I find myself torn about the government announcement on new legislation to amend the Access to Information Act because on the whole, they made most of the changes that they promised to, but they failed to uphold one promise, which was to make the Act apply to the PMO and minister’s offices. And yes, We The Media let them know how displeased we were about it.
Part of the problem here is that like so many of their other election promises, it may have been a stupid one – kind of like their promise around electoral reform. Why? Because it was always going to be problematic to promise access to cabinet documents, and there’s a very good reason for that, because much of that information should remain private because it will otherwise damage the ability for there to be unfettered advice to ministers or between cabinet colleagues, and they need to have space to make these kinds of deliberations, otherwise the whole machinery of government starts to fall apart.
The focus should be to limiting what falls under Cabinet confidence.
Like Philippe Lagassé says, the better discussion would have been to have specific proposals as to what falls under cabinet confidence. Currently the Information Commissioner has some determination around that, and with the changes in this bill, the onus will be reversed – the government will need to convince her (and if that fails, the courts) that information should remain secret, as opposed to her having to take the government to court to get that access. That’s significant.
I would hope to see proactive disclosure also of ministerial directions and directives.
There is a lot of good in these changes, but I fear that it will be lost amidst the grumbling that it didn’t go far enough. And let’s face it – sometimes We The Media are our own worst enemies when we use Access requests for cheap outrage stories rather than meaningful accountability, and then wonder why the government suddenly clamps down and turns to message control, and worst of all, nobody wants to talk about that problem. That may wind up making things worse for everyone in the end.
Oh, Bardish Chagger. So very earnest in her desire to try and change the Standing Orders to try and prevent the excesses and abuses of the Conservative era that she’s ready to be her most ham-fisted in order to get it done. In an interview with The West Block this weekend, she said that she wasn’t going to hand over a veto to the Conservatives about these reforms, which means she’s doubling down about ensuring that any rule changes happen by consensus, and so I guess we’ll see the filibuster carry on in committee, and yet more egregious privilege debates and various other procedural shenanigans by the other opposition parties in the hopes that she backs down. So far, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.
If I had my druthers, I would tell Chagger to stick to two simple points – omnibus bills, and prorogation. And specifically, the proposal to restore prorogation ceremonies, and take those two suggestions to the opposition parties, and just get them to agree to those. Those are the only two suggestions that are workable and doable (and prorogation ceremonies are in fact something that I recommend restoring in The Unbroken Machine), because that’s rolling back a change that happened in order to “streamline” things a couple of decades ago, and it’s a necessary tool for transparency and accountability. And omnibus bill restrictions are an obvious change that anyone can see as being necessary after the abuses of the 41st parliament.
But as I’ve stated before, on numerous occasions, any other suggestion that Chagger makes in her discussion paper is unnecessary and will cause more harm than good, because the underlying changes that need to happen are cultural, not structural. The problem is that it’s hard to sell MPs on this, especially when they keep using the phrases “modernize” and “21st century workplace” as though the terms meant something. And she keeps using them. Over. And over. And over. And it’s driven me to the point of complete distraction. But because Chagger is doubling down, I have the sinking feeling that it’s going to be yet another week of apocalyptic language and procedural gamesmanship and nothing will get done. Because that’s the state of things right now, and no amount of rule changes will actually fix that.
Elections Canada has now charged Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro with four breaches of the Elections Act stemming from the 2008 election, and charged his official agent with three of those offences. Within a couple of hours, Del Mastro was out of the caucus (he says voluntarily, but we all know what that means), which also means that his parliamentary secretary position was also out the door. And of course, Del Mastro insists that he’s innocent and plans to prove it – because Elections Canada just spent the past four years gathering evidence because they’re part of a Conservative-hating conspiracy, apparently. Oh, and if convicted, Del Mastro and his official agent could be sentenced to up to five years in jail plus a $5000 per offence – now multiply that by four, and you’ll see the stakes of Del Mastro’s situation.
Parliament has officially been prorogued until October 16th after the Prime Minister advised the Governor General to do so. Aaron Wherry gives a bit of an explainer on the whole thing, but fails to explain the reasons for the pageantry of having the PM sit there while the GG reads his speech. (Hint: It is a reminder that the Crown holds the power while the political executive wields it for the day-to-day governing of the country, and that the Crown is the formal source of authority). Sonya Bell looks at some of the party plans during the prorogation period. Independent MP Brent Rathgeber says that he will spend the time on a “Broken Democracy” tour speaking at various universities, while also updating his website to be more transparent with his expenses.
Word has been given – Parliament shall resume on October 16th. That means that about three-and-a-half weeks of sitting days will have been missed, as the week of the 14th was supposed to have been a constituency week owing to Thanksgiving. Also factor in that there is an APEC Summit in Indonesia the week before, so that also affected the timing of an October return. Mind you Harper could have simply prorogued and still returned on September 16th as planned, but what can you do? (Well, withdraw confidence in the government, if you really want to be technical about it).
A leaked government report gives a rather stinging indictment of the Sea King helicopter replacement procurement, calling it flawed from the outset. At the time, the government treated it like they were buying “off-the-shelf” helicopters, but with so many procurements, the military loaded it up with new specifications until it was no longer “off-the-shelf,” but was rather something that should have been treated like an in-development contract. And so we get delays, and penalties, and intransigence. The report recommends re-scoping the contract in order to treat it as an in-development project so that they can start accepting delivery of helicopters and phasing in new features, but there’s no word on if the government will accept this proposal or not, or if they’ll just continue to blame the Liberals for it rather than taking responsibility or action.
John Baird says that there’s mounting evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria – not that anyone is actually talking about what kind of response is being warranted. Meanwhile, we should be expecting the first 200 “urgent” Syrian refugee cases to start arriving in the coming months, with 1300 expected by the end of next year.
The NDP have filed a formal request to recall the Industry Committee to hold hearings into the upcoming wireless spectrum auction. Of course, they’ll have to hurry before the official prorogation order happens, at which time the committees pretty much cease to exist and will need to be reconstituted in the next session.
Thomas Mulcair has decided to step into the fray over prorogation, and his contribution is that prorogation is fine and good, but suspending Parliament is not, and that since Harper is avoiding Parliament, he’s a coward. Because that’s raising the tone of debate, ladies and gentlemen.
Oh, look – Harper wants the throne speech to focus on the economy and middle-class families. I wonder where I’ve heard that one before? Oh, and safe streets? Tell me more! I’ve totally never heard any of this before. Why, it’s positively game changing!
While in Whitehorse yesterday, Stephen Harper made it official – Parliament will be prorogued, and come back in October. Not sure when yet in October (though the Hill Times is saying October 21st), at which point they can return with a Speech From the Throne, and a reset of their agenda – which, let’s face it, they badly need by this point as they’ve pretty much exhausted their plans previously. Now, before you start getting angry about prorogation, remember that this is the kind of routine, normal agenda-resetting prorogations that are normal and as indicated, even necessary in the life of a parliament. It’s not being done to avoid a confidence vote, or otherwise thwart the will of the House, so put the placards away. Here, Kady O’Malley has three reasons not to freak out over this prorogation. Are we good? Apparently not, since the opposition parties are now going with the rallying cry that Harper is avoiding accountability for the Senate scandals in Parliament, and so on. Um, okay – I’m not exactly sure how much he could actually answer regarding those Senate spending issues since the Ministry doesn’t control the Senate and can’t actually answer for them under the rubric of ministerial responsibility that governs QP, and they’ve already pretty much hashed out the Wright/Duffy revelations to death, so I’m not exactly sure what “accountability” we’re missing out on. But hey, don’t let the facts spoil a good narrative. Oh, and Harper also said that he has no plans to retire anytime soon and will lead the party in the next election, so there’s that for all the pundits who’ve spent the summer theorising otherwise.
And that was the premiers’ meeting. Aside from the opposition to the Canada Jobs Grant programme as it is currently structured, they wanted disaster mitigation to stand apart from their infrastructure demands, which of course they want federal funds for both. They also agreed to work together on the issue of cyberbullying, and on some healthcare initiatives related to things like home care, diagnostic imaging, and brand-name pharmaceuticals. John Geddes has a brief rundown of the meeting as a whole, and notes how curiously late the infrastructure working group comes after the federal budget. Andrew Coyne looks at all of the things that these premiers could accomplish that are in their own jurisdiction, and yet they choose to spend their time ganging up on the federal government instead, demanding cash.