeau listed areas that they need to fix, and noted that they were at work on it.

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QP: Litigating actual litigation

While the PM flew off to Chicago to begin his US tour, the rest of the benches in the House of Commons were full and ready for another scintillating day of bad litigation drama. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, but with the PM away, today he led off on the news story of a government fighting a sexual harassment lawsuit from a Canadian Forces member, but wedged in an Omar Khadr reference at the end, because of course he did. Harjit Sajjan said that they were committed to a harassment-free environment in the Forces, but couldn’t speak to the specifics of the case — despite the fact that earlier this morning, the PM stated that he would have the case looked into. Scheer tried again, but got the same response. Scheer amped up his dramatics for the third attempt, and tried to draw in the justice minister, but Sajjan got back up to reiterate his points, including pointing out how many people they have discharged for sexual misconduct. Lisa Raitt got up next, and repeated the question with full-on anger, but Sajjan reiterated the commitment to Operation Honour, and they went again for another round. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, demanding taxation for digital giants, and Mélanie Joly said that they wanted to ensure that there wasn’t a piecemeal approach to digital platforms over the long term. Caron tried again in English, noting that Trudeau would be meeting with Amazon on his trip. Ruth Ellen Brosseau was up next to read her condemnation of the government’s actions with that lawsuit, and Sajjan repeated his points. Brosseau read the question again in French, and got the same reply. 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.

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QP: The Philpott connection

On a cold and blustery morning in Ottawa, MPs were raring to go with another go-around of QP. And true to form, Andrew Scheer got up, mini-lectern on desk, decrying that the PM didn’t take responsibility for his “illegal luxury trip” and he had taxpayers foot the bill to boot. Justin Trudeau insisted that he did take responsibility and would clear future trips with the Commissioner. Scheer railed that taking responsibility meant paying it back, and replayed the cheap outrage around a sedan that Jane Philpott hired back in 2016, deeming it a “luxury limousine.” Trudeau reiterated his previous response. Scheer wailed about the standard that Philpott was held to, and Trudeau didn’t engage, keeping to his points. Scheer demanded repayment, but Trudeau didn’t vary his answer. Scheer then brought up Trudeau’s speaking fees to charities several years ago, for some reason, but Trudeau stuck to his points about accepting the Commissioner’s recommendations. Guy Caron was up next, and demanded to know what concessions were made with signing the new TPP. Trudeau said that once the documents were translated, they would be made public. Caron switched to English to demand the same thing, and Trudeau repeated his answer. Ruth Ellen Brosseau demanded a plan to elect more women, and Trudeau stated that it was part of engaging women during the nomination process. Brosseau demanded proportional representation, but Trudeau wouldn’t bite on the notion.

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QP: Attempting to litigate the Ethics Commissioner’s report

After some six weeks away, MPs were all back in Ottawa, including the four new MPs who won by-elections in December. When things got underway, Andrew Scheer, mini-lectern on desk, got up to read some disappointment about the Prime Minister’s response to the Ethics Commissioner’s report, and lamented the PM’s “illegal actions.” Trudeau noted that he took responsibility and has put in new measures to ensure that it could not happen again. Scheer tried again, got exactly the same response, and Scheer switched to French to concern troll about decisions related to the Aga Khan, and Trudeau insisted that he had no part in any decisions related to those files. Trudeau returned to his same response, and Scheer reiterated his concerns in English, and in this response, Trudeau elaborated that they need better guidelines into what constitutes a friend. Guy Caron was up next, lamenting the wages of CEOs in English, when compared to the plight of former Sears employees. Trudeau reminded him that the very first thing they did was lower taxes on the middle class and raised them on the wealthy, plus investing in cracking down on tax avoidance and tax evasion. Caron repeated the question in French, got the same response in French, and Ruth Ellen Brosseau gave a statement about believing victims before asking what actions parliamentarians can take to shift the culture. Trudeau gave his assurance that they were committed to improving the situation, and pointed to Bill C-65 as a good start. Brosseau switched to French to demand electoral reform to elect more women, and Trudeau said that he recognised that electing more women was key, and they were working on it. Continue reading

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: 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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