Roundup: What vice-regal appointment process?

Prime minister Justin Trudeau made two notable vice-regal appointments yesterday – new lieutenant governors for both Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia, both women (the first for Newfoundland and Labrador). While the new BC LG is the chair of Vancouver’s YWCA, the new Newfoundland  and Labrador LG is former cabinet minister Judy Foote, which seems like a curiously partisan appointment for a position such as this – especially when Trudeau keeps going out of his way to ensure that there are “independent, non-partisan” appointment processes to other key positions, most especially senators.

The point that none of the stories on these appointments made yesterday was that since Trudeau came to power, he dismantled the process that Stephen Harper put into place to find new vice-regal appointments in a depoliticized fashion. The Harper-era Vice Regal Appointments Committee was headed by the Canadian Secretary to the Queen, had two permanent members, and then had additional ad hoc members for whichever province or territory they had to search for candidates from in order to get the local perspective. Short lists were forwarded to the PM, and for the most part, they were appointments without partisan histories (though the last Manitoba LG appointment was the wife of a former provincial politician it does bear noting). When he came in, Trudeau and his people said that the system was working well, and that they were likely to continue it. Except they didn’t. They replicated portions of it for their Senate nomination committee, but dismantled the Vice-Regal Appointments Committee after they let the memberships lapse, including the post of Canadian Secretary to the Queen (which remains vacant to this day). And the only reason anyone can figure out as to why is because it was simple antipathy to the Harper government, regardless of whether the idea worked. Instead, appointments are made in a black box, and Foote’s appointment seems to indicate that he’s willing to let partisans into these posts in contrast with others.

And don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against Judy Foote personally, and I’m sure she’ll do a fine job, but the whole thing is a bit odd in the context of every other appointment process that Trudeau has put into place (which are interminable and can’t fill any position in a timely manner, Supreme Court of Canada excepted). There was a system that worked. What Trudeau has done instead makes no sense at all.

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Senate QP: Brison talks out the clock

Senate Question Period resumed this week, after a hiatus of several weeks, and the special guest star this week is Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board and temporary minister of democratic institutions. Senator Larry Smith led off, and he worried about marijuana regulations not being pre-published in the Canada Gazette. Brison said that Treasury Board’s work from a regulatory perspective was to work with Health Canada to ensure that the framework was in place by the time that the legislation comes into force. He assured them that there would be no corners cut, before launching into the worn talking points about the point of the legislation. Smith tried to puzzle out the timelines around regulations being published, and he wanted the rationale being made public in terms of why the regulations were not pre-published. Brison reiterated that they were trying to ensure that the regulatory framework was in place prior to the law effect. Continue reading

Roundup: Expat voting rights on the line

Coming up this week is a Supreme Court of Canada hearing that I’m going to play the role of bad guy with, which is the challenge around expat voting rights in Canadian elections. And by playing the villain, I’m firmly in the camp that I think it’s perfectly acceptable that their right to vote in a Canadian election lapses after about five years, because our electoral system is based on local riding elections. If you don’t live in a riding, and haven’t for years, then your vote soon becomes meaningless because you are essentially voting for a local representative whom you’re not familiar with, with local issues you’re not impacted by, and generally you’re voting for a leader, which isn’t how our system works.

And I know, these expats challenging the law feel like their citizenship is being devalued, but their connection to the riding they’re supposed to be voting in grows ever more tenuous, even if their connection to Canada as a whole doesn’t – but it’s about mechanics. There are complaints that the five-year cut-off is arbitrary, and to an extent it is, but that said, the constitutional rule is that an election must be held within five years of the preceding one (despite the fact that our later fixed-election-date laws tend to operate on four-year cycles – yet another Americanism that we need to disavow because it hasn’t done anything constructive for our system and rather has created a whole new set of ways in which incumbent governments can try to manipulate the field). It makes it reasonable to make it five years, then, in terms of when voting rights lapse when one is absent from a riding.

The way I think about it is that these particular limits make our voting rights more protected, rather than devaluing citizenship. If you’re voting for a riding that you have no connection to, how is that upholding the integrity of the electoral process in that riding? It means that for those who are voting within that riding, it maintains that there is that special connection between the voters in the riding and those who are elected to represent them. You’re unlikely to be paying taxes if you’ve been away that long, so it’s not like a taxation-without-representation issue either, and most likely, those expats are voting in their new host countries by this point as well. Votes should mean something, and in Canada, that means a connection to a specific riding, which we shouldn’t take for granted.

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Roundup: Trudeau’s concern trolls

Thursday night, Canadian journalists and pundits started making a big deal out of the fact that the Daily Mail, the most widely-read newspaper in the UK, posted a hit-job on Justin Trudeau. What they didn’t bother to post was that the Mail is a tabloid rag that literally makes stuff up all the time, and lo and behold, it turns out that not only did they get a number of facts wrong in their piece, but they even posted photos that were not of Trudeau, but someone else entirely. And while those same pundits seemed to think that this was an honest mistake rather than the kind of trash “journalism” that is their stock in trade.

And then comes the concern trolling, lumping this kind of thing in with Pierce Morgan’s railing about Trudeau’s “peoplekind” joke (also in the Daily Mail), and other negative press from the India trip. Apparently, this is the fault of Trudeau’s senior staff, who should have given him firmer advice to “rein in his worst impulses,” but reading the analysis seems a bit…facile, and frankly blinkered. One would think that the pundit class in Canada would have the ability to try and see context around the press that Trudeau receives, but apparently not. For example, Piers Morgan is a Donald Trump ass-kisser who has a history of misogynistic comments, for whom Trudeau’s avowed feminism would rankle his sensibilities. And the Daily Mail is a rabidly homophobic publication for whom Trudeau’s tendency to do things like show emotion in public is anathema to their worldview of alpha males. They were never going to praise Trudeau, and he certainly hasn’t “lost them,” so I’m puzzled as to why our pundits are acting like he did. Likewise, many of the Indian publications that criticized Trudeau on his trip were of a stratified slice of society who have a particular agenda when it comes to foreigners. But there is also something particularly white male about this kind of concern trolling as well, which doesn’t look to why Trudeau makes some of the choices he does because those choices aren’t speaking to them as an audience. The traditional garb in India, for example (which was apparently five events in eight days), was showcasing Indo-Canadian designers and targeted both the Indo-Canadian community, but also the classes in India who weren’t the rarified elites in the media (and in India, these are actual elites rather than the just populists referring to us as such in Canada), and those rarified elites have particular denigrating views of their own diasporic communities. Not that a white male pundit who doesn’t look outside his own circle will pick up on these things.

This isn’t to say that Trudeau’s senior staff don’t still have problems on their hands, because clearly they do. Their ability to manage crises is still shambolic, and we’ve seen time and again where they let their opponents come up with a narrative and box them into it before they start fighting back, and they’ve done it again with this India trip. And yeah, Trudeau keeps making bad jokes that he finds funny but not everyone else does (and the Canadian press gallery are notoriously humourless). But there is a hell of a lot of myopia going on in the criticism and concern trolling, and we need to recognize it and call it out for what it is.

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Roundup: The perverse state of party leaders

Amid a bunch of bad puns by headline writers yesterday, seven out of ten Bloc MPs quit caucus because they can’t work with their leader, Martine Ouellet. Her demands that they push sovereignty above all else rankled too many, who felt their jobs as MPs were to represent Quebec’s interests in Ottawa boiled over, and they left to sit as a quasi-independent caucus (insisting that they still, deep down, belong to the Bloc) for the time being. It’s a move that some recall as being similar to when a number of Alliance MPs walked out of their caucus over dissatisfaction with Stockwell Day’s leadership, and they never really came back until the whole Conservative Party unification happened and Stephen Harper became leader.

This point that Coyne makes is exactly right. If things were running the way they should, someone from caucus would be the leader, and it would be the caucus selecting him or her, not the membership, and it would be the caucus who removes him or her. If Ouellet had an ounce of shame, she’d resign in the face of this revolt (as bad leaders like Alison Redford did once a mere two MLAs went public). But things are not running well. Rheal Fortin, the party’s former interim leader, went on Power Play and yet didn’t say that she should step down which is insane (though Gilles Duceppe did). Parties don’t serve leaders – leaders should serve the party. MPs shouldn’t be drones to serve a popularly elected leader, with all of the initiative of a battle droid. This perverse state of affairs is poisoning our parliamentary democracy, and it should stop. Ouellet should resign and mind her own affairs in the legislature that she already has a seat in, rather than trying to straddle both, and the Bloc should just choose a leader from their own ranks – Fortin was already doing the job, no reason he can’t go back to doing it.

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QP: Atwal evasions

With all of the leaders present for the proto-PMQ day, it was no doubt going to be wall-to-wall Jaspel Atwal questions instead of questions about yesterday’s budget, given the way that the news cycle is moving. Jim Eglinski led off, strangely enough, and he recounted being on the scene as an RCMP officer after Atwal’s attempted assassination in the 1980s, and wondered why the PM would associate with Atwal. Justin Trudeau reminded him that the invitation never should have been made and it was rescinded. Andrew Scheer got up next, and asked about the Indian government rejecting the notion that elements of the Indian government put Atwal up to it. Trudeau grabbed a script, and read about their respect for public servants and the advice they give. Scheer railed about Trudeau’s “incompetence,” and this time Trudeau went off the cuff about the Harper Conservatives going negative and torquing the public service for partisan advantage. Scheer tried again, louder, and Trudeau assured him that his government would never use public servants in such a manner. Scheer gave it one last shot, demanding answers on the media briefing that was organised, but Trudeau noted that governments organise media briefings all the time. Guy Caron was up next, expressing his dislike of the budget, and Trudeau got a script to read of all the great things in the budget. Caron railed about the plan to means-test pharmacare, and Trudeau read about how these measures built on actions over the last two years to make prescription drugs more affordable. Hélène Laverdière was up next to worry about the possible diplomatic harm caused with the India trip, and Trudeau, off the cuff, reiterated his previous points about trusting national security agencies. Laverdière wondered what the point of the trip was, and Trudeau read off the good news talking points related to the investments that resulted from the trip.

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Roundup: Brown out…again

After all of that drama, Patrick Brown is out of the leadership race…again. But the speculation around it took over the news cycle for the day. Not that there wasn’t some other news on that front – it was confirmed that the province’s integrity commissioner was investigating Brown for allegedly failing to disclose all of his income sources, and further stories came out about his attempts to bigfoot two particular nomination races, at least one of which is currently being investigated by police.

But in the end, Brown did withdraw, penning a four-page letter citing his reasons.

In the aftermath of it all, Jen Gerson examines Brown’s weakness of character and lack of ability to maintain the confidence of his caucus, which doomed him in the end. And along the way, she also came to the conclusion that Andrew Coyne and I are right about the fact that the way we choose our leaders is broken, and it’s time to get back to caucus selection. David Reevely, meanwhile, recaps all of the various revelations about Brown over the past weeks, and notes the things he’s not disputing that are just as alarming as the things he is.

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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: Gaming the system a second time

So the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party’s nomination committee has allowed Patrick Brown to run for the leadership contest, despite the fact that he was kicked out of caucus (which also rescinded his nomination as a candidate in his riding), which is going to go super well for everyone involved, be it Brown claiming that he’s been vindicated from the allegations (he hasn’t), or the other candidates who are trying (and failing) to come up with new policy on the fly as they try to distance themselves from Brown’s campaign platform. But what gets me are all of the pundits saying “It’s up for the party members to decide,” which should provide nobody any comfort at all, because the reason the party is in the mess it’s in is because Brown knew how to game the system in order to win the leadership the first time. He has an effective ground game, and can mobilise enough of his “rented” members, likely in more effective distributions (given that this is a weighted, ranked ballot) than other, more urban-centric candidates can. He played the system once, and has all the means necessary to do it again. Saying that it’ll be up to the membership to decide is an invitation to further chaos. This is no longer a political party. It’s an empty vessel waiting for the right charismatic person to lead it to victory, which is a sad indictment. Also, does nobody else see it as a red flag that Brown’s on-again-off-again girlfriend is 16 years his junior and used to be his intern? Dating the intern should be a red flag, should it not? Especially when one of his accusers is a former staffer.

Meanwhile, here’s David Reevely previews the party’s civil war, while Andrew Coyne imagines Brown’s pitch to members as his running as the “unity candidate” in a party split because of him.

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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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