It being a Wednesday, the Commons was a pretty packed chamber, and MPs were riled up from their morning caucus meetings. Thomas Mulcair took advantage of this frisson in the air to read a series of questions listing off Canada’s mediocre economic performance – trade deficit, billions of dollars in “dead money,” tax cuts for businesses not reinvesting it, and so on – and wondering why Harper wasn’t listening to Canadians about the economy. Harper acknowledged that there were great challenges facing the economy, but jobs, exports and growth were up. Peggy Nash brought up the Nexen deal and wondered why they weren’t paying attention to the hollowing out of the resources sector or the concerns of Canadian entrepreneurs. Christian Paradis reassured her about the Investment Canada Act’s criteria, and that those entrepreneurs don’t want a carbon tax either. Joyce Murray was up for the Liberals, and she brought up the Conservatives’ unwillingness to hand over to the Parliamentary Budget Officer data on cuts, to which Tony Clement assured her that they are accountable to Parliament by the regular channels. For her last question, Murray asked about what percentage of foreign ownership of the oil sands the government would allow, not that she got an actual answer from Paradis.
My friend Destine Lord and I have a new video up, in which we talk about the framing device around faux “carbon taxes,” and the political games with MP pensions.
As the whole carbon tax faux-debate continues to rage unabated, it turns out that the Conservatives’ sector-by-sector regulatory approach has a lot of hidden costs to it. Bruce Cheadle delves into how the faux-debate is all about framing the issue, no matter how true or false it actually may be.
Changes to MP pensions may mean lifting the freeze on their salaries. The Liberals are demanding that the changes be in a separate bill, so that they can support it. Of course, the likely calculation is that the changes will be put into an otherwise unpalatable omnibus bill so that the Conservatives can accuse them of trying to protect their pensions.
Plans to allow American law enforcement agents to pursue suspects across land borders are “on hold” while they sort out legal issues.
Here’s a look at what a new omnibus budget bill might contain – things like changes to science and research policies, or minor tax changes. Apparently there is some debate within the caucus about what the changes to pensions should entail, especially around the age of eligibility.
The opposition is concerned that a crackdown on “absentee” permanent residents could negatively impact the investment climate in the country.
We’re signing a nuclear deal with the United Arab Emirates in order to provide uranium to their reactors, and to set an example to Iran, apparently.
The last QP of the sitting could be described in a single word: Scattershot. Apparently everyone was looking to get as many YouTube clips for their MPs’ websites to sustain them through the summer on a variety of topics, so there was very little coherence to any of the debate. Thomas Mulcair asked about F-35s (Harper: We’re rebuilding the Canadian Forces with the equipment our men and women in uniform need!), the cut in funds to minority francophone newspapers (Harper: There’s this funding formula in place, and hey, you ran all kinds of unilingual Anglophone candidates in francophone ridings), and about the myriad ethical lapses of the Conservative front bench (Harper: This was one of the most legislatively productive periods in Canadian history, and you’re an ineffective opposition!). So there. Nycole Turmel then took a turn batting away at those ethical lapses (Paradis: Our government’s done a good job on the economy!) before Bob Rae got up and went after Flaherty’s mortgage announcement earlier in the morning, noting that the new changes return the policy back to where it was in 2006 when the government took office (Harper: We’re being prudent after listening to the experts!). For his final question, Rae noted that it was National Aboriginal Day, and given all of the 1812 celebrations, why hasn’t the government resolved the Six Nations land claims dispute that has been going on since said war. Harper assured him that they were in negotiations, and hey, they have new land claims legislation.
The G20 over, Harper was back in the House today for what will probably be the penultimate QP of the spring sitting. (All those in favour of getting the blazes out of Ottawa with its oppressive muggy heat, please say ‘yay.’ And so on). Thomas Mulcair, scripted questions waiting on his miniature lectern, led off by asking Harper a trio of questions regarding Canada’s entry into the TPP negotiations, and what exactly we were willing to give up to get to the table. Harper simply reiterated how great the “jobs and growth” agenda was, which trade is a part of. Peggy Nash wondered about how it was the PBO “overstepped” his mandate when not that long ago he was praised for having improved the financial reporting process in Parliament. Tony Clement insisted that a parliamentary committee voted that he wasn’t doing his job – ignoring the context of said report and how it was actually about a turf war the PBO was having with the Parliamentary Librarian. Oops. But then Nash decided to call out Clement to repeat allegations that the PBO wasn’t doing his job – outside of the House! And thus officially ended Nathan Cullen’s promise that he was going to keep the NDP from engaging in the “silly season” that happens around this time of year. Bob Rae was up next and he too wanted to know about the issue of the PBO getting the information he requested, and Harper insisted that they provide all information by the usual means. But for his final question, Rae took everyone by surprise and wondered if Harper was going to be sticking to the planned October 2015 election date given that some seven provinces are also holding elections at that same time. Harper, after joking about the Liberals’ motives for wondering about election timing this far out, said that they were aware of the pile-up and were having discussions with the provinces about it.
Thomas Mulcair started off QP with one of those polite gimme questions that leaders occasionally ask one another, in this case on the situation in Syria – which Mulcair asked in English and then repeated immediately in French in the same 35 second block. Harper gave a perfunctory reply about how they’re working with their allies about binding sanctions, and then it was back to business as usual. Mulcair asked a pair of questions on the omnibus budget bill and the NRTEE’s final report today about the oilsands and greenhouse gas emissions. Harper responded by saying that when they took office, emissions were growing steadily but have levelled off. Peggy Nash was up next wondering about the effect of the EI changes on women, which got a rote talking point from Kellie Leitch, followed by Lisa Raitt giving her assurances about contractual obligations for income equity. Bob Rae was greeted with a standing ovation from all sides when he got up to speak, given his announcement earlier in the morning (though really, he’s not retiring), to which Rae quipped “Now they love me.” His first two questions were on Harper calling a first ministers’ meeting on national economic and energy strategies, which Harper insisted that he consults all the time and not just with premiers, and for his last question, Rae asked about the Del Mastro situation – with Del Mastro sniping “That’s a lie!” the whole while. Harper shrugged it off and said that they should treat all members with more consideration. Erm, okay.
With Stephen Harper back in the House after nearly two weeks away, it remained to be seen how the drama would play out. And, well, there really wasn’t a lot of drama. Thomas Mulcair asked a couple of rote questions on getting Harper to justify the environmental changes in the omnibus budget bill, and Harper responded calmly that there was still going to be a rigorous process for environmental assessment that included timelines for investors. For his final question, Mulcair asked why Harper had such a change of heart when it came to his opposition to omnibus bills. Harper gave a recitation about how it was a bill full of comprehensive measures for jobs and growth, and the economy, and sunshine and rainbows (well, okay, maybe not those last two). Libby Davies was up next to decry the cuts to health transfers to the provinces, and Ted Menzies bet Leona Aglukkaq to the punch and talked about how the transfers were still increasing and included a floor should the economy not grow, though Aglukkaq did respond to the supplemental question, during which she called Davies’ questions misleading. Bob Rae was up next, and wondered if Harper’s change of heart when it comes to omnibus bills meant that he had been corrupted by power. While Harper gave pretty rote responses about the comprehensive measures for his first two responses, on his final response he noted that Rae had promised not to run for permanent leader and now seemed to be changing his mind, which must mean that it’s a lack of power that corrupts. Oh, snap!
Not only was Harper away from Question Period today – as he is still in London celebrating Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee – but Thomas Mulcair was mysteriously absent as well. (What was that about people who wanted promotions needing to show up?) Nathan Cullen instead took his place and asked about the government’s need to redraft their entire Canada First Defence Strategy because they can’t afford all of it. Jason Kenney, still as the designated back-up PM du jour, insisted that his government acted to rebuild the Forces, and were better for the military than any other government in living memory. Jack Harris then asked about the very same thing, and then both he and Christine Moore brought in the costly price tag for Peter MacKay’s photo op about choosing the F-35s, to which Julian Fantino read off a talking point about the need to inform the public. Moore’s final question was about MacKay’s office chastising DND for not defending MacKay well enough with his various scandals, but Fantino read off a talking point about the professional relationship between the minister’s office and DND. Bob Rae was up next, and asked about the issue of youth unemployment and apprentices being laid off, and did the government have a plan to deal with that? Diane Finely at first insisted that they were proud of their investments in youth employment, before Kenney responded to the supplementals about how they were continuing to target economic growth.
It started out like any other Question Period would. Thomas Mulcair rose to decry the effect of the EI changes on seasonal workers, and Harper assured him that EI would be there for those who need it. Peggy Nash tried to draw a connection between today’s census data and the need for OAS, but Diane Finley returned to her “sustainable” talking points, while Tony Clement assured her that all of their financial data was still being reported in quarterly reports and so on. Bob Rae brought up the comments of Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale regarding the EI changes and the lack of consultation, but Harper assured him that he meets with premiers all the time. The Liberal benches didn’t sound like they believed that story, and while Harper may meet with premiers on an individual basis, he certainly hasn’t called a First Minister’s meeting in about six years, for the record.