Roundup: The grasping of straws

While we may be past the halfway mark in this campaign, we’re also well into the territory when things start getting a bit…surreal. Or utterly nonsensical. Take your pick. All of it done in the breathless hyperbolizing that parties do in order to try and make their rivals look bad. If you take a look at any Conservative press release, the sections comparing “Justin and Mulcair” are full of ridiculous non sequiturs that have little or nothing to do with the topic at hand. The Liberals are trotting out Jean Chrétien to say that Stephen Harper has “shamed” Canada (never mind that the rest of the world really doesn’t care). And the NDP have been taking the cake for some of their criticisms, which are starting to sound more like grasping at straws. They held a news conference with Charlie Angus to decry Justin Trudeau for “smearing” small businesses when he pointed out that wealthy people self-incorporate to pay lower taxes. And then Angus admitted that it’s a problem and they need to “tweak” the system, but still tried to insist Trudeau was smearing. Their line of attack about not being able to trust the Liberals not to make cuts is predicated on the 1990s, never mind the fact that the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio is nowhere near what it was the. And now Thomas Mulcair is brushing off the concerns of the premiers for his plans, whether it’s Senate abolition (which most don’t support), or childcare (which the provinces are expected to pay 40 percent of), or even their balanced budget pledge, of which provincial transfers are an issue. But he’ll have a “mandate” he says. Never mind that he sounds like he’s already over-reading it when he hasn’t even been given one. Suffice to say, the talking points from all sides are getting ridiculous. And we still have a month to go.

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Roundup: Totally not buying votes

With those new child benefit cheques starting to flow, a couple of bits of analysis were done over the past few days. One was to use census data to look at the demographics of ridings where people stood to gain the most from the new cheques, and wouldn’t you know it, of the 338 ridings, most were either Conservative or had a good chance of leaning that way in the next election. The other piece did some detective work into Pierre Poilievre’s big hunt for families who had not signed up for the benefit, and how he was able to derive numbers of how many families in certain regions had not done so. Why target regions? Why, electioneering, of course. There were also some pretty artificial deadlines being floated for getting people to sign up to the programme, so that cheques would handily flow just as the election is kicking off. Because that’s not trying to buy votes with people’s own money either, apparently. Among the places Poilievre visited on his “ finding families” tour were, you guessed it, Conservative ridings, while First Nations communities, who were less likely to be signed up, didn’t merit visits at all as they were unlikely to vote Conservative. So in case you really did think that these child benefit cheques were really about helping families and not about trying to buy votes, well, the analysis doesn’t support that kind of altruistic viewpoint.

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Roundup: Preparing to change gears

Today may be the final day the Senate sits – we’ll see if the Liberals are able to tie-up the “union-busting” bill C-377 in procedure for longer than it has been illegitimately time-allocated for today. From that point on, with business out of the way, it looks like senators can spend the summer focusing on some of the more managerial aspects of what has been going on with them of late, being the Auditor General’s report and his recommendations, particularly with regards to the independent oversight committee. It’ll be a tricky thing to get right because the AG did not contemplate the issue of parliamentary supremacy, but you can be sure that there are a number of senators who won’t be silent about that particular issue. It will also be a summer of fending off smears and attacks from MPs trying to use the Senate as a punching bag in their bid to get re-elected – never mind that a few incidents of alleged misspending have nothing to do with the powers or legislative business of the Senate, or the fact that MPs are far more opaque about their own spending practices. To that end, Senate Speaker Housakos told Bob Fife over the weekend that he’s not going to take any lessons on accountability from MPs, and most especially Mulcair with his party’s $2.7 million satellite office issue. And that’s exactly it – MPs aren’t saints by virtue of having been elected, and it doesn’t mean that they are really held to account for those issues because they are rarely brought to light. Witness last week, when the Ottawa Citizen asked MPs about their residential claims, and only 20 out of some 300 actually bothered to respond. Oh, but it’s the Senate that has the problem and with the “entitlement” issue.

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Roundup: Out goes an oddly pivotal figure

In a sense, there’s a closing of a particular chapter of Canadian politics with the announcement yesterday that Peter MacKay was done with politics, and would not be running again. He’ll stay on until the election, and Harper has opted to keep him in the justice portfolio for the dying days of the 41st parliament, but MacKay has made his mind up, and is going to slowly start packing up his office. In many ways, MacKay is a central figure to the modern era of Canadian politics. His decision to begin the process of merging with the Canadian Alliance – betraying an explicit written promise not to, made to secure the leadership of the old Progressive Conservative party – formed the juggernaut by which Stephen Harper was able to form the government that is entering its tenth year in power. While many are saying that this departure marks the end of the “progressive” side of the Conservative party, it bears reminding that MacKay was not a terribly Red Tory, and that there are far more progressive voices in the caucus and cabinet than he was. Where it may have an impact is with the continued attempt by the old Reform Party wing to amend the constitution of the party to sweep away the vestiges of the old PC wing, particularly predominant in the Maritimes and parts of Ontario, and with MacKay no longer there to use his weight among the membership, that final transformation may take place in a year or two. MacKay is also being remembered not only for his political controversies, but also for his romantic misadventures, now behind him as he leaves to spend more time with his family. John Geddes looks back at MacKay’s career, while Paul Wells writes about MacKay’s role in the political merger that changed Canadian politics, and Hugh Segal writes about MacKay’s importance to Canadian politics. Not long after John Baird’s departure, MacKay was spotted meeting with Brian Mulroney in Toronto, which fuelled resignation rumours, which he denied at the time. The Halifax Chronicle Herald’s editorial cartoonist Bruce MacKinnon recalls some of his best work with MacKay’s caricatures, and Global has some archived footage of MacKay’s break-up with Belinda Stronach when she crossed the floor to the Liberals. And BuzzFeed Canada has a listicle about MacKay’s career.

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QP: Assistance for Nepal

As Mondays are the new Fridays, there were no major leaders in the Commons for QP, leaving the more unusual choice of Hélène Laverdière to lead off, asking about the humanitarian assistance for Nepal, and asked if the government would match donations as they have done with disasters past. Christian Paradis assured her that there was, and noted the $5 million fund they just announced. Megan Leslie was up next, and asked for a further update on assistance being provided to Canadians in the region. Paradis repeated his previous response, but didn’t tough on the actual questions. Leslie then turned to the budget, and the lack of action for climate change therein. Pierre Poilievre insisted that the NDP considered anyone making less than $60,000 per year are wealthy. Nathan Cullen then asked about tax breaks for the wealthy, to which Poilievre repeated the same answer. Cullen gave a rambling repeat of the question, and got the same answer. David McGuinty led off for the Liberals, asking about partisan advertising — not coincidentally, the subject of his opposition day motion. Poilievre insisted that they were informant families of tax decreases and benefits available to them. McGuinty pressed, wanting all government ads to be submitted to a third-party vetting. Poilievre instead plugged the benefits to parents who were not yet signed up to them. McGuinty then moved onto the lack of job creation figures from the budget, but this time Kevin Sorenson stood up to deliver the good news talking points on all the jobs the government allegedly created.

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Roundup: Enbridge and the Duffy pathology

Over in the Ottawa Citizen, David Reevely has a wonderful little piece about the ways in which Mike Duffy conducted himself as a Senator – and that was to basically farm out work to friends, including a $7000 speech about “Why I am a Conservative.” Apparently a former journalist writing about his own political convictions was too much work, and so he fobbed it off on someone else, on the taxpayer’s dime. Reevely is right to point out an emptiness to the way that Duffy treated the job, but it misses another aspect to the pathology – that Duffy wanted to be a player. Certainly by spreading the largess around to those who he thought would be impressed by it is indicative of that. We’re seeing more of this desire to be a player as more things come out of his diaries, and one of the most eyebrow-raising examples were his meetings with Enbridge. As it happens, those meetings were unsolicited. Duffy was trying to ingratiate himself and so he made busywork about trying to get some action on the Keystone XL pipeline, having conversations that weren’t reported to the Lobbying Registry, and then reporting them to the PMO. Apparently it got to the point where Enbridge officials themselves complained to the PMO about it, in the hopes that they could call Duffy off. And really, there was no point to Duffy’s efforts – the PMO was onside with the pipeline, and Enbridge has had no issues with reporting their meetings. Oh, but Duffy wanted to be a player, to show that he mattered in the corridors of power – the reason why he’d been begging for an appointment to the Senate for decades, from successive prime ministers, both Liberal and Conservative, who had no time for him. The NDP, incidentally, want those Enbridge meetings investigated, but I’m not sure it’s really necessary because it certainly appears that there is nothing to investigate other than Duffy’s inflated sense of self, and while the NDP may think that it’s some kind of smoking gun on Harper, it’s far more about Duffy’s ego than it was about corruption from the centre.

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QP: OMG Jihadi Terrorists!

Monday after a break week, and attendance was pretty scare, particularly among the leaders. In Mulcair’s stead, David Christopherson shouted a denunciation of Bill C-51. In response, Stephen Blaney calmly explained that terrorists were targeted by the bill, not lawful protesters. Christopherson shouted about the Canadian Bar Association opposing the bill, to which Peter MacKay assured him that they were listening to experts, and touted the provisions for judicial warrants in the bill. Christopherson then changed topics, and shouted a question of when the Iraq mission extension motion would be tabled. Jason Kenney said that a motion would be tabled “soon,” and then denounced ISIS. Nycole Turmel asked the same again in French, got the same answer in French, and for her final question, Turmel noted the opposition of the government of Quebec to C-51. Blaney responded that he had already met with his counterparts. Marc Garneau led off for the Liberals, and noted the weak job numbers and wondered where the plan for permanent job creation was. Pierre Poilievre insisted that the only job plan the Liberals had was to raise taxes. Ralph Goodale asked about the cuts to infrastructure funds, but Candice Bergen gave a non sequitur response about family tax cuts. Goodale demanded more money for Build Canada, to which Poilievre repeated his red herring about higher Liberal taxes.

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Roundup: Rushing through the bill…again

With the clock ticking down to the end of the current parliament, the government is going to start lighting a fire to getting C-51 passed over the next two weeks, before the Easter break. That means accelerating the committee hearings to largely stuff them in the next week, with lots of witnesses in single sittings and little time to hear from each of them. It’s not a surprise that the government would use this particular tactic again to ram though contentious legislation, as they’ve done repeatedly, because they apparently have little capacity or desire to actually do the due diligence that they’re supposed to when it comes to these kinds of bills. Not surprisingly, there’s going to be plenty of opposition to large parts of the bill, and some of those who do support parts of the bill are at least concerned that there’s not enough study of the ramifications, or that there is enough needed oversight. But will the government make changes? Unlikely. Adding their voices to the opposition to the bill over the weekend was the Canadian Bar Association.

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Roundup: No, it’s not media apathy

The prime minister’s former director of communications writes that it’s perfectly natural that the government wants to create their own communications channels that bypass the media because We The Media are apparently “apathetic” to what the want to tell us. You will forgive me for saying, but I’m not sure there are words enough to express how big of a load of utter horseshit that this justification actually is. His definition of “apathy” is that the media won’t act as transcriptionists for their feel-good stories, which forces them to go around us. Fair enough – it’s not our jobs to retype your press releases and make you look good. But what is utterly galling is for him to turn around and declare that the media has a challenge function that’s important for democracy and that’s why they’re needed, when the very same government that he served is doing their level best to kneecap journalists from fulfilling that role. Whether it’s frustrating Access to Information laws, closing off all avenues of communication with ministers, not returning phone calls and delivering bland statements in lieu of answers to questions being asked, or simply dragging out responding to media requests until it’s well past deadline, it all amounts to choking off necessary information from the media because it fulfils its challenge function, and that challenge function makes the government look bad. When the media does write about the government’s use of their own distribution channels, it’s not because we’re sulking that we’re not the privileged distributors of information – it’s that we’re being denied the ability to do our jobs as we’re shut out of events, not allowed to ask questions at announcements, and that our independent photographers are not allowed to even capture those events and are instead being handed a staged photo to run instead that shows what the government wants us to see instead. That’s not giving us the space to perform our necessary challenge function – it’s trying to turn us into organs of propaganda. That he ignores those legitimate complaints and frames them as “sweating over” trivialities is part of what makes his whole construction utterly farcical.

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Roundup: An unconstitutional promise

Over in the francophone media, Thomas Mulcair has been talking about his promise to never ever appoint senators ever if he were to become PM and form government. Of course, that kind of talk is beyond ridiculous and is in direct contravention to the constitution – the same sections that the Supreme Court gave a whole lot of clarity on in the recent Senate reference decision. Mulcair claims he would try to push the provinces to abolish the institution, but good luck with that – all of which tends to put a lot of doubt into just how seriously Mulcair would take is constitutional obligations should he ever assume the position. The interview did give rise to this post, which speculated on the conditions by which a Governor General might reasonably start appointing senators without waiting for advice from the PM, if said PM was obstinately refusing to put forward names for appointment. While we are going to start hearing from the courts on this matter sooner than later, with an active challenge now underway in BC, I’d have to agree with both Emmett Macfarlane and Philippe Lagassé on this one – having the GG make direct appointments would put us into a constitutional crisis because it would violate the principles of Responsible Government, but said GG could also note that the PM was refusing to act within his or her constitutional duties, and dismiss them, inviting someone else to form government instead. It would still be a bit of a crisis, mind you, and there would be all manner of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the media about it, but it would be much more in line with the principles of Responsible Government than making the appointments without advice. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t come to that, and that our current and future prime ministers start taking their jobs of making these appointments far more seriously.

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