QP: What about Morneau-Shapell?

With it being Wednesday and with the PM out to town, there were a few more empty desks in the Commons, but QP rolled along regardless. Andrew Scheer led off, returning again to the proposed tax changes as an attack on “local businesses.” Jim Carr stood up to instead note that the opposition has been so concerned with women entrepreneurs, then how could they contenance the statements by Gerry Ritz in calling the environment minister “Climate Barbie.” Andrew Scheer didn’t respond, and stuck to his script, and so Carr stood up again, to again demand that the comments be denounced. Scheer again hewed to his script on “local businesses,” and Carr again expressed his disappointment and his expectation of a retraction. Onto Alain Rayes, who read the “local businesses” scripts in French, and this time, Bill Morneau stood up to reiterate that they were trying to make the system fairer for the middle class. They went another round of the same, before Thomas Mulcair rose for the NDP, railing that the PM left the door open to ballistic missile defence. Harjit Sajjan said that they were working actively with the US on NORAD modernisation, but the policy had not changed. Mulcair asked again in French, and Marc Garneau took this one, offering much the same response. Nathan Cullen was up next to rail about tax loopholes, and Diane Lebouthillier assured him they were going after tax avoidance. Alexandre Boulerice asked the same in French, and Bill Morneau gave his pat response on tax fairness.

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Roundup: Arnold Chan and his parliamentary legacy

News was delivered yesterday morning that Liberal MP Arnold Chan has succumbed to cancer and passed away earlier that morning. The news is a blow for Parliament, as Chan was a very decent and well-liked MP who was serious about the dignity of the institution. Back in June, he delivered a speech in Parliament that was viewed at the time as a bit of a farewell (which he insisted that it wasn’t), in which he implored that his fellow MPs not only demonstrate their love of Parliament, but that they demonstrate it by doing things like ending the reliance on talking points.

At the time that Chan made the speech, I wrote a column about its importance, and why more MPs should heed his words. Scripts and talking points have been suffocating our parliament and our very democracy, and it gets worse as time goes on. That Chan could see their inherent problems and try to break the cycle is encouraging, because it hopefully means that other MPs will too. It’s one of the reasons why I hope that as part of honouring Chan’s legacy, MPs will work to do away with the rules in the Commons that have led to the rise of canned speeches, and that we can get to a place where debate is no longer a series of speeches read into the record without actual exchanges, and where MPs actually become engaged in the material rather than just reading the points that their leaders’ offices handed their assistants to write up for them. Parliament should be more than that, and let’s hope that others follow Chan’s lead.

Here are some more remembrances of Chan by his colleagues.

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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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Roundup: Preferential tax treatment warranted?

The hits keep on coming when it comes to the rhetoric about the proposed small business tax changes. If you listened to doctors, you would think that the government was outlawing self-incorporation. They’re not. If you listen to the Conservatives, it’s a “massive tax hike” and “hugely complex changes” which also doesn’t quite scan – yes, there is some complexity in how they plan to enforce the changes, but that’s not the same thing.

People also keep insisting that these changes won’t allow them to use their incorporation for savings purposes (whether for a buffer or for a maternity leave), which again, is not the case as the new rules have been outlined.

https://twitter.com/lindsaytedds/status/900542218041044992

Of course, when these facts meet their rhetoric, we have been assaulted with yet more wailing and gnashing of teeth that these preferential tax treatments are a “reward” for the risks that these entrepreneurs take. Which again, doesn’t actually fly with the research. (See Kevin Milligan’s thread starting here, which I won’t reproduce in its entirety).

In fact, you can make a number of arguments about whether the government should be subsidising the risk of entrepreneurs. Also, the it should be restated that preferential tax rates are not the reward for becoming an entrepreneur – there are other rewards inherent in the role.

Instead, we come back to the government’s argument about tax fairness, and why those who choose to self-incorporate and have families to split/sprinkle their income with should be the only ones to enjoys such privileges. Nobody seems to be able to answer that question. Funnily enough. Instead, it’s more disingenuous rhetoric and outright falsehoods about what’s being proposed here, that benefits only the very wealthy few for whom this kind of tax “planning” makes sense.

Meanwhile, Andrew Coyne takes on the notion that small businesses should get preferential tax rates for risk-taking, while taking down the critics of his arguments, who similarly are building cases on false premises.

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Roundup: Normalizing the system’s problems

On Monday night, I got into a bit of a Twitter argument over the issue of Manitoba MLA Steven Fletcher (former of the federal Conservatives) and his ouster from provincial Progressive Conservative caucus because he was *gasp!* doing the actual job of a backbencher and trying to hold the government to account, never mind that he’s a member of the governing party. It’s what he’s supposed to do, and he got punished for it. Why I gave the first punch in said Twitter fight was because of the notion that Fletcher should have shut up and been a good team player, because politics.

This devolved into a bit of tit-for-tat about which legislatures this occurs in, and despite providing Canadian examples, never mind the fact that this is actually the norm in the UK – the mother of our parliament – my dear opponent insisted that this is not the way things work in Canada.

And this irritates me. A lot. Because it’s washing our hands of the problems that have slowly crept into our country’s parliament and legislatures, and normalizes the bastardisations that have occurred over the years, usually under the rubric of “modernisation,” or “making things more democratic.” And the laws of unintended consequences being what they are, things get worse instead of better, and we now have very powerful party leaders in this country that have no accountability – something that should be anathema to a Westminster system.

Why should we be defending the current norms of party and leader-centred politics when it’s not the way our system is supposed to work, and in fact makes our system worse?

We are in an age where message control and leader-centred politics has reduced elected members to drones. We have very nearly reached the point where we could just replace our MPs with battle droids who could do just as effective a job of reading canned speeches into the record and voting the way the whip orders. Is this really the system that we want to normalise and defend? Or would we rather have elected officials who can think for themselves and do the proper job of accountability that the Westminster system is built on. I know which one I’d prefer.

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Roundup: Those “sexist” tax changes

Pushback on the proposed income tax changes increased in intensity, with the Canadian Medical Association launching broadsides at the policy under the rubric that it’s “sexist” and will drive doctors out of the country, while Conservatives have taken these arguments to social media, Lisa Raitt policing news aggregators and Kellie Leitch penning fundraising letters. Jane Philpott, addressing a CMA conference, assured them that they were operating under misinformation and that the goal of the changes was tax fairness – that those with spouses earning significantly less money or having adult children shouldn’t unfairly benefit from the existing system than those who don’t.

I did try to get some answers as to how this policy was “sexist,” because I’m not entirely convinced that these changes prevent people from using money in the corporation to finance parental leaves, never mind the fact that the previous government made a Very Big Deal about changing the EI system to allow self-employed people to contribute in order to finance maternity leaves – something that received very little uptake. And most of the stories that Raitt pointed to were anecdotal that didn’t point to where these policy changes were a problem – one example was a Facebook post where a dentist insisted that these current policies were what allowed her to keep up with male counterparts, which is an argument that makes no sense at all. They don’t prevent incorporation. They don’t prevent deductions of expenses or reinvestment in the business – it’s about not letting people use income sprinkling or splitting for the sole purposes of reducing their taxes. Not that it’s stopped the narratives that this hurts doctors or struggling small businesses.

And this is a salient point – in Ontario, the provincial government encouraged this kind of incorporation rather than increase what they’re paying doctors, so you can see why they’re upset that these tools are being taken away from them. Nevertheless, it also largely proves that their arguments are fairly disingenuous, especially when they insist that “it’s not about the money.” But with none of their other arguments actually panning out, it seems to be that’s exactly what it is, and it’s fine if they come out and just say it. But to put on this song and dance about how the changes are “sexist” and that it somehow disproves Trudeau’s feminism, and ignoring the stated purpose of the changes with regards to tax fairness, makes the excuses start to ring fairly hollow.

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Roundup: End of round one

The first round of NAFTA talks has ended without any firm conclusions in one way or another, which is to be expected. It is also noted that they were free from any public drama, but it’s still early days, so we’ll see how long that lasts, especically considering that we’re dealing with an Uncertainty Engine for a president in the United States. While the US is signalling that Buy America is a non-negotiable in NAFTA talks, the PMO has assembled a crack unit to deal with the fallout of a US walkout on talks, seeing as Trump already played his walkout card months ago so it gave them time to prepare.

Meanwhile, trouble with NAFTA talks could mean an economic slowdown, as there have already been some signs of slowdown in the manufacturing sector, and expectations that GDP growth could start to slow for the remainder of the year. That having been said, there’s also talk that if the Trump administration tries to simply tear up NAFTA, there are recourses that Congress has at its disposal that would essentially work to keep the existing agreement up and running by backdoor means, but it’s messy and complicated (and you can see Alex Panetta talking about that starting at 10:51 on this Sunday Scrum segment).

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Roundup: Butts/Bannon brouhaha

Tongues were set wagging in the Nation’s Capital yesterday when The New Yorker claimed that Justin Trudeau’s principle secretary, Gerald Butts, had struck up a friendship with Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, of Breitbart fame. Apparently, Bannon sees Butts as the left-wing version of himself, or something, and Butts allegedly told him that there’s nothing more populist than a rich guy raising taxes on the wealthy. And while everyone clamoured for some kind of confirmation out of PMO, getting non-denials from official sources, and “it’s just business” from the less official sources, none of the Canadian stories that I read stopped at the part where the New Yorker piece claimed that Trudeau reversed a polling slump by pushing through these tax measures. While I will readily admit that most polling stories give me hives, especially two years out from an election, I can’t for the life of me recall this having happened – Trudeau’s poll numbers have remained stubbornly high, and only really dipped a little when Andrew Scheer won the Conservative leadership, because at that point there was an actual face that people could put to the poll questions (never mind that questions related to which leader one would vote for are illegitimate given our system of government). Trudeau putting forward these tax changes were the first piece of legislation that they tabled, and while it took a while to actually pass (during which time a budget had also been tabled and passed), it had no actual effect on his polling numbers. Where the New Yorker got this particular tidbit is mystifying to me, and why Canadian outlets didn’t call bullshit on this – and subsequently look side-eye at the other claims in the piece – is similarly baffling.

Of course, the story would not be complete without Thomas Mulcair coming out to theatrically demand that Butts disavow this “friendship” given all of the drama around racism and white nationalism in the States over the past few days. The problem of course is that a) Butts is not an elected official, and b) there are NAFTA talks underway, and it would be really bad form for our government to so blatantly thumb our noses at the Americans in this way. Keeping a working relationship going would seem to be the most prudent course of action – but that never seem to be the course that Mulcair advocates.

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Roundup: Commence the negotiations

We’re still talking NAFTA? Of course, we’re still talking NAFTA, as negotiations actually get underway today, so that’s exciting. If you need any more background (on top of what’s been said for the past several days) here’s a look at why Chrystia Freeland’s list of demands – especially around local procurement and labour mobility – might be a tough sell in the States, while the proposed chapters on gender and Indigenous issues are likely to be seen as simply expressions of the Trudeau government’s values. And while there aren’t any expectations that these negotiations will be easy, given that Trump is an Uncertainty Engine, trade experts are pointing out that Canada has more leverage than we think we do.

Meanwhile, Paul Wells had plenty to say about the past couple of days:

This particular observation strikes me as so utterly unsurprising. (Seriously, MPs – you can do better):

And one more, because seriously:

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Roundup: Freeland brings the vague

The morning belonged to Chrystia Freeland yesterday, starting with her speech on NAFTA renegotiation at the University of Ottawa, followed by her appearance before the Commons trade committee to answer questions – however vaguely – about what the country’s priorities were. And while she did list ten things that Canada is looking for (compared the American wish list of 100 items), she didn’t bow to opposition pressure to negotiate in the media, or to lay out which of the items on that list were merely for show, whether that’s the proposed chapter on gender or Indigenous issues. It was driven home several times that yes, Supply Management is going to be defended (no matter how many times the different opposition parties have tried to play the game that only they truly love the system). And as for talk about things like harmonizing regulations – a constant promise that never seems to make much progress no matter which government is in power in either country – it has become clear that this is something that the government began doing their homework on since Trump began raising trade issues in the 2016 US election.

Meanwhile, Paul Wells evaluates Freeland’s deliberate vagueness in what she was trying to convey about the talks, while Andrew Coyne wonders if the Canadian government’s wishlist isn’t a deliberate attempt to sandbag the talks from the start, possibly in the hopes of keeping things status quo.

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