QP: Selling shares, ad nauseam

While the PM was in Toronto and Bill Morneau in Montreal, it was promising to be an insufferable day in Question Period. Andrew Scheer led off, accusing Morneau of evading Canadian taxes while labelling small businesses as tax cheats (not true), and Bardish Chagger got to stand up to read that Morneau followed the advice of the Ethics Commissioner and that they trust her. Scheer tried again, and Chagger read that they are making changes to their proposals based on what Canadians told them, and hey, lower small business taxes! Scheer switched to English to worry that Morneau didn’t place his shares into a blind trust, and Chagger read another trite statement. They went another round, Chagger trying to play up small business week, and then another round again. Guy Caron was up next, leading for the NDP, raising the supposed conflicts of interest that Morneau was involved in — per the letter that Nathan Cullen sent to the Ethics Commissioner — and Chagger reminded him that they cleared everything with the Commissioner and after another round of the same in French, Cullen got up to reiterate and tried to get Duclos to respond based on pension legislation that could, theoretically, benefit Morneau’s family company, but Chagger gave her stock response. When Cullen chastised her for responding instead of Duclos, the response didn’t change.

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Roundup: Cozy think tank takedowns

Over on Maclean’s yesterday was a longread “exposé” of Canada 2020 as an arm of the federal Liberal party which is exerting all manner of influence, and how potentially inappropriate that may be. But after reading the piece, I found it less a convincing exploration of the think tank than it was simply a recitation of names with “links” to the Liberals, followed by Duff Conacher’s railing about how awful it all is.

Pro tip: If your story relies on Duff Conacher’s analysis of government misdeeds, then it’s probably not worth reading. Conacher is a noted crank who has a history of distorting issues and losing court battles, and who has a number of particularly harmful ideological agendas that involve the destruction of the Canadian Crown, the Westminster system, making all prerogatives justiciable, and one supposes the installation of a Parliamentary Thought Police with himself at the head. (Note: I have had to quote Conacher for stories in the past, but have limited those interactions to narrow questions of ethics legislation rather than the breadth of topics that other rely on his analysis for, just as Anne Kingston does here). In other words, it’s the laziest possible journalist trick in Canada if you want to write a story that makes any government look bad, and you won’t get any meaningful analysis of the issue.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t questions that can be raised about Canada 2020’s cozy relationship with the Liberal Party – but I would say that it’s in all likelihood no more nefarious than the kinds of ideological alignment between something like the Fraser Institute and the Conservative Party, and it’s no more incestuous than the Broadbent Institute is with the NDP (to the point where Broadbent’s PressProgress “news” service is simply a branch of the party’s opposition research bureau).

Part of the problem is that political parties in Canada have looked south with this particular kind of envy about the think tank networks in Washington as something that should be emulated, without necessarily realizing that the American think tank network is intrinsically linked to the fact that their civil service is far more partisan than Canada’s, and that the usual cycle is for parties who aren’t in power to send their senior staffers to bide their time in said think tanks, and when they return to power, they fill their upper civil service ranks from those think tanks, while those who’ve lost power fill their own think tank ranks, and on it goes. That’s not how things work in Canada, and the need for said think tanks is not the same. There has also been talk from some partisans about how they need these think tanks to help them develop policies, as thought that wasn’t the job of the parties’ grassroots membership. So I do think we need to rethink the whole “think tank” system in Canada writ-large and what parties are expecting of them – especially when it comes to policy development – but I’m not sure that this story is doing that job.

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Roundup: A reminder of why debate matters

While I haven’t been following the trial in Sudbury around those non-criminal bribery charges related to the provincial by-election, aside from Chris Selley’s columns on the topic, it was something that he tweeted from the courtroom yesterday that piqued my interest because it’s something I deal with a fair amount in writing both about law and politics. Part of the issue raised is that these sections of the law that the trial is proceeding under have never been tested before.

We see these kinds of bills passed not infrequently federally that are passed at all stages with no debate. This is usually where the Senate picks up the slack and does the actual heavy lifting, but not always. Sure, there are a few bills that are relatively non-contentious, related to national parks and such (to think of an example or two off the top of my head), but some that matter – like the changes to royal succession in Canadian law – got no debate in the Commons despite it being a fairly fundamental problem that the law as passed effectively reduced Canada’s status to that of a colony once again.

But the point I make is that the courts will often turn to Parliament for guidance in what it is they should be interpreting. That means looking to debates and committee transcripts to try to divine just what it is that Parliament intended when they passed the bill so that the judge can rule one way or the other in clarifying the meaning. And if you have no such debates – like in this Ontario statute – well, that’s a real problem. It’s also a reason why I will frequently harp on why the Senate matters so much is because they not only will offer some debate in instances where the Commons offers none, but it’s where committee testimony becomes most crucial, especially when it comes to hearing from witnesses that people object to (as happened with the trans rights bill) – because they want it on the record that they heard and dismissed these concerns should they eventually be litigated.

Parliament is supposed to matter, and MPs (and MPPs in this particular instance) do themselves and the province or country they serve a real disservice when they don’t do the job of putting things on the record. And I’ll say that the issue going on in Ontario right now with the bubble law around abortion clinics is another such issue. The provincial Progressive Conservatives offered to pass the bill at all stages – eager to get it off the agenda so that it minimizes the divisions in their ranks on the issue, and the Liberals refused, wanting instead to hear from those it affects. While the cynical calculation is that this is the Liberals playing politics – and to an extent it really is – it’s also the responsible thing to do, so that we get some debate and testimony on the record, so that when this legislation is inevitably challenged, there is a record for the courts to turn to. And yes, that matters beyond the petty politicking.

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Roundup: The demise of Energy East

The news that TransCanada decided to cancel their plans for the Energy East pipeline yesterday created a predictable firestorm of reaction, from the gloating of Montreal mayor Denis Coderre, outgoing Saskatchewan premier getting in his last kicks, to the histrionics of the Conservative caucus. The government’s line is market conditions have changed since the project was first proposed – and they’re entirely correct. But that doesn’t stop the rhetoric, either from TransCanada itself, or from the Conservatives, who are peddling some incredulous, mind-boggling lines to vilify the government.

But seriously, there are plenty of charts and graphs that show how the market conditions have changed beyond just the world price of oil (which is a bit part of it), but that the capacity with the other approved pipelines changes the equation for the hole that Energy East would have filled, and it’s no longer clear that it was a clear-cut decision after all.

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Also, it should be mentioned that as much as TransCanada is blaming government regulation, they did balls this up on their own end more than once, and do need to take some of the blame along the way. But why take that blame when you can shake your fist at the government?

And this having been said, there is a proud Alberta tradition that is underlying all of this. Because some zombies refuse to die.

Meanwhile, Paul Wells looks at the current record of the government in trying to attract investment, and wonders if we really are a place that will get the big things built, or if it will all collapse in tears and recriminations, driving investors away.

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QP: Energy East and Barbados

After the Energy East cancellation announcement this morning, you just knew that this would be the fodder for increasingly hysterical denunciations during QP today. Justin Trudeau was present, but Andrew Scheer was not, so it remained to be seen how this would play out.

Lisa Raitt led off instead, mini-lectern on desk, blaming the government for killing Energy East with their ideology. Justin Trudeau responded that it was a business decision, that the project was proposed when oil was $90/barrel and it’s now half that, but that his government had already approved three other pipelines. Raitt accused the government of playing to the interests of countries like Saudi Arabia, and Trudeau shrugged off that suggestion. Raitt then accused him of taking Atlantic Canada for granted with this cancellation. Trudeau countered that they had an Atlantic growth strategy and that it was the previous government that ignored them. Gérard Deltell then took over the condemnation of the loss of Energy East in French, and Trudeau reiterated that conditions have changed, also in French. Deltell then said that Trudeau was responsible for conditions changing, as though Trudeau controls the world price of oil, and Trudeau instead responded about the ways that they have been doing what the market has been asking for, including carbon pricing. Guy Caron was up next, pointing to the recent PBO report on fiscal sustainability, and demanded that healthcare be adequately funded for the provinces. Trudeau touted the investments that they made in mental health and home care. In English, Caron demanded a national strategy for seniors, to which Trudeau listed all of the measures that they have taken. Caron then changed topics to the Phoenix pay system, demanding a refund for it. Trudeau noted that they were working with the public service and the unions to fix the situation, and then there was another round of the same in French.

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QP: Equating Khadr with First Nations

Wednesday, caucus day, and not only was the prime minister in attendance, but we also saw NDP MP Guy Caron named as the party’s “parliamentary leader” in lieu of Jagmeet Singh while he remains seatless (and you can bet that I have a very big problem with this). Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, reading an exhortation about the proposed tax changes in French, condemning the defeat of their Supply Day motion on extending the consultations. Justin Trudeau responded with his usual points about being elected to raise taxes on the wealthy, and that they have listened to Canadians’ concerns as they move ahead with a bill. Andrew Scheer tried to turn the issue into one of touching the PM’s own family fortune, but Trudeau reiterated his talking points. Scheer insisted that the proposals would mean the wealthiest pay less while the middle class pay more — an extremely dubious claim — and Trudeau sounded a bit weary having to repeat himself about their plans to make the tax system fairer. Scheer then moved onto the topic of Omar Khadr, claiming that repatriation was his compensation and that the excuse of saving legal fees didn’t stack up in the face of the court case of that First Nations girls who needed braces. Trudeau reminded Scheer that they don’t only get to defend Canadians’ rights when it’s popular. Scheer asked again in French, and Trudeau responded with prepared points about the programme for uninsured care and that these services would be improved under the new Indigenous Services department. Guy Caron was up next to lead off for the NDP, and he asked about the Environment Commissioner’s report in French, and Trudeau responded first with congratulations to the new NDP leader and Caron’s new role, before giving a brief and bland assurance about the report. Caron asked again in English, and Trudeau gave a longer response about the environment and the economy and they have an ambitious carbon pricing plan coming in. Caron then railed about the Netflix deal and the outsourcing of Canadian culture to American companies. Trudeau assured him that they had faith in our content creators, and when Caron asked again in French, noting the condemnation of the Quebec National Assembly, Trudeau noted that they promised not to raise taxes on the middle class so they wouldn’t go ahead with additional levies.

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QP: Statements for Edmonton and Vegas

In the wake of the installation ceremony for Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Justin Trudeau was not in the Commons for QP, leaving only Andrew Scheer as the leader of note present. Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, reading about shock and sadness for the terrorist act in Edmonton over the weekend, and asked for a minister to update the House on the situation. Ralph Goodale read a statement of condemnation for the action and congratulations to the Edmonton Police Service for their actions, and updated on the injured. Scheer then read similar sentiments for the shooting in Las Vegas — minus the part about condemning global terror — and Chrystia Freeland responded with condolences and notes that one Canadian was confirmed killed and consular services were working to help victims and their families. (A second Canadian was later confirmed as having been killed). Scheer then moved onto the proposed tax changes, and Bill Morneau assured him that they were listening and would make changes to the proposals. Maxime Bernier was up next, saying that Morneau was not listening, and then raised the Morneau-Shepell conspiracy theory, and Morneau insisted that they were listening, which was why they engaged in consultations. After another round of the same in French, Alexandre Boulerice railed about the situation in Catalonia, but rather than answer, Bardish Chagger got up to read a statement of congratulations about Jagmeet Singh’s leadership victory. Boulerice asked again, and this time Chrystia Freeland said that Canada was hoping that Spain would act in a democratic manner. Pierre Nantel was up next, railing about the Netflix deal as selling out Canadian culture amidst a rate hike, and Mélanie Joly insisted that it was a good deal and was the first stage in modernising our cultural policies. Nantel and Joly went another round in English, not that the question or answer changed.

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Roundup: Exit the GG

With this being Governor General David Johnston’s last week on the job, and before we see the installation of Julie Payette as his successor next week, I thought I’d share this thread from Philippe Lagassé from the weekend on the job of being GG.

Meanwhile, that interview with Maclean’s that Johnston did last week also sparked a few thoughts from Lagassé as well.

While I think that Johnston was an okay GG, I do recall there being a few…brow-raising incidents early in his tenure, which most people seem to have glossed over. One was during a cabinet swearing-in shortly after one of the Harper-era elections, where reporters at Rideau Hall noted that he was doing a lot of high-fiving with newly sworn-in cabinet ministers, and while those on the scene tried to raise the issue over Twitter, it got swallowed by the news cycle shortly. (Remember that Johnston was appointed not long after he drafted very narrow terms of reference for the Oliphant Inquiry into Brian Mulroney’s dealings with Karlheinz Schriber, which again were curious at the time). The other incident for me that I found a bit curious was during an interview that Johnston had with George Stroumoublopoulos, in which Strombo raised the promotion of family as one of the things that Johnston was keen to promote during his time in office, and when he asked what that meant, Johnston replied that it started with the nuclear family. As someone for whom the nuclear family was never going to be an option, I found the response curious but it wasn’t really delved into. Nevertheless, Johnston’s tenure has been largely unremarkable, which was probably what those who appointed him were looking for after two previous Governors General that were media darlings and in danger of being a bit self-aggrandizing at times. We’ll see what Julie Payette brings to the role, and I look forward to her installation.

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Roundup: No, the Senate can’t fire Lynn Beyak

After another week of sustained outrage about Senator Lynn Beyak, with mounting calls for her resignation, and the exasperated commentary of those Indigenous groups that have tried to educate her as to the reality of the situation that Beyak has seen fit to comment upon, we’ve also started to see articles speculating on ways that the Senate can be rid of her. Those suggestions would be a grievous mistake.

We can all agree that what Beyak has said is odious in the extreme. But the performative outrage that she should be expelled from the Senate does cross a line because as much as we all disagree with Beyak, she hasn’t broken any laws or violated any ethics rules. She may have views that are on their face racist (though she probably doesn’t see them that way – the Conservative senators that I’ve spoken to pretty much consider her a clueless Pollyanna figure who nevertheless has deeply held Christian beliefs that inform her particularly selective world view), but those views are neither illegal nor contrary to the rules of the Senate. And we should be wary of trying to regulate Senators’ speech, because that is a gross violation of parliamentary privilege. We also can’t ignore that Beyak gives voice to an ignorant segment of the population, and when she raises these views publicly, she has given rise to a debate that such a segment of the population isn’t usually exposed to. Simply demanding her removal for it is hugely problematic for all manner of reasons.

Now, the Conservative caucus has taken the steps to minimize her role as much as possible – she is off all committees, and thus marginalized from having any position of influence. Why she remains in caucus is likely because they want to maintain their plurality in the chamber for as long as possible, and with ten current vacancies (and a couple more pending), that will likely change in the coming weeks, but for now, they are looking to maintain their numbers, and Beyak’s remaining in caucus does that for them, however they’ve sidelined her. And once the Independent Senators Group forms the plurality, the Conservatives’ impetus to keep her may change, but they may also hope that she can be redeemed, as it were, with more education (and perhaps a dose of humility). Maybe. Or, this could be an early sign of trying to phase her out, where there can still be some modicum of caucus control over her actions rather than simply turning her loose, which might actually embolden her (because then she’ll be a martyr for the cause). But let’s hope that this is the Senate’s version of phasing her out.

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Roundup: Mike Duffy, white knight

Oh, Senator Mike Duffy. For his suffering, he has decided to launch a $7.8 million lawsuit against the RCMP, the Government of Canada, and the Senate itself. It’s not just about the two years of suspension without pay, or the reimbursement or legal fees, or indeed about the further clawbacks of his salary that the Senate undertook for his abuse of expense claims, or about the lost income from speaking fees that he could have claimed had he not been dragged through the process. No, Duffy is so concerned about the lack of Charter rights for those who work on the Hill that he’s willing to take on this multi-million-dollar lawsuit for the principle of the matter.

Such a hero.

Now, I will be the first to admit that yes, the way in which Duffy’s suspension handled was hugely problematic, and that his rights to due process were trampled on because of political expediency, it cannot be argued that the Senate was illegitimate in the way it acted because as a self-governing parliamentary body, the Senate not only has the ability to police its own, it is in fact the only body that can police its members because of parliamentary privilege and institutional independence.

While Duffy’s lawyer was effusive in his characterisation of Duffy’s acquittal, I’m not sure that it completely passes the smell test – Duffy was found not to have met the criminal test for fraud and breach of trust, but you cannot say that no rules were broken. The Senate has pointed to numerous examples where this was the case and fined him appropriately, and while he claims that the rules were too loose and vague, that is certainly not the case with all of his rejected claims. And it will raise questions if this suit goes ahead because the judge’s ruling was indeed problematic (and I know for a fact that there are other judges on that same bench who were not keen on it), and without an appeal being raised, that could raise more questions with this trial – if it goes to trial.

Of course, we can’t deny that perhaps Duffy is looking for a settlement of a couple of million dollars, but I’m not sure that of the parties involved, the Senate would bite and go for it. They are still pretty sore about the whole thing and are keen to continue to prove that they are taking a hard line to those who abuse it. I would wager that they are more likely to fight this to the bitter end on principle, come what may.

Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt sees an odd parallel between Duffy and Omar Khadr in that their rights were violated (which is a bit of a stretch, legally speaking), while Christie Blatchford suggests that perhaps Duffy is indeed owed something because his rights to due process were robbed.

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