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.

Continue reading

Roundup: Pipeline demands versus environmental legislation

The pipeline drama between Alberta and BC continues to carry on at a dull roar, with yet more demands by the Conservatives that Trudeau return home to deal with the situation, and Jason Kenney demanding that the federal government take BC’s government to court, Trudeau reiterated from a press conference in San Francisco that yes, they will ensure that the Trans Mountain pipeline will get built, and reminded Kenney et al. that you can’t take BC to court over a press release. They’ve just stated intentions and haven’t done anything yet. Take a deep breath.

Amidst all of this, the federal government unveiled their new environmental assessment legislation yesterday, and pointed to it when answering questions on the pipeline battle. The new bill undoes much of the changes made during the previous Conservative government, but also places new streamlined processes with legislated timelines and a plan to replace the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, and the National Energy Board with the Canadian Energy Regulator. The Conservatives don’t like it because it undoes the changes they made, and the NDP don’t like it because they say it leaves too much uncertainty, but one suspects that the fact that neither other party likes it suits the Liberals just fine.

As for the pipeline battle, Jason Markusoff looks at what needs to happen for Alberta and BC to stand down from their respective positions, while John Geddes notes how little wiggle room that Trudeau has given himself.

Continue reading

Roundup: Demanding Trudeau take a stand…on a press release

We’re barely a couple of days into the “trade war” between BC and Alberta, and already the rhetoric has cranked the ridiculousness up to eleven. While Trudeau has tried to calm nerves and insist that he and his officials are speaking to the premiers involved and their officials, you have Andrew Scheer going before the microphones to demand that the PM cancel his trip to the United States to deal with this escalating crisis (err, thus far a press release has been issued by BC – that’s it), and Jagmeet Singh is lamenting that Trudeau isn’t showing enough leadership. One remains curious about what kind of “leadership” Trudeau should be showing on this, given that he has declared that the pipeline will get built because it’s in the national interest (and even went so far as to deploy anonymous senior government sources to assure the media that yes, they won’t allow any province to impinge on federal jurisdiction). And you know that if Trudeau did actually cancel his US trip that the Conservatives would pillory him for not taking NAFTA renegotiations seriously enough. It was also pointed out yesterday that when Christy Clark tried to impose conditions on pipelines, the previous government pretty much let her go ahead with it with very few complaints, so their insistence that Trudeau escalate this to what one presumes to be the use of federal disallowance powers is curious in the extreme.

Meanwhile, the pundits are weighing in. Chantal Hébert notes that Trudeau lacks any kind of constitutional mechanism to force a timeout between the premiers. Andrew Leach reminds us that the only reason Alberta got the approval for the pipelines was because they did the hard work of getting a credible environmental regime in place beforehand. Jen Gerson argues that Trudeau’s job is to avoid these kinds of interprovincial disputes, and that Notley’s real goal with the wine blockade is to pressure Trudeau. Colby Cosh says that the wine blockade was a predictable turn of events given Notley’s flirting with craft beer protectionism already.

Continue reading

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

Roundup: Begun, this wine trade war has

The dispute between the NDP governments of Alberta and BC picked up intensity as Alberta decided to ban future purchases of BC wine within the province – without the consultation of groups like Restaurants Canada – and everyone is demanding that Justin Trudeau step in and do something. Anything. Never mind that Trudeau did just days ago tell audiences in Edmonton and Nanaimo that the pipeline was approved and that it was going to get built, and that it was part of the deal that came with stronger environmental laws.

https://twitter.com/andrew_leach/status/961114051865726978

There are a couple of problems in all of this. For one, there’s nothing for Trudeau to actually do at this point – BC hasn’t done anything yet besides put out a press release, and they actually can’t do anything. There’s nothing they’re actually doing at this point for Trudeau to step in and stop. It’s all just rhetoric at this point. And ultimately, this is all politicking, because Rachel Notley needs an enemy to fight against to show Jason Kenney’s would-be voters that she’s doing the job, and John Horgan is holding onto power only with the support of the three Green MLAs in his province, and he needs to keep them happy, so he’s making noises to do so. Add to that the federal Conservatives are amping up the rhetoric to try and “prove” that Trudeau isn’t really on the side of the industry, or that he’s secretly hoping that these delays will make Kinder Morgan think twice about the project like what supposedly happened with Energy East (never mind that what happened with Energy East had more to do with Keystone XL being put back on the table and being the better option for TransCanada to pursue), everyone is trying to score points. So, until there’s something that Trudeau can do, maybe everyone should hold their gods damned horses and not make the situation worse.

Incidentally, Jagmeet Singh has been dodging questions on this very issue, trying to play his own politics while other levels of NDP government battle it out. So there’s that.

Continue reading

Roundup: Release the Mandate Tracker!

The government unveiled their “mandate tracker” website yesterday, put out by the Privy Council Office, which aims to track the progress of commitments made in ministerial mandate letters, which the government (rightly) touts is the first time these kinds of things are being publicly tracked. But the grousing immediately began – that these are not campaign commitments being tracked (and really, it would be inappropriate for PCO to be tracking those), that some of the progress is subjective, and that it’s a “propaganda tool” for the government.

That’s fair criticism, and sure, it’s cute that the government calls promises they no longer intend to keep as “not being pursued” (rightly in some cases, like electoral reform – because it was a stupid promise), and yes, there is some subjectivity to some of the measures like how they’ve improved Question Period – and if anyone wants to compare how it’s being run right now as compared to the zoo that it was in the Harper era, with the jeering, hooting baboons and the reading of non-sequiturs, they can go right ahead, but it is different, and I would argue, better most of the time. (Yes, many of the government’s responses are pabulum – but given how mendacious and disingenuous most of the questions are, that’s not a surprise either).

Suffice to say, it’s a step. The Conservatives never put anything like this out for public consumption, and had a habit of retconning some of their own promises (remember the promise around wait times? And how they tried to recast it as a different promise among the five that they made and supposedly kept? Good times). And while sure, it looks like they’re grading their own homework, you don’t have to take their word for it. You the public, and We The Media can fact-check these things, and hey, there’s something in the window for us to fact-check against. Great. I’m failing to see where the downside of any of this is.

Meanwhile, here is some more informed analysis:

https://twitter.com/JenniferRobson8/status/930543481419808768

https://twitter.com/JenniferRobson8/status/930544368938897409

Continue reading

Roundup: A cynical membership ploy

Oh, Alberta politics. For the place where I first got cut my political chops, you continue to fill me with such…outrage, particularly with how you’ve so bastardized the way in which leadership contests are supposed to run. The former Progressive Conservative party was a good example of how our system could be so debased as to turn those leadership contests into quasi-primaries that they became a direct election of the premier through instant party memberships, and usually block votes to groups such as teachers, for whom leaders like Alison Redford became indebted to. This time, it’s the antics of the upstart Alberta Party that has me fuming.

For those of you who don’t know, the Alberta Party is a centrist party of mostly hipsters and academics that aims to try and find the sweet spot of the province’s political pulse, while also not being associated with the heretofore tainted Liberal brand. (Disclosure: I was friends with one of the leadership hopefuls in the previous contest, and am friends with a previous candidate for the party in the last election; both, incidentally, are academics). And with the demise of the amorphous PC brand and its quasi-centrism in favour of Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party and its decidedly more right-leaning brand, there is optimism within the Alberta Party that hey, maybe they can attract some of the former PC types fleeting for greener pastures. And so with that in mind, the current leader (and up until a week ago, holder of their only seat in the legislature, until an NDP defector joined the ranks) decided he was going to resign.

But – and here’s the catch – he just might run for the position again. And admitted yesterday that his resignation is a ploy to drive party memberships. And this is the part that makes me crazy, because it reinforces this sick notion that has infected our body politic that the only real reason that the grassroots membership exists any longer is for the purpose of leadership contests. And while sure, that’s important, it continues do drive this growing push that makes these contests into quasi-presidential primaries that centralises power in the leader’s office because the selection (and subsequent ability to remove said leader) rests outside of the caucus – though I will grant you that for Greg Clark, that was a caucus of one until just now.

And I get that at this point, the Alberta Party is one that isn’t as centrally-driven as other parties, and where there is trust in candidates about policy matters that they’re not just parroting talking points (so says my friend who ran for them), and that’s great. But it’s also indicative of a party without seats (which they had none until the last election), and without a taste of power. But it nevertheless follows the pattern that memberships – which Clark is trying to drive – is all about the leadership, and not about the nominations, or the grassroots policy development, or being the interlocutor between civic life and the legislature. And if they do manage to attract a bunch of former PCers, that could be either great for them, or their own demise as that party’s former culture takes over the party (which isn’t necessarily a great thing). It’s a risky move that Clark made, and it may present a change for the political landscape…or it becomes one more cynical exercise in bastardizing the meaning of grassroots party memberships. I guess we’ll have to see.

Continue reading

Roundup: Commence the convention

The Liberals’ policy convention is now underway in Montreal, and while things started off with a bit of an oops – the feed from the main stage was live to the reporters’ room while Trudeau was practicing his speech, giving it away before he could make it, and it included his camera directions. He delivered his rah-rah partisan speech to kick things off, which included a couple of digs at Pauline Marois, and to Harper and Mulcair in which he said he wasn’t going to play their game of trying to make Canadians angry, and ended it with a Skype call to his family (as they stayed in Ottawa, his wife due to give birth any day now). A few Senate Liberals, but not many, are in attendance, for which the NDP are trying to get a social media shaming going. Mike Moffatt offers three questions for the Liberals to look at as they try to formulate economic policy during this weekend’s convention. Kate Heartfield notes the implicit populist tones in Trudeau’s economics video, and how it still creates an Us and Them in order to play that populist card, while still trying to look like he’s above tribalism. Michael Den Tandt writes that the broad strokes economic policy will be looking at ways to bring the Red Tories and Blue Liberals back into the fold and away from the Conservative coalition. Paul Wells writes about the Conservatives hoping that the convention will prove to be a gaffe-fest for Trudeau (and along the way, coins the best descriptor for the Fair Elections Act as being “Conservative-fair”).

Continue reading

Roundup: Budget date set

Jim Flaherty has announced that the budget will be delivered on February 11th, in the midst of the Olympics. Because remember that Canadians would be too distracted by the last Olympic games to even have Parliament sitting? Apparently that’s no longer a concern, and Flaherty is confident that Canadians can pay attention to both the games and the budget at the same time. Well, that and he apparently has a few measures that are important to pass sooner than later. John Geddes notes that Flaherty’s tone has changed lately to one of striking informality of late, where he seems to be freelancing some opinions and hinting that others may be to blame if there is added spending in the upcoming budget.

Continue reading

QP: A few lengthy detours

With the Rob Ford sideshow slowing down enough so as not to consume the news cycle whole, and with the leaders back in the House today, it was setting up to be a much more lively QP than yesterday’s rather sedate hour. Thomas Mulcair started off with giving the Prime Minister a chance to address the relief efforts for the typhoon in the Philippines, which Harper dutifully did to much applause. Mulcair then moved onto asking if Harper had any regrets of his role in the ClusterDuff affair. Harper rejected the premise of the question, and said that he was disappointed with Wright and Duffy when he found out. Mulcair asked which members of Harper’s staff have been questioned by the RCMP, even offering up names that have been mentioned. Harper insisted that this was all Wright’s responsibility, and both he and Duffy have been sanctioned. Justin Trudeau started his round off by congratulating the government for its typhoon response, and asked if they would extend the deadline for matching donations and visas for students and foreign workers in Canada. Harper said that moving forward, they would extend the needed flexibility as need be. Trudeau moved onto the topic of judicial obstruction by the Conservative staffers, some of whom are now in the PMO, and wondered why there were delays in the false robocall investigations. Harper hit back by pointing out that Trudeau’s lack of support for mandatory minimums meant that he didn’t believe in accountability in the justice system.

Continue reading