Roundup: Appointment backlog woes

The National Post has a really good piece looking into the current backlog of appointments and the effect it’s having on the functioning of government. It’s something that has been talked about a lot, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good breakdown of those vacancies, and the effect that it’s having. It’s one of those subjects that sounds pretty easy to grumble about, but it’s also something that we should take a step back and realise that to a certain extent, the goals of reforming the appointments process has been laudable, and in many cases, overdue when it comes to increasing the level of diversity into these positions. Over the course of my reporting, a lot of civil society actors have praised the move (while still being concerned at the timeframe it took for getting the processes up and running) because they all know that the outcomes will inevitably be better over the longer term now that the bulk of positions aren’t simply being filled by straight white men.

That said, I also wanted to just put a bit of additional context around some of this backlog in saying that as much as the Conservatives are baying at the moon about some of these appointments right now, that they were no saints when it came to this sort of thing either, and reformed the appointment process for some of these positions themselves, creating massive backlogs in the process. The two that come to mind immediately are the Immigration and Refugee Board, where they took a functioning system and drove it to dysfunction when they changed that process to “de-politicise it” (with plenty of accusations that they just made the system easier to put their own cronies in) and turning a system where the optimal number of files was churning through into a massive backlog that they tried to blame their predecessors on (sound familiar?). The other was the Social Security Tribunal, which they completely revamped as part of their changes to the system overall, and I’m not sure it ever got fixed before they lost the election, only for the Liberals to turn around to reform the appointment process yet again. So yes, some of the backlogs are bad, but in some cases, ‘twas ever thus, and we should keep that in mind.

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Roundup: An astronaut for GG?

Despite some MPs are agitating for the next Governor General to be Indigenous, it looks like it’s going to be Julie Payette, former astronaut. Payette is a woman and francophone, which fulfils the Anglophone/Francophone alternation that has been the pattern since we started naming our own Governors General, and the government’s desire to have more women in top spots. That she’s not Indigenous will be criticised by some, but I suspect that it may actually avoid other headaches because I do wonder if an Indigenous GG may not find themselves in an inherent conflict of interest given the relationship with the Crown that Indigenous people have which is as sovereign people in a treaty relationship, and being the Queen’s representative has the possibility of being far more complicated once you dig into it. As well, there would likely be pressure on an Indigenous GG from other Indigenous communities to exert influence on the government, given that the understanding of Responsible Government and heeding the advice of the government of the day isn’t all that well understood, and would lead to a lot of disappointment. Meanwhile, here’s Philippe Lagassé on some other aspects of the GG that are worth thinking about.

While Paul Wells has a great piece about the message being sent with Payette’s appointment, Lagassé also makes a good point about how her appointment is being framed.

And this comment from Denise Donlon seems to sum up a lot of the sentiment I’ve seen:

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Roundup: The Speaker’s clock

The CBC has a video segment released today talking to Commons Speaker Geoff Regan about the countdown clock in the Commons when it comes to things like Question Period, and how he enforces the 35-second rule for questions and answers.

While it’s a nice video explanation, and demonstrates that Regan will allow a few seconds’ grace when necessary, it does go to demonstrate part of what isn’t functioning with the way we’re doing things like Question Period – or even regular debate, for that matter. By enforcing strict clocks, we’ve incentivised a culture of filling that space rather than it being an upper limit. Even in QP, where it’s a simple yes-of-no question, the temptation to fill all 35 seconds with canned talking points usually wins out (though the three-word yes-or-no Mr. Speaker replies do occasionally happen and make my day). Also, the 35 second clock encourages ministers to read replies in order to ensure that they stay within the limit rather than going over – and that tends to lead to a greater reliance on talking points than substantive answers.

As I’ve written about several times, I think this video is a demonstration as to why we need to loosen the clock. I’ve also witnessed in Senate QP where there is no defined clock, where you can get far more substantive questions and answers (though the Senate Speaker does need to reign them in a bit – some senators will speechify during a question, and sometimes the visiting minister will ramble). But loosening the clock and empowering the Speaker to better manage that time – along with a ban on scripts – will go a long way to improving the flow of debate in the Commons, rather than the farce that we have today.

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QP: Tired jabs and deficit questions

Nearly all the desks were filled on what was possibly the final QP of the spring. Andrew Scheer led off, concerned about the “astronomical” debt the Liberals were leaving behind (which, in absolute terms, is one of the envies of the world because it’s quite low). Justin Trudeau reminded him that they won the election on promises to invest. Scheer tried again, giving a lame “budgets don’t balance themselves” quip, and Trudeau again reminded him that they needed to invest after the previous government didn’t and hey, lower taxes for the middle class and the Canada Child Benefit. Scheer railed about all of the new taxes being levied (most of which were not new taxes but cancelled tax credits that had little efficacy), and the PM reiterated that he lowered taxes. Scheer jabbed that Trudeau had never been part of the middle class, and Trudeau hit back that boutique tax credits and lower taxes on the wealthiest didn’t help those who needed it the most. Scheer then turned to the new national security bill, saying it removed needed tools for law enforcement agencies. Trudeau noted that they were balancing community safety with rights and freedoms, and that they welcomed recommendations for amendments. Thomas Mulcair was up next, grousing that the government broke their promise on allowing Access to Information requests to ministers offices and the PMO. Trudeau simply noted that they made the biggest reforms to the bills and increased proactive disclosure. Mulcair tried again with added mocking, but Trudeau didn’t budge, and Mulcair then railed that they kicked journalists out of a party fundraiser. Trudeau reminded him that they have raised the bar on transparency and that other parties weren’t doing. Mulcair tried again in French, but Trudeau’s answer didn’t change.

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Roundup: The disingenuous framing of a committee report

As you may have heard, the Heritage Committee released their long-awaited study on suggested ways to help the local media landscape in Canada. And I’m not here to talk about that, however, but rather how the narrative got completely spun into “Netflix tax!” or “Internet tax!” which wasn’t exactly what they were proposing either. Still, it became a convenient cudgel by which to try and bash the government with.

And that’s the bigger problem with this whole affair – that a committee report is being used to paint the government when it’s backbenchers who are on the committee. That separation between government (meaning Cabinet) and a committee of the legislature is important, and conflating the two is being wilfully disingenuous and makes the problem of not understanding how our parliament works even worse.

Paul and Aaron both have some very valid points. When the opposition frames it as “Netflix tax!” it’s sadly how most media will report it as well, and I didn’t see a lot of corrections going on about what the report actually said, and that’s a problem. But Aaron also has the point about how the media loves to jump on differences of opinion in parties, but when the parties themselves frame the issue, the media often gets swept up in those narratives.

Remember when there were those Conservative backbenchers trying to float some backdoor abortion legislation or motions that the government distanced themselves from but the NDP screamed bloody murder about hidden agendas and so on? This is not far from the same thing. And they know they’re being disingenuous, but they’re doing it anyway, no matter how much they’re actually damaging the perceptions of the institution.

That said, I could be really mean and point out that it may be hard for the Conservatives to tell the difference between backbenchers on a committee and the government seeing as during their decade in office, they essentially turned the committees into branch plants of the ministers’ offices with parliamentary secretaries ringleading the show and completely destroying their independence…but maybe I won’t.

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QP: The non-existent plan for a non-existent tax

Despite it being a Thursday, the only leader in the Commons was Elizabeth May — because reasons. Candice Bergen led off, demanding an admission that the government ignored American warnings about the Norsat sale. Navdeep Bains assured her that they followed the process and took the advice of our security agencies, who did consult. Bergen wasn’t buying it, but Bains reiterated his point about the process before touting improved economic progress thanks to their being open to trade. Bergen then accused the government of proposing an internet tax, which was entirely disingenuous because it wasn’t the government who floated the idea — it was a committee of backbenchers. Mélanie Joly assured her they would not levy such a tax. Alain Rayes asked the same again in French, got the same answer, and then reiterated the Norsat question in French. Bains repeated his previous points in French, reading from a prepared response. Matthew Dubé led for the NDP, wondering when reforms to the Anti-terrorism Act would finally be tabled. Ralph Goodale assured him that new legislation was on the way. Dubé switched to English to ask again, adding in a clause about lawful access. Goodale accused him of trying to spook people with innuendo, and that the legislation would keep Canadians safe while protecting their privacy rights. Brian Masse raised the Norsat sale, and Bains repeated his same answer. Alexandre Boulerice then raised a question of an EI case, and Jean-Yves Duclos asked him to forward him the details so that he could look into it.

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QP: Concern about summer vacations

The day was not as hot as yesterday, but tempers were indeed starting to fray in the House of Commons with the threat of procedural shenanigans hanging in the air. Andrew Scheer led off, saying that the PM was eager to get away for summer vacation but lo, there were all kinds of new taxes. Trudeau noted that his summer vacation plans included touring the various federal parks around the country, which were all free, and oh, he lowered taxes on the middle class. Scheer then switched to French to demand a publicly accessible sex offender registry, to which Trudeau noted the existing system worked just fine. Scheer tried again in English, and got the same answer. Scheer turned to the Norsat sale in French, and Trudeau assured him that they listened to their national security agencies and allies. They went another round of the same in English, before Thomas Mulcair got up to ask the same question in English. Trudeau reiterated his response, and Mulcair insisted the answer was “demonstrably false.” Mulcair hammered away in French, but Trudeau stuck to his points about due diligence. Mulcair then demanded the government adopt the NDP’s proposed nomination process for officers of parliament, but Trudeau insisted that they already adopted a new process that got more meritorious diverse appointments. Mulcair tried again in French, but got the same response.

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QP: Carbon taxes and foreign takeovers

On a sweltering day in Ottawa, things carried on as usual in the House of Commons. Andrew Scheer led off, railing about carbon taxes killing the manufacturing sector, never mind that in his Ontario example, it was a provincial carbon price. Justin Trudeau hit back with jibes that it was good to see that most of the aconservaties believed in the Paris Accords and that carbon pricing was good for the market. Scheer groused that they would meet the targets without a carbon price, before moving onto the Norsat sale and lack of a comprehensive security screening. Trudeau reminded him that they took the advice of national security agencies. Scheer took a second kick, needling that Trudeau admired Chinese dictatorship too much to care about national security, and Trudeau lashed back that partisan jibes like that were unworthy of this place. Denis Lebel was up next, demanding a non-partisan process to appoint parliamentary watchdogs, and Trudeau noted their new appointments and rattled off some of the diversity of the new reports. Lebel tried again in English, and got the same answer. Thomas Mulcair was up next, asking if the Der Spiegel article was true that the government was backing away from climate goals at the G20. Trudeau insisted that they have been climate leaders and pointed to examples. Mulcair pressed, and Trudeau was unequivocal that he did not say what was in the article. Mulcair then turned to the issue of court cases involving First Nations children and dialled up the sanctimony to 11, and Trudeau noted the memorandum of understanding he signed with the AFN this morning about moving forward on steps. Mulcair demanded that the NDP bill on UNDRIP be adopted, but Trudeau insisted they were moving forward in consultation (never mind that said bill is almost certainly of dubious constitutionality).

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QP: A furious rewrite of the scripts

With the news that Madeleine Meilleur had withdrawn her name from consideration for Language Commissioner just before QP, you could almost hear the furious rewriting of question scripts. In fact, I saw pages deliver new scripts to MPs just before everything got underway. Andrew Scheer led off, raising her withdrawal, and wanted an assurance that future appointments would have cross-party support. Justin Trudeau responded with praise for his new open and transparent process. Scheer shifted topics to the risk profile of the Infrastructure Bank, and Trudeau praised the commitment to $180 billion in new Infrastructure that the Bank would leverage private sector dollars to help with. Scheer repeated the question in French, insinuating that this was about Liberal millionaire friends, and Trudeau reiterated his points on the need for the Bank. Scheer then moved to the issue of a public sex offender registry, and Trudeau insisted that they took the protection of families seriously, and it was up to police to advise the public. Scheer demanded that Trudeau reject the advice of bureaucrats to not make a registry public, but Trudeau stuck to his points. Thomas Mulcair was up next, noting the presence of a Hiroshima survivor and demanded the government join nuclear disarmament talks in New York. Trudeau said that they were taking meaningful steps which included rallying states for the support of a fissile material cut-off treaty and getting tangible results. Mulcair pressed, and Trudeau noted that the treaty Mulcair demanded we sign onto didn’t include nuclear states, so it was somewhat useless. Mulcair moved onto criminal records for simple possession while marijuana legalisation in the pipeline, and Trudeau returned to his well-worn talking points about decriminalisation not protecting children or taking profits away from the black market. Mulcair asked again, louder, and Trudeau held firm.

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QP: At last, the exchange of quips

On a rainy Tuesday in Ottawa, it was all hands on deck in the Commons, with all leaders present for a change. Andrew Scheer led off, noting the anniversary of D-Day, and turned it into a question on fighting ISIS. Trudeau noted the contributions that Canada was making to the fight. Scheer tried mocking Trudeau’s television interview responses about positive spaces in this fight, and Trudeau quipped back that Scheer must not be too busy as opposition leader if he was all caught up on his daytime TV. Scheer batted back that it was the only place he could find Trudeau over the past week, and then railed about new taxes on beer and wine. Trudeau responded that they cut taxes to the middle class. Scheer insisted that wasn’t true, and listed a number of penny ante issues like making Uber pay HST and carbon taxes (which are largely provincial), and Trudeau noted the difference in vision that his government offered. Scheer then veered into a question about the public sex offender registry, and Trudeau called Scheer out for politicising the wrong issues, and said that trying to insinuate the Liberals didn’t care about children and families was shameful. Up next was Thomas Mulcair, who brought up the Madeleine Meilleur nomination and stated that she confirmed in the Senate that she discussed the position with Gerald Butts and Katie Telford — which isn’t what she said. Trudeau reminded him of the open nomination process, and when Mulcair tried to insist that one f them were lying, Trudeau didn’t budge from his points. Mulcair then railed about Trudeau slamming the door on Quebec’s face on their request to discuss the constitution, and Trudeau said that he had other priorities. Mulcair gave it a second go, insisting this was a snub at Quebec alone, and Trudeau reminded him that he says the same thing in English and in French and had no interest in getting into a constitutional quagmire.

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