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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Roundup: A catalogue of ineptitude

Over in the weekend Ottawa Citizen, our good friend Kady O’Malley has a comprehensive breakdown of everything that went wrong with the electoral reform committee, and it’s pretty stunning once it’s all laid out before you. It starts with the Liberals’ relenting to allow the makeup of the committee to be more *cough* “proportional” than the traditional make-up of a parliamentary committee (which was not actually proportional, but merely gamed by the NDP to give the appearance of proportionality, and the Liberals relented for what I’m guessing was good faith). From there, it moves to the Liberals putting all newbies on the committee (with the exception of the chair) who didn’t have a clue what they were doing, and their lack of experience, combined with the fact that they no longer had a majority (despite having a parliamentary majority) meant that the opposition party gamed the witness selection in such a way that it meant they were able to self-select witnesses to get the outcome they wanted – namely 88 percent of witnesses preferring proportional systems, and furthermore, because they had motivated followings for their public consultations, it allowed them to self-select their famed 87 percent in favour of proportional systems and a further 90 percent in favour of a referendum. And almost nary was there a voice for ranked ballots. (Also a nitpick: ranked ballots have little to do with the proportionality that people keep trying to force the system into, nor are they about gaming the system in favour of centrist parties like the Liberals. Rather, ranked ballots are designed to eliminate strategic voting, ensure that there is a “clear winner” with a simple majority once you redistribute votes, and to make campaigning “nicer” because you are also looking for second-place votes. Experience from Australia shows that it has not favoured centrist governments).

In other words, this whole exercise was flawed from the start, in large part because the Liberal government was so inept at handling it. In fact, this cannot be understated, and they are continuing to be completely inept at handling the fallout of the broken process that they allowed themselves to be bullied into (lest they face charges of trying to game the system – thus allowing the other parties to game it for them), and rather than either admitting that this went off the rails (because it did) and that it was a stupid promise to have made in the first place (because it was) and trying to either be honest about cutting their losses, they’re dragging it out in order to find a more legitimate way to either punt this into the future, or declare that no consensus can be found (which there won’t be) and trying to kill it that way. But in the meantime, the daily howls out outrage of the opposition because of the way that they have completely bungled not only the committee response (and let’s face it – the report’s recommendations were hot garbage) and the further rollout of their MyDemocracy survey without adequately explaining it has meant that this continues to turn into an outrageous farce. I’m not necessarily going to lay this all at the feet of the minister, or call for her resignation, but this is one particular file where the government has been so clueless and amateurish that the need to pull out of the tailspin that they find themselves in, take their lumps, and then smother this in the crib. Enough is enough.

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Roundup: The whinge of the everyman

I had hoped that after the last round of appointments that we were done with the vapid narcissistic “everyman/woman” wannabe candidates for the Senate would finally go back into the woodwork, but no, I see that we are indulging them once more in a plaintive wail about how terribly unfair it is that deserving, qualified candidates with decades of community and specialty experience got the nod and not them. Because who wouldn’t want an expert in the field when you could get a hot dog vendor or a draftsman who will totally enrich the legislative experience by…um, well, I’m not really sure. I mean, that’s kind of why we have a House of Commons, right? So that the everyman/woman can run and get their chance to do their part and influence policy and so on? And then the Senate goes over their work to ensure that they haven’t made mistakes with the legislation and that it’s all looking good. You know, that whole sober second thought thing? Still failing to see what value a hot dog vendor is going to add to that process. But oh noes! Elites! To which I simply reply “So what?” Do you, hot dog vendor and draftsman who are complaining to the media that your application was passed over, actually know the role and function of the Senate? Because based on everything you’ve said here, I’m not seeing that indication at all.

Meanwhile, Senator Peter Harder is coming to the defence of the new appointment system (as he obviously would, being a recipient of its beneficence already), but takes a few gratuitous swipes at the partisans still in the Senate while he’s at it. But there’s a key paragraph in there toward the bottom, where he talks about how Trudeau “voluntarily relinquished one of the traditional levers of power of his political party and of his office” when he expelled his senators from his caucus, and it rankles just a bit. Why? Because Trudeau didn’t so much give up one traditional lever of power so much as he used the show of relinquishing his lever to gain control over a bunch of other levers instead that are less obvious, from centralizing power over the MPs in his caucus with their institutional memory driven from the room, or his now using ministers to meet with individual senators to try to cut deals for support and using Harder’s own empire-building efforts to “colonize” the new independent senators with his offers of “support” and constant attempts to bigfoot the efforts of the Independent Senators Group to establish their own processes. So no, government influence has not been driven from the Senate – it’s just changed forms, and not necessarily as transparent as it was before, and yes, that does matter.

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Roundup: Poisoning the expenses well

With the story out yesterday morning about Rona Ambrose’s expenses claimed while staying in Stornoway, I think we’re starting to approach peak ridiculousness with the growing war over expenses, and accusations of poor judgment across the board. That the Conservatives have spent the past two days pushing a non-story about Dominic LeBlanc giving a speech at an event sponsored by a law firm with Irving connections, claiming poor judgment and a conflict of interest where clearly none actually exists (it’s not a fundraiser, no decisions are being made, it’s a speech, FFS), it’s desperation and grasping at straws.

The bigger problem, however, is the corrosive effect this continues to have, fuelling not only the cheap, petty outrage that voters are being encouraged to feel anytime government spends money, but it is starting to burn the very real bridges for why we have expense regimes in the first place.

Like Rob Silver above, Wherry may be exhibiting his trademark sarcasm, he’s got a point – we are rapidly approaching the point where We The Media have stoked such public opposition to legitimate expense claims by clutching our pearls at seemingly large numbers presented without context while crying “Judgment!” and “Taxpayers’ money!” that people are developing the wrong impression. We had NDP MPs last parliament declaring that if we’re to have senators, then they should all work as volunteers, and lately I’ve had jackasses barking at me on the Twitter Machine saying that senior political staff should also be volunteers. We’re half-a-step away from people demanding it of MPs.

Which gets back to the whole point of expense regimes in the first place – so that it acts as an equaliser, so that you don’t have to be inordinately wealthy in the first place in order to participate in political life, be it as an MP or senator (or senior political staffer, apparently). Do we really think it’s for the best that we return to an era where only the wealthy can afford to participate in political life and let them dictate policy for us? Or where a lack of an expense regime would encourage actual graft (as opposed to this nonsense we’re currently getting the vapours over with moving expenses and whatnot) from politicians to help make themselves financially whole from the expense of doing their jobs? Seriously, we need to grow up and stop poisoning the well because we don’t want to go where this road leads. Only certain doom lies that way.

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Roundup: Slight mandate confusion

The effort to turn the delay in André Pratte’s formal Senate appointment while he finalizes the purchase of property in the right Quebec senatorial district into some kind of controversy continues to be weak sauce, but it did expose a bit of a schism between what the advisory board believes their job to be – finding names to be recommended, leaving the PMO to do the final vetting – and the PMO’s communication around their expectations – that the board should only recommend qualified persons (which, let’s be honest, is a little bit of buck-passing). I’ve seen what purports to be the application form, and it did have the seven vacant districts listed, but that doesn’t mean that Pratte filled that form out as a self-applicant, but may have been approached, which could be why the issue of property was not entirely sorted before he was recommended. Regardless, it remains a bit of a damp squib in terms of a controversy or conspiracy, as Conservative MP Scott Reid would have us believe. Does this mean that there will likely be more vetting the next time around? Probably. Is this a fatal blow to the process? Hardly. Growing pains at the very least, which is why they had the interim process that generated these seven names first, so that they could work the bugs out of the system. That said, I will repeat Emmett Macfarlane’s note that the bigger problem with this process is people applying. That way is almost certainly the way that madness lies, as every egomaniac and self-professed “top minds” in their field will apply (and I know of at least one person who is wholly unqualified but believes himself to be who is trying to get support for a self-nominated Senate application). This should be a process where people are identified and nominated by others in recognition for a lifetime of good work, not a means of ego-stroking and self-congratulation without having to go through the rabble of the electoral process. It defeats the whole point of the Senate as being a place where people who would not otherwise seek office can be given an opportunity to contribute. If you are seeking a Senate appointment, your motives should be immediately considered suspect, and should almost certainly be disqualifying. After all, did we learn nothing from Mike Duffy’s decades-long campaign to get himself appointed? Let’s not do that again.

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Senate QP: Intelligence sharing questions

It was an early start in the Senate, and only one statement was made, regarding the committee report on on-reserve First Nations housing. Routine proceedings sped along, and the QP started, Senator Mitchell asked about the recent media reports on intelligence information sharing, and that the agencies asked only for more sharing and not broad powers. Carignan talked about protecting Canadians from jihadis and then raised the news of today’s attacks in France and Tunisia. Senator Plett tried to rise on a supplemental, but Mitchell wasn’t finished yet, and after some back-and-forth, Mitchell carried on with the questions about the unnecessary overreach in C-51 that CSIS didn’t ask for, but Carignan insisted they were concerned about the safety of Canadians. Mitchell noted the lack of oversight for intelligence agencies and how that would show leadership, but Carignan moved immediately to partisan swipes, saying he felt safer with Harper than with Trudeau. Mitchell started mocking Harper’s “leadership” in not getting pipelines, and asked again about oversight, and Carignan insisted things were great with SIRC. Mitchell gave one last attempt to get more of a commitment to oversight, but it did not happen.

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QP: Shoehorning in the Duffy issue

Despite it being a Tuesday, only two leaders were present — Thomas Mulcair, and Elizabeth May. Alas. Mulcair led off, asking about the destruction of records on the long-gun registry despite the Access to Information requests. Stephen Blaney insisted that the RCMP respects all laws and the will of parliament — which, you know, hadn’t been recorded because it was simply a bill at the time. Mulcair demanded to know who ordered the records deleted, and Blaney didn’t deviate. Mulcair tried to stretch it to the audit on Senate residencies, and Blaney insisted the NDP should be given a free vote on an upcoming gun bill. Mulcair insisted that the PM release the statement that Duffy apparently signed about his residency, to which Paul Calandra stood up and reminded the NDP about their satellite offices. Mulcair kept trying to tie the Duffy affair into things, and Calandra repeated his demanded that the NDP pay back the money from those offices. Dominic LeBlanc led off for the Liberals, decrying the focus on TFSAs instead of focusing on those who need help. Pierre Poilievre listed a couple of scenarios where seniors use the accounts. Scott Brison hammered on the TFSAs and the PBO’s statements on them, and Joe Oliver actually answered, listing some figures about them as a kind of non sequitur. Brison noted the GIS payments affected by TFSAs, but Oliver quoted some people who support their moves.

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QP: Carry on the middle-class talking points

As Monday is the new Friday, none of the main leaders were in the House — Harper in Europe, Mulcair in Quebec City, and Trudeau across the river in Gatineau, having just laid out his party’s new tax plan. When QP kicked off, Megan Leslie led off, asking about job losses in the manufacturing sector. Pierre Poilievre took the question, and listed off some talking points about how great their family tax cuts were. Leslie noted the media reports that Conservative MPs will personally benefit more from income splitting than others, but Poilievre was undaunted from his talking points. Leslie then changed to the topics of coalition air strikes in Syria hitting civilians. Rob Nicholson noted that they had a 12-month commitment. Jack Harris then asked about Harper’s comments that they were not sure how effective the bombing campaign was. Nicholson noted it was a precision campaign, and wanted the NDP to thank the men and women in uniform. Harris then asked about reports about allegations of mistreatment of Taliban by military police. James Bezan insisted that they were taking the allegations seriously. Dominic LeBlanc led off for the Liberals, praising their recent announcement and wondered why the government wouldn’t adopt it (Poilievre: Yay our plan), and Ralph Goodale got increasingly critical of that plan Poilievre was touting (Poilievre: You just said you want to raise taxes on people making $60,000 — blatantly untrue).

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Roundup: Hiding behind the top brass

It has not gone unnoticed that the government has not been putting themselves out in front of the release of the Deschamps Report into sexual misconduct in the military, and the opposition is rightly pointing out that there is such a thing as ministerial responsibility, which means that the minister needs to be out in front of this – but he’s not. He’s instead left it up to his parliamentary secretary to deliver some talking points that aren’t actually demonstrating responsibility, and worse yet, they’re almost self-congratulatory as the lines being delivered about how the Chief of Defence Staff ordered the report. Err, so what? The CDS is already pushing back on some of the recommendations by agreeing with eight of the ten “in principle” only, and there is still some level of denial at the top, where they describe that the endemic sexualised culture in the report as simply being the perception of those that Justice Deschamps interviewed. In other words, there needs to be more leadership at the top saying that no, you can’t just shrug this off and do a few things for show – you actually need to push and work at this until there is a genuine culture change. CBC Radio interviewed Major-General Christine Whitecross, who is heading up the response to the report, and she echoed some of that same reluctance, but she did relent on the point that the independent centres for reporting incidents was probably the way to go, but they want to study it some more, both in terms of what our allies have put into place in their own countries, and what resources are available here in Canada, and she is not dismissing it outright, which is at least something.

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Roundup: The Privacy Commissioner finally has his say

Bill C-51 is now getting its review in the Senate, hearing from someone that the Commons didn’t – the Privacy Commissioner. What they got was an earful – there are some big problems with the information sharing provisions in the bill that would allow large amounts of personal information to be collected and shared between departments with little justification, and that his office would be swamped with work because of it. He’s also calling for oversight – like everyone else – and for the ability for different watchdogs to communicate with one another and coordinate their investigations in order to get a better picture of what these organisations are doing as they work together but their oversight remains siloed. Those other oversight bodies – SIRC and the CSE Commissioner – had much the same concerns when it comes to the ability to work together, and just keeping pace with the increasing scope and scale of operations. But will any of this have an effect? Maybe, as there are some Conservative senators who are concerned about these kinds of things and who may push back. But the government may bully through, and said senators may decide that this isn’t the hill they want to die on (which does happen), and they’ll let it go through. Suffice to say, the issue has not gone away.

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