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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QP: Circling back to Atwal, yet again

A frigid Tuesday in Ottawa, and all of the leaders were present in Question Period, for a change. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and he immediately returned to the Atwal issue, wondering who was telling the truth about Atwal — him or the Indian government. Justin Trudeau stood up and said that he would always believe the advice of non-partisan public servants over anyone else. Scheer pressed, and Trudeau reminded him that Randeep Sarai took responsibility for proffering the invitation, but he trusted public service. Scheer tried again in French, and Trudeau repeated that same point about believing public servants. Scheer reverted to English, reset his preamble to provide a fresh media clip, and wondered if it was Chrystia Freeland who was telling the truth this time when she said it was an honest mistake. Trudeau reiterated the same point about believing public service. Scheer demanded an answer as to whether the “conspiracy theory” was baseless, and Trudeau reminded him that for ten years, the Harper government diminished and belittled the work of public servants, and the Conservatives hadn’t moved on from those habits. Guy Caron was up next, and worried about the Facebook data used by Cambridge Analytica. Trudeau noted that they take privacy seriously, and it’s why the Minister of Democratic Institutions was looking into electoral interference, and the Privacy Commissioner also indicated he was taking a look. Caron demanded that the issue of data protection be raised at the G7 meeting in June, and Trudeau assured him that they had already had these conversations and they would continue to do so. Hélène Laverdière raised the armoured vehicle sales to Saudi Arabia, and Trudeau first pointed asked her to ask her caucus colleague from London Fanshaw if she wanted them to cancel that contract, but that they were taking the issue more seriously than the previous government did. Laverdière demanded to know if human rights were for sale, and Trudeau took up a script this time to insist that they respect human rights obligations.

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Roundup: The big Mali announcement

The formal announcement was made yesterday – six helicopters (two medical evac, four armed escorts) and approximately 250 personnel are headed to Mali as part of UN peace operations, and while this initial deployment covers off for German and Dutch forces that are pulling out, time there will be spent evaluating other ways that Canada can help build capacity in the country, which will involve training troops from other countries. While there have been some 162 peacekeeper deaths so far in Mali, all but four of those are from less advanced militaries than Canada’s, and the four Western countries’ deaths were related to a helicopter accident and not hostile actions. Chrystia Freeland did a great interview that helps lay out more of the details as to why Mali and why it’s taken so long.

Opposition reaction has been swift, and a bit curious. The Conservatives are demanding a debate and a vote on the deployment (reminder: a vote is wholly inappropriate because it launders the accountability that the government should be held to regarding the mission), while the NDP keep pointing out that this will not fulfil all of the government’s peacekeeping promises (not that they have claimed that it would), while demanding more details. Former senator Roméo Dallaire says that this is a good deployment, and reiterates that Canadians training troop-contributing nations and mentoring those forces will help to modernize peacekeeping.

In terms of hot takes, John Ivison sticks to the point that this is a political move by the government designed to help them get their UN Security Council seat as opposed to having anything to do with national security – err, except that peacekeeping isn’t supposed to be about national security. That’s kind of the point.

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QP: Bardish Chagger, ad nauseam

While the prime minister was off to Winnipeg, the desks in the Chamber were full, MPs ready for another scintillating round of accountability. Or talking points at the very least. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and today decided to use the moving expenses of senior PMO staff as his cudgel to demand the PM repay his expenses for that infamous vacation. Bardish Chagger reminded him that the PM accepted the report, took responsibility, and made changes going forward. Scheer switched to English to try again, getting breathy in his punctuation, and Chagger reiterated her response. Scheer insisted that an apology is no good without an attempt to make amends — apparently financially — but got the same response. Lisa Raitt was up next to assert that there were no recommendations in the report, just facts and an assertion of guilt, before she too demanded repayment. Chagger reiterated her points, including stating that he accepted recommendations. Raitt tried a second time more forcefully, and Chagger spelled out that the recommendations came from the former Commissioner at committee. Ruth Ellen Brosseau led for the NDP, demanding to know what the government was doing to get more women elected. Karina Gould said that they were doing more recruit more women, and wanted to ensure that they could thrive once elected. Brosseau tried again in French, got the same answer, and Karine Trudel and Shiela Malcolmson demanded pay equity legislation in both French and English. Scott Brison said they were working with the public sector unions and other unions on the topic, and that they remained committed to a proactive pay equity system.

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QP: The Philpott connection

On a cold and blustery morning in Ottawa, MPs were raring to go with another go-around of QP. And true to form, Andrew Scheer got up, mini-lectern on desk, decrying that the PM didn’t take responsibility for his “illegal luxury trip” and he had taxpayers foot the bill to boot. Justin Trudeau insisted that he did take responsibility and would clear future trips with the Commissioner. Scheer railed that taking responsibility meant paying it back, and replayed the cheap outrage around a sedan that Jane Philpott hired back in 2016, deeming it a “luxury limousine.” Trudeau reiterated his previous response. Scheer wailed about the standard that Philpott was held to, and Trudeau didn’t engage, keeping to his points. Scheer demanded repayment, but Trudeau didn’t vary his answer. Scheer then brought up Trudeau’s speaking fees to charities several years ago, for some reason, but Trudeau stuck to his points about accepting the Commissioner’s recommendations. Guy Caron was up next, and demanded to know what concessions were made with signing the new TPP. Trudeau said that once the documents were translated, they would be made public. Caron switched to English to demand the same thing, and Trudeau repeated his answer. Ruth Ellen Brosseau demanded a plan to elect more women, and Trudeau stated that it was part of engaging women during the nomination process. Brosseau demanded proportional representation, but Trudeau wouldn’t bite on the notion.

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Roundup: The stages of scandal

Kady O’Malley has a piece about the five stages of a Canadian political scandal, and wonders just where the current Bill Morneau imbroglio lies along it. While she’s probably not wrong in that it’s likely hovering near the end-point, I would like to just take a moment to point out that most of this whole affair has been fuelled by weak-sauce allegations and conflated facts, and this particular air of desperation as people keep flinging the equivalent of spaghetti against a wall in the hope that something inevitably sticks.

And there is a complete air of desperation in the latest developments in this case. Bill Morneau paying a $200 fine for failing to disclose his stake in the ownership structure of his French villa – he had disclosed the villa itself – was turned into wails that he was a law-breaker, or that the fine was somehow a sanction for a “conflict of interest” that was never a conflict. And the NDP tried to move a motion to get Bill C-27 withdrawn, because they sailed a conspiracy theory that somehow there was a conflict of interest with a bill that they opposed for ideological reasons, in order to come at a different angle of attack on it. And while is no actual conflict with the bill, it keeps being reported uncritically as though there were.

And that’s probably what gets me the most irritated about these so-called political scandals, is that many are started by poor reporting on thin facts that are designed to be sensational, with follow-ups that are bigger and bigger reaches to the point where it’s a series of mind-numbing conspiracy theories being floated, each of which get amplified in QP. For what? I’m failing to see how imaginary scandals are holding government to account. There are so many other issues that have substantive policy issues that should be debated or explored, and we keep chasing these non-stories because we think there’s blood in the water. But by all means, keep chasing this phantom menace. It’s doing our democracy wonders.

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QP: The Morneau-Shepell conspiracy

Shortly after a fire alarm emptied out the Centre Block, and MPs made their way back into the building, Question Period got underway. Andrew Scheer led off, reading a stilted question about the Omar Khadr settlement in French. Justin Trudeau took the chance to take a partisan shot, saying that this was because the previous violated his rights — not mentioning that it was also the fault of previous Liberal governments — and reiterated his previous speech about how he was outraged and hopefully that outrage would ensure that future governments would not violate rights again. Scheer called out that the Liberals were at fault too, and Trudeau modified his response that it was about previous governments (plural) but added that this was not about Khadr, but about the government’s action and they should stand up for rights even when it’s not popular. Scheer then pivoted to the tax change issue, got the usual talking points from Trudeau, and when Scheer tried to skewer this as being one more cost to the middle class, and Trudeau reeled out his points about cutting taxes on the middle class. Scheer made a few digs at Trudeau’s own numbered corporation and his speaking fees before he was made party leader, but Trudeau didn’t take the bait. Pierre Nantel was up for the NDP, and railed about the announcements on cultural industries. Trudeau read a statement that assured him that they had unprecedented investment from Netflix, and that they would ensure that Canadian creators would benefit. Rachel Blaney asked in English, decrying that Facebook and Google were not being made to pay, but Trudeau reiterated his assurances that Canadian producers would benefit from these funds. Nantel repeated the question in scripted English, Trudeau reiterated that this was great news for Canadian cultural industries, and Alexandre Boulerice closed the round by railing that other media companies weren’t being taxed. Trudeau repeated that they were looking to support the industry as it transitions.

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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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QP: Tax change melodrama

The first day back in the House of Commons, and all of the leaders were present — Trudeau’s only appearance for the week before he heads to the UN General Assembly, and in between appearances with U.K. prime minister Theresa May. Of note was the bouquet of flowers sitting on Arnold Chan’s desk, to mark his recent passing. Andrew Scheer led off, railing about the proposed changes to private corporations, and insisted that small businesses were being called “tax cheats.” (Note: Only the Conservatives have used that phraseology). Trudeau stood up to remind him that nobody accused anyone of breaking the law, but that these rules were being used by the very wealthy to pay less taxes, which wasn’t fair. Scheer tried again, got the same answer, and Scheer gave increasingly hysterical hypothetical situations (which were not reflected in reality), but Trudeau was unflappable in sticking to his points. Scheer tried then turn this into a dig at Bombardier, and Trudeau reminded him that they were investing in Canadian jobs. Thomas Mulcair was up next, asking about UN talks on nuclear disarmament in light of North Korea, and Trudeau reminded him that they were working on a fissile materials treaty that would include nuclear states, which would have more effect than a symbolic treaty. Mulcair asked again in French, got the same answer in French, before Mulcair turned to the issue of Saudi Arabia and arms sales (Trudeau: We will ensure that our partners follow the rules, and you promised to respect that contract), and then another round of the same in English.

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Roundup: Urgent investigations

With more video evidence that purports to show Canadian-made LAVs being used in Saudi Arabia against their minority Shia population, Foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland has ordered an “urgent investigation” of the claims. At the same time, we’re getting some pretty usual reaction from the various opposition parties and their supporters, that portray the Liberals as being wide-eyed naïfs who had no idea that these vehicles could ever be used for such purposes.

While it’s easy for the woke supporters of opposition parties, who vociferously quote-tweeted the above statements (without assigning such labels to Loreto herself) to try and paint the Liberals as cynics on the issue, this ignores the very real fact that every party in the election was gung-ho about living up to this contract with the Saudis, and insisting that it would go ahead no matter what, because they wanted those jobs – particularly at the General Dynamics plant in London, ON. The fact that the opposition parties, while doing their jobs of holding government to account, are nevertheless speaking out of both sides of their mouths on this issue. It’s also easy to give facile talking points about how terrible Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is without going into the genuine strategic reasons why they’re an ally in the region, and why that complicates and adds a truckload of nuance into the relationship. And as we’ve discussed before, there is no “nice countries only” option when it comes to having an arms industry, and if you think that we can preserve those jobs without getting our hands dirty in the process, well, real life doesn’t work like that. There are trade-offs to be made, and we should be trying to have an honest discussion about it and what those trade-offs are. This chirping, like from our woke tweeter, is not an adult conversation, and does nothing to reflect the reality of the situation in any way.

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